Why do agents ask for a query, plus a synopsis and a sample of my manuscript? Isn’t one enough?
I have had a lot of questions about submissions, so let’s back up and get into some detail. First, and I can’t stress this enough, you need to run your story through beta readers and/or an editor before you submit to an agent. Your writing partners are the ones who will be honest with you about what you need to fix, etc. Agents won’t take a book that needs a lot of work. It is not the agent’s job to fix your book. They don’t “see the potential” and sign you. They are looking for a book that is one revision away from going to the publisher. And publishers want perfection.
If you are querying all the agents in query tracker, that’s your first mistake. You are wasting your time and energy on sending out to people who are not looking for what you have written. My advice is, and I will probably tell you this over and over, go to www.manuscriptwishlist.com and www.mswishlist.com, then search for agents who are looking for your specific genre. You can click on the “agents” box, and then click on your genre, and it will bring up a list of agents who are looking for your type of work. Read through their wishlists to make sure yours fits. On their page, they should tell you their submission guidelines, or where to find them, along with their contact information. The most up-to-date wishlists are on Twitter at #MSWL.
When you have a list of people who are looking for your style of story, and a polished manuscript, send your queries to those people only. Up to eight agents at a time. Agents can be rude if you send them things they are not looking for. They want to see that you have cared enough to look them up, and you know what they want. They want to know why you picked them. There’s a very personal relationship between author and agent, and you need to start out on the right foot. Also, NEVER query more than one person per agency. Only one person can represent you, so if two agents in the same company liked your book, they would be in competition with each other and that’s a bad place to be. They could possibly both reject you for that reason. In some agencies you can resend to another agent after one has declined, but some agencies (like mine), say that rejection from one agent, is a “no” for all their agents. You really need to do your research. Spend your time on the preparation, not on querying random agents.
Each agent has their own way of sorting queries, and they all have different submission guidelines, even inside agencies. Rule number one, follow submission guidelines to the letter, no matter what they are. For myself, I ask for a query, one-page synopsis, and first 50 pages as a sample of the author’s work. The reason I do this is because each component has a different purpose. Let me explain.
A good query letter is important. Even if the agency has Query Manager (in which the author fills out fields labeled: query, synopsis, and sample), it is in the author’s best interest to have a formal query written, that they can copy and paste into the fields.
What is a good query letter? More on that in Agent Questions Volume One.
The query letter itself tells me your concept. Do I like what you’re selling? Is this a fresh idea? Does this new book fall into the current publishing trends? If I am attracted to the concept, I read on to the synopsis.
Your synopsis is a list of the events that take place in your book. I generally tell people to get out that outline that you used to write your book, if you have one, and put those scenes into sentences. Now you’re on your way. The synopsis tells me the bones of your story. Are there plot holes? Is there rising action? Is there a climax and resolution? In the synopsis, you need to include the ending. The query letter is your hook, where you do not give the ending away, but your synopsis needs to show the agent that you can tell a good story from front to finish.
How do you write a good synopsis? More on that in another post. It’s kind of annoying, isn’t it? Sorry.
Once I have read your synopsis and I know the “story” to your manuscript, I will go on and read your sample. In the sample, your first page is the most important. Readers will either keep reading, or put it down right away, if you are not snagging them pretty quickly.
The sample of your work is where I see for myself if the author will be able to pull off the complicated synopsis I just read. Is there a strong voice? Am I sucked into the story right away? Do I enjoy the writing style?
Put a lot of thought into your first line. Do not begin a book with someone waking up. Not the dream, not the mode of alarm, not looking in the mirror. Try not to open a book with someone speaking, because the reader knows nothing about the speaker yet and doesn’t know how to picture them or get the sub-context of what they’re saying. There are exceptions to every rule, but let’s face it, we probably aren’t one of them. Narrating to oneself, or thinking, is also a form of dialogue, so it’s wise not to begin with a character ruminating, either. Another wrong way to open is with a weather report. That’s just boring, unless you are a meteorologist. A description of the setting, is nearly as slow. An unspecific, general statement, that is true for most people, will not entice your readers to continue. Basically, anything that is not a puzzle-piece, or intended to make the reader curious enough to plow on, just won’t work. Make the reader ask who/what/where/why/when? Use an interesting, or unique detail of your theme, character, or setting that captures your reader from the first line.
If your submission has checked off each of these items on my checklist, I will ask you for the full manuscript. I need this because, after sending the first three chapters to agent after agent, and revising over and over, your first three chapters are going to shine! However, many people would be surprised at how many manuscripts go quickly downhill beginning with the fourth chapter. When you are given advice by agents and /or critique partners, make sure to carry that advice all the way through your story. I have also gotten all the way through a manuscript to have the climax fizzle out, or the ending mangled. Some have no ending at all. They abruptly end mid-scene. There MUST be a resolution. Even if it’s half a paragraph long, each story requires an end that satisfies the reader’s curiosity enough to feel that the book is a complete story, but curious enough to continue, if it is a series.
So, you see, each part of the submission is necessary for an agent’s judgement concerning which books they will represent. Because we don’t just represent books, we represent our authors. They are our clients, business partners, the writers of books we are passionate about, and friends. And don’t you choose your friends wisely, and with thought?
I hope my information makes it easier for you to find the agent of your dreams, and make them all come true! Happy submitting!