The Synopsis and Query Letter

by Jennifer Probst

And you thought writing a book was hard.

Nothing makes a writer break into a cold sweat like the dreaded terms "synopsis" and "query". But these are the selling tools that will get the manuscript on an editor's desk.


Some markets specify to query first before sending the manuscript. The query letter is a request for permission to submit your manuscript, and is usually accompanied by a synopsis,which is a detailed outline of your story.

A query is written in business letter format, singled space. Include the following in a query:

-- The name and address of an editor. (Double and triple check the exact spelling of the editor's name.)

-- Formal greeting. (Dear Ms. --)

-- The title of your book.

-- The particular line you are slanting your manuscript toward. (Desire, Special Edition, etc.)

-- Estimated word count and whether or not the book is completed.

-- A quick overview or pitch for your book, preferably with a hook. Introduce your characters, conflict, and the main thrust of your story. Too much detail is not needed -- leave that for your synopsis.

-- Any publication credits or relevant experience that could help sell your book. I like to state that I'm an active member in RWA.

-- Confirm enclosures and always state you have enclosed an SASE (self-addressed, stamped envelope).


The synopsis is a complete summary of your book, in the present tense, that explains your characters, plot, conflict, and any pertinent details that will help your book stand out. It is double-spaced, pages are numbered, and one-inch margins are used. A good rule of thumb is one page for each 10,000 words. (A short contemporary of about 60,000 words should have no more that six pages.) Majority opinion says shorter is usually better, as long as the synopsis contains everything that needs to be included.

Do not write the synopsis as a chapter outline, though your synopsis may contain something from each chapter. It is a selling tool that must be written in a manner that will convince the editor to request your manuscript -- lively, sharp, and well-written.

The synopsis must:

-- Have a strong hook for the opening.

-- Include a clear lay-out of the story line. (List all crucial scenes.)

-- Establish the setting.

-- Establish the romance. (How the hero and heroine meet, why they're fighting their attraction, etc.)

-- Establish the conflict between your characters.

-- Establish their motivations.

-- Give a sense of the book's structure (show your own writing style, your own voice.)

-- Explain the resolution of the conflict.

--Tell the ending. (No cute teasers like, "If you want to know what happens next, read my book.")

-- Always be professional.

Be sure you've included enough information about your characters to give the editor a strong sense of who they are, without slowing the synopsis down with too many details. Keep minor characters to a minimum. Usually name only your main characters. Always remember -- focus chiefly on the development and resolution of the romance.

There is no magical, correct way to write a synopsis. Each writer has his or her own style. Open with your character's background, an introduction to the conflict, or even a "jacket blurb" to grab an editor's attention. I have read many conflicting viewpoints on how not to open a synopsis, but mainly writers agree that if it works for your story, there is no wrong way. Some writers even include snatches of dialogue to liven up a synopsis.

Proof-read, spell-check, and when you read it all over, make sure you've told your story in a manner that will hold an editor's attention.

Jennifer Probst is the secretary of the Hudson Valley RWA chapter. She has written three contemporary romances and is a finalist in the New England chapter's First Kiss contest. This article originally appeared in the April 1997 issue of A Word About Romance. GDRWA thanks the Hudson Valley chapter for allowing us to reprint it.

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