Monday, November 20, 2006

Plot Summaries in Queries

Dear Rejecter,

I'm nearing completion on a memoir-in-blog-form, which, with a little work, could easily be reworked into a book manuscript. I've contacted one agency so far; I'm waiting to hear from them before I approach others.

The submission guidelines for the agency I've already approached request just a short paragraph summarizing the subject of the proposed book. However, I've been looking at sample queries, and I've noticed that many of them provide a detailed, blow-by-blow account of the plot, beginning to end.

For future reference, do you suggest a brief overview, or a detailed plot description? The memoir I've been working on is very much a story, rather than a "this-is-what's-happened-in-my-life-so-far" kind of thing, and I could easily provide the entire plot, but it strikes me that that's overkill in an initial query letter.

What are your thoughts? Does it simply depend on who you're querying?

I don't know what sample queries you were looking at, but in general, a blow-by-blow account of the plot is a terrible thing to do in a query. The object of the summation of the book is to entice the agent the same way a book jacket summary would entice the reader - and book jacket summaries don't summarize the plot. They just make it sound like something you would want to read.

The best thing to focus on in that 1-3 paragraph summation is the conflict of the book (known as the "hook"), because it's conflict that makes books interesting, in fiction anyway. An example of this would be: "A factory worker wakes up one morning to discover he has transformed into a bug." I don't know how to go on summarizing that because it's been a while since I read Kafka, and I'm pretty sure he dies at the end, but the point is - guy turns into bug. Okay. That's interesting. You don't see that every day. Now tell me where you're going to go with it - in terms of making the book interesting.


Dave said...

the synopsis they want is like a blurb on the inner leaf of the dust cover.
It's a bit of andertising and plot summary - Like:

My Novel set in 1490, Crisotbal, a 145000 word work of historical fiction traces the love of a poor sailur for his queen as they conspire togehter to discover the new world. Spain was a hotbed of infidelity, betrayal and deceit, travel with Cristobal and Isabel as they overcome murder, petty theft, diaper rash and the inquisition to prove that the earth is round and ships will not fall off the edge.

That's the type of hype (although I wrote a lot of trash there) that you have to write to create some excitement about your novel in the reader, agent, editor. You have to transfer your enthusiasm for the story to the reader, agent, editor.

I have a copy of "In Other Words" by Chistopher Moore - it's flap reads "Take a trip around the world of words and unlock the meaning of some of the most insightful, intriguing, and satidfying expressions on the planet, for which there are no English equivalanets."

A good author to look at for book synopses is Simon Winchester. He writes on such mundane topics that you wonder how the book could sell.

SImon SIngh wrote a book on the mathematical proof of Fermat's Last Theorum and his first chapter is a lesson in how to make dull mathematics exciting - You see, the worlds best mathemeticians gather every few years and this particular year, theh all went to a long lecture on obscure mathematics that at the end proved a one of the holy grails of math - almost the proof that God exists for mathemeticians. Singh write the chapter to be exciting, so exciting that even those who have no chance of understanding the math (like me) understand how exciting that final equation was to write on the blackboard - a childhood deram achieved, a 350 year old mystery solved, history unfolding before your very eyes in an equation of less than a dozen symbols.

nbevilaqua said...

Thanks, Ms. Rejecter and Dave. That makes a lot more sense. (Funny--one of my closest friends from my high school and college years was married to Simon Winchester for a while, and now, coincidentally, I'm a travel writer too. Small world...)


Anonymous said...

Rejecter, the one thing I am not entirely clear on is this: Do you tell the ending? I have heard you do, but most mentions of the plot summary don't say this.

Christine Fletcher said...

If the "sample queries" you're looking at are from any of those how-to writers' books (with the "blow-by-blow" plot descriptions, it sounds like they are), ignore them. They're ridiculously unprofessional. I think the only pub credit the authors of those books has is the how-to book itself.

The Rejecter said...

You tell the ending only if it's necessary to sell the idea to the AGENT. This is how we're different from a book jacket, among other ways.

ORION said...

My second book got far more interest when I started including the surprising ending in my two line pitch.
Sometimes it makes more sense to give the ending away...