Authorguy's Blog

By any other name

Posted on: June 18, 2020


I’m sitting here listening to yet another vlog post, to go with all the blog posts out there, on the subject of query letters. This isn’t really surprising, since it’s one of the most difficult parts to write, no one can really tell you how to do it, and if you need a topic for your weekly blog post it’s always there.

This particular vlog post is contributing to one of the things I consider to be the most perplexing parts of the mystery, namely, that people call the same thing by many different names, and sometimes multiple things by the same name. It calls the central component of a query letter the blurb, which has a hook inside it. Others call this component the hook, and the blurb is something else entirely. Then there’s the wonderful word synopsis.

When trying to interest an agent in a book, the query letter is supposed to describe the book in such a way that the agent will want to read more. This is a trick, as agents read a lot of these things every day and are more often looking for reasons to delete the query than they are to keep going.

This description of the book is the single most difficult part of the query to write, and the part that shows just how useless all of these vlog and blog posts actually are. No one can tell you how to write this, and no one will tell you they can’t. They can tell you how to write all the other parts of a query letter, which are fairly straightforward, but this part is unique to you, and the best they can do is talk around it. The usual suggestion is to go to a bookstore and read the back cover copy of books that have actually managed to get published, and hope that this will inspire you to do the same for your work. Which is fine, so long as your book hews to the came path (more or less) as the book you’re holding. The more you depart from that path the less good it will do you.

The back cover copy is what I will be calling the blurb. Other people may call it something else, which is fine, so long as you know what the differences are. That is my only point here, make sure you know what the agent means when they use these words because sometimes they don’t mean the same things.

The blurb actually has a lot in common with the description inside the query letter, which I will call the hook. The query hook is the short description of the book for the agent to be enticed by, and once enticed they will often take that hook and turn it into a blurb. Sometimes they don’t need to, because the hook makes a fine blurb all on its own. The thing to remember is that hooks are for agents, and blurbs are for readers. They are not being put to the same purposes.

When I first started querying, the word that caused me the most confusion was ‘synopsis’, which is what I always thought the hook was called. I’d see some people say it should be a paragraph or two, then others that it was 2-5 pages. It should be incomplete. No, it should contain the whole plot, including the ending. It’s one of biggest pet peeves about this aspect of the business. The synopsis is not the hook. Hooks are short, synopses are not. Synopses are complete, hooks are not

At least, until you ask the next agent. Good luck.

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