Query Letter Synopsis

Q: Every time I start to write a query letter, I seem to write an entire synopsis of a work. How do I know where to stop? — Adora Mitchell Bayles

A: This is an extremely common question. Most writers (myself included) can babble on about their brilliant ideas (which we all have many) and just don’t know where to stop, particularly in query letters. But there are a few rules you can follow to keep it brief and to the point.

Query letters should be no more than one page. Typically, shorter is better. You’ll need room for your qualifications and your details (how many words you believe the piece will be, how long it’ll take you to finish, where the editor can find your clips, etc.). This leaves, at most, one-half page for your intro (lead) and brief synopsis.

Both the intro and synopsis should be no more than 3-4 sentences each. That’s all an editor really needs to know whether or not the idea is a fit for his publication. If you can’t slice it down to that, you don’t have a strong focus to your piece and need to hone your idea. 

With e-mail making it easy for anyone to submit an idea, editors are receiving queries at an unprecedented rate and have little time to rummage through them. To give yourself the best chance at catching their attention and getting a fair shake, follow the rules above. It shows that you’re a professional and have done your homework.

Brian A. Klems is the online managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine.

Have a question for me? Feel free to post it in the comments section below or e-mail me at WritersDig@fwpubs.com with “Q&Q” in the subject line. Come back each Friday as I try to give you more insight into the writing life.

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0 thoughts on “Query Letter Synopsis

  1. Glynda Francis

    I understand how important brevity is with a query. I’m looking at a writer’s guideline that wants so much information it is nearly impossible to get it on one page even when I summarize the manuscript contents in only one or two sentences. Even addressing each point in the guideline with one sentence puts me over a one page limit. Are one and a half or two page queries common? Should I edge the font down from 12 point to 11 or would that be instant rejection?

  2. suzannah hayes

    I sent the same query to several different publishers and two of them requested the entire manuscript. I sent it to one publisher in April, and to the other in June. I have not heard back from either publisher. I don’t want to jeapordize any chance I might have of being published, but I’m curious to know if they even received the manuscript. What if I’ve sent it to the wrong address?!
    What is an appropriate amount of time to wait before inquiring about the status of a manuscript the publisher is reviewing?

  3. Shirley Alexander

    This is a huge issue for me. Writing anything has always be an easy task. For some reason, a query letter scares the socks right out of my sneakers. It’s very often what holds me back from submitting my work.

    I know it sounds silly. I guess with the poetry I can be anything, but with the query letter–I have to be me. I have always had a hard time sharing ME. "smile"

    Thanks for posting this. I was thinking I might be the only poet with a hang-up on this point.