The Infamous Query Letter/Chapter Synopsis Monster
Today I jumped over some huge hurdles in my profession: I completed a revised query letter and chapter synopsis for my memoir. I learned a little about these topics in graduate school, and between that, my own research, and the collaboration of an amazing colleague, have been presenting on these topics often. Having the knowledge didn’t equate to completing the work in this case, though. I haven’t submitted to any markets that required these materials, so I hadn’t finished them until now. Of course each market has unique specifications in terms of what they need, but I’m excited to finally have a usable frame for a query letter and chapter synopsis.
Since query letters and chapter synopses are scary, I wanted to write about them here to help quell some fears people might have. Really, the hardest part was sitting down and doing it. I trimmed the synopsis down to two single-spaced pages, and the query letter down to one. A short query letter should include a strong description of your work. As Leslie says during our presentations, “blow the ending and hook the reader.” The same advice applies to longer samples, where each chapter will be described in detail, usually in a new paragraph. These details will focus on character development, setting, and major themes rather than a “first she did this, and then she did that” method of explanation. After you’ve included everything you need, be sure to thank the editor or agent for reading.
Again, depending on guidelines, you might need a brief synopsis, or a more detailed chapter-by-chapter synopsis. You may also need to include sample chapters. It’s important to note that memoir/essay collections are treated like fiction manuscripts in this regard. Fiction and memoir manuscripts both need to be finished (and you need to be able to write a synopsis of each chapter or essay).
For other types of nonfiction, like textbooks or cookbooks for example, the query letter would include basic information about your topic, as well as a bio that essentially sells you as the best person for the job of writing this book. You would also, depending on the guidelines, need to attach any and all of the following: an overview that includes a discussion of your target audience/argument, a table of contents, an outline of the book (it doesn’t have to be complete at this stage), any research you’ve done on the topic, a schedule for when the book will be completed, and other details such as page length or images you plan on using.
Phew! So I spent hours doing this today, and it was well worth it. If you’re submitting a fiction or memoir manuscript, you’ll run into the need for these materials eventually. Knock them out when you can spare the time–it’s well worth it.
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