What every wannabe author ought to know-Part IV


Last issues, we discussed how to write an impressive manuscript for a fiction. But that’s not all. Forwarding the manuscript smartly to the publishers is also an art. Here are same useful tips on the same.

We all know that writing a manuscript is an art, but forwarding it intelligently to the publishers with a brief synopsis is also an art. Writing a query letter and a synopsis of your manuscript all go a long way in making the right impression. Here’s how you can master these arts:

How to write a good introductory mailer?

An introductory letter is the first point of contact with your prospective publisher, the first knock on his door, the first impression you can create, so just don’t shoot from the hip. Keep it professional and simple. It is said that it takes more time to draft a good query and synopsis than it does to pen a novel. I haven’t had that problem since I have studied these things for close to a year or two — no wonder I get good responses from publishers. Hard work pays in the long run, wotsay?

Ok, let’s get down to brass tacks. What is a good query letter? It should mainly convey three things: (a) A catchy line that will interest them, (b) The brief outline of the work, and (c) Why you are qualified to write it.

You can call it the ‘hook’, ‘book’ and ‘cook’ approach. Three or four small paragraphs are all that you need to get your book published.

The hook: Let us imagine you are penning a romance novel that revolves around a chic girl who is looking for a handsome, stylish groom but eventually falls for a simple, traditional, average-looking guy with middle class values who ends up transforming her.

Italicise the first line of your query letter, after the usual ‘Dear Sir,’/‘Dear Madam,’/‘Dear Editor,’/‘Dear Mr Khanna,’ (if you are sure of that). Mostly ‘Dear Editor’ is the best approach. Do not ever say ‘Dear Publisher’.

What will happen if a stylish girl with ultra-modern tastes falls in love with a simpleton who swears by middle class values?

You have grabbed attention. You have pulled the editor into your letter. Romance sells, makes money, gets reprinted, so they are going to read on.

The book: I have just completed a 60,000 word commercial fiction MS titled MR RIGHT USUALLY HAS TWO LEFT FEET.

My romantic comedy revolves around snooty Sheila, an alumnus of St Stephen’s College, and village-bred Vanraj, an accountant with National Bharat Bank; and how she tries to convert him into a stylish, disco-going, gym-frequenting hunk, but instead finds herself mutating into a middle-class, traditions-worshipping girl who begins to think like him.

Fantastic, well done! You have told them the word count, the genre, the title, and the fact that it is completed.

The next paragraph has outlined your story, the characters’ personality profiles, the plot that holds promise since it sounds both romantic and humorous, and above all, you have conveyed the twist that Vanraj ends up making snooty Sheila simple.

Remember always: the title of your novel has to be all caps in the body of your query letter, not in italics. This one rule will tell any editor or literary agent that you are a pucca professional, not a pathetic tyro. Indian publishers may not be too particular about this, but take it from me, international literary agents look for that all caps title.

Congratulations! You have a bestseller on your hands. (By the way, do not just copy-paste the above and shoot it off to a publisher. Write in your own style. Create your own plot. The above-mentioned is in fact the title, query and plot of one of my forthcoming novels. I have a copyright on that by default.)

The cook: I am a freelance writer presently breathing loudspeaker-molested oxygen molecules in Chennai, and haven’t yet won the Booker. This novel will be my debut if/when published.

If this interests you, I can mail you the synopsis and few sample chapters.

Do not add things like ‘for your kind perusal’ or ‘for your kind attention’ after ‘chapters’ in the previous line — that is implied.

Round off by saying: I look forward to hearing from you / I will await an encouraging response / I will be delighted to hear from you / I look forward to being published by you. (Enter) Warm regards, (Enter) Yours sincerely, (Enter) Full Name (Enter) Mobile Number. Don’t forget to add 0 before the number, if your publisher is in a different city (mostly they are all in Delhi), or add +91, the ISD code, if you are sending the query to an international literary agent. If you are using a landline number, don’t forget to prefix the number with your city’s STD code.

Convey something about yourself in two or three lines in the ‘hook’ paragraph. Keep it short, humorous, and slightly cheeky, like I have done.

The subject line of your query (am assuming you are sending an email) should be something like this: Query for commercial fiction / Query for commercial fiction — Mr Right usually has Two Left Feet / Query for commercial romantic fiction / Query for trade fiction.

Personally, I like the second option, since the title of the novel is so attention-grabbing. But never forget to say ‘query’. Do not make the subject all caps — email filters may send that to the spam folder.

If they ask for the synopsis and sample chapters, say: Synopsis and sample chapters — Mr Right usually has Two Left Feet. If they ask for the entire MS, say: MS submission — Mr Right usually has Two Left Feet. You can add ‘— For Mr Roshan Khanna’ to ensure that it goes to the right person, if you are interacting with him. But the full name is only for the subject line. If addressing him in the body of your mail, it is always Mr Khanna only. Ok, exceptions can be made if you are a maverick like me. But you got the general drift.

Writing synopsis: an art

Your synopsis should be one MS Word page only. Period. Times New Roman. Or any other font you like — I love Georgia, Calisto, Verdana; and in that order. Max 300 words or whatever can fit in there. 11/12 point size. Single-spaced. (Don’t double space it.) The MS has to be double-spaced though.

Start with the same hook used in the query for synergy. Then split the synopsis into, let’s say, five or six paragraphs. Don’t say things like ‘First they did this, then they did that, then finally they did more interesting things…’ Don’t ramble.

It should read like the interesting synopses you find on the back covers or jacket flaps of novels (though back covers are more like menu cards that don’t reveal too much about the main course). But your synopsis should have more details about the story, the plot twists, the characters, chief events, the story graph, and of course the ending — yes, even if you are writing a whodunit. Don’t say things like ‘you will know who the murderer is when you read the climax of the novel and it will totally stun you’ in your synopsis. No, tell me right now. I don’t have the time to read your MS right away since I am a hotshot publisher/editor.

Golden rule: A synopsis is the entire story in a nutshell — along with the ending. It should make me want to read your MS, so keep it zippy, funky and gripping.

Read Part III:  What every wannabe author ought to know

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