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Writing the query letter blurb (or mini-synopsis) for your book isn’t easy. And sometimes the difficulties with query writing stem from the fact that you as the author may not have the best perspective on your own book because you’re too close to it. You want all your characters and subplots to be in the query letter.
We’ve written articles about composing a mini-synopsis for your query letter before (see below for more). But this week, we wanted to dig a little deeper into how you as a writer can identify the key points for your query (and let the rest fall away). Here are some things to remember. These are not rules, but they are strategies to seriously consider.
What’s The Main Conflict Of Your Query Synopsis
How long is a query letter synopsis? A query synopsis should be only about 150-200 words (a few paragraphs). If you try to hook the reader into your every plot point, you might deaden your effectiveness. You should drive one main plot point in your blurb, and no more.
(NOTE: We have seen effective queries for ensemble cast books and other projects that incorporate many plot lines, but it’s extremely hard to do well. You’ll be best served if you identify your main conflict/main characters and work it for all it’s worth.)
Your main character is usually the one who faces your main conflict. Your main character has the most to lose. Identify your main character, what he/she stands to lose, and then, when you begin writing, focus the story strictly through the lens of your main character’s point of view for maximum emotional impact. (HINT: That doesn’t necessarily mean you should use first person point of view; most queries are in third person.)
For example, in the movie version of The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy is the main character. She and her three companions all have something to lose (their lives) and something to gain, but of the four Dorothy has the most to lose (she must get back to Kansas). So in your synopsis the story should unfold through Dorothy’s perspective. Focus on her and focus all the action through her.
Once you’ve identified your main character, ask yourself:
What does the character risk externally (her house, his life, her job, his favorite T-shirt?)?
Her life. There’s a witch after her.
What does the character risk internally (her heart, his friendship, her mother’s respect, his children’s admiration)?
If she doesn’t get back to Kansas, she’ll never see her family again. And she’s only just realized how important they are to her.
These are the two main points of conflict to focus on in your query letter that should be filtered through your main character’s point of view.
How To Lay Out Your Query Letter Blurb
1. Set the mood. If your book is set in a great locale, take a phrase or even a sentence to describe it (energetically and meaningfully). If the setting doesn’t matter much and your book happens to be action-oriented, then set the mood by diving right into the action. Skip the long wind-up and get to it right away.
And if your book has a great setting that is inherently linked to the main conflict, well…
Dorothy, a young girl who longs for a different life, is whisked away from her dull Kansas farm into the magical, colorful world of Oz when her house is sucked into a tornado.
2. Identify the key conflicts in concrete terms. Show us what your character stands to lose through his/her eyes, and you’ll have great emotional impact.
Only the Wizard of Oz, magician of the Emerald City, has the power to send Dorothy home. She and three new friends—a scarecrow, tin man, and lion—make their way down the yellow brick road.
3. Show advancing, specific action (but not too much). Once the main conflict has been identified, tell us one or two major things that stand in the character’s way of success.
When Dorothy makes an enemy of an evil wicked witch, her quest to find the Wizard becomes a matter of life and death. But the Wizard isn’t interested in giving handouts: He won’t help Dorothy and her friends unless they first kill the powerful witch who pursues them.
You’ll notice that, in this case, the action is organized differently in the query than in the movie. We all know that Dorothy makes an enemy of the witch the moment she gets to Oz. But in our query synopsis, the timeline is a little bit, shall we say, fudged.
In the name of brevity, this structure (a summary) gets the point across quickly without muddling the action. And we don’t feel that the plot has been compromised by organizing the information in this way.
4. Lead the reader up to the climactic moment (the darkest moment for the MC when everything is nearly lost). Don’t give away the ending. Instead, bring the climactic elements into clear focus, then keep us guessing.
Will Dorothy, who never appreciated her home until now, make it back to Kansas with her life?
Okay—so it’s not poetry. But you can see the general idea of how to use this method to sketch out your query letter blurb. This might not work for every book, but using this method may give you some insight into the best way to lay out a blurb for your book.
You’ll notice that we had to leave a lot of things out of this query summary. There’s no mention of ruby slippers or Toto. We don’t give away the Wizard’s secret identity. We don’t talk about munchkins, or Glinda, or even the killing of the Witch of the East.
We love those elements—we really do! But a query writer must sometimes be brutal—striking the right balance between detail and action.
Want to read more about writing a query letter? Start here: