Of Synopses and Query Letters

Today’s post is somewhat late because I’ve worked most of the day on a two-sentence synopsis for a query letter for my “baby-in-the-wall” novel. Who knew summarizing 83,000 words into two sentences would be so hard. I mean, I’ve been to several query letter workshops and panels at various writing conferences, so how hard could doing a summary be? A lot harder than I thought.

I will add, I’m having some help from an instructor from a workshop I took this year. He’s doing the shopping to agents, but he needed a summary from me, as well as a writing bio. So here was my first iteration:

Supreme Madness of the Carnival Season is a literary novel of approximately 83,000 words, which follows a romance novelist’s investigation into the origin of an infant’s skeleton she and her older, literary-minded husband find while renovating a room in a house they’ve just bought in the Shenandoah Valley town of Ewington, VA. The two-track narrative brings a secret from the past into the present and forces the novelist to confront what she has denied about her  life.”

I thought I should have some other eyes on it, so I posted it on the Facebook page of my online writer’s group, Shenandoah Valley Writers, and after some back-and-forth and some really good suggestions, I ended up with this:

Supreme Madness of the Carnival Season is a literary novel of approximately 83,000 words, which follows a romance novelist’s investigation into the origin of an infant’s skeleton she and her older, literary-minded husband find while renovating a room in a house they’ve just bought in the Shenandoah Valley town of Ewington, VA. The two-track narrative uncovers an old secret, and what she finds forces the novelist to confront what she has long denied about her own life.”

That took the most part of the morning, but I was pretty satisfied with it. Even then, I let it sit for a while, decided it was pretty much perfect, then sent it off to my workshop instructor. A few minutes ago, I got an email from him, indicating he had “tweaked” the summary a bit, and here is what he did:

Supreme Madness of the Carnival Season follows a romance novelist’s investigation into the origin of an infant’s skeleton she and her older, literary-minded husband find while renovating a room in a house they’ve just bought in the Shenandoah Valley town of Ewington, VA. The two-track narrative uncovers an old secret, and what she finds forces the novelist to confront what she has long denied about her own life.”

Subtle edits in both latter versions but effective. Now, in just about every workshop I’ve taken about query letters, the agents have indicated they want to know genre and word count, the two items my instructor edited from the first sentence. However, he is someone who has dealt with a wide range of agents, so I trust his instincts.

I’m giddy that one of my manuscripts is getting sent to agents, but I’m also trying to temper my excitement. Nothing at all could come of this, but I’m beyond honored that this instructor felt strongly enough about my manuscript to give it his personal attention. I frankly have no clue how to repay that–not that he’s expecting remuneration–but as I said to someone today, the list of people to include in the acknowledgements section of the novel is growing long.

We writers are very often a solitary lot. We lock ourselves into our writing spaces and occupy worlds of our own making, our company only the characters we’ve created. And yet, it turns out the writing is the only solitary part of the process. Being published in the traditional manner means you leave your cozy, self-made world and venture into reality, a reality replete with editors and agents and proofreaders and copy editors, all of whom are working with you to make your novel a success. That’s exciting, well, happy-dance-inducing, but it’s also daunting and, not to mention, a little scary.

Still, I’m all for the process.

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