You’re agented? Cool! But can she sell you?

I had the pleasure of meeting a lovely agent last year at a conference in Florida. We chatted about our specialties and were happy to discover she may have something I’d find interesting. A couple weeks later, she sent me the query letter and attached a one-page synopsis and the manuscript.

Sadly, that’s where things fell apart.

The query letter mentioned our meeting and thanked me for offering to take a look at the book. Oddly, there was nothing about the book. A query letter is a sales pitch, designed to be all mouth-watery, so I’ll be excited to read more.This was Strike 1.

She attached the synopsis, so I opened it up…which was all description.This was a huge Strike 2.

Here’s the thing:

  • It’s not important to tell me how the narrative is organized because I’ll find that out when/if I read the book. It’s a throwaway, not a selling point.
  • It doesn’t matter how the author puts the story together, and the various techniques used because I’ll figure that out when/if I read the book. It’s a throwaway, not a selling point.
  • It doesn’t help to tell me the book is poignant and emotional…show me. It’s a throwaway, not a selling point.
  • It doesn’t help to tell me the book will help millions…show me. It’s a throwaway, not a selling point.

In short, the synopsis was a lot of wasted space and opportunity.

Description is lovely when you’re talking about the insidiously adorable Antonio Banderas, but it’s a deal-killer when trying to pitch a book.

A synopsis is defined as a brief or condensed summary of the plot of a novel, motion picture, play.

Description, on the other hand, is defined as a statement, picture in words, or account that describes.

See how the two are different? So let’s use Antonio as an example (yes please). We can have a grand time describing Antonio ’til the cows come home – his exquisitosity (totally made that up), how his singing can melt buttah, and how his flamingo dancing weakens my knees. However, those descriptions don’t show me squat about who he is, his acting abilities, his professional accomplishments. That’s what you get in a synopsis.

The agent should know better, so that was Strike 3, and she was out. Sadly, so was her client/author.

So, here’s the deal; it’s in your best interest to understand the makings of a good query letter and synopsis. I know, I know, you thought having an agent would free you of this hassle, right? But you did something right in order to get her attention in the first place.

This isn’t my first rodeo with agents who did their author clients no favors, so it’s not a bad idea for you to see exactly what your agent is sending out to editors. It shouldn’t be a deep, dark secret.

Somewhere…anywhere…should have the following:

Genre: Seems silly, but you’d be surprised at the number of queries that don’t include the genre. We do have tinfoil hats, but we invariably leave them in our other purse. We gotta be told.

Word Count: Another favorite that gets shoved under the carpet. This is so important to editors, and is literally the difference between “yes please,” and “no thanks.” If something is 245,000 words, I’ll instantly reject it. If it’s 34,000 words, I’ll instantly reject it. If it’s between 50k – 90,000 words, now you’re in my ballpark. It’s bothersome to have to turn around and ask. An agent (and you brilliant authors) should know to include this.

Plot: This is where the tequila meets the margarita…the guts of your query.

  • Who is the main person in your book?
  • What is his/her story?
  • What does s/he want?
  • What does s/he discover?
  • What choices/decisions/changes does s/he encounter?
  • How is s/he influenced by those choices/decision/changes?

The offshoot could also include:

  • What terrible thing will happen/ would have happened if s/he chooses (chose) A; what terrible thing will happen/would have happened if s/he doesn’t/didn’t?

Tomorrow, I’ll put up an example of a description query letter that isn’t an attention-grabber and one that totally got my attention – so much, that I offered them a contract.

5 Responses to You’re agented? Cool! But can she sell you?

  1. Redleg says:

    Mm hmm. Mm hmm. And in this margarita metaphor you’re espousing, what exactly would be the salt?

  2. I don’t like salt on my margaritas.

  3. Becky Mushko says:

    Great post! Thank you for showing what a query should be rather than just describing it.

  4. tbrosz says:

    “But can she sell you?”

    Yeah, that’s the kicker, isn’t it? One thing where Publishers Marketplace shines is that you can pull up agency/agent sales, and even ranked lists of the top sellers in different genres.

    This is important information.

  5. Pelotard says:

    50k is enough? Seriously? Good news because I think my current WIP will weigh in at 70, tops 🙂

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