- A query letter
- A synopsis (usually one page, but have several different lengths on the ready, such as the two page, the seven page and the fifteen page)
- the first three chapters or first fifty pages of the manuscript.
That's it. That's your entire arsenal against the slushpiles of doom.
And yet, how many people really spend enough time on that part of the writing process? Most of the time, the query letter is the first thing any agent or editor will see. The query letter doesn't show them your brilliance with analogies, or the your immense battle scene in chapter thirty-nine. The query letter has a hard time showing off your tear jerker ending. And if the query letter sucks muddy rocks, then the editor/agent will never see anything else.
It is just as important to workshop your query letter to several sets of eyes as it is to workshop your actual book. I sent my new query letter to six of my most trusted author friends who I count on to play it straight with me.
I'd be shooting myself in the foot if I didn't spend time editing and rewriting that most pivotal piece of paper. Your query is your hook. If you bait it right, you'll cast out and reel in a request for the first three chapters.
The first paragraphs of those three chapters are your hook. If you bait it right, you'll cast out and reel in a request for the full manuscript.
I spent months and months writing this novel. I will take the time to make sure my query is worthy of a partial request. I will take time to make sure my partial is worthy of a full manuscript request.
Jeff Savage (aka Scott Savage) asks this question, "Does your first sentence earn you the right to a second one?"