Breaking Down the Dreaded Query and Synopsis

Hello Readers & Writers,

Having been exposed to hundreds of queries over my publishing career, I thought I’d make a guide for writers on how to tackle your query letter and synopsis. Writing a book is a huge accomplishment and often, breaking that book down into little pieces for agents can be difficult. You want to strike a balance between hooking the agent, delivering key points, and not going overboard with information.

Let’s start with the query letter.

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I like to think of the query as having all of the shorthand information an agent needs to assess if your story is the right fit for them and if it matches up with industry standards. This should be no more than 1 page, single-spaced. 

Your query should address the agent – not dear agent or dear person (yes, I’ve seen it). If you’re querying them via a contest or conference, add a line about that in the beginning. If you’re querying via QueryManager, there is a section that allows you to add in how you were referred to the agency or agent.

So how do you start your query?  

Note: The query doesn’t have to follow this exact order. You can start with comps, introduce the story basics first, etc. This is mainly to ensure you have all of your necessary info included.

Introduce your main character (MC) immediately by answering the following questions:

  • Who are they?
  • What makes them unique or sets them up for what’s about to happen?
  • What do they want? What’s driving them forward before the inciting incident (what begins the plot/change in your MC’s life?)

If you have multiple point of views (POVs), you can answer these questions for each – though several POVs could get a bit tricky. You could also weave together how these POVs will relate to one another. If you have multiple POVs, where one is the main POV and others are sprinkled in, it may be best to focus on the main perspective.

Once you’ve established who your MC is and what they want, bring in the inciting incident. How does the beginning of your plot impede on their life and their desires?Explain briefly how your MC handles this change. Does it lead to a journey? Do they have to confront their beliefs? Are they fighting someone/something?

To close the part of the query that discusses your story, leave us with your stakes. It can follow a format like this: If your MC doesn’t do (blank), then (blank) will happen or they’ll have to choose between (blank). This leaves a question in an agent’s mind and ideally hooks them into reading.

💡 Important Tip: Never give away your ending in the query. That is for the synopsis and the synopsis only. The story section of your query should end on the stakes!

After you’ve tackled the above, the query should then handle the technical features of  your story such as:

  • Word Count
  • Genre/Audience
  • Comp Titles
  • Any other info about your story agents should know. (Multi-pov, perhaps a unique narrative structure, is it #OwnVoices, etc.)

Round out your query with a small paragraph about yourself. Who you are, maybe a fun hobby, any writing credentials. (It’s totally okay if you don’t have the latter). And then you’re done!

💡 Important Tip: Keep your bio short and sweet. While it’s nice to know about you, the main focus of your query should be your story. 

Query done. Now, how do I handle a synopsis?

The synopsis is meant to be a concise outline of your plot, hitting all the necessary key points of your story from beginning to end. This can be daunting no matter the size of your book.

Synopses should generally be 1-2 pages, single-spaced. Some agents will have a page minimum/maximum requirement so make sure to check submission guidelines when querying.

💡 Important Tip: Include your ending in the synopsis unless an agent says otherwise!

It’s harder to nail the synopsis down into a formula as every story has a different plot/structure. However, what I often hear is the struggle to have a synopsis fit into its desired length. If you find you’re having trouble – which is very common – here are some ways to shorten your synopsis.

  • Cut physical details of a character. Unless they influence a major turning point or event, an agent doesn’t need to know what your characters look like. Save that for the story.
  • Remove mentions of minor characters. If they aren’t a big player of your story, they don’t need to be in your synopsis. Focus on big picture characters and points.
  • You don’t need a huge elaboration on the history between characters. Say two characters went through a bad breakup. You don’t need to give us a play by play. Rather, say “X and X had a bad breakup because of X. Their relationship now is bad.”Being as concise as possible is key. You want to get to your plot as quickly as you can without having pages of exposition.
  • Don’t explain themes or the logic behind your story. The synopsis is strictly for your plot and what happens.
  • Don’t make your synopsis sound like a grocery list. X did this, then this. It’ll lose one’s attention quick. Write well and with purpose.
  • Don’t tell us how your world came to be from start to finish. This too is better left for your story.  You can definitely frame the world to explain certain challenges your main character will face, but we don’t need the entire lore.
  • Be careful of overwhelming your synopsis with subplots. Focus on the main plot that demonstrates the change and growth of your main character(s). Too many plots will cause an agent to lose their grasp on your story.
  • As with anything you write, keep an eye out for filler words like “just, that, very” etc. These are unnecessary 95% of the time and can be cut to better help flow. You’d be surprised how much space you get in a word document when these are eliminated.

Final Thoughts

Writing a query and synopsis will always take work and extra sets of eyes to look it over. But it can be done and will have to be done for every story you write as long as you’re looking for an agent.

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If you have any questions, feel free to leave them below and I’ll try to answer as many as I can.

Xx
Megan


4 thoughts on “Breaking Down the Dreaded Query and Synopsis

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