This month we’re talking about writing queries. Queries are the cover letter, of sorts, that you as the author send out to agents and editors when your book is ready to be thrust out into the world.
Like a cover letter, queries include an intro, where you address the person to whom you are sending the letter, the basic facts about the book (title, genre, word count, etc.), the plot summary or pitch, which is what we’re going to discuss today, and the closing. Sometimes, as with OHP, the recipient will ask for a sample of your work along with the query.
Synopses are important to everyone who picks up your book but especially to those you want to represent you and your product. The pitch can make or break your book; it’s the first glimpse the reader sees of your writing style and what will sway them to keep reading.
Scared yet? Don’t be; writing an intriguing query is a lot simpler than it sounds, and I’m going to give you three tips to help you make yours the best it can be.
Step One: Read: One of the most important things to do when writing your query is to keep an eye on how other book descriptions in your genre are written. Don’t copy them, of course, but, look for trends; words or styles of writing that separate a fantasy book from a science fiction book, for example. Two books of completely different genres should not sound identical in tone or atmosphere when you read their synopses out loud. If your book is actually a high-fantasy, but the summary puts so much emphasis on the corrupted government that it starts to sound eerily similar to a dystopian novel, then you’ve got some restructuring to do. Which brings us to…
Step Two: Figure Out What’s important: The crux of your query should be the main conflict: the problem with the highest stakes, which the character must overcome to fix. In The Hunger Games, the overarching problem is that the government is corrupt and needs to be overthrown, because children are being sent off to slaughter. But to illustrate that, Suzanne Collins focuses on one character, and the ways in which that overarching conflict impacts her life by throwing her into the Games in place of her sister.
If there is space and time, you may introduce subplots, like the love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale, but for the most part, you want to focus on the main character and the driving force behind the plot that should keep audiences at the edge of their seats.
Step Three: Organize: This part is inspired by author Jenna Moreci’s Youtube video on writing a synopsis, and it will actually be broken down into four smaller steps to construct a basic template for your query’s summary.
- Setting/Main Character: So these were originally separate, but I combined them into one because I think they can be inverted. Like any new adventure, before you board the plane, you must have some idea of where you’re going. Take the opening paragraph of the synopsis for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone: “Harry Potter has never played a sport while flying on a broomstick. He’s never worn a Cloak of Invisibility, befriended a giant, or helped hatch a dragon. All Harry knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley. Harry’s room is a tiny Cupboard Under the Stairs, and he hasn’t had a birthday party in ten years.” In only a few sentences, we know the name of the main character, the basic environment where the story begins, and that most of the plot will take place somewhere other than the mortal 21st century.
- Conflict: This is the biggest part of the synopsis; the thing that should catch the reader’s attention because it has turned the main character’s life upside down. In The Hunger Games, it’s Katniss volunteering. In Harry Potter, it’s finding out he’s a wizard.
- (If you have space) Subplots: This step is not mandatory, but it adds layers to your story, and hopefully, creates more reasons for readers to want to pick it up. In The Hunger Games, it’s Katniss having to team up with her enemies to survive. In Harry Potter, it’s having to fit in and learn to harness his powers at school.
- Stakes: This is arguably the most important step because it’s the cliffhanger and solidifies the reader’s need to know more. The stakes explain or allude to what is going to happen if the main character doesn’t act. If Harry doesn’t learn to use magic, then he won’t be able to stop Voldemort, and the whole Wizarding World will be in danger. If Katniss doesn’t volunteer for the Games, her sister will die.
Remember that these steps are simply a guideline, but hopefully they will help you write a more intriguing and concise summary for your next query.
Post by Jacqueline Reineri, Editorial Assistant.