Monday, July 29, 2013

Query and Synopsis Advice from Treehouse Publishing Group: Stay Focused

During the July Saturday Writers meeting, Kristy Blank Makansi and Jennifer Dunn Stewart of Blank Slate Press and Treehouse Publishing Group spoke to a packed house about “Knocking on the Door: The Query and the Synopsis.”

I’ve been to several presentations on this topic, but I have to say this one was exceptional. What I most appreciated was that they geared their talk toward helping and educating writers rather than highlighting the services their business offers.
The duo worked well as a team, each stating their individual approach and preferences, which gave a balanced perspective to what editors look for in query packages.

At the end of their presentation they read and discussed a handful of query letters submitted by audience members. What stayed with me most about the reading of the query letters was one word: FOCUS!

As usual, I took pages of notes. Here are some dos and don’ts from their presentation.   


Focus on the writing and trust your instincts.

Put some distance between completing your manuscript and submitting to an agent or an editor.

Remember that writing is an art; publishing is a business.

Understand your genre: Writing what you love to read will help you understand the market. Writing your query letter will help you understand your manuscript.

Keep your query to three paragraphs, no more than three sentences each. Paragraph 1: Why are you querying that particular agent? What’s the word count and genre? Paragraph 2: Distill your story in three sentences. (Time and space, the hero, the challenge, the conflict, what is at stake, how the hero changes.)  Paragraph 3: Include a relevant, brief bio with significant publications, if any.  

Keep in mind that a synopsis should be one page, single spaced and include: the set up, the character’s motivation, description of main characters (not tall and blond), main plot points, conflict, emotion, action, snippets of dialogue, black moment, climax, and resolution. Be sure to include the story’s ending.

Always follow agency or publisher guidelines.

Keep it real: You’re not Stephen King.

Remember that your query letter has one job: To get an agent or an editor to read more of your manuscript.

Stay calm and keep your chin up!


Query before you’re ready.

Get too personal in the bio of your query letter.

Leave the ending off of your synopsis. (An agent or editor needs to know how it ends to be able to sell it.)

Ask an agent or a publisher to sign a non-disclosure form. (It's a turn off and a sign of mistrust.)

Have the word copyright all over the pages. (It’s the mark of an amateur.)

Think you’re the exception to the rule. 

Let the end game influence your craft.

Lose focus.

Jennifer’s and Kristy’s talk inspired me to dig out a manuscript I’d started years ago and had stored in the bottom drawer of my desk. No doubt about it, I'd followed their advice on putting distance between writing and querying. In fact, I’d put way too much distance.  

Using their boilerplate, I wrote a query letter to help me understand my manuscript better. Now I’m inspired to finish my manuscript by the end of the year and edit it early next year.
Stay tuned while I try to stay focused!


  1. Donna,
    Thank you so much for your kind words. Jennifer and I are delighted we could provide some valuable information--and inspiration!

    1. Hi Kristina,
      You are very welcome. You and Jennifer did a great job!

  2. I was sorry to have missed this. Thanks for the helpful abbreviated version!

    Critter Alley

  3. Excellent stuff, Donna--thanks! You can never hear the RIGHT way to query too much. (Now if I can just follow the right way-- :-)

  4. Sounds like great advice. I had a different experience. When I pitched to Kirsten Nelson at a conference she said, "Do not tell the ending. I want to read the ms find out."
    So what is a writer to do?

  5. Donna, Way to go on pulling out your old manuscript and getting to work on it again. Maybe we'll see it show up at critique group. Thank you for your terrific condensing of the presentation.
    Linda, I guess we just try to discern what any individual agent/editor wants! Maybe the genre makes a difference, especially in non-fiction work. Raed and follow those specific guidelines. Not easy!

  6. Great description of the wonderful presentation, Donna! I, too, thoroughly enjoyed it and learned lots of very important info. Kristy and Jennifer made a great team! Thanks!

  7. Excellent post, Donna! I'm going to tweet this. Thanks for sharing your pearls with us.

  8. Great advice, Donna. Thanks for posting. I'm copying and running off the Do list.

  9. Great post, Donna! And keep at that old/new manuscript - you can do it! :)

    I think I need to get the word FOCUS tattooed on my forehead - although then I wouldn't be able to see it...

  10. Great stuff! So glad you shared this. Love the breakdown. Keep us posted on your progress! :)

  11. So very helpful! I've heard the three paragraphs advice, but not the three sentences part. Good to know!

  12. Great post, Donna. Thank you! "Writing is an art; publishing is a business" is something all writers need to remember. We get so focused on our words and story we sometimes forget the machine on the other end that only cares about whether or not it is profitable. As writers, we need to understand both sides of the coin.

  13. Am sorry I missed the presentation, too. As always, thank you for sharing your notes with us. And I'm looking forward to that novel!

  14. So Donna, that means by December 31, 2013 (at midnight) your novel will be finished.

    You've put it out there. Congratulations for making it public. I did that once (put something out there) and a certain someone (I won't mention any names) held my feet to the fire and made sure I stuck with it.

    Get crackin'.

  15. Hi Linda,
    Guess the best advice is to follow the guidelines of the agent or editor.

    Hi Marcia,
    You are so right. And I might inflict some chapters on the Tuesday critique group.

    Hi Becky,
    They did a great job. It was good to chat again.

    Hi Clara,
    Thanks for stopping by--and for sharing.

    Hi Janet,
    Good luck! Hope the suggestions help.

    Hi Madeline.
    Hehehehe. I'm going to make a huge sign that says FOCUS and post it in my office.

    Hi Karen,
    Thanks for your kind words. I will keep you posted.

    Hi Val,
    I'm glad the suggestions were helpful.

    Hi Lisa,
    You are so right about that. Some times it's not easy to strike the right balance.

    Hi Tammy,
    We missed you. Hope you can make a SW meeting soon.

    Hi Sioux,
    Yikes! I think that means by midnight 12/31/13 I will have a draft finished.

    Hmmm. Wonder whom that certain someone is.

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