Monday, January 4, 2010

Query Letter and Synopsis

These are my two newest expletives: Query Letter, Synopsis.

For some time now, I've felt that my novel manuscript, revised/edited/polished about 30 times, is ready for prime time.  Trusted sources who've read it agree.  Just one problem: I haven't been able to get an agent to read it.  Clearly, my query letter and synopsis have not been sufficient to the cause.  I've tried about a dozen different versions.  Never mind.  Back to the drawing board.

I've been researching, reading, studying, researching some more, and I've reached an important conclusion: An author must have more than one (or two or three or ten) version of the query letter (ditto all these points for the separate synopsis).

It has become painfully clear that one agent's query masterpiece is another agent's uninspiring fodder for the form rejection parade—or for the "do not respond (and probably delete)" electronic file (hard copies to the trash bin).

I've now visited more literary agent websites than I care to consider, and read more blogs and articles than I can keep up with.  I've seen examples of "great" query letters that left me scratching my head and saying, "Geez, that's about as exciting as milktoast."  I've also seen writers' frustrated online posts of query letters, for which they couldn’t get a positive response, and thought, "Damn, that sounds like something I'd like to read."

Then, of course, I've read an agency blog indicating that writer's must provide "this or that" in a query letter, only to find another agency blog that said not to include that very information.

In the end, it's simple: this business is extraordinarily, unbelievably, incomprehensibly, maddeningly (enough adverbs?) subjective.  Ask any 10 literary agents for an example of the perfect query letter, and you’re bound to get at least 7 different responses.  Don’t believe me?  Just check out their sites and blogs.  Of course, they'll often end with that caveat: "Well, there's no one way to write a query letter."  Sure.  That's helpful.

In fact, there IS only one way to write a query letter, and that's their way.  Thus, my advice to you is simple: If you can find an example of what that particular agent considers a good query letter, model yours on that example.  Yes, that means that for every agent you query, you will have a different, highly customized query letter.  100 agents = 100 versions of your query letter (or something close).

Perhaps I'm a little slow to this conclusion, and some of you long ago discovered this truth.  Perhaps I'm way off, and the query letters I've been using (at least as of late) have been perfectly fine.  After all, form rejections (assuming I get a response at all) tell me nothing.  Was my query letter insufficient?  Was the synopsis unsatisfactory or uninspiring?  Was my lack of publishing credentials the issue?  Were my few sample pages the problem?  Were ALL of those perfectly acceptable, just not a good fit for that particular agent?  How can I know?

Yeah… exactly.

It's a mad, mad, mad world of publishing out there.  To crack that nut, you must be prepared to weed through the morass and play the numbers game (those of you in sales know of what I speak).  You must treat every single agent as though she's the only agent in the world.  You must take away from your writing time and get about the business end of the game, through hours and hours and hours and hours of research, followed by hours and hours of refining your query letter and synopsis.

You must create a unique, customized query letter and synopsis for every agent you query.  Some of the changes may be subtle; nonetheless, as the Nike folks say, "Just do it."  One word might make all the difference.

What's that, you don't like it?  It shouldn't be this difficult?  Tough.  Just do it.

Or go back to your job and forget about this crazy notion of being an author.

Before you decide, keep in mind Shakespeare's most eloquent urging (from Julius Caesar):
"There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, and all the voyage of their lives is bound in shallows and miseries."

Fear not the flood; just start swimming—really, really, really hard.  Don't bind yourself in misery.

'Til next time, and as always, remember:
To write well, you must work hard.  To succeed in this tough gig, you mustn't be lazy.

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