In summary

I’m having a hard time writing a query letter for my novel-in-progress, The Sleep of Reason. I’m trying to encapsulate all 100,000+ words of the complex story into a couple of sentences — a couple of sound bites — to lead off the query letter. It ain’t easy.

I suspect that conventional wisdom would say that if I can’t sum up my story in two sentences, I don’t really know what my story is. But is it that simple? Or if one could sum it up in two sentences, would it do justice to the story? (Or am I just resisting the hard work every writer must do?)

With my Finnegans novel, this wasn’t so difficult. I wrote and polished my query letter over a series of months (and a series of submissions), but I pretty much encapsulated the plot tease in the first two sentences. The difference there was that the Finnegans novel (currently at rest on my hard drive) could be taken at face value. It was a cozy mystery, and while it had the requisite twists and surprises, it was part of a genre, so much of what needed to be said about it was already said by the conventions of the genre. There was no story beneath the story.

The Sleep of Reason is a different beast altogether. I don’t know what genre it belongs to, if any (and I wonder if that is another sign that I don’t know my story well enough). Beyond that, however, is the fact that this novel is vastly more complex, more nuanced, and at work on so many more levels than a genre novel typically is that it is not lending itself to simple analysis and sound bite explication. Thus the trouble with the query letter.

What does an agent do with this kind of thing? Is it immediately thrust aside? Are there agents who will pause to consider? Agents who look for nuance and allusion? (A recent rejection I received for a short story seemed based on the fact that the “meaning” of the story was not immediately obvious.) From what I’ve read about agents, there is more concern about typos and perfect grammar than there is about literary value. But maybe I do them an injustice.

So I keep at writing this query letter. And I keep the faith.

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3 Comments on “In summary”

  1. Brian Keaney Says:

    The difficulty of writing a synopsis that does your novel justice shouldn’t be underestimated. It’s particularly hard because you do it at the end, when you’re aching to finish with the book and get it out into the world. I don’t believe you can hope to include all aspects of your story. If possible, just go for one killer angle, spend time on it, go through a number of drafts, and try each one out on someone you trust to be fairly impartial.

  2. Rob Crompton Says:

    Just a word of caution: you call it a work in progress, so how far off complete is it? You really need to get it as near to perfect before you start approaching agents or publishers because if any ask to see the MS they will want it right away, not three or four months later.It would be too frustrating to miss a possible opening because you still needed time to finish it. But good luck – hope all goes well for you!

  3. Paul Lamb Says:

    Brian – I appreciate your thoughts. The idea of going for the killer angle appeals because it will help me focus attention toward the real doings in the story rather than the genre-ish trappings. Thanks.
    Rob – It’s finished. It’s still in the hands of my reader, but her recent comments have not brought up any fundamental issues. Should something like that still come, well, I’ll incorporate it then.

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