Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Queries Are Out

© Marta Stephens 2010 all rights reserved

It’s been several weeks now since I first mentioned a need to work on a synopsis and query letter for my third novel, Shroud of Lies.

I began the process by dusting off and reading through several reference books I had on the shelf. I also scoured the web to find that magic wand that would instantly light the way to writing the perfect synopsis. I’ll admit, the concept is simple enough—summarize 90,000 words into a two page summary—but in truth, the it's been as painless as getting my nails yanked out.

One site I did find very helpful and visit often is Chuck Sambuchino’s “Guide to Literary Agents”. There you’ll find articles on everything from interviews with agents and articles by authors on how they got their agents to information on writing and marketing.

After almost as many weeks of staring at a blank computer screen and writing several drafts, I finally arrived at what I think is a decent set of documents. By the way, this will also be test of true friendship (feel so "needy" at times). Thanks so much to Kim Smith, S. W. Vaugh, and J D Web for all your help and support!! 

So what did I learn along the way?

The query letter:

1. Do your homework. Identify agents interested in your genre and who are also accepting queries and read the guidelines. That means going to their websites and reading everything available on the agency, the agents and their submission guidelines. I also discovered that while some agents only want an e-mail query, others only accept snail mail. Some want the query, synopsis, and the first five pages while others don't want a synopsis, only a query and the first five chapters. That's why it's critical to not assume anything.

2. Develop a brief intro to your query letter. Having said this, however, I discovered that some agents don’t care to know where you found their name. They just want you to get on with describing your project so be aware of their preferences before you send it out.

3. Write a short 2-3 paragraph blurb—the kind you’d read on the back flap of your book. Refine it and use it as the meat of your query letter.

4. Develop one-two sentences that indicates what is unique about your book. Why this book different from every other book out there in its genre?

5. Next include a list of your credentials; education (especially if you studied creative writing), previously published works, literary awards, and memberships in professional writing organizations.

6. If you’re sending out multiple queries (as well you should), make it a point to mention it in your query.

7. Finally, offer a thanks and … “May I send …”

Here’s my blurb:

When Rhonie Lude’s partner on the Chicago police force is killed, rumors hint of her incompetence. She flees to Hollywood to start a new life as a private eye. It’s 1962 and proving her worth in a man’s profession is as frustrating as the shrinking balance in her bank account. Thus, when a mysterious note arrives in the mail, she’s compelled to take the case from a man she doesn’t trust.

The job entails tracking her client’s estranged daughter and reporting her findings, but he’s a little too evasive and willing to pay too much for a simple surveillance. The investigation triggers a series of threats against Lude and when the daughter’s death is made to look like a suicide, Lude’s challenge is to convince the homicide detective the young lady was murdered.

Lude’s only encouragement comes from the elderly Evy Monks during their weekly visits. At times, the woman’s senile comments have an eerie way of coming true. Lude dismisses them as nonsense, but as the case takes a startling turn, it’s clear Evy knows more than she’s telling. The truth is far more frightening than discovering the killer is a trusted person close to Lude.

The focus in Shroud of Lies is the murder Lude must solve, but its uniqueness is the unexpected relationship between Evy and Rhonie Lude and the revelation of the two women’s identities.
The synopsis:

Okay, this was a heck of a lot harder to do since the general preference is a two-page synopsis. I found myself wanting to include every detail, every twist and turn in the book and ended up with a very long and cumbersome summary. One reference suggested writing a long version (4-5 pages) on the off-chance that some agents may ask for it. Once I had my long version, I started to trim it down by reading each sentence and asking, “So what? Is this vital information to know in order to get across the general idea of the novel?" Often times it wasn't. Using this strategy helped me to reduced it to a solid two pages.

I’ve started sending out queries, and now I wait. In the meantime, I’m cleaning out my files and the top of my desk, and spending quite a bit of time outside watching my tomatoes grow!

About the author:
Marta Stehens work is best described as crime fiction with a strong appeal to readers with a taste for noir. She's been writing since 2003. Her debut novel, Silenced Cry (2007) received honorable mention at the 2008 New York Book Festival. Her second novel, The Devil Can Wait (2008), received the 2009 bronze Independent Publishers Book Award (IPPY).  Reviews and excerpts of Stephens's novels are available on her website, Books are available in paperback and e-book formats on most online shops including Amazon. She has a degree in journalism/public relations and is a member of Sisters in Crime and the Midwest Writer’s Workshop.


Terry W. Ervin II said...

Good Luck, Marta!

Glad to see Murder by 4 is still active. Been two weeks since a new post!

Marta Stephens said...

Well, what can I say? It's summer. We'll be back up and running hard again in the fall. We already have several featured writers lined up!

Thanks for your good wishes and for being such a loyal reader, Terry!! :()

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Marta, I went through another cycle of this a few months back and feel your pain. Writing the query letter and synopses (or back cover blurbs, for that matter) are harder than writing twenty chapters. Really. It's so important to get the essence of your story in a short, snappy few sentences, and that is the ultimate challenge. I just got through doing the back cover blurb for Healey's Cave (coming out in August) and I think I'm finally getting the hang of it. I'll post it soon to see what you guys think.

Good luck!!

J D Webb said...

This book is a winner. Go get 'em, Marta.

Ricky Bush said...

Thanks for sharing great information and your personal take on synopsis writing. I hate 'em. Question (for you and Aaron):
Are you two querying the publishers of your previous work...or are you both branching off into new waters?

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Hey, Ricky.

I have written so many books that occasionally I branch out (when it's outside my two current series) and look for someone new. But I still LOVE my current publisher and am totally up front with her when I do this. She's behind me 100%.

Because it takes a long time to get one book out, and because I already publish about two per year (or will in the future with my two new series), I thought it might be good to try for another pub. for some of the more "out there" titles. Also, if your current pub doesn't accept all genres, sometimes it's a necessity! Never a bad idea to troll the waters, anyhoo. ;o)