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Joe with an E - Another attempt at synopsis, and a query letter

So I've spent most of my day off today reworking my synopsis and writing a draft query letter which I'd love to get some feedback on. I've probably not followed the conventional format for either and both are perhaps a little bit on the long side (I've got each of them on one page but only with narrow margins). I personally feel a lot happier with the way in which I am communicating the essence of my novel but again, what matters is how it comes across to people who aren't so familiar with it. I've attached both as documents this time, rather than pasting them in here as I think that makes them easier to read.

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  • Hi Paul, 

    Thanks for sharing those. Instead of offering feedback I'm going to offer you a link to a blog from agent, Juliet Mushens about the perfect cover letter. At it stands at the moment your letter is too long and has quite a few no-no's which are turn-off for agents such as explaining your choice of POVs, your synopsis and details about who is and isn't the audience. The letter is where you make your first impression so you can't  get this wrong. Also you are missing comp titles.

    https://www.mushens-entertainment.com/blog/the-perfect-cover-letter

    Also using normal font and italics to show dual timelines in a synopsis is not something that's done. Just stick to the main timeline and the main turning points and climax of your story. Again Juliet has a great blog post about synopsis

    https://www.mushens-entertainment.com/blog/the-dreaded-synopsis

    I  hope this helps.

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    • Hi Paul, 

      Disclaimer, Juliet is actually my agent. 

      She definitely likes for the voice to shine through in the letter but only if pulled off well (the example is Jessie Burton's letter), in doubt just keep it professional. You don't need a paragraph about audience just say "an adult speculative novel, complete at xxx,xxx words" that all it needs. Also instead of explaining the audience in details, agents prefer comp titles it provides them a much better picture. Agents do not rely on the age of a protagonist to decide the audience (they would assume because your MC is 14 that it's YA), it is based on the writing itself and the themes of the book. They are plenty of adult fiction with children or teens protagonists.

      When reading an agent will know it is has crossover appeal or not. Same about the multiple book, all it needs is "this is a standalone with series potential." Agents receive an average 3,000 to 5,000 submissions a year so the letter needs to be professional and to the point, and if you can get some voice in then better. 

      I'm not trying to dishearten you, just want to help to make your submission the best possible.

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      • Hi L. It a frightfully difficult problem. I've been busy for 2 months reediting my book and have just finished. Your post has helped as I have followed your agent's advice and tried to draft a query letter as advised. Time to test it after a week or so. As an aside, 7000 words of waffling dialogue I removed from my book. I never would have believed there was so much excess until several examples were pointed out to me by an editor. Thanks for your web site suggestions. Rob.

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        • Glad I could help. It’s definitely hard. It took me months working on and off revising and polishing my query letter until I had something I was happy with and it still didn’t stop me to have to tweak it halfway through the query process based on the response I got from agents.

          Plus there’s so much competition out there when submitting you can’t afford not to have it in the best shape possible.

          Sometimes as writers we are too close to our story to see where it could be improved. That’s why I love getting feedback. I don’t see it as people telling me what’s wrong with my story but how to make it even better.

          Good luck with your submission! 

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        • I only read the synopsis - I'll leave things at Laure's indirect feedback on the cover letter - and the overall feel was that… nothing really happened.

          Oh, okay, stuff happened, but the impression - besides the confusion induced by the split timeline - was that they were random pickings, without a solid drive behind them. They didn't fit together as a coherent whole. And, notwithstanding the grammatical glitches which detract from understanding, your protagonist isn't driving his own story, except perhaps the choice right at the end to abandon his companion.

          As an agent, the combination of lack-of-believability, lack of drive, and grammatical mishaps in your synopsis would have me sending a stock rejection letter, however good the cover letter might be.

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          • Ok, thanks for the grammar corrections.  In terms of your believability questions, I think the key problem is that you've read the synopsis in isolation. As I understand it, agents read the letter first (which is actually the body of your email, not a separate letter). If they like the premise for your book that you've described in there, they'll read your opening chapters. If they like that, they'll read your synopsis. I think by the time they got to the synopsis, the sorts of questions you've asked would be answered. Given that most agents like a synopsis to be a single page, or little more, I imagine they don't expect to see lots of things explained in it if they have already been covered in the letter or the opening chapters. I realise that unless you looked back at my posts from July, you wouldn't have seen my opening chapters so in that sense you're missing the middle piece of the three piece jigsaw. Nevertheless, I would hope that some of your questions would be answered if you read my query letter. Not that I'm asking you to do that unless you feel you want to.

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            • I agree. You definitely don't want to be answering all of that in the synopsis.

              However, I would say that it needs to be able to stand on its own; there will be others after the agent who won't have the cover letter or opening chapters to go on. The trick, though, is to only drop in one detail that shows that you ahve though about all the rest of it. One line to set the scene to make it believable. (And don't assume that everything else about social behaviour will be the same - in a sense, that is the most unbelievable.)

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              • I'd have to disagree with your last point Rick. I think there's a place for stories where there's one key thing that is totally different but in all other respects the world feels disturbingly or comfortably similar to our own. I can justify all the similarities between the world of my novel and our own world but I don't think there is any point in doing so on this forum. Thank again for your comments.

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              • HI Paul

                 

                This is such a tricky thing to get right (as you can see) and after spending so long writing and honing a manuscript to have it fall down in front of an agent due to some technicalities is a shame.

                I only read the query letter because that's what an agent will do. They won't touch the synopsis unless the query letter pulls them in. 

                The first line of the query letter 

                I am writing to seek representation for my first novel, Joe with an E, a speculative adventure of 104,000 words set in a dystopian future Britain.

                I’m not sure what a speculative adventure is, and there are conventions for setting out the genre and word count in the email so you probably wouldn’t need to put it in the query letter.

                The seed of the idea coming from a TV programme I’m thinking is perhaps not a good thing to tell an agent. Quoting another person’s creation invites comparison and if the agent watched the TV drama and loved it chances are they will not look on your project favourably and if, like me, they have no idea what it is, then it is irrelevant. 

                Don’t reduce your creative credit by hinting that you’ve perhaps borrowed the idea. Yes, I know at times it is proper to say, I write in the style of XXX or YYY but that is giving the agent some stylistic clues rather than saying I didn’t come up with this idea I nicked it from a TV drama. This sounds harsh but I’m trying to say the agent doesn’t need to know where you came up with the idea when the whole transgender issue is such huge news. (Ethan the Supreme died 2 days ago), my daughter liked him, so it’s big news at the moment and has been for some time you can simply say this has been the catalyst (not Ethan but Transgender discussions.)

                The bit about Joe and the Scottish Island is intriguing though living in Scotland I have to say there ain’t that many remote islands anymore and many of the people now living there are originally from the home counties!  but I like this premise and this is where the major hook for the agent will be. 

                No need to mention in the query what POV is prevalent nor by whom. The whole paragraph about this and the different parallel narratives and the embryologist don’t need to be there either, they’ll discover this if they read it and it won’t make them any more interested in the book. As stated above by other’s no need to mention your target market either. 

                It’s an interesting premise and if you can focus on that in the query letter together with your writing credits, which an agent will find quite encouraging, then you’ve got a decent shot at representation.

                 

                Best of luck

                 

                D


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                • Hi Paul - I think you've made good progress with your synopsis. Compared to the last one it feels much more like a complete story. But still a lot of work to do, I feel.

                  Having Georgy and Cris's time line second, although chronologically  it happens first, threw me a bit. And I can see Rick's point that it feels a little random without a strong driving force.

                  What about trying to write this as two separate half page synopsis, each with a beginning middle and end, for the two time lines. This might help you find the drivers behind the stories without worrying about how the two sit on the page together. Concentrate on turning points, strong active verbs and the emotive issues. I feel that G & C synopsis should feel a lot more emotive than Joe's.

                  Once you've got those two synopsis, you can then decide how you want to combine them. You could leave them as two separate pieces with a final paragraph to tie them together, or you could see if there is a way to interweave them again.

                  I think in your covering letter you can have a short, tight explanation along the lines of 'The story has two alternating time lines. The first from the pov of...' so the agent knows that even if the synopsis is in two separate halves, that isn't how it is in the book.

                  Synopsis are tricky beasts. Don't despair and keep experimenting. You'll get there.

                  As for the covering letter. You've almost inserted a separate synopsis in it. I feel most of it needs stripping out and you need to work on the idea of a short blurb again. You're writing about a powerful topic, and I feel you need to let that shine through without all the embellishments.

                  I think L's given good advice about biting the bullet and just calling this adult dystopian.

                  Hope that helps and good luck with the re-working.

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                  • Thanks Kate, that's some really helpful advice and put so positively. You are so encouraging but still say what you think.

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