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Tips for Queriers: The Query, the Synopsis, and the First Page

Margaret Fortune, author of the debut novel NOVA, shares tips for crafting a perfect query, synopsis, and first pages to send to agents.

Ten years. That’s how long it took me to get a literary agent.

I began writing my first novel in 2003 and signed with Lindsay Ribar of Sanford J. Greenburger Associates in September 2013. Along the way, I queried two other novels unsuccessfully, received piles of rejections in the short story market, and conceded defeat on a novel years in the works. It would have been easy to quit, but I didn’t, and as a result, I have a 5-book deal with DAW Books, and my debut novel Nova just hit shelves in June.

(Read These Successful Query Letters)

Getting a literary agent is tough, and I know firsthand what it’s like to query without getting requests. I know how frustrating the radio silence and form rejects can be. If you’re querying, you want to do everything you can to maximize your chances of getting requests. Here are some of my tips for the three main pieces you send out querying: the Query, the Synopsis, and the First Page.

Tips for Queriers: The Query, the Synopsis, and the First Page

On Queries

1. A statement of fact is not a hook. A good hook contains some hint of the book’s conflict or highlights an interesting plot twist. So read your hook back to yourself. If it’s simply a statement of fact, reword it to add that sense of conflict or intrigue.

2. Write multiple queries. While it’s tempting to write just one and be done, writing multiple queries allows you to try out other hooks and story angles to see which one will be the most effective. You’ve only got one chance to query, so put in the time and do the work. Oftentimes the best idea is not the first one.

3. Query widely. Sometimes it really is a numbers game. I initially queried fifty agents for my novel Nova and received a dozen requests. I was sure one of those agents would offer. Six months later, no one had. I thought about quitting, but instead, I queried fifty more agents. I received three offers of representation. Guess it’s a good thing I didn’t quit after the first fifty.

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NOVA by Margaret Fortune

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On Synopses

1. Like a query, a synopsis is about one thing: Convincing an agent to read your book. Never lose sight of this fact. So when you read your synopsis back, ask yourself, “Would this entice someone to read the book?” If the answer is no, you have some work to do.

2. A lot of writers struggle with the synopsis because they’re too focused on telling every single event. However, a good synopsis isn’t a dry laundry list of events, but a story. It’s like writing your book as a flash fiction, complete with the same tone and feel of your book. Instead of trying to list every single event, just focus on telling the story.

3. Trying to condense your 400-page novel down to 1-2 pages can seem like an impossible task. Rather than condensing the book, try taking your query blurb and saying, "How do I expand this?” You’ll find the task suddenly feels much less impossible.

(9 Tips on Writing Query Letters to Publishers and Literary Agents)

On First Pages

1. If your opening line is so generic it could be in practically any book, rethink it. A generic opening line isn’t going to do anything for you. Whereas a unique line, something original and tailored to your story, will immediately pull your reader in and get them interested from the get-go.

2. Make sure your story is starting in the right place. If you’re opening with a mundane event, such as eating breakfast, ask yourself if this is really the right place to start. And if you do decide it is, find some way to make this mundane scene stand out, whether it’s with snappy dialogue, lyrical writing, or laugh-out-loud humor.

3. Agents are not required to read the full page, or five pages, or however much material they want with the query. Every line has to buy you the next line; every paragraph has to buy you the next paragraph. So make sure each word counts.

In Conclusion

Sometimes hitting the “send” button on that query can be scary, but remember this: Your chances of getting an agent if your query may be small, but they will be nonexistent if you never query at all. So go hit the send button and best of luck to you!

How to Catch an Agent's Interest with Your First Few Pages

This course is designed for writers who are ready to roll up their sleeves and take their opening pages to the next level. Weekly exercises will strengthen skills such as writing strong first lines and experimenting with voice, while weekly lectures will cover topics such as successful market examples and case studies, effective dialogue, and common ‘do’s and don’ts’ of first pages. 

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