Saturday, March 21, 2015

Query Question: entice or reveal?

Reading the submission guidelines of numerous agents, many ask that a query "tell us the entire story--from beginning to end. We want (need) to know what happens." They specifically say they don't want anything akin to jacket copy or two intriguing paragraphs. Obviously, were one going to query these agents, one would follow their guidelines.

I've poured over helpful websites including Writer's Digest and, of course, Query Shark. I've deduced that you prefer the jacket copy/two intriguing paragraphs type of query.

If, however, a particular agent's submission guidelines simply say, "Send your query to such and such email and include the first 5 pages..." without expressing a preference, which is the appropriate way to go? Two intriguing paragraphs? Or a full on synopsis? 

I'm astonished to learn that someone wants a full on plot synopsis in a query. I've never heard of such a thing! However, if that's what the guidelines say, follow them.

Absent instructions to the contrary, send only the enticing two paragraphs that introduce the main character and the plot. Entice the reader to want more.  The reason that QueryShark asks for that is because that's what most agents want.

I'm interested to see who these "many" are that ask for the entire story.  Send me the links to the sites if you can dig them up without spending too much time on it.


Michael Seese said...

I don't know if this is the same as the person who sent the question is asking, but here are some who ask for a synopsis as part of the query package:

lynneconnolly said...

That was so good that I thought for a minute you were British.

Pharosian said...

That's odd. I had also heard the instruction not to tease in a query letter--to reveal the entire plot.

I always assumed it was so the agent could gauge whether the author had a decent ending for the book, since a strong ending may be harder for a new author to achieve.

Colin Smith said...

Call me old-fashioned, but I'm not sure one should even kiss on a first date, let alone give away the whole plot. :)

Unknown said...

To throw in a twist, I once hired a freelance editor who advised me NOT to tell the plot's end in a synopsis: keep them guessing. After questioning that advice multiple times to make sure I wasn't misunderstanding her--and she insisting this was the case for synopsis--I fired her.

JulieWeathers said...

Oh, Colin, before my coffee? Well, I suppose that's better than with a mouthful of coffee.

I know some agents request a synopsis with the query material, but I haven't run across any who want all revealed in the query letter.In the synopsis you definitely reveal all, but I haven't seen agents who want that in a query letter.

I always follow instructions on the website, but that's kind of odd.


Dena Pawling said...

I'm in the middle of polishing my synopsis because a few agents on my A-list request the synopsis and the first three chapters along with the query. Some of these agents are requesting these documents by email attachment, which is odd since most guidelines say NO ATTACHMENTS in large letters. I'm reading those guidelines five or six times to be sure I didn't mis-read.

A month or so ago, while I was compiling my list of agents, I do remember reading several submission guidelines that requested the plot summary in the query. I'm not finding any of those right now on my quick go-thru tho, maybe they didn't rep my genre.

LynnRodz said...

I think what they mean when they say don't tease, it has more to do with alluding to what's happening in a story than coming right out and saying what actually takes place.

Sharky meets Moby at the local watering hole, sparks fly, and then something incredibly weird happens while they're swimming up the river. The end will amaze you, all I can say is there won't be any more fishes in the sea, just an old man.

Anonymous said...

I've been conflicted by these directions before as well.

When my first book was going on submission, I was asked to provide the synopsis, and I remember being told, "tell them everything, even the ending."

That's was puzzling, but how I wrote it. Two pages of blow by blow, exactly what happened, even the ending given away. I sent it off and got, "too long, maybe tantalize more, don't give so much away."

Argh. I hate writing synopses.

One thing I noticed about all of Micheal's links is they do ask for a synopsis, but they don't say "we have to know everything that happens." which is good news for anyone querying them, I guess. No second guessing like I did.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Egads, another way to do thinks. I'm with Colin AND take along a chaperone.

JulieWeathers said...

I have the query, a one or two-page synopsis as well as the five-page synopsis, and various length chunks of writing I've made sure don't have whacky formatting. The only thing I haven't done is the marketing plan some seem to be requesting now. I've avoided querying those agents.

I'm having a tough time with the "give everything away" in the query thought. I think I'd just include the one-page synopsis with the query.

Eileen said...

The query is the tantalizing peek-a-boo slit on your first-date skirt. The synopsis is your sheer come-hither negligee. Hopefully the courtship ends in a marriage proposal, followed by happily-ever-after on the best-seller list.

mhleader said...

I wonder if the confusion with the person asking this question is that some agents really do ask for a synopsis as part of the query.

IOW, the agent's website might say something like "include a complete synopsis of the book, including the ending, with your query." Instructions like that mean send in a real synopsis which DOES include the ending always.

BUT I'd still have a normal query letter with the blurby kind of thing (unless that was EXPLICITLY prohibited), then put the synopsis at the bottom after the signature.

The query letter would have a sentence like "As requested on your website, a brief synopsis of the story is included below."

IOW, I wouldn't put the synopsis into the cover letter itself--just tack it on after the query letter ends (i.e., after the signature line), just as I would tack on any requested pages.

Colin Smith said...

The other side of this is the fact that it takes longer to read even a 1-page synopsis than it does a 250 word query. Why would an agent ask queriers to give them MORE to read? The great thing with a brief query is the agent gets a sense within a few lines (= a couple of seconds) whether this is a project they want to spend time with.

But maybe these agents all speed read...?

karennwrites (Karen Nunes) said...

That would be one long query... unless you're amazing at paring down. Leaving enough flesh on the bone to entice within those parameters sounds like a nail biter.
I'd re-read the guidelines and make sure. It just makes more sense to keep the query and evil synopsis separate.

Rachel and Mark said...

Thus far I have avoided agencies that ask for synopses. I tried one and it was emotionally draining to write one.

Christina Seine said...

Colin Smith said...

"Call me old-fashioned, but I'm not sure one should even kiss on a first date, let alone give away the whole plot. :)"

And Colin wins the Internet today.

I think I'd look a little askance at an agent who wanted a query so off the beaten path. I'm sure it's a legit thing to do, but several others have already pointed out why it doesn't make much sense. Queries are different than synops...esses (synopses? synopseez?) and valuable for their own reasons. Being asked for the ending in a query is a bit like talking about going steady on the first date. Ick.

Susan Bonifant said...

I have responded to query + synopsis guidelines as well, but I always wonder why the query would be requested at all if the synopsis shows both writing and ending.

The other day I ran across an agent who asked for a full manuscript WITH the query and found it puzzling, but then I thought, why not? It's just an e-file and you can answer all your questions about the story/writer at once.

JulieWeathers said...


"Being asked for the ending in a query is a bit like talking about going steady on the first date. Ick."

My third stepfather was of the impression girls shouldn't be allowed to date until they were ready to get married. It was fine to go to community dances, but none of that dating stuff.

Christina Seine said...

@Julie - Well I've probably already dated myself (no pun intended) by using the phrase "going steady," but I'll tell you that I do have two teenage daughters who are nearly old enough to start dating. God help me. The more I think about it, the better arranged marriages sound to me.

JulieWeathers said...


I didn't allow the boys to date until they were sixteen. My oldest had hounded me unmercifully to be allowed to date, but I stuck to my guns.

Then, he skipped school one day. This was the kid who never got in trouble for anything. He and his friends decided to skip school. One of the friends' mothers and I went looking for them when the school called and found them.

He got grounded for three months. By the time he was ungrounded he had turned sixteen, but he had school, a job after school to support his rodeo habit, an old Camaro he was rebuilding, and rodeo. I'd ask him why he never went out.

"By the time I get off work, I'm too tired during the week. On the weekends, I'm at a rodeo. Besides, all my money goes to rodeo and the car and girls want you to spend money on them."

Occasionally he'd invite a girl out to go horseback riding. I told him one day to saddle up another horse for the girl instead of riding Jack bareback.

"Mom, seriously? Has it been that long since you dated?"

Christina Seine said...

@Julie - That's a smart boy you got there, Mama. =D

Jenz said...

mhleader said: I wonder if the confusion with the person asking this question is that some agents really do ask for a synopsis as part of the query.

I think that might be the case. All those links in the first comment say query PLUS synopsis, not instead of. I have never seen agency guidelines asking for only a synopsis with no query.

Craig F said...

I too have seen agents ask for both a synopsis and a query. Some days I like that idea. My query has been a royal pain for several reasons. I call my manuscript a thriller but it starts with a couple of seemingly unrelated mysteries.

Writing a query for the mystery end of it would be reasonably easy. But I need to toss in at least a hunt about the thriller part or look like just another dunce.

The query, however is supposedly a way to entice an agent by your writing style. A synopsis is not a great way to entice with your style. It is meant to be closer to a fleshed out outline to show your concept.

If the Queen had asked for a synopsis I might have gotten more than a "query widely". The end of the manuscript ends with Janet Reid picking up a fallen 1911 and ending the life of the monster.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

OH GOD, query letter AS A synopsis? Please, muddy the waters further /sob

Most agents I've looked at have only wanted the query letter and X number of pages. Some have wanted a synopsis, and I confess, I have not yet queried those folks. Query letters are hard, synopses are hard, writing is hard.

Craig F said...

No, writing is easy. It is the road to publication that is paved with tribulation. Self publication is an even harder road because you are on your own.

E.Maree said...

I have to wonder if this brave querier is looking at UK agencies? The format is quite different there -- most commonly a cover letter (formal letter with very quick "pitch" and your bio, though a US-style query can be acceptable here), the first three chapters and a full synopsis.

In UK format, the cover letter is the most minor part of the submission -- it's the chapters and synopsis that need to be PERFECT to snag an agent. You fret yourself into a tizzy over the synopsis, not the query.

It does seem like a more time-consuming process, but it makes it very easy for the agent to judge both quality of writing and check for sagging middles or weak endings.

DLM said...

Colin, hee - but that's a good way of looking at it!

E. Maree, very interesting - and sounds like a possibility. I have queried a couple of UK agencies, but that was on my first round of queries, some time ago (before revision). They did seem to have more detailed requirements, so this may explain.

I read my 1-page synopsis recently (the one I like best, of the elebenty-squillion versions I've created to satisfy varying requirements!), and really liked it. I think my query is good, too.

So it's a pity I'm forced to face the possibility the work itself just isn't sellable right now. I'm in the process of taking a hard look at Square One and contemplating going back there. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

I've seen the odd agent who asks for the whole story in the query letter. If I remember right (and my memory is always suspect), I've seen this mostly on Twitter, by agents who don't rep what I'm trying to sell.

Are they good/real agents? I don't know. I haven't been interested enough to check further.

But, now that I'm curious, I'm going to go looking. I'll let you know if I find them again.

Anonymous said...

Nope. Not finding anything about including the whole story in a query letter. (Granted, it's hard to find anything specific with such a general search.)

99% of the things I'm finding on Twitter and elsewhere on the interwebz is: DON'T tell the whole story.

The other 1% doesn't mention what to include.

Sorry I can't be of more help.

Karen McCoy said...

I'll echo Michael Seese in that some agencies I've queried sometimes also ask for a full synopsis in addition to the jacket blurb included in the query. But it's been a long time since I've queried, so they might have changed their guidelines by now.

Contests are more common for this sort of thing, I think. I just entered a contest that required a full synopsis covering the entire scope of the work in less than 250 words (insert significant huffing, puffing, and sweating).

JulieWeathers said...

So, when the stress of queries or synopses get to you, just watch this guy who will discuss the true meaning of stress.

DLM said...

Okay, I either want to applaud or throw up a little a the "breath wafting across the unshaved whiskers of my face!" bit ...


JulieWeathers said...


Well, thus is true stress, I suppose.


Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

My experience:

I can't think of an agent I've queried who's asked for a synop in place of a query letter.

I've had several agents specify to include a synop with a query.

The purpose of the synop is to show that you can tell a complete story arc. What this tells me about these agents is that they may prefer plot-based novels over character-based novels.

More often than not, if an agent asks for something in addition to a query letter, it's usually the first handful of pages. Most don't bother with a synop.

Why would an agent ask for more than the usual query letter? This is their secret optimist side showing (or their need for efficiency. Actually, it's for efficiency. I kid about the optimism).

The sad truth is that agents do not read everything every hopeful author sends. The extra stuff is there in case the agent is hooked by your query letter. They spend literally seconds on the query letter. If it hooks them, they'll have a glance at the sample pages. If that hooks them, they may cast a quick eye over the synop. If that holds up, they'll request more.

If the query doesn't hook them, well, we're only out a few electrons.

As much as it irks me at this stage, ultimately, I would prefer an agent who would spend more time on me, the client, than on uncontracted hopefuls.

JEN Garrett said...

This post has people really talking!

Synopsis verses Jacket Copy varies a lot among agents.

When an agent asks for a synopsis, often they want to know the end because they want to be sure the manuscript is COMPLETE. So, if you give away the ending, try to do so in a way that makes the agent want to find out how.

The new Cinderella movie is a good example. We all know how it ends, but the commercials show taunting ugly stepsisters, a realistically villainous stepmother, and a bumbling fairy god mother. How on earth is Cinderella going to get from servant girl to princess? We want to watch and find out.

Sue Coletta said...

Some agents might ask for a full synopsis IN ADDITION TO a query, but never instead of one. At least not one that I've ever come across.