Tell anyone you've written a book, and the response is automatic. You'd better have an answer ready. It might seem obvious. Of course you know what your book is about! You just wrote it. You had an idea, which seemed genius at the time, and you spent months or even years getting it all down on paper.
But start telling the long, albeit even exciting, version of your book and watch your listeners' eyes glaze. It all makes sense to you, but even a mother's love can wane after a few minutes of a detailed explanation.
Lucky for the stranger sharing your Metro seat! You've perfected a one-sentence description of your book, a log line as it's known. And for those publishers and agents, if you're lucky enough to get 90 seconds or so to pitch your book at a conference, you also have your one paragraph summary, or an "elevator" pitch. You can see a log line for Boxed Set under the banner for this blog.
For a summary longer than a minute-and-a-half, such as a synopsis or query letter, lucky you! Take all the time you want to perfect an entire one-, two- or three-page synopsis of the book. You can spend days or weeks perfecting the cover letter to be sent with the synopsis to potential agents. And even though you know far less than five percent of queries will get a positive response, you still agonize over this letter like it is the first page of your next book.
As Jane Friedman says on her blog, the cover letter exists solely to seduce an agent or editor into reading or requesting your work. At this point you have at least the same chance as a 10th grade Rico Suave with pimples does with the head cheerleader. No wonder query letters are a challenge.
Am I exaggerating about query letters and synopses? I don't think so. Ask any other writer friend, and you'll get horror stories about the query letters they've revised time and again. It's the reason I have at least seven different versions of query letters saved on this computer as well as dozens more copies of slightly personalized versions, and at least three synopses of different lengths.
My most favorite advice, from the Miss Snark blog, would eliminate the need for query letter- and synopsis-stress altogether. "Just write something fabulous and it will all work out." So she says.
Some other great advice for query letters with samples can be found on MediaBistro, Writer's Digest and Huffington Post.
Meanwhile, in an upcoming post, I'll give you a further peak into Boxed Set.
So, what is your book about?