Since it’s Valentine’s Day, I’m going to detour from my more typical craft posts to talk about the art of seduction.
Mm-hmm, that’s right: we’re going to talk submission packages.
I hear you, already moaning with anticipation and pleasure (although you’re ahead of yourself: this usually doesn’t come until the climax). Your attitude is on the right track. The only way to beg interest in your manuscript as it heads into the world is through a well-designed submission package. How will you wrap it—in the negativity with which so many approach the tasks of query letter and synopsis writing, or with the wily passion befitting your novel’s love letter to the world?
This post is not intended to help you craft these all-important documents. I’ll include links to other great WU posts for that. My aim is to help you love them, by showing how they work together to seduce a reader. (If you are seeking traditional publication, “reader” means an agent or small-press editor. If self-publishing, and using such material for back-cover copy, “reader” may be the end purchaser.)
Think these materials are too brief to fairly represent your project? Think string bikini. You might 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. This letter 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 additional pages. If you’ve ever bought a novel based on back-cover copy alone, you know this can work.
In just a few paragraphs, the query letter suggests whether you are ready to make the transition from writer to published author. Its opening is your pitch: one or two concise, enticing, 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 prose will poorly represent your writing skills.
- Enticing: As with speed-dating, waste no time delineating past breakups. Focus on this manuscript’s best features.
- 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.
Love the query, for the way it shows you are ready for this relationship.
Synopsis: Story Structure
The purpose of the synopsis is to assess your storytelling ability. Invite your reader to care about your protagonist through the same structural elements that comprise your story: what drives your protagonist, what stands in the way of her achieving her desired goal, the stakes should she fail, the backstory motivation that makes this matter, the dark moment when all seems lost, and the climactic fight to which she will rise. Elicit the same emotion that you hope will linger in your reader at the end of your novel.
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.
Love the synopsis, for story is how the reader recognizes a like-minded soul.
Sample Pages: Dramatization
The sample pages show that you are more than a smooth talker. You are a writer of substance.
Since you won’t have much time to make an impression—sometimes, only five pages—consider starting in scene. Using the conventions of your genre, allow each sentence to orient your reader while withholding just enough to raise a question that will tip us into the next. Repeat and repeat, pulling the reader into the drama hand over hand.
Love the sample pages, for they will show that you can deliver on the promise your other materials have made.
A good submission package may take you months to develop—or even years, depending how much time you waste thinking of these materials as a series of tedious hoops to jump through. Instead, think of it as the ultimate writing challenge. Working together, these materials will exhibit your readiness, expose your storyteller’s soul, and prove you are more than just another charmer.
A sharp submission package, like Cupid’s arrow, has the power to pierce the heart of one of publishing’s most enthusiastic yet over-worked readers with one perfectly aimed shot.
Once you are sure that you have promised an intriguing story—and delivered on that promise—draw back your bow and send your novel’s Valentine out into the world. Not with resentment, but with loving gratitude for the opportunity to be read.
May you inspire your perfect match to swipe right.
What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of loving the submission process? Have any tips to share with others in the query trenches?
Now, thanks to tinyCoffee and PayPal, you can!