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Queries & Synopses


Topic: Queries that worked (1 of 2), Read 42 times
Conf: Agents
From: Bob Kellogg
Date: Tuesday, April 06, 2004 11:06 AM

We have occasional questions about queries and synopses, so I thought I'd perform a public service and share my observations. Dissenters are welcome.

A lot of people are confused about the purpose of a query letter and a synopsis when trying to sell fiction. Here's how it shakes down:

QUERY LETTER: - Its objective is to lure the reader (agent or acquisitions editor) into asking to read the actual work. It serves the exact same purpose as the blurbs and plot teaser inside the book jacket, or the back cover of a paperback; i.e., to lure the browser into buying the book. So if you want to know what to put into a query, read the back of books, noting how long and detailed the teaser is. One or two paragraphs at the most, right?

The other thing a query letter should contain is a reason to take what you say seriously. If you can't point out that you're a professional, published writer, say something about the subject and why you chose it. Don't try to snow the reader by bragging. It's counterproductive. Be matter-of-fact.


Unfortunately, many agents and editors want you to send a stripped-down version of your novel. Stripped way down. So far down, in fact, that all your lyrical prose and clever dialogue is squeezed out.

So what's it for? It's certainly not the same as reading your actual work.

It's main purpose it to prove that even if you haven't finished the entire novel, you're capable of constructing a story with a beginning, middle, and end. So don't waste time and postage querying agents if you haven't finished the work, and/or don't have a complete map of the plot.

The synopsis should have all the major plot events, whatever they might be. Introduce the main character(s) and the main problem. (If there's no problem, there's no story.) Describe the difficulties he/they face and how they're resolved--or not. And be sure to include the ending. This is not a teaser. The synopsis is proof that you can construct a novel. Save the sales pitch for the query.

I've attached a couple of queries that worked; that is, they stimulated various people to ask for the first 3 chapters, or the first 50 pages, or whatever they thought it would take to decide whether to spend time reading the whole thing.

That's all your query letter can do. It can't sell your work. That's entirely up to the writing itself. But it can "intrigue" an agent enough to spend valuable time reading your stuff. That's all you can hope for. The rest is a crapshoot.


Dear editor,

In my 67,000-word mystery, Murder On The Vine, Claymore Pike and Rhonda Sample expected a California coast wine festival to be good for a little R&R from their police jobs. But a rapacious vintner is murdered and Clay finds himself on the hook to help the local sheriff. Strangers to the characters and the culture, he and Rhonda must take a crash course in the local wine business if they are to survive and solve the case.

I'm a member of the Mystery Writers of America. Last year my first, Murder On The Run, was released by a new royalty-paying POD publisher. The contract was fair, but because of the price, I doubt if they'll be able to sell enough to keep the rights to the book, hence my query about the follow-up novel.

I've included a short synopsis following this query. I'll be glad to send sample chapters, or the entire manuscript in any method you choose.

All the best,

Bob Kellogg

I give just enough of an idea about the characters and setting for them to decide if they're of interest.


Dear agent,

Sculptor Michelangelo Quinn is happy with the result of his dream commission, a figure study of a stunning San Diego socialite. But when the model's jealous ex-husband is murdered, followed shortly by the apparent suicide of the model herself, Mike is devastated. Convinced that she didn't kill herself, he's the only person in town who appears concerned about the truth. His search for that truth is more than he bargained for and leads him from the rarified air of La Jolla and Rancho Santa Fe to the Mexican border.

Training as a sculptor and three other completed novels give me a solid foundation for this first-person narrative, a 77,000-word twist on the amateur sleuth story. As far as I know, its main character has a unique place in the mystery genre.

I'm a member of the Mystery Writers of America. My first mystery, urder On The Run, was released last year (ISBN 0-9723489-1-3), but after one royalty check the publisher went belly up. I'll be glad to elaborate if you're interested.

A short story of mine, Mystic Dream, also appeared last year in an anthology.

May I send you the manuscript of A Hard Place to Rock?

All the best,

Bob Kellogg
- - - -

By the way, both of these were e-mail queries. Most of the recipients weren't interested, but that will always happen. And remember, it only takes one!

Good luck!

Bob K.


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