By Vanessa Pesa
Janice and I have been toiling away over the submission guidelines for Unleashing the Sun, making sure each agent gets exactly what he or she needs, and amazingly enough, everyone’s standards are just a smidge different. I thought I would share with you a brief how-to on two of the most common documents they request—the query and the synopsis.
First up is a query letter; most agents want at least this to start with for a fiction submission. A query letter is designed to grab the agent’s attention and lure them into wanting to read your entire manuscript. It needs to be short and sweet, set up a bit like a movie trailer and is generally limited to just three basic paragraphs.
The first paragraph is the hook, a one-liner that embodies the essence of the book while roping your reader/agent in. The second is the mini-synopsis, in which the writer must summarize the entire manuscript in one paragraph. The final paragraph is the author bio; here is where you present your accolades, outline whether you’ve published in the past, and where, and talk yourself up in relation to the content of your manuscript to get you noticed.
Writing a query seems like it should take an hour or so, right? No. This is tough stuff! The limited space means that each and every word is prime real estate! Your query needs to be crafted in such a way that lures your reader in but doesn’t give too much away; you want to entice and not bore.
Keep in mind your audience for the letter is an agent—or agents—who have read countless query letters, so you have some stiff competition. Not to mention the fact that some of the agents only want a query letter, which means if this slim, one-page document doesn’t sell your manuscript, doesn’t knock the socks off of the agent, that’s the end of the road with them! Deep breaths, deep breaths.
I wrote a query letter for Unleashing the Sun that we then submitted to eight different agents. So far, we’ve had a thumbs down from four or five and no response from the others. With Janice in a state of limbo on the book—she’s working out an issue around one character in her mind—this is okay, but once we’re up and running again, we will hit the ground running—again.
Another document for pitching to agents is the synopsis. This is exactly what it sounds like, a summary of your manuscript, limited to one to two pages. It should be written in the same style as your manuscript, should introduce your characters and the major conflicts they face and end with the conclusion of your novel. Yes, contrary to popular (or at least my) belief, you do give away the ending. Agents do not want cliffhangers! Your synopsis should provide the agent with the full scope of your storyline to allow them full advantage to decide whether or not they want to take on your project.
Writing the synopsis for Janice wasn’t as challenging for me, since the second paragraph of the query was a jumping off point. Janice is sitting on the synopsis I wrote as she feels she needs to be in a “readier” state with the manuscript to send this off.
What has been most interesting in the submission process is seeing what each agent wants. The expectations are entirely different from agent to agent, and between fiction and nonfiction!
For nonfiction, the writer needs to compile an entire proposal, while fiction writers need only create a query for most. For fiction, some agents also request a brief synopsis and some want to see the first few pages of the manuscript, but most only want a query letter to start and will respond if interested.
There you have it, submissions process in a nutshell!