After the Draft: Episode VIII, Moving On

When we last saw our brave little manuscript, it had been lost deep inside the review process. Yes, finally I have some news to share about Let Sleeping Gods Lie, (which you may remember as Any Port in a Storm, that was the working title). Some of the news is good, some of it not so good. Which is exactly what you should expect during this stage. Even very good projects take months or years to find the right combination of agent and publisher, more often than not.

So, let’s start with the not-so-good. You may remember back in September an agent and editor had asked me to submit the book for consideration. Since then, I’ve been in contact with the editor in question, who sent me a note to let me know he had received the email, and again last week to let me know he was going to be in touch soon. Great, no problems there. The agent, however, proved to be a bit more of an issue. After sending off the manuscript in September, I never had any word back from them. Now, it’s only been four months, and one would not necessarily expect to have an answer by now. Agents often get hundreds of queries per month, and trying to keep on top of the pile is a daunting task. However, I never heard anything back from this agent, not even a quick note to verify receipt of the manuscript. After two months, I sent out a feeler email asking if they had gotten it. I did so again a month later, with no reply to either. So I made the difficult decision to abandon the attempt and begin actively querying new agents again.

That first day, I pulled out the stack of business cards I’d collected from agents at cons and receptions over the last couple years and sent out a half-dozen emails. Be very careful during this step to review each agent’s submission guidelines individually. These can usually be found on their agency website. Tailor each email to that particular agent’s wishes. Do not BCC or, heaven forbid, CC every agent in your address book. That looks simply terrible, and will probably mean your query gets deleted before it’s even opened. You can read a generic version of the query letter I sent out here.

And in the interest of total transparency, on five out of the six queries, I totally fucked up. Somehow in my rush to get them out the door, I completely forgot to include that last important bit of the email where you’re supposed to share your publishing credits, (if you have any). Dumb, dumb, dumb. I was excited, and simply didn’t take the handful of seconds needed to review the emails before hitting SEND. On the final query, I caught my mistake and added the information back in.

On Sunday during the drive back from ConFusion (which was great) I received a reply from one of the agents I’d queried. Low-and-behold, the one who actually got to see my pub creds had come back asking for more. I’m not saying that is the only reason the other five didn’t respond, but coincidences are hard to ignore. In his response, this new agent asked for a “partial” to review, which is nothing more than the first few chapters of a book to see if they successfully capture the agent’s interest before they commit to reading the entire manuscript. Some agents ask for partials, others just ask for the entire manuscript. It’s really up their individual taste. In this case, he wanted the first thirty pages of the book, which worked out to be the first two chapters, and a synopsis.

Now, writing a novel synopsis is possibly my least favorite thing to do in the world, right up there with changing a flat tire on the side of the interstate during a hailstorm, running the last mile of a half-marathon, and force-feeding venomous snakes. For those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure, think of the synopsis as a Cliff Notes version of your book, except way shorter. Like 1,000 words short. Take that two-hundred page manuscript you’ve just spent a year writing and editing, and cram it down into two pages without losing any important plot elements, characters, or narrative flavor. It’s like trying to stuff a full-grown African bull elephant into a Russian nesting doll, without killing it or breaking the doll.

However, it must be done. And if you’re smart, which I wasn’t, you’ll have written and honed your novel synopsis before you even start querying. Just as with the query letter, there are a lot of great resources out there for nailing the synopsis. Here are a few:

My best advice is to read through a few examples of novel synopsises… synopsi? Fuck it, you know what I mean. Read a few of them to get a handle on them, then write a couple of your own. If you have a trunk novel or two, write a synopsis on them as practice. This will give you a chance to write one out without the stress of getting it totally right on the first try.

My synopsis for Let Sleeping Gods Lie came in at 1,600 words, or about two and a half pages of text. That’s a little longer than what some agents prefer, but this is an epic, second-world fantasy, after all. That was about as crammed as that elephant was willing to get. I would love to put it up here to let everyone read for themselves, but considering what it is, that would spoil the entire book and quite possibly hurt or end its chances at publication. However, if the book does get picked up, I’ll be happy to put it up as an example after that point.

Next week, After The Draft continues with a guest post from the indomitable Myke Cole. He’s stopping by to tell the tale of how his smash hit, Control Point, made it out of his brain and onto the shelves. And he’s doing so on the very day the final book of his Shadow Ops trilogy launches. See y’all then!

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