...never mind synopses!
This is a question I see all the time on
the writers' forums I visit.* I'll even admit, I used to ask such
questions myself. "Isn't it possible to be a great story writer and a
bad query writer?" "How is that fair?"
It's true - queries
require a totally different kind of skill from novels. When you dive
into a novel, you're putting yourself in the story, seeing where it
goes, pushing deeper and deeper. When you write a query, you're trying
to find the four things that are the most important for catching an
agent or editor's attention. These are four things I got from a query
workshop with Donald Maass at the Surrey International Writers'
Conference, and they are:
4. something unique
Once you have them, you've got basically two or three paragraphs to capture an entire 300 or so pages of wonder and detail.
Here's what I've learned, though, over the years I've spent writing, querying, and trying to get published. The query says some very important things about the story.
enough, if you read a query, you can see really clearly how an author
understands the overarching structure and content of their story. In my
experience, I've found that the skill involved in creating a query is
extremely similar to the skill involved in creating story
macro-structure. Here's the way I'd summarize it:
If you know how to write an effective query, then you know what your story is about.
may sound odd, since of course we all know what our stories are about.
But if we are able to step back and capture the essential compelling
conflict of the story in one paragraph, very likely this means that that
component, the story's backbone, is strong and pulls people through the
novel as well.
Similarly, synopses are hard, but if we can get
people to enjoy them by putting elements of voice and motive and
consequence in them, then we can show an agent or an editor that we
recognize those elements of our own work and we know how to put proper
emphasis on them.
Learning how to write queries and synopses
hasn't been exactly fun, and it's been hard. But I feel like I've
learned a lot about writing a better novel at the same time. In fact,
some time ago I wrote a query for a book I haven't even written yet -
just to test whether I'd correctly identified the right person to be
main protagonist, the correct primary conflict, the proper setting, and
something that would make this book unique. It's already helped me to
envision how the story outline will look - which is a great help, since
this book is going to be really complex - and at the same time it's
helped me to feel more confident that the novel will one day be ready
So I encourage all of you to think through your
queries, and your novels, at the same time. Consider the query a
necessary part of the process of testing your story's readiness.
Then, go for it.
*Analog SF, Asimov's SF, Absolute Write, Backspace Writers