With a quarter century of experience working with thousands of writers, I've seen plenty of submissions. This presentation gives guidelines on how to target queries, write a cover letter that grabs, boil the synopsis down to one page and other valuable information on the road to getting published.
There’s a common image of a red and white sign for Area 51 you can find
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BAD Pitch part II, The Player
How to Write the Query and Synopsis
How To Write The Query
The dreaded synopsis. Agents and editors ask for it. Writers bleed to
I’ve seen thousands of queries and queries over the past quarter
century. What follows are guidelines I’ve come up with to assist you.
Find The Right Place
Are you querying the right agent/publisher?
Know your genre.
Check the Writer’s Market.
Go to Writer’s Conferences.
You must address the query to the right person, not just
the right place.
Don’t add an extra step.
Send everyone the same, essential thing, personalizing
the address and any specific information for that
agent/editor that you know. (Unless on their site, the
agent/editor specifically says what they want).
A good query consists of a query letter/email, a one page
synopsis, and your opening of your book (roughly 20
pages, ending at a natural break point)
Study and understand the market.
Understand the flow.
Query letter: I have a great idea.
Synopsis: I’ve translated my great idea into a great story.
Opening sample: I can write.
Don’t put the copyright symbol and other subconscious
negatives in your query. Don’t denigrate yourself.
First line has to hook.
Think hardcover book jacket with cover blurb to start; or the
Amazon page for your book.
Two paragraphs on idea.
Two paragraphs on you.
One page total.
Don’t market or praise your own work.
Humor needs to be funny.
If you are in a genre, say so.
Add any individualized note early— “we met at such and such
conference” or “you represent so and so whose work I admire”.
Goal: You’ve got a good idea, now they want to read your
Example Cover Letter
Dear Ms. Agent,
What if a secret organization of West Point graduates has been covertly manipulating
our government’s policies for the past 50 years and is now planning a coup against the
THE LINE is the story of Boomer Watson, an officer in the elite Delta Force assigned to
Hawaii where the President will be arriving in one week to give a speech. He discovers
clues pointing to both the existence of The Line and the coup. It is a race against time
for him to stop it.
I have eight novels accepted for publication, three of them published. As specific
background for this book, I graduated from West Point and served in the Infantry and
Special Forces, including commanding a Green Beret A-Team.
This is a 100,000 word thriller. I appreciate your taking the time to review this
submission and look forward to hearing from you.
Excerpts From Bad Cover Letters:
“Self-published book selling well. With your help it will
“This book is big money and we really don’t ant to sit on
it. I mean no disrespect . . . But if you don’t have the time
to prioritize this than maybe you can suggest a different
“I really love your vision. I am not telling you this
sentence to please. Today thiere is no vision in the
Excerpts From Bad Cover Letters
“My questions are simple: will you read my works? Will
you represent me? Will you sell my books?
“What do a professor of physics, a well known
Philadelphia radio personality, the staff and clientele of a
posh beauty salon, and the volunteer association from a
county library have in common? They have all fallen in
love with my self-published novel.”
“If I’m so damn good at telling catchy stories in writing,
why am I not published? Ethic, my dear. I got shafted by
some of the so-called editors/agents rip offs and stepped
back from the stench I smelled.”
Do you really need one? Yes, they can always choose
not to read it. Unless, of course, on their web page they
specifically say send only a query first.
One page. I know you want more: LESS IS BETTER.
We can remember 7 things in short term memory. Thus,
the person reading your synopsis is limited on what they
can keep track of.
Synopsis: LESS IS BETTER
The light is on, you can only turn it off.
The agent/editor is not reading your synopsis unless they
were hooked by the query letter. Thus the only thing that
can happen now is bad— you turn them off.
Thus the less you give them, the less likely you will put
something that turns them off.
They know you have a 100,000 book and there’s lot to it.
But no one goes into a bookstore and reads an entire
book from an unknown author and buys it. The
agent/editor is in the same position.
It is the main story arc from beginning to end.
Drop all your great subplots.
Give only three names (that’s going to be 3 of 7 things in
short time memory): Protagonist, antagonist, one major
supporting character. More names than that on one page
is too many.
Give the ending.
Goal: Good story, want to read your excerpt.
Common Synopsis Mistakes
Too long. If your resume can go on one page, your book’s
resume can go on one page.
Too much detail in certain areas, such as the climactic scene.
List of bullets rather than prose.
Too many adjectives/adverbs.
Common Synopsis Mistakes
Bad questions you don’t want someone to ask after
reading your synopsis:
What’s the story?
Who is the protagonist?
Who is the antagonist?
What is the core conflict?
What’s the ending?
What’s the genre?
Ways To Write A Synopsis
Write a long one and keep cutting.
Have a friend write it for you.
It’s difficult for a literary book. Give enough to get them to
read your writing style.
Test it. Give it to someone who has no clue what your
book is about, let them read it, take it back. Ask them
what your book is about.
Use narrative structure as your template.
(Protagonist, Antagonist, Problem)
(Protagonist makes choice, darkest moment)
Protagonist vs Antagonist on stage resolving Problem)
Keep the synopsis balanced between those areas.
Don’t emphasize one area too much.
Drop your subplots. Yes, they’re fascinating, but keep the
focus on the main storyline.
Remember: A novel is a character (the protagonist) trying
resolve a problem (introduced by the antagonist). In the
following example, the red font is just to show you the
parts. You don’t put the red in the actual synopsis.
W h a t i f m a n k i n d d i d n ’ t o r i g i n a t e t h e w a y w e t h i n k i t d i d ?
( I d e a )
A n e w r e p o r t e r t r y i n g t o i n f i l t r a t e A r e a 5 1 d i s a p p e a r s u n d e r
m y s t e r i o u s c i r c u m s t a n c e s . ( I n c i t i n g i n c i d e n t ) M a j o r T u r c o t t e , a
s e c u r i t y e x p e r t t h e r e , ( P r o t a g o n i s t ) b e g i n s t o r e a l i z e m o r e i s
g o i n g o n a t t h e s i t e t h a n t h e g o v e r n m e n t k n o w s . T u r c o t t e r e b e l s
a n d g o e s o n t h e r u n . H e i s j o i n e d b y a f r i e n d o f t h e r e p o r t e r
w h o w a n t s t o k n o w t h e t r u t h o f w h a t i s h a p p e n i n g a t A r e a 5 1 .
( T h e p r o b l e m )
A t A r e a 5 1 a s e c r e t m e e t i n g o f M a j e s t i c - 1 2 l e d b y G e n e r a l
G u l l i c k ( A n t a g o n i s t ) i n i t i a t e s a c o u n t d o w n t o t e s t a n a l i e n
m o t h e r s h i p . T h e c o u n t d o w n i s o p p o s e d b y o n e m e m b e r w h o
b e l i e v e s p o w e r i n g u p t h e s h i p w i l l c a u s e a c a t a s t r o p h e .
T u r c o t t e i s j o i n e d b y o t h e r s w h o h a v e p i e c e s o f t h e p u z z l e o f
w h a t i s a t A r e a 5 1 a n d o t h e r m y s t e r i e s o f m a n k i n d ’ s p a s t . A s
t h e y l e a r n m o r e , t h e y r e a l i z e t h i s i s m u c h l a r g e r t h a n j u s t A r e a
5 1 a n d t h e f a t e o f t h e w o r l d i s a t s t a k e . ( E s c a l a t i n g c o n f l i c t ) )
T u r c o t t e a n d h i s t e a m r e s c u e t h e r e p o r t e r . G e n e r a l G u l l i c k ’ s
f o r c e s a r e c l o s i n g i n o n T u r c o t t e a n d h e h a s t o d e c i d e w h a t t o
d o n e x t . ( C r i s i s ) I n s t e a d o f r u n n i n g , h e a n d t h e t e a m h e a d f o r
A r e a 5 1 .
T h e y i n f i l t r a t e t h e b a s e a n d T u r c o t t e s t o p s t h e p o w e r u p o f t h e
m o t h e r s h i p , k i l l i n g G e n e r a l G u l l i c k i n t h e p r o c e s s . ( C l i m a x )
H e l e a r n s t h e t r u t h o f w h a t h a s b e e n h a p p e n i n g a t A r e a 5 1 a n d
r e a l i z e s i t i s j u s t t h e t i p o f t h e i c e b e r g t h a t w i l l r e w r i t e t h e
e n t i r e h i s t o r y o f m a n k i n d . ( R e s o l u t i o n )
First twenty to thirty pages.
End at a natural break point (chapter, scene).
Purpose: Can you write the great idea into a great story?
Goal: Ask to see the manuscript.
Cover letter= great idea.
Synopsis= great story.
Sample chapters= great writing.
After the Query?
Keep track of who you sent to and when.
How long to wait? Forever in some cases. Ignore the
ones you don’t hear from.
Should you follow-up? If they didn’t reply to your query,
why will they reply to your query about your query?
Move on. There are plenty of agents/editors out there.
NEVER respond negatively to a rejection.
What is literary? Real life.
Focus on theme and why readers will relate.
Need to get read.
Go to Writers conferences/retreats where there are
Don’t put it on the cover letter/query. It’s just assumed
you’re doing it.
Do a rolling submission.
50 agents, 50 publishers, 5 of each, each week.
Go exclusive when manuscript requested, but should get
a time line on how long it will take them to get to it.
The Players (Traditional)
The Publisher Book Rep
The Chain or bookstore Book Buyer
The Bookstore— note that for eBooks we go from
Publisher directly to outlet.
The Players (Non-Traditional)
The Editor (if not backlist)
The Book Formatter and Uploader
Came out of the studio system in Hollywood.
Are the filter around NY Publishing.
Help make a manuscript marketable.
Find the right place and the right person.
Look out for your business interests.
Why Do You Need An Agent?
If you want to be published in NY
To help editorially
To handle the business of dealing with publishers
To help plan your career
Why Do You Not Need An Agent?
Small publishers with no advances
Or you’re going to self-publish
Finding An Agent
Writers Market by Writers Digest.
Author recommendation. Or check author web sites and
often they list who they’re agent is.
Don’t do a fee charging agent.
Not Legitimate Agents if they
Promises to get you published.
Won’t provide references or recent sales.
Wants you to pay for services.
What if they’re outside of New York City? That’s fine.
Questions to ask an agent
How long have you been an agent?
How many books in my genre have you sold in past
Can you refer me to existing clients?
What is your timeline on a submission?
How do you like to communicate?
What kind of contract do you have?
Asking for money up front
Promise to get you published
They stop communicating
Withholding money due to you
They don’t submit in a timely fashion after saying they
“This is not a book to be tossed
aside lightly. It should be
thrown with great force.”
It will happen.
Don’t take it personally or react.
Often has nothing to do with the quality of your book or
writing; there’s simply no room at the inn.
I averaged over 100 for my first three manuscripts.
Use any feedback constructively.
An emotional decision, then they invent logical reasons.
“We want something like X, but not X.”
Read between the lines.
What if you get a nasty rejection? Be glad you learned it’s
someone you wouldn’t want to have a business
relationship with before you got in a business relationship
Once the book is done, it’s not your baby, it’s a product.
Sever your emotional connections to it; put your emotions
in the next book you are already writing.
“A very bad book.” The Bridge Over The River Kwai.
“Regret the American public is not interested in anything
on China.” The Good Earth.
“The girl doesn’t have a special perception or feeling
which would lift that book above the curiosity level.” The
Diary of Anne Frank.
Persistence and Patience
Many talented people go home.
Look three years ahead.
Believe in what you’re doing.
Conflict the Fuel of Your Story and the Conflict Box
Plot I: Research and Narrative Questions
Plot II: Outlining
Plot III: Narrative Structure
Point of View
Write It Forward: From Writer to Bestselling Author
Writers Conference Guide (Free eBook)
Three P’s: Platform, Product, Promotion
Writers’ Block and Rewriting
How to Write the Query/Synopsis
Planning for NaNoWriMo Success
Bob Mayer’s Workshops, Seminars & Presentations
Your Creative Process: How You Write
The Present and Future of Publishing for Writers
Writers Workshop and Retreat
ON WRITING SLIDESHARES
For More Information click on covers
The Complete Writer is four books at discount in
New York Times bestselling author, graduate of West Point, former
Green Beret, and feeder of two yellow Labs, most famously Cool Gus.
He’s had over seventy books published, including the #1 bestselling
series Time Patrol, Area 51, Atlantis, and the Green Berets. Born in
the Bronx and having traveled the world he now lives peacefully with
his wife and labs. Sort of. Free books below available HERE
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