Think these materials are too brief to fairly represent your project? Read on. You may be surprised how revealing they can be. Let’s look at each aspect of the package in terms of its function.
Query: The Hook
The query is the bedrock of the submission package. It may be all an agent ever sees, since many request a query only. Rest assured that if written well, it is enough to earn an invitation to send more.
In just a few paragraphs, this page suggests whether you are ready to make the transition from writer to published author. Its opening is your pitch, one or two concise, cogent paragraphs meant to align us with your protagonist's goal, hook us with its major complications, and suggest why any of this matters.
Note the italicized words.
- Concise: In one or two paragraphs you must suggest the arc of your entire novel. An arc has spring and snap. Each word is vital; bait the hook and reel in the reader. Bloated, ineffective phrases will result in rejection.
- Cogent: This is not the place to be cagey. Communicate your protagonist’s core problem and how you will complicate it. The words you choose will layer in your understanding about what sells in your genre. If this agent represents the genre, the words will speak to him.
- Hook: Each sentence should build upon the last until you arrive at the story question. A hook does not need to be huge to be effective; it has to be barbed. Don’t waste space conveying plot. Your pitch has hit its mark when you’ve enticed the agent to read more.
Including word count proves you can produce within an acceptable target. Your bio will convey your understanding that writing careers are not plucked from thin air; they are built on platform.
Synopsis: Story Structure
The purpose of the synopsis is to assess your storytelling ability. It should expound upon elements of structure relevant for your project, such as the protagonist's desire, dramatic imperative, the stakes should he fail, a few of the increasingly troublesome complications keeping him from success, the conflicting desires of a small handful of supporting characters (only a few!), the dark moment when all seems lost, the climax when your protagonist must put his back to the wall to fight for this goal he desires most, and suggest the resolution. Convey all this in a way that suggests what kind of change is instigated by your story.
Your ability to do this in a brief span of pages suggests you haven’t really just opened a vein and let it bleed; you have crafted a salable story.
Sample Pages: Dramatization
The sample pages show that you know how to dramatize the story your synopsis promises to tell. Since they are typically the most oft-revised pages in your entire project, they should serve as a marquee for the quality of your writing.
This is not the place for inane dialogue or clutter. And you won’t hook the reader by making her guess what your book is going to be about. This is your story’s prime real estate. Start in scene. Using the conventions of your genre, orient your reader by giving a little information and withholding just enough to raise a question that will bond us to your protagonist and tip us into the next sentence. Then repeat over and over, seducing the reader into the text.
A good submission package may take you months or even years to develop. It is your one and only shot with this agent so is well worth your attention. If you are self-publishing you will need these materials for marketing, so begin work on them as soon as you start to have a handle on the overarching story, and continue to revise them through subsequent drafts. Once you are sure that you have promised an intriguing story—and delivered on that promise—you are ready to submit.
Do you have questions? What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of the submission process?
Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, an independent manuscript evaluation service that offers submission package reviews. Her women's fiction and memoir are represented by Katie Shea at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. Her debut novel, The Art of Falling, by Sourcebooks in January 2014. She blogs at The Fine Art of Visiting. Connect with Kathryn at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.