In the body of your query letter, you’ll need to put a short synopsis of your manuscript of about 500 words. This is more than the back of the book blurb and much less than a three-to-five page summary that many publishers request.
Don’t tell the acquisitions editor or agent to “read the book to find out how it ends because I don’t want to spoil the surprise.” The publisher needs to know how the book ends. The surprise needs to be left to the readers.
Your idea for a book blurb is a great place to start, but then you need to build upon it. A publisher needs to know the bones of the story. You need to include the highlights of the story, any major character deaths, and how it ends. Think about the key scenes that are pivotal to your story and mention them. Is there a cliffhanger? Is this a series? Will this book standalone? These are all things that should be mentioned in your short synopsis.
Here’s an example from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen via Goodreads:
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
So begins Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen’s witty comedy of manners—one of the most popular novels of all time—that features splendidly civilized sparring between the proud Mr. Darcy and the prejudiced Elizabeth Bennet as they play out their spirited courtship in a series of eighteenth-century drawing-room intrigues. Renowned literary critic and historian George Saintsbury in 1894 declared it the “most perfect, the most characteristic, the most eminently quintessential of its author’s works,” and Eudora Welty in the twentieth century described it as “irresistible and as nearly flawless as any fiction could be.”
If Ms. Austen was submitting her book for publication today, her short synopsis might read this way:
Elizabeth Bennet is the second of five daughters. Her mother’s main goal in life is to see her daughters marry well because their home is entailed—there is no son to carry on the family name—therefore, to keep a roof over Mrs. Bennet’s head. When two young men arrive at the neighboring estate, she immediately makes plans to capture at least one for her daughters.
At a local dance, Elizabeth and Jane (the eldest daughter), catch the eye of the two young men. Mr. Bingley is immediately smitten with the beautiful Jane. His friend, Mr. Darcy, makes a disparaging remark about the local women which is overheard by Elizabeth. This pricks her pride and she prejudges him without knowing him.
This is the basis for many a miscommunication between all parties. Add in a scoundrel of a military officer and Elizabeth’s flighty younger sister and drama ensues.
Jane’s reticent demeanor reads “cold and not interested” to Mr. Darcy and he tells his friend that she doesn’t care for him. With his heart hurt, Mr. Bingley leaves.
Darcy, for his part, doesn’t want to like Miss Elizabeth, but he does enjoy her carefree spirit and witty banter. He tries to tell her how he feels, but insults her—and her family—and she tells him off.
All parties are hurting, but too proud to explain.
An accidental meeting much later on between Darcy and Elizabeth brings them closer and clears up some of the misunderstanding. Just when things are looking up for them, the youngest sister, Lydia, runs off with the scalawag officer. This is the man that tried to take advantage of Darcy’s young sister.
Darcy leaves Elizabeth to run to the rescue. Elizabeth, who knew the officer was bad, beats herself up for not sharing her knowledge before her sister was compromised.
While they are parted, again, Darcy tells Bingley that he was mistaken about Jane’s feelings and he should try again. He then tries again with Elizabeth. She has found that her prejudice against him was wrong. She finds herself in love with the man.
There’s a cringe-worthy scene where Darcy’s aunt comes to exhort Elizabeth into staying away from her nephew. Elizabeth shows her backbone as she ushers the hideous woman out of the house. This scene also gives her hope that maybe Darcy has feelings for her, too.
Finally, they speak and all the problems are ironed out. True love prevails.
This book stands alone but I’m already writing a sequel dealing with the youngest daughter.
That’s 421 words that hit the highpoints but don’t tell every detail. Leave those for your chapter outline and three-to-five page summary.
It’s stressful to think about having to tell your story in so few words. You want to hook the publishing house with your story idea, but not take three pages to do it. Write Divas can help you condense your plot in a clear and enticing way.
If you have any questions with regard to acquisitions at a publishing house, feel free to leave me a note. Maybe I have an answer!