The Fiction Query Letter

What is POV and How Do I Get One? 

To Write or Not to Write...a Synopsis 

Why Have a Website as an Unpub Author? 

 

 

Please contact me if you would like to  use these in your chapter newsletters: Email.

Thank you and I hope you find them helpful.

 

The Fiction Query Letter

Many people have a tough time crafting their query. Basically, a query is not a business letter - it is a sales tool. It is the first thing editors and agents see to decide if they want to even glance at a synopsis or first page. Make it work for you.

A successful query letter should be at most one page and contain the following - and ONLY the following:

1. Salutation. I don't know that I'd necessarily tell them you got their name from Publishers' Marketplace - now, if you were referred to them or have met them, then, yes, mention that.

2. Intro of the work - name, genre, word count and a high-concept line if you've got it. (Dorothy Gale meets JAWS is the one for one of my  manuscripts, as an example.) Perhaps your genre description is your high-concept: time-travel, medieval mystery is another of mine (I have gotten a request from that.) Things like saying "I'd like to present an unusual proposal" tend to put readers on the defensive. Kind of like saying you've got the next DaVinci Code. Let the work stand on its own merits. Instead of telling them that it's unusual, show them with the description. Put some of your voice into the query so they get an advance look at what they'll be getting.

3. A *blurb* about the manuscript, typically a paragraph. Keep this in third person. You want to highlight the character(s)' GMC - goal, motivation and conflict. (See "Goal, Motivation, Conflict by Debra Dixon.) Show the resolution, the ending. No "if you want to see how this ends, you'll have to buy the book." People do it; honest. Editors/agents will reject because of it. Hook them with the story; you don't need to tell them they will travel from here to here. Show the story. What is the catalyst for his journey? What are his obstacles? Is this a mystery or a history? Is this adventure/thriller/etc. What does he learn/do - that is, what's his character arc, how does he grow. Think back-cover blurb, only condensed.

4. Any relevant credentials you have regarding subject matter. - ONLY - in a concise form: I am an archaeologist who has studied this time period, etc. No resume in the query letter on things not relevant to the story. They are interested in first-time authors for the story they are submitting, not your career path. If they want to read the story and subsequently buy/rep the story, then, yes, where you see your writing career will come into play. But first and foremost, it's all about the story.

5. Contact information.

6. Thank you and your signature.


Some publishers will accept a synopsis and a few pages. Others don't. You will usually get rejected if you don't follow their submission guidelines
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What is POV and How Do I Get One?

So, what is POV?

 

Point of View is the way the story is told, through that narrator’s point of view. You can have omniscient POV, which is basically the narrator is all-knowing and all-seeing. The narrator can tell you that the protagonist doesn’t see the bad guy hiding behind the door. Why would the narrator tell you (the reader) this? It creates suspense - you know what could happen and you’re wondering if it will, if the protagonist will figure it out, if the protagonist will get attacked, etc. Omniscient gives the author a lot of ability to inform the reader of things. Think of it as a god-view of the story where the narrator knows everything and can tell you everything.

 

The light craft bobbed along the waves of the North Atlantic , calm for once, toward the distant horizon, its passengers immobile on the deck, their skin burnt a searing red by five days at sea. They wouldn’t last much longer. But surprisingly, one of them stirred.

 

There is third person POV. He said, she did, etc. This kind of writing is how most fiction is written, but nothing is set in stone and first person has become more prevalent recently. Third person takes you into the characters’ heads. Purists say you can’t switch POV in a scene, but there is another class of thought that you can. I say, if the scene merits knowing both characters’ (or more) POV, then go with it, but make sure it’s a seamless transition.

 

When writing third person, usually, if you’ve built your characters’ voices well enough, you don’t need dialogue tags for them. If each has a distinctive speech/thought pattern, as each of us does, you should be able to “hear” the character’s voice. Also, when writing from that character’s narration, be aware of unnecessary words such as “John felt, John knew, John realized, he thought, etc.” Why? Because if John is telling the story, we know that John felt it or realized it or saw it by virtue of the fact that he’s narrating it. Conversely, you can’t have John narrate something he’s not aware of. If John is the hero and he doesn’t know there’s a bad guy behind the door, you can’t write:

 

John opened the door and fumbled with the light, completely unaware that Lex Luthor waited just behind the door.

 

You could do:

 

John opened the door and fumbled with the light. He had a thing about entering darkened apartments. That, and the fact that the hairs on the back of his neck were standing up. 

 

With this, you get his uneasiness, but he doesn’t know why - nor do you, so you’re right there with him wondering what’s going to happen. Or you could have him enter the apartment completely oblivious to the threat, which will then surprise the heck out of the reader - if that’s what the author wants to do with that scene, then mission accomplished.

 

Also, be aware of what a character can and can’t know.

 

Bob lifted the rock. Bingo. The box with the coins. He reached in. This was it. His blue eyes widened. He was set for life.

 

Bob can’t see his eyes widen, so he can’t narrate that. He also isn’t going to think “my blue eyes widened.” Most of us rarely think about the color of our eyes and certainly not in that context. We don’t say, “My blue eyes are really tired.” We say, “My eyes are tired. I should have gotten more sleep.”

 

Also, be cognizant of what the character would know for their age/gender/life station/experience. Princess Leia is not going to think about her Manolo Blahniks. Little Orphan Annie won’t want a Rolex and the eight-year-old telling the nice police lady what she saw isn’t going to say, “The perpetrator jumped into his Porsche 944 and sped off like a bat out of hell.” (Okay, I’m being cheeky, but you get the idea.)

 

Telling words, like felt, saw, realized, recognized, knew, etc., remove you from the deep POV you want to create. It sets us back from the action, whereas, if you just give us the thought, we’re right there in the characters’ heads. See the difference in the two sentences below:

 

Dana watched Kal as he bent over his work, sweating. She realized he needed to have this talk. She knew she sure did.

 

Kal bent over his work, sweating. He needed to talk to her. She needed him to.

 

In the second example, we’re actually in Dana’s head, not Kal's, empathizing with her, feeling her desperation as she sees Kal’s and it pulls the reader into the story more. You want your reader invested in your characters and their story so they (the readers) can’t put the book down. You give a reader the chance to put the book down, and they can go to sleep for the night. They might not pick it up again. But, invest them in the story/characters and even if they have to put the book down, it will prey on their mind and they’ll pick it up at the first opportunity. This is hooking the reader and the way to get them reading all of your stuff, and, therefore, creating the demand for more of your stuff.

 

Switching to first person POV now. First person is “I.”

 

There’s a naked man in my kitchen.

 

The thought registers just as the terse, “Who are you?” has me spinning around faster than a figure skater on speed.

 

I mean, really. A naked man. In my kitchen.

 

First person has its constraints: you can only have “I” narrate what “I” knows. “I” can’t know that on the opposite side of town, a clothing designer is out to thwart her view of the naked man by designing a wardrobe just for him. (Okay, being facetious here, but you get my drift.) “I” isn’t in anyone else’s head.

 

That isn’t to say you can’t switch POV in a first person story. Julie Kenner does an awesome job in The Givenchy Code of doing first person for the heroine and third for the hero. Others have done first person from several characters - it’s all in the delivery.

 

POV, as I’ve said, allows you to have the reader connect with your characters. It allows you to SHOW more about the characters without telling. For example, look at how much more we learn about our narrator in the second paragraph:

 

She sat in the boardroom as everyone filed in. All the department heads chose their special seat at the table, awaiting her presentation. She knew they thought she couldn’t do it. And she knew she’d show them.

 

All the geeks filed by her, taking their pre-destined seats at the boardtable - the freaking knights of the corporate round table. Well, she’d show them she wasn’t some blonde bimbo who filled out a sweater. All her life she’d been fighting that image and won. She was going to once more.

 

You get her contempt at their perception and how she feels about them in the second one, whereas the first is more scene setting - you’re removed from what she’s feeling/thinking. The second gives us a physical description and from her thought we can see her determination and strength of character.

 

Deep POV lends itself to showing instead of telling. The actual thought a character has is much more powerful than the character telling what that thought is.

 

She put her hands on her hips and wondered just who the hell he thought he was to ask her what she was doing in the kitchen.

 

She put her hands on her hips. Who the hell did he think he was? What did he mean, what was she doing in the kitchen? He'd hired her, for pete's sake!

 

You get more “oomph” from the second one and if you write the novel that way, you’ll draw the reader in more.

 

Some things to know about POV - you don’t need to underline internal thought. If we’re in that character’s POV then that’s their thought/their narrative. When should you underline it? When the character hears voices - supernatural, his/her conscience, a particularly wistful memory/thought…

 

Use punctuation and sentence structure to show feeling rather than telling us. 

Surprise:  “I…see.”  Her legs were…wobbly?  Ohmygodohmygodohmygod. 

Anger: “I WON’T!” She ran and ran and ran after the bastard! 

Dejection. "Um... Oh." Great. Freaking great.

 

A good way to transition from one person's POV to another's is to do something like this:

Character A's speech/internal monologue.
Narrative/action that isn't POV specific.
Character B's reaction/thought.

 

That’s not a scientific method, but a generalization. For example:


She poured her heart into the kiss, surrendering to him, letting him take what he needed. (Dana's POV)

Kal answered her body's plea with his, leaning into her, over her. His arms tightened. (this could be either's POV - nonspecific)

"Dana..." God, she felt better than he remembered. Hell. He was an ass. How could he let anything get between them? Between this?
(Kal's POV)

 

Then continue the scene from there in his POV.

 

POV is a device to not only tell the story, but to convey the story. Emotions, that gut reaction, that’s what connects with the reader. This is one more tool in your arsenal.

 

 

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To Write or Not to Write...a Synopsis

This is my personal experience and there are many ways to do a synopsis, but I’ve been pretty successful with requests with this format for several mss.

 

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From my experience, I do a 400 page ms (approx 100K words) into a 5 page, double-spaced, 1” margin synopsis, in Times New Roman 14 (that’s approximately the size of Courier 12, a standard font). Don’t get creative on your fonts or your spacing. 25 - 27 lines per page.

 

The synopsis is designed to give a concise account of your story. People are on the fence if you should put some of your voice in the synopsis. I’m of the mind that you should - and got many requests from my synopses, so that’s the format I stick with. That is, if my story is in first person, I do the synopsis in first person. If it’s in third, I do it in third. Yes, I know the purists say do it in 3rd, I’m just sharing my experience that I’ve gotten great reception for my first person synopsis.

 

You do, however, always want the synopsis to be in present tense.

 

This is loosely the format I use. Try to imagine you’re telling your best friend about your story. Don’t worry if at first it isn’t 5 pages, but longer. You can always cut it down.

 

Some things to know to make your synopsis look professional. In the header, put the name of your ms with - Synopsis after it on the left, page number on the right. (This is a different page number from whatever ms pages you are submitting.) Under the title, put your name and phone number.

 

Tell the story chronologically. Sometimes it helps to put bullet points of your plot points.

 

When you introduce the main characters the first time, BOLD and CAPITALIZE their name(s). When they’re mentioned again, just write them as normal type. By highlighting them the first time they’re mentioned, you’re letting the reader know this is a new, significant character. By significant, I mean, someone who affects the plot. If you’ve got a chaperone for the heroine of your historical, unless the chaperone is secretly carrying the hero’s love child, she’s probably not going to be mentioned in the synopsis.

 

Be sure to show the character(s)’ GMC - Goal, Motivation, Conflict. (See Debra Dixon's book of the same title.) This is what drives your story and should drive the telling of your story. Again, do this chronologically. Show the black moment and SHOW THE RESOLUTION. You MUST tell the reader how it ends. Editors/agents don’t want to read an entire ms only to find the ending doesn’t work, or isn’t the way they saw it going. There is one HUGE author, who shall be nameless, who DID NOT deliver on what the entire first four fifths of the book promised. I ended up throwing the book in a pool in Cabo with 15 women looking on. They knew I’d been so into the book and to have it end the way it did…  Can you say “Too Stupid To Live” moment???  (TSTL - don’t have your characters do TSTL moments!)

 

Anyway, back on track here: Give them the ending. All plot points should be tied up, things explained, and above all, GMC should be covered.

 

In terms of pagination, I find that my synopses reflect the story: Page 1 - 1 ½ of the set up, Page 1 ½ - 3 ½ of the conflict/body of the work, Pages 3 ½ - 5 of black moment and resolution. But I don’t stress about it. If I haven’t finished the book when I write the synopsis, then I might be heavier on the intro and/or resolution since I usually know those things. The middle might be nebulous so I focus more on what I know is going to happen and be sure to hit the high points. But, if I’ve finished the ms when I write the synopsis, it usually follows that format.

 

Hope this helps. Feel free to email me. I might have a synopsis to share.

 

 

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Why Have a Website as an Unpublished Author?

Originally I started the article this way:

Google me and see what you get:  "Judi Fennell"  Go ahead. I’ll wait.  

If you google me now that I have books coming out, you'll see exactly what was there before I sold my stories. Why? Because I built a web presence before I sold - and that's the goal of a website. 

The article continued like this:

 

First thing you’ll see is the link to my website.   www.JudiFennell.com   I paid a designer to design the basic format, but I taught myself enough of FrontPage to be able to build the pages and update them when necessary. There are no meta tags built in anywhere - not that I even know what meta tags are. I’ve heard people talk about them and how to get them attached to your website so that you’ll show up higher in the search engines. I didn’t do that for my website.

 

What I do with the site is update it often--even if it’s just removing a comma and re-publishing it to the web. The more “active” it is online, the quicker it moves up to the top of the list, I’ve found. I’m not a techie and I’m sure they can give a more detailed explanation. This is what I’ve found out without spending the big bucks to have a web presence.

 

If you scroll down the list of what you find when you google me, you’ll see other authors’ blogs/websites. You’ll see contest listings. Last count, I had 6 1/2 pages on Google before you get to the salon owner, who isn’t me.

 

Why should anyone care?

 

First and foremost, I believe there is some advertising/pr research that shows a consumer needs to see a brand/item/name 20 times for it to make an impression. 6 pages with 10 instances of my name is pretty good exposure. The links to other authors’ sites ensures that people visiting those sites will see my name and perhaps then google me. The fact that my website shows up first, means they don’t have to dig to find me.

 

With a website, I’m building a web presence. I have a “Contact” link on my site - people have contacted me this way. They’ve hung around my site, liked what they’ve seen and asked to be put on my newsletter list for the day when (if) I sell. Instant audience! That’s a nice plus to be able to bring to the querying/sale/negotiating table as well. Now that I have sold, it's verry nice to have that instant audience, some of whom have friended me online (hi!)

 

Another reason to have a website is, and I do know of people this has happened to (though not me), an editor or agent they’ve queried has gone to their website and actually requested/bought something else they’d seen described or excerpted there.

 

Cost-wise, it doesn’t have to bankrupt you. Of course, the more gadgets and what nots you put on your site will affect your bottom line. Many hosting companies have templates you can use. Comcast has free webpage links for its customers with templates. Before I bought my domain name I used this.

 

As for domain names, I’ve heard stories of where someone announced in the morning on a loop somewhere that they’d sold, and by afternoon when they’ve calmed down enough to think about promotion, someone else has bought their name - and is, of course, more than willing to sell it to them, but at a much higher price than they would’ve been able to buy it for outright. The minute I learned of this, I bought my name and several variations of the spelling.

 

I bought mine through GoDaddy, but I know there are others. GoDaddy.com came recommended to me from several people and I’ve found their staff very helpful, except for the fact that they don’t have an 800 number, so it will cost you to call them. But the prices are reasonable for site hosting and linking all the variations of my name to my site.

 

I did teach myself how to use FrontPage because I wanted the flexibility templates didn’t offer. Did I start out this way? No. But as I built my site, I saw other options I’d like to be able to have.

 

The reason I wanted a website, was two-fold. One, it gives me a web presence and attracts an audience before I sell. I had it in place before I go “The Call.” One less thing to worry about. Talking to friends who have sold and how much promo they’ve had to do, they’ve all been thankful to have had a website in place beforehand.

 

The other reason is, it acts like an online resume. I have business cards with the site listed and hand them out at every opportunity. You just never know. I included the link when I queried for one manuscript. Again, you never know.

 

It’s a great way to get your name out there if you’re serious about becoming published and it shows you are in this for a career.

 

To do a website very inexpensively, I'd recommend wordpress or blogger. Yes, a blog. With all the templates out there these days, there are many choices to choose from so your site won't have to look like everyone else's. Also, my designer (GlassSlipperWebDesign.com) made the header for my blog and I paid a small annual fee to wordpress to be able to customize the background color, but the template is theirs. I fiddled with the widgets to learn how to use them and it wasn't very hard to build that site. If I hadn't already had a site, I would just go with the blog. You can add tabs at the top, specify a static home page, or not, add photos, links, etc., all for very little money. There's even a way to direct your domain name specifically to the blog, although you'll have to ask someone else for that info, since I haven't figured it out.

 

A web presence isn't that hard to create with a website and/or blog, but you can also do it by joining social sites. As you'll see on my homepage here, I've got a MySpace page, a FaceBook page, I'm still active on Gather.com, now on GoodReads, Shelfari, Twitter, etc. Those are good things to do when you're sitting down at night, watching television and weren't planning to write any way. And they're actually quite fun once you start participating and no longer seem like work.

 

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