Author Adventure: Queries, Synopsis, and Outlines – Oh my!

You’ve written your book and keep hearing about sending queries and the pain of writing a synopsis or an outline. But what are these things? What are they supposed to do?

Your Query Letter

It is exactly what it sounds like, a letter of inquiry. It serves two purposes. The first is to tell editors what you have to offer. The second is to ask if they’re interested in seeing it. It’s your elevator pitch letter that gives you a chance to hook the editor on your novel. You must make it compelling! Typical queries will include:

  • A hook that makes the reader want to get their hands on your book
  • 1-3 paragraphs about the book
  • 1 paragraph about yourself and publishing credentials you might have
  • Provide a reason you’re soliciting this specific person rather than someone else (why you think you’d be a good team or why this person would specifically be interested in representing your work)
  • The length of your book
  • 1-2 sentences about your intended audience

Your Synopsis

A synopsis is what an editor usually asks for either along with the query letter or after receiving the query letter and they’re interested in learning more about your book. The synopsis provides key information (plot, theme, characterization, setting) of your book while also showing how it all coalesces together into a bigger picture/story. Essentially, you get to quickly tell the story of your book without making the editor actually read your manuscript. Depending on the editor, the expectation can be for a one page sales pitch or for a comprehensive summary of the whole book. When putting your synopsis together, make sure you don’t forget to include:

  • A strong lead sentence
  • Logical paragraph organization
  • Express ideas concisely, without repeating them
  • All the high points of your plot
  • Transitions between ideas
  • Correct punctuation and spelling
  • The story’s conclusion

Your Outline

Sometimes this is used interchangeably with a synopsis but there is a distinction. The synopsis is a brief encapsulation of your book overall while an outline makes each chapter its own story, usually containing a few paragraphs per chapter. It’s more like give a synopsis of each chapter in a chapter by chapter manner. If you are asked for an outline, keep in mind:

  • This is an extended version of your synopsis, it will be more detailed and structured
  • Explain the how the plot and character development unfold in the chapter
  • Reveal how the chapter opens and closes
  • Make the chapters sequential
  • Do not include dialogue or extended description

All of these are considered pieces of a book proposal. Book proposal request guidelines are very important to read and follow on a case by case basis. Some guidelines will indicate to submit the query letter and a synopsis together, some will request sample chapters (make sure you submit the first few, sequential chapters in these instances!), some an outline, and some for the entire manuscript. Reading the submission guidelines and following them is an important step because it’s just like in junior high where if you couldn’t follow directions to put your name on the test, you failed the test, even when the teacher recognized your handwriting. Agents, editors, and publishing houses will pass on your book on the principle that you couldn’t follow directions, despite your book being the next best seller.

I hope that this helped to clarify what these terms mean and what their purpose is in the writing world. If you’d like a “How-to” about writing one of them specifically, let me know in the comments below!

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