Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Query Query, with Vocab Lesson

Q: I've seen some submission guidelines that seem to be using "synopsis" interchangeably with "blurb", as in, sometimes when an agent requests a query letter and synopsis, it sound like they might actually mean a query letter that includes a brief (1- or 2-paragraph) description of what the book is about.

My question is, would agents ever use these words interchangeably? Or does the term "synopsis" always, always mean a step-by-step description of the entire plot, ending included (2 to 5 pages, etc.).

An example is an agent who said: "Please send me a query letter and brief synopsis. One page only, please."

I'd say the agent probably means exactly what they said: A query letter, and also a one-page synopsis. Part of your confusion might stem from mixing up terms.  I hear people calling jacket copy or pitches "blurb" all the time. I know that it might seem silly or pedantic of me to point all this out. But the fact is, you're a professional writer, talking to publishing professionals. You aren't some random person off the street. THEY can call flap copy a blurb - YOU oughtn't. So it is definition time: 

Synopsis: A straightforward "what is this book about", from beginning to end. You might be asked for  a short synopsis, no more than a page, or a long version, 3-5 pages. Yes, synopses can be a bit of a chore to write. I don't ask for them personally, but I understand why people do, and it is probably a good idea to have one prepared just in case.

Query Letter:  A letter written to an agent (or editor) asking if they want to read your material. Query letter generally has three portions. The intro, where you very briefly explain why you chose to query me (if you like) and what it is that I'm about to be looking at.  The pitch, where you talk about the book and entice me to read it. Your bio, in which you tell me any previous publication history and similar. It may vary a bit, depending on the project, but those are the basic building blocks of a standard query letter.

Pitch: Can be in writing, as in the example above, as part of a query letter. OR can be in-person, as described in the blog entry from yesterday. I try and make my written pitches about the tone and length of jacket copy - definitely no longer. Again, you are trying to get people to read on - you're telling them 'the hook', who the main characters are, what their conflicts are, but not every detail of the plot. This is not a synopsis or a blurb.

Flap (or Jacket) Copy: This is the paragraph or so of description on the inside jacket or back of a finished book that gets people to want to pay money for it (hopefully!). This is not a synopsis or a blurb.

Blurb:  Blurbs are accolades heaped on your book by other writers, usually to be printed on your book jacket or website.  "Susan Quartermaster is a master of pitch-perfect dialogue and crackling wit; Chickens in the Peapatch is a book that will stay with you long after you've turned the last page." -- Stephen King.  That's a blurb.