I've seen both schools of thought. One says provide the briefest description of the novel. The other says describe as much as possible in that one page. Your opinions? Does it depend on the novel or any other factors?
I got a few raised eyebrows when replying to a similar question in another group, but I will bare my soul again. I sent a brief query and the first chapter of my book. The letter was more about me, and why I thought the agent should represent me. I sent the same package to ten agents and three of them got back to me. Someone (on the other site) thought that sounded like BSP. Of course, it was. I wanted them to think I was fascinating, fun, and would be an easy sell for them. Most of these guys have heard a zillion different plotlines, but you are unique. Worked for me..who knows? Good luck.
1. Setting: rural, urban, specific city, high society, etc
2. Nature of the protagonist's connection to the crime: victim, friend of victim, law enforcement, private eye, interested outsider, etc.
3. Hint about the "tone": hard and mean, light and funny, etc.
4. DON'T tell me all the major resolution points in advance! How can I tell how a writer handles the presentation of the storytelling process if I know the details of the outcome before even starting to read? Let me see it as the reader will.
So, for me, a good quick intro/query could fit in a paragraph or on a postcard, maybe even a sentence. "DEAD TIRED introduces Molly, young owner of a struggling new Day Spa involved in the death of a prominent customer while having to deal with a detective she suspect of involvement." Can certainly give away more than that, but even just that sentence would be enough to help me decide whether to read more or not.
I'd say a brief description of the novel and of yourself professionally and you're done. The whole thing on a page. Include the first 30-50 pages. The only factor that would make me change this is if I knew the editor or agent personally.
I'd say do a paragraph on the story, about five sentences. Mine went like this:
Dear (INSERT REAL NAME HERE),
Closet debutante and fledgling journalist Madeline Dare would be the first to tell you her money’s so old there’s none left. The summer of 1988 finds her in brokedown upstate New York and desperate to achieve escape velocity. When a set of dogtags turns up at the scene of a decades-unsolved double murder, she may have found that longed-for ticket out of town. Downside: the name on the tags is that of her favorite cousin, scion of a vindictive and still-powerful branch of the family. Maddy’s investigation triggers a string of grisly new murders, and the trail of blue blood leads right to her door.
Sore Excuse [now FIELD OF DARKNESS], the first novel in a projected series, runs 100,000 words [now 95,000, though I had it down to 90k at one point]. It will, I hope, appeal to readers of Susan Isaacs’ mysteries, and of Nelson DeMille’s Gold Coast.
I have 17 years’ experience as a journalist and editor in New York and elsewhere, and a B.A. in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College. I’ve been showing the manuscript to friends in the industry for comments and support. So far, informal response has been strongly positive.
These readers include Blah Blah Blah of Mucky Muck, Whosiwhats the editor of Brilliant Whatever Review, and Countess von Mumbledy-Gloop.
It was XXXXXX who recommended you as an outstanding agent. While this is a multiple submission, I would be most honored to have your representation for my work especially as I am such a fan of YOUR CLIENT HERE’s writing.
I’m enclosing an SASE for your response. Thank you very much for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
I sent it to about 45 agents and four were interested in signing me. I was lucky. Didn't send pages with it unless they specifically asked for them in their agency guidelines. My favorite rejection was the one who said "this is a project over which we paused," whatever the hell THAT means...
Cornelia and Harry, thanks for including your queries!
All responses are really helpful. I was struggling because I actually have 3 POV characters, but was able to figure out what ties them together to come up with this hook:
"Patrolman Ray Trueman knows his daughter Alyssa has all the wrong friends. She's trapped in an abusive relationship. A serial killer has targeted the girls she hangs out with. And she knows what her boyfriend and his best friend did last summer--which puts her in jeopardy, too.
To save her life, Ray must trust it with two people who may not be as trustworthy they should be: a rookie school resource officer with a hero complex, and Ray's ex-partner, a detective who botched the last major case she worked."
I'd like to note which other fiction it's like, but unfortunately I don't have time or resources to try to discover new authors... do you all feel this is an important element of a query?
I would also consider adding a hint about location. Not a deal breaker, but some small presses might favor a work based on the perception that the setting is one of the things in which they specialize. Either by personal preference of the editor/publisher, or because they see marketing potential for some settings more than others. Backfire potential is there too, if the DON'T like the location.
Not saying the setting WILL add or detract from the sales potential, only that it MIGHT add or detract from the interest level for some editors/publishers/readers. Who would have thought that setting a crime film in North Dakota would have been a success? FARGO worked, either because of or in spite of the setting.
Doug, thanks for all the great input. How does this read: "Patrolman Ray Trueman knows his daughter Alyssa has all the wrong friends. She's trapped in an abusive relationship. A serial killer has targeted the girls she hangs out with in their small New Hampshire town...." Does that work, or is it too obviously stuck in there?
"A serial killer has targeted the girls she hangs out with in their small New Hampshire town...."
Works for me, but might be just as good to say "New England town" rather than New Hampshire. Gets you almost all the same credit for those who have particular interest in the region without losing those whose interest is in Maine or Vermont or RI, etc. Like saying "Southwest" instead of Tucson or Santa Fe or West Texas.
Also, in your first version posted here, one could have inferred from your use of the term "Sheriff" that it was not a big city, but if you are now giving a more specific place name you can get more specific about the job title of the cop. And speaking of job titles, the original version referred to a "school resource officer" which I had to guess at from context. Probably is new-speak for what my generation called a "counselor", but if more people these days will "get it" better than not, no problem.
I like to lead with the central dilemma facing the main character. Consider this as a starting point:
To save the life of his troubled daughter, patrolman Ray Trueman must trust the two least trustworthy people he knows, his ex-partner and a rookie resource officer with a hero's complex. Ray knows his daughter has all the wrong friends, he just didn't realize how wrong some of them were . . . .
If you're not a member, consider joining Backspace, an online writers' community. You can sign up for a free, five-day trial run and then after that the cost is pretty minimal, maybe $20 a year.
The site has HUGE threads archived about writing query letters as well as a forum devoted to getting feedback on your own query letter. If you post your letter there, you will get loads of good advice.