Tip #2 - Get One's Ducks in a Row
Contributor
Written by
Laura Brennan
October 2015
Contributor
Written by
Laura Brennan
October 2015

Getting My Ducks in a Row

Some might call it procrastination, but I call it getting my ducks together. I had my list of 14 agents who I thought would be a good match for my novel, but each of them wanted a slightly different package in the query. Some wanted just the letter and pages, some wanted a synopsis, one wanted an actual bio. So the first thing I did was sit down and get all of these pieces written, revised, and reviewed by my patient and long-suffering husband and friends.

The Query Letter

Okay, technically, I've been working on the query almost as long as the novel. When I went to Killer Nashville two years ago, I signed up for a group critique with an agent and an editor, but rather than have them critique the first pages of my novel, I brought in my query letter. The feedback was invaluable. First and foremost, I realized the real job of the query is not to sell the piece, but to give them enough information for them to decide whether or not it was a good fit for them. The pages would (one always hopes) make them want to represent the novel, but the query letter was all about making sure it was a good fit.

The key for my novel, I discovered, was the setting. Somewhere buried in the first paragraph, I had the words "four years before Jack the Ripper..." This, I was told, was the phrase that let them know right away, yes! that's my kind of book, or no! not something I'm interested in. 

These six words were the query. Everything else was gravy.

The Synopsis

Does anyone like to write a synopsis? I don't. My day job is helping TV and film producers write pitch packets, which usually include a synopsis, so I've got more under my belt than most. Even so, the synopsis is never something I look forward to.

But I do have a trick, which is to set up the story and then to tell what it's about, at heart. I focus on the meaning rather than the details, particularly for a one-page synopsis. No one really wants you to stuff all the beats of a screenplay (or a novel) into a single page; what they want is something engaging that gives them the scope of the entire story. Why we care is just as important as the third-act plot twist.

Bio

Because I can obsess over everything, I did two versions of my bio. I dusted off my "professional" version, which has been in mothballs for a few years now as I slowly moved all my online bios and my speaking engagement intros over to what I call the "fun" version. Linked In may still have the drier version, but not for much longer. While in my query letter, I kept my bio to just the (relevant) facts, in my actual bio, I start with having my first play produced in a (former) porn theater and it gets wackier from there. True, mind you, all true, just goofy.

But that's been my life and that's who I am. My "fun" bio gives an accurate taste of who I am and the scope of what I do. Truth in advertising.

Sending Out the Queries

Having everything ready to go has made it easy for me to keep my commitment of one query a day... Wait, just one per day? Once it was all ready, why didn't I send all fourteen in one go?

Did I mention I obsess?

I fiddle with it all -- everything from the letter to the synopsis to the pages -- from query to query, it's part of my process, I've given up trying to fight it. Plus I thought if I sent them all out at once I would freak if I found a typo (which I did on Day 2).

This is my system and so far it's been keeping me querying, which is the main thing, setting up a system that makes it easy to keep going. I hope some of these ideas helped you, and I look forward to hearing any of yours.

What keeps you querying?

Let's be friends

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