Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Construction Zone 14. - Queries, Synopses and Partials

There is a ton of information out there about submitting your manuscript, yet one of the most frequently asked questions are regarding how to submit once your ms is ready.


This is a business letter so you want it to be professional. No funky fonts, or off the wall paper choices, that sort of thing. You want it to have a personal flavour so there's some sense of who you are, but mainly you are introducing yourself and your work so you want it to remain professional.

Format it like a business letter. The way I always formatted it was with an introductory paragraph: my name, the title of the book (either underlined or in all caps), the target (either audience or line, depending on what you write)and the approximate word count.

My next paragraph would be a hook-y type blurb about the book.

The third paragraph contained background information on me. This would include publishing credits or other pertinent information. Even something like "My job as a doctor inspired me to write this medical about xyz" or whatever.

Again, you're selling your ms but also yourself.

Queries should be no longer than one page.


Depending on where you're sending your ms, a very general rule of thumb would be 2 pages single spaced for most category length novels. If you write single title or longer (75k +) series, you could probably expand that. Right now, my editor gets a one-page synopsis. Condensing it down is hard, so here's what you need.

You need to hit the main points only. You need to give a feeling for your characters, the conflict, their motivations and a brief roadmap of how they get there. You also need to include the resolution - how they reach their happy ending. DON'T LEAVE THIS OUT. The editor is going to want to know how you wound this up. Please don't put "to see how it ends, you'll need to read the rest of the story!" Editors don't have time for that. They need to see at a glance that what you've done works.


Some agents/publishers/lines will allow you to send a sample of your work - usually 3 chapters or what we call a "partial". Another one of the most-oft asked questions is about formatting.

Clear, good sized font. So TNR 12 or Courier New 12 seem to be the two standards. I know one of my publishers uses Bookman Old Style a lot, but I don't use it in my every day work or sending to my editor at Harlequin. DOUBLE SPACE. If an editor is going to the time and effort to read your work, don't give her an eye-strain headache. Number your pages in the top right and have a header at the top with the ms title and your name. You should also have a cover page, with the ms title and your name front and centre. When I send mine, to the bottom left I have my contact information - mailing address, e-mail and phone number - and on the right I put who it's going to and the approximate word count.

With a partial you can clip it together. Do NOT staple. If you get a request to see all the work, hold it together with elastic bands.

If you go to you should be able to find examples of the above, or heck do a google search. There are lots of resources out there.

For those authors reading this, feel free to post good links to similar info/examples in the comments section.


  1. On many author's websites and in many online discussions, I seen the one page per 10k word recommendation for synopsis length. This would amount to 5-7 pages for a category. Yet, you suggest 1-2 pages. Are there times when a longer synopsis is appropriate?

  2. Patricia, here's what I know for sure.

    Some people send a synopsis that long for a full ms. 5 pages double spaced is about 2 1/2 single spaced, so that's not THAT far off the mark. Because I single space my synopses.

    However, anything I've been told in subbing to Mills and Boon/Harlequin in Richmond is a 2 pg synopsis. And for selling purposes, they use a one page synopsis. A synopsis goes on the art fact sheet as well, and what would you rather read? 5-10 pages, or a one page extended blurb that hits the high points?

    Synopsis writing is an art form and the more you do the easier it is to get them short. The only time I could see longer ones being necessary are for single title length (75k plus) where you have secondaries and subplots that all blend together.