The Dreaded Q and S

It's one of those great feelings to finish a story or novel, isn't it? But then the scare tactic kicks in-- oh no-- I have to write that dreaded Q and S. (query and synopsis) Have you ever met anyone who likes this part? Me neither. For most of us, it's panic time again... In keeping with the Halloween theme, it feels like a scary creature trying to swoop down on me for an attack!

Thankfully, Tana Starret from Harlequin has a few suggestions to tame the monster.

Keep your query letter short and sweet.

Give your hook in the first paragraph with a bare-bones overview of your main conflict. Imagine you're writing the back cover blurb for your book. What will grab the editor and make her look at your synopsis? (Hint: proclamations of your book's greatness won't help.) Also, try matching the tone of your letter to the tone of your book. For example if you're submitting to the Harlequin Flipside line, show your ironic and sassy wit; a query to the Harlequin Intrigue series should be tight and fast-paced — see what I mean?

Include a very brief description of your writing history in the second paragraph. Tell us about the number of manuscripts you have written, the writing classes you have taken, the contests you have participated in—, and the results, of course!

Above all, remember to keep it professional. While it is lovely to read about the fact that your Aunt Betty convinced you to start writing romance novels, that information doesn't belong in your query. Publishing is a business, and you want to be businesslike in all your communication with any publishing house. Follow up with an offer to send more material. And make sure you include your contact information!

Okay. You've made it this far. Now what about that dreaded synopsis? Few people enjoy writing a synopsis and it is true, it's not easy.

You should be able to break your manuscript down into a handful of major plot points. Like the hero/heroine meeting; the first point of contention; the black moment, etc. The points you come up with are what your story hinges on. Essentially, your synopsis should be a list of these points, along with a minimum amount of information stringing those points together. Don't worry about emotion or description — this isn't the place for that.

What the editor wants to see is how you've developed your plot, the twists you've used to make it unique and exactly how you've resolved it. The trick here is to keep your synopsis concise and make sure you mention all the important plot points.

It does take practice, and the more you write them, the better you'll get.

Finally, remember to double-check for spelling and grammatical errors. If you feel you need to, get a friend to read everything over.

If you have any other suggestions on how you tame the monster Q and S, we'd love it if you would share with us.



Cate said...

I like your analogy with the scary creature. Q and S can feel like that. Here's hoping yours turns our fine, as they usually do!

Amanda said...

You always give such good pointers.
Thanks. And yes, I can only imagine how hard the Q and S is.

Dianne said...

The dreaded Q and S. It's called dreaded for a reason. Becuase it is that. I can sense that same feeling of monsters when I read bad ones, too.

Cari Quinn said...

What an informative post, Kaye. Like many writers, I'm not too fond of synopsises. Query letters, however, are kinda fun. Not that I've written that many yet! LOL

Kaye Manro said...

Hi Cari! Thanks. And it's good to see you here.

Yes, I'll admit it again-- Q and S is scary to me. But once I get going with it, I'm ok. Problem with the S is I never know if it's good enough to really promote my story.

It is called dreaded for a reason, Dianne!

That's why I used the scary creature, Cate.

Thanks, Amanda.

Christina Phillips said...

Great post, Kaye! I don't mind query letters so much, but still can't get to grips with synopses!! And it took me years, literally, to grasp the concept of how to write a half decent blurb. Thank goodness for CPs!!!

Helen Hardt said...

Queries? Synopses? May I pull my hair out now? I'm so with you, Kaye.

Seriously, is there any writer out there who likes doing these? I need your secret!


Kaye Manro said...

Well girls, it's not easy!

Helen, what secret? LOL. It's tough for me too--all the time!

Christina, it's great to get the big Q down well. It's one of those have to do things.

Linda Banche said...

One thing I found out from contests--your synopsis does NOT have to be in the same sequence as your book. For example, you're supposed to spread the backstory out in your book, so as not to bore the reader. But in a synopsis, if putting some of the backstory early helps understanding, do so.

Shelley Munro said...

My suggestion is to do your research. Definitely keep your query letter to one page. Kristin nelson has some great query letter samples at her blog. Just search her older posts.