Having recently stumbled upon two excellent blogs—Kyra Nelson’s, in which we get to read queries with comments from an intern who works for an agency, and Kristen Nelson’s, where a “very nice literary agent” politely rants about “Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry,” I started wondering: is there a difference between the description of a story as it appears in a query letter and the summary blurb that will (hopefully) appear on the back of a book jacket, once it gets published?
Queries are supposed to have three elements: the hook, the mini-synopsis, and the writer’s biography—keeping it short, but explaining what the story is, expanding on that story, and giving the agent some idea of who you are.
But that’s pretty much what you find on the back of books, too: a line, often in some pretty, graphic-designed package to pull the reader in; a paragraph about the story, without saying too much; and the author biography, somewhere along the bottom.
Kristin Nelson, the aforementioned agent, writes, “When writing your pitch paragraph, all you need to do is examine the first 20 or 50 pages of your manuscript. Then zero in on the main catalyst that starts the story forward—the main conflict from which all else in the novel evolves.”
According to Ms. Nelson, there is no difference between a query and the back of a book. She recommends reading the back covers of books in your genre and getting a sense of the rhythm and content from those, since those are written by experts in writing hooks and synopses that pull readers in. She also urges writers not to reveal the ending: “After all, if I want to read the entire novel, I don’t want to know the ending beforehand.”
The only difference I can find between the blurb on the back of the book and the query letter content is that author biographies tend to be a little more professional in queries and a little more whimsical on the backs of books…and I found that encouraging. Between blogs like Kyra and Kristen Nelson’s—I don’t believe they are related—and all the professional blurbs available to be read on the back cover of any story, it makes writing a query that much less-daunting, because they are something we read all the time.
Most of us read the back cover of books, or at least the online description, to decide whether we’re interested. We’ve read blurbs that sell stories too well, making us interested when the product itself couldn’t deliver, and we’ve read blurbs that just didn’t pique our interest.
We can examine those of stories we really enjoyed and see whether the blurb did it justice—did it cover those critical 20 to 50 pages? Was the main conflict hinted at? If the book had many major characters, how did it handle that? It’s like getting writing advice from the professionals for free.
Copyright 2014 Andrea Lundgren