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DennisB
04-25-2013, 09:48 PM
How much stock do agents put in the literary craft of the query? Not the usual format questions... such as opening with "I'm seeking representation," or "I'm a writer..."

But whether the synopsis actually has the kind of voice that will sell the agent on the idea that the querier actually knows how to write a novel? That the novel is sound enough to pursue?

Of is it simply a matter of a subject hooking the agent, and the nuts and bolts of the mss coming later?

stormie
04-25-2013, 10:01 PM
The query is what either opens the door to getting an agent to request the ms. or closes it shut.

Keep it short, keep it to the point (no rambling), and yes, hook the agent but also voice is very important. The agent will get a feel for your writing style from that.

Drachen Jager
04-25-2013, 10:06 PM
Go to Query Letter Hell. That's really the best place to sort these things out.

Everything about your query matters, but it doesn't matter as much as many writers seem to think it does.

So long as the query is obviously competently written and presents a story the agent feels able to sell, they'll probably have at least a peek at your opening pages.

That said, don't short-change the query. It is your first impression and you don't want it to be a bad, or even a mediocre one.

Also, you do not, should not, say "I'm seeking representation" or "I'm a writer". This is a query letter. Query letters are sent out by writers seeking representation. To repeat either of those bits of information is redundant and may have an agent wondering if you really know what you're doing.

Go to Query Letter Hell. Read through as many threads as you can, especially the ones that are for works similar to your own. Put on your best suit of armour. Vet your letter there, but be prepared, there is a reason it's called Hell.

cate townsend
04-25-2013, 10:57 PM
Also, you do not, should not, say "I'm seeking representation" or "I'm a writer". This is a query letter. Query letters are sent out by writers seeking representation. To repeat either of those bits of information is redundant and may have an agent wondering if you really know what you're doing.

True. You should also check out agent Janet Reid's blog and the Query Shark archives.

DennisB
04-25-2013, 11:31 PM
Jager,
I'm not looking for advice. I'm trying to start a discussion.

Drachen Jager
04-25-2013, 11:58 PM
Jager,
I'm not looking for advice. I'm trying to start a discussion.

This is already covered in the QLH stickies. I don't think we really need an ongoing discussion here to address the same information.

Katrina S. Forest
04-26-2013, 12:26 AM
Jager,
I'm not looking for advice. I'm trying to start a discussion.

To be fair, you phrased it as a question, so it's natural to think you were looking for advice. You also started a thread some time ago that asks almost the exact same question:

http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=243844

I'm not sure what this new thread would add to that.

quicklime
04-26-2013, 12:59 AM
How much stock do agents put in the literary craft of the query? Not the usual format questions... such as opening with "I'm seeking representation," or "I'm a writer..."

But whether the synopsis actually has the kind of voice that will sell the agent on the idea that the querier actually knows how to write a novel? That the novel is sound enough to pursue?

Of is it simply a matter of a subject hooking the agent, and the nuts and bolts of the mss coming later?


think about it this way:

How much does sobriety matter during an interview for a trucking position?

Anyone chan shill out a big idea or two, my kids are RIDICULOUSLY creative. But finishing a novel, that someone would want to read, is no small feat.

Not saying ideas don't matter, but I'd go minimal idea and maximal writing skill over the inverse any day of the week.

fwiw also, "I'm a writer," or even "I am submitting" IS a case of wasted words....best case, they get ignored, worst case they begin to form the impression you can't edit and/or are terribly new.

quicklime
04-26-2013, 01:01 AM
Jager,
I'm not looking for advice. I'm trying to start a discussion.


you know, sometimes I start at the top, give an answer, read a bit further, and regret even bothering to do so....

*facepalm

Drachen was completely right in what he posted responding to your initial post. You're being rude and obnoxious about the very advice you solicited, and AW has a very well-established policy of "you don't get to control the direction of your threads once started."

Maybe read the general rule stickies as well as those in QLH.

DennisB
04-26-2013, 04:46 PM
Katrina,
That original post was about formating. This post concerns the perceived quality of writing... and whether it can be gleaned from the synopsis.

The question arose after perusing QLfH, and seeing what I thought was an interesting premise involving the time travel paradox. But (IMHO) the writing was wooden. There was nothing in it that would tell me that the novel itself would be a good read, even if I were blown away by the premise.

So, to expand the question: If an agent automatically round-files queries that start wrong, or go a page and a half, or are double-spaced... will they also reject based on the writing craft they see in the synopsis or tag line--without asking for a partial?

Or do they take a chance (after all, they've got virtually nothing to lose) and check the MSS?

quicklime
04-26-2013, 05:12 PM
Katrina,
That original post was about formating. This post concerns the perceived quality of writing... and whether it can be gleaned from the synopsis.

The question arose after perusing QLfH, and seeing what I thought was an interesting premise involving the time travel paradox. But (IMHO) the writing was wooden. There was nothing in it that would tell me that the novel itself would be a good read, even if I were blown away by the premise.

So, to expand the question: If an agent automatically round-files queries that start wrong, or go a page and a half, or are double-spaced... will they also reject based on the writing craft they see in the synopsis or tag line--without asking for a partial?

Or do they take a chance (after all, they've got virtually nothing to lose) and check the MSS?


1. you are aware tag lines or log lines are generally a bad idea, correct? Some agents seem to actually loathe them.

2. they have plenty to lose. They have more incoming manuscripts than they have time to read. Time spent on one where the query already suggests writing issues is time they can't spend elsewhere. The process isn't perfect, certainly--there are some really good queries due to etensive workshopping that go out for books that are horrible and good writers who don't know how to do a query, and didn't learn before they wrote and submitted one, but the query is the agent's first step in winnowing. And they have their time to lose, so they play odds.

jclarkdawe
04-26-2013, 05:37 PM
The question arose after perusing QLfH, and seeing what I thought was an interesting premise involving the time travel paradox. But (IMHO) the writing was wooden. There was nothing in it that would tell me that the novel itself would be a good read, even if I were blown away by the premise.

Did you tell the writer this? Where do you think wooden writing is a good thing? How is wooden writing going to help a writer get an agent to read further?

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

buz
04-26-2013, 05:48 PM
An agent will read further, or request, at the point they become interested.

This point depends on the agent and there's just no way to generalize.

The thing to do with your query and with all your writing is to make it the best you can, such that you have the best chance you can give yourself, and that's really all you can do.

JSSchley
04-26-2013, 05:50 PM
The question arose after perusing QLfH, and seeing what I thought was an interesting premise involving the time travel paradox. But (IMHO) the writing was wooden. There was nothing in it that would tell me that the novel itself would be a good read, even if I were blown away by the premise.

So, to expand the question: If an agent automatically round-files queries that start wrong, or go a page and a half, or are double-spaced... will they also reject based on the writing craft they see in the synopsis or tag line--without asking for a partial?

You round-filed the query, why wouldn't an agent?

You answered your own not-a-question.

mccardey
04-26-2013, 05:53 PM
*facepalm


Also -

:popcorn:

Susan Littlefield
04-26-2013, 06:44 PM
Also -

:popcorn:

Double Also. :popcorn::popcorn:

suki
04-26-2013, 09:51 PM
A query is a business letter, and if it shows a lack of careful and thoughtful preparation, it may also imply a lack of professionalism, or pride in your work.

Careless errors, dashed off muddled draft of a pitch, fundamental misuse of grammar or punctuation, etc. all can make a less than positive impression. If the query is over-written, full of purple prose, or wordy, the agent may assume the manuscript is, as well. etc.

As for voice versus wooden language: In a query, voice is like salt - use it sparingly to show you have some, but not so much as to overwhelm with that one bite.

~suki

DennisB
04-27-2013, 05:00 PM
Sounds like I've struck a nerve!!
How dare you start a thread that's been covered before!! How dare you phrase it as a question?!!?

Here goes again: Is it important to offer in the synopsis a truly good representation of your writing ability, and (more importantly) a good idea of what's inside? Or, is the synopsis more like a blurb, just something to hook the agent/pub on the premise?

And quite frankly, I am personally interested, because I seem to have an easier time making my mss lively--than the synopsis. Maybe it's because the mss is fiction as told by a wide-eyed and easily-amazed third person. The synopsis is (in a manner of speaking) non-fiction, as told by ME.

amschilling
04-27-2013, 05:20 PM
Little wary jumping in here when the popcorn is already out, but...

A query is a blurb to hook the agent on the premise. It should be a good representation of your writing ability, and fit the voice/tone of the book. It should give folks an idea of what's inside, but it shouldn't go into fine details and subplots and reveal every secret. It should be: Who is the MC? What do they want? What stands in their way of getting it, and what happens if they don't get it? They're only supposed to be about 250 words.

A synopsis is a linear summation of plot points and character motivations, which cover from the first scene to the last and reveal the ending, to show that you can piece a story together properly. It's like a book report on crack. Though I've heard agents say they'd prefer it be like a short story rather than dry, which can be tough to do. Length wanted varies by agent, but I've seen between one to three single-spaced pages requested the most. Main plot needs to be detailed out, as well as why the MC makes the choices they make (thoughts, reactions, and motivations). Subplots fit in if there's room or they're critical to the main plot resolution.

Query and synopsis are two different things. I mention the difference because it sounds like you're discussing the query, but are using the term synopsis. Just want to be sure I'm covering the right thing.

Regardless, voice is important in both, but is critical in a query. Dry and wooden in a query won't entice agents or editors to read. It'll entice them to hit "delete." It's the first view they get of you and your work, and needs to be something that makes you stand out from the rest of the slushpile. Problems here make them assume problems in the novel, as well.

Dry and wooden in a synopsis might be forgiven, if the query and pages are full of life and it's clear the story itself if well-developed and paced.

suki
04-27-2013, 07:08 PM
Sounds like I've struck a nerve!!
How dare you start a thread that's been covered before!! How dare you phrase it as a question?!!? Dennis, the issue is you are asking questions answered (and discussed over and over) in Query Letter Hell. So, it leaves the impression you: (a) haven't bothered to read those threads, even though they would assist you in answering these questions, or (b) you don't like the answers or opinions you've been given, so you want to rehash until someone tells you what you want to hear.

Here goes again: Is it important to offer in the synopsis a truly good representation of your writing ability, and (more importantly) a good idea of what's inside? Well, first, a synopsis and a query are two different things. Another reason to spend some time with the sticky threads in Query Letter Hell, learning about the differences. Or, is the synopsis more like a blurb, just something to hook the agent/pub on the premise? Second, again, they both would be most effective if they show a command of the use of language and a taste of the voice of your work -- taste, ie, select word choices to give the flavor.

And quite frankly, I am personally interested, because I seem to have an easier time making my mss lively--than the synopsis. Maybe it's because the mss is fiction as told by a wide-eyed and easily-amazed third person. The synopsis is (in a manner of speaking) non-fiction, as told by ME.

Honestly. If you spent some time in Query letter Hell, reading the stickies, and then reading a bunch of the critique threads, these issues would be discussed and analyzed over and over again. And then you could draw your own conclusions. There is a whole forum of threads addressing the concepts in the abstract and then in terms of specific queries and synopses.

~suki

amergina
04-27-2013, 07:47 PM
Here goes again: Is it important to offer in the synopsis a truly good representation of your writing ability, and (more importantly) a good idea of what's inside? Or, is the synopsis more like a blurb, just something to hook the agent/pub on the premise?

The point of the synopsis is to provide an agent/editor with the entire main plot of the novel. It *is* important that it be well-written and contain the goal, motivation, conflict, and conclusion of the major plot arc of your story.

Is it a representation of how well you can write? Yes, of course it is. So is the query. Everything you send to the agent/editor is a representation of how well you can write. If it's sloppy and doesn't contain what it should, it'll not reflect as well as a tightly-written synopsis with voice.

Will a crappy synopsis sink your career? No. Not necessarily. But why not write the best synopsis you can?

Mind you, I am only repeating what has been covered over and over and over on these boards.

Old Hack
04-27-2013, 09:56 PM
I think all of us get the point, now, that DennisB posed his question somewhat clumsily and that he could easily have found his answer by reading some of the stickies in QLH.

Let's move on from that, please. Address the original point, or visit another thread. Thank you!

Susan Littlefield
04-28-2013, 06:36 AM
How much stock do agents put in the literary craft of the query? Not the usual format questions... such as opening with "I'm seeking representation," or "I'm a writer..."

But whether the synopsis actually has the kind of voice that will sell the agent on the idea that the querier actually knows how to write a novel? That the novel is sound enough to pursue?

Of is it simply a matter of a subject hooking the agent, and the nuts and bolts of the mss coming later?

You must craft your query well enough to get the agent to want to read further. Do it well, as the query is your introduction.

If you have crafted the query well, the agent moves on to the synopsis. The synopsis must be written well, no errors, and tell your story from beginning to end. Your synopsis tells the agent whether you can construction a story well.

I believe the way to hook the agent is to write a query letter and synopsis that stand out from the ones in the usual slush pile.

Katrina S. Forest
04-28-2013, 03:40 PM
Katrina,
That original post was about formating. This post concerns the perceived quality of writing... and whether it can be gleaned from the synopsis.

My apologies. It wasn't meant to be accusing (or to suggest that we can't discuss similar topics multiple times), just that it seemed you were asking the same thing twice.

Returning to the regularly scheduled discussion...

jclarkdawe
04-28-2013, 05:08 PM
The terms "query" and "synopsis" cause confusion and addressing this again isn't a bad thing. Before understanding how publishing uses the terms, it helps to understand what the two terms mean in general.

A synopsis is a summary of something, whether it is a story, a scientific experiment, a medical procedure, whatever. A synopsis can run anywhere from one sentence to a hundred pages or more. A synopsis is written for many reasons, from marketing to providing a simple explanation of a complex procedure.

A query (letter) is a letter sent to someone asking that person to do something and providing supportive material in the letter to aid the person in making that decision. It tends to consist of a salutation, why you're writing, a summary of the project (synopsis), technical information on the project, bio, and closing. Depending upon the field, it can run from a short one page letter to several pages.

Now let's look at how the publishing world has morphed these documents and terms to suit itself.

Queries (we drop the letter) have now dropped the why you're writing, leaving it to be implied. Technical information is the word count, title, and genre. And the summary or synopsis isn't called that. But it is a summary or synopsis, hence creating confusion from those who have no idea what a query letter is.

Twenty years ago or more, it used to be that the summary was about a paragraph long, supported by a separate synopsis, and the first 50 pages. (And by the way, no emailing it as email didn't exist.) But as time has gone by, agents aren't requesting synopses as much, don't want as many pages, and want a longer summary (synopsis) in the letter. And the summary (synopsis) purpose has changed a bit as well, as it isn't as essential that the summary (synopsis) let the agent know about the story as it has become a marketing tool where the main purpose of the summary (synopsis) is to entertain the agent enough so that the agent wants to read more.

A "synopsis," as commonly defined by the publishing industry, is a one to five page document summarizing the story, aiming specifically at identifying plot problems.

All writing requires clarity, but the shorter the writing, the more clarity is required. But understanding what you need to accomplish in each document (synopsis versus query) let's you decide what is important to each.

I've written this before, and will probably write it again.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

kaitie
04-28-2013, 09:49 PM
Um...of course writing matters? If you can tell immediately from the query that the writing is weak, there's no reason to read on. Agents get queries all the time that are unprofessional, grammatically incorrect, filled with typos, or just downright clunky or over-written.

A writer should be able to write a query letter that is grammatically correct and sounds good. Read the Query Shark. You'll see examples there where she talks about how the authors are misusing language or phrasing things in awkward ways that show her that the writer just isn't good enough yet.

A well-written query letter is going to get you so much further in the world than a crappy one. A crappy one might not do you in, but why would you even chance it? And if you have a crappy one, the pages with it had darn well better be absolutely perfect to make up for it.

BethS
04-28-2013, 11:12 PM
How much stock do agents put in the literary craft of the query? Not the usual format questions... such as opening with "I'm seeking representation," or "I'm a writer..."

But whether the synopsis actually has the kind of voice that will sell the agent on the idea that the querier actually knows how to write a novel? That the novel is sound enough to pursue?

Of is it simply a matter of a subject hooking the agent, and the nuts and bolts of the mss coming later?

It's very important. The query is the first hint the agent gets as to whether a writer can actually write.



So, to expand the question: If an agent automatically round-files queries that start wrong, or go a page and a half, or are double-spaced... will they also reject based on the writing craft they see in the synopsis or tag line--without asking for a partial?

Or do they take a chance (after all, they've got virtually nothing to lose) and check the MSS?


They have valuable time to lose. If the query goes into the round file, that's the end of the line.

Mr Flibble
04-29-2013, 03:56 AM
Your query is your sales pitch, where you show how good a writer you are. Any fool can write a query/novel. A good writer can encapsulate their story in a couple of hundred words and make it sound compelling


Would you buy a PC from someone who couldn't tell a USB from RAM? Get a guy to decorate your house if he doesn't know the difference between matt and gloss? Would you take guitar lessons from someone who can't play Smoke on the Water without cocking it up? No?

So why would you contemplate a query that has all the hallmarks of someone not knowing how to write well?

This (the query) is your first impression. Your interview. Yes, wordcraft matters because you are trying to sell your wordcraft.

blacbird
04-29-2013, 10:08 AM
Naaaah. Go ahead and write your query as crappy as you want. No agent will notice.

caw

Cathy C
04-29-2013, 02:11 PM
Here goes again: Is it important to offer in the synopsis a truly good representation of your writing ability, and (more importantly) a good idea of what's inside? Or, is the synopsis more like a blurb, just something to hook the agent/pub on the premise?

And quite frankly, I am personally interested, because I seem to have an easier time making my mss lively--than the synopsis. Maybe it's because the mss is fiction as told by a wide-eyed and easily-amazed third person. The synopsis is (in a manner of speaking) non-fiction, as told by ME.

You're having trouble because of the right brain/left brain thing. Fiction writing is more left brain, while business or technical writing is right brain.

Here's something to try: See if you can write the primary plot into a back cover blurb. You know, like you'd see on the back of any book. It has to intrigue, it has to give some voice and most important, it has to give a summary of the plot. :) Read the back cover on a bunch of books you already have and have read. After twenty or so, you'll get the idea and you'll see just how it needs to be worded for a query.

Oh, and everything the others have said, too...

Carry on with the :popcorn:

Axordil
04-30-2013, 01:47 AM
My impression (and that's all it is) is that while a workmanlike query that describes a really cool story may well result in a submission request, the world's greatest novel won't get anywhere if the query is simply bad.

An agent who reads pages (they still exist) might ignore a query with awful grammar or usage if the actual material is good...but they might also wonder how the same person could write both.