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Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Wednesday on Writing: The Query Part II.


So one of the things I received emails about after last week’s post was this comment:


This is another area where it’s very important to give the publisher exactly what they asked for, no more, no less and no different. 


Boy you guys didn’t like that one.  So let’s focus on that for a moment.


Most publishers will ask for the following:


·         A query letter

·         A detailed synopsis

·         in some cases, the first few pages of the MS (some ask for the first three, the first five, or even the first ten)


If their website does not say “hey, send us whatever you want, we don’t mind.  You do you!” then I would send them that and only that.




Simple.  To quote one of my favorite lines from The Godfather: “This isn’t personal, it’s business.” So keep in mind that this is a business transaction.  You have something I may want—a completed story.  And I have something you may want.  A publishing contract.  So let’s not beat around the bush, add unnecessary details (as we mentioned in last week’s chat about the query letter) or make this harder than it has to be.


We’ve already talked about the importance of the introduction.  Now let’s move on to the “show me your cards” phase. 


The synopsis.

Okay so a synopsis is not quite as scary as a horror movie, but it comes close.  I have been in this business, as I have mentioned for many, many years and I still don’t like writing them.  But they are a necessary evil in this business.  

So suck it up, buttercup, and learn to write one. 

I’ll pause here while you come to terms with that little bit of tough love.   

The big bad synopsis can’t hurt you.  It’s just words on a page.  Once you get over your fear of writing one, you take away its power to scare you.  

There, there. 

Better now?

 I will talk at some point about how to write one and what to include.  Today, however, we are going to talk about why you must do it. 

Yes, I said “must.”

 I am not going to insult your intelligence by telling you what a synopsis is, or what purpose it serves--you already know that.  But I am going to tell you why it’s necessary. 

Time is short.  A couple of weeks ago we talked about the fact that many publishers have been forced out of business and that the ones still standing are swamped.  So as an editor, I need to know right away if you know what you are doing, if you can write and if you know how to format a story.  And I need to know that now

Let me put it another way.  I wouldn’t set out on a cross country trip with someone I wasn’t sure knew how to drive, or without a map showing me how we were going to get there. 

 That’s kind of what the synopsis does for the editor. It shows me our starting point, the twists and turns along the way and the final destination.  And it tells me whether or not you can drive. 

Whoa, Nic, that’s a lot of pressure. 

Yes and no.  I have never yet rejected someone for a poorly written synopsis (that does not include poor grammar or spelling). Nor have I offered someone a contract because their synopsis blew me away.  

It’s just another part of the introduction to you, the author. And that’s why it must be there. 

I am amazed at the lengths authors will go to avoid writing a synopsis.  I have seen, charts, graphs, spreadsheets, family trees, tables and character lists in place of the required synopsis.  

Was I impressed by this?  I honeslty can't tell you because I didn’t bother to look.  Nope.  I asked for a synopsis, if you don’t send one I will send you a note letting you know it’s required.  If you refuse to send one or don’t respond, I am going to move on to the next author who knows how to follow directions and you are going to get a brief note letting you know your query has been withdrawn. 

Ouch.  What’s with all the tough love today? 

As I said, publishing houses are swamped.  And at this point, when my inbox is bulging with new queries and I have to dig through them to find a good one, it feels a lot like speed dating.  

In other words, dazzle me now before the clock runs out.  Okay, so I don’t actually have a timer set, but I am looking for that spark, that zing that gets my attention and invites me to linger.  

Which brings me to those sample pages.  And here is the real test.  

Yes, that’s exactly what it is. A sample, if you will.  Like when you are walking through those membership only big box retail stores and a rep offers you some delicious smelling sample of a new product.  You either like it and want to know more, or you don’t and you spit it out. And that’s exactly the point of the sample pages.  The synopsis may tell me you know where you are going and how to get there, but this is the test drive.  

If the publisher asks for the first three pages of your manuscript then please, send them the first three pages. Even if they end in the middle of sentence. 

 Wait a minute, are you saying you can tell whether or not someone can write based on just a few pages?


Let’s pause here for another harsh dose of reality. 

There used to be a saying in the publishing world that a reader will give a book three pages before they decided whether they want to read it. 

Those days are long gone. 

Attention spans are much shorter, as is down time.  And money. 

So if a reader is going to spend their hard-earned money and their precious leisure time on your story, you better start that story with the dead elephant in the living room. 

Wait, the dead what?? 

I've paraphrased an old saying but it means start with the day that was different.  Start with the action.  Think of the last James Bond move you watched.  Did it start with Agent 007 showering, getting a cup of coffee, looking at his phone and taking the dog out for a walk?  No, it likely started with him on a high-speed chase over winding roads with steep drop offs or jumping out of a helicopter onto a speeding boat over shark infested waters.  

Too often I see authors who think they need several chapters of “set up” (also known as back story) to get the story moving. 

 Nope.  The stuff that gets the story moving is where the story should start.  If it doesn’t happen until chapter ten you have started your story in the wrong place.  And no editor or reader on this planet is going to give you that much time to grab their attention.  

And that’s what those sample pages are for. They tell me whether you know where your story begins—the “opening hook” as it’s known.  If you know how to grab the reader's attention.  

As I read those next few pages I can also see if you know how to balance the dialogue and narrative, if it is clear who your main characters are, if you know how to show rather than tell and your grasp of viewpoint. 

All of that in just a handful of pages.  

And that’s why those early pages are important.  

Sending me the first three pages of chapter two because that’s where it “gets good” is not going to help.  Sending me your entire first chapter is not going to help.  For that matter sending me your entire story is not going to help. 

I need to know what I need to know and part of what I need to know—besides whether or not you can write a good story-- is whether you can follow directions. 

If you are not willing to work with me on something as simple as this, then I have to stop and wonder what you’d be like to work with during the editing process. 

And there are a lot of other people in my inbox who are already doing it right.

Next week:  The Rejection.


By the way are you guys enjoying this series?  I am getting a lot of views and friend requests, but no comments.  Be sure to leave me comments about the things you’d like to ask an editor, they may inspire future posts!

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