After years of submissions I’ve discovered the most important part of any query or cover letter for fiction submissions. This is the pitch, or the ‘mini-synopsis’ as I like to call it. It goes between the introduction and mini-biography and is the thing that’s most likely to make or break a literary agent or publisher’s decision to take you on. With this in mind, it only makes sense that this is the most tricky part of the letter. There are easy formulas for the introduction (why you’re submitting to them, the name of your book, its genre and word count) and your mini-bio (publishing history, relevant jobs or qualifications and awards), but there’s no tried and true formula for the mini-synopsis. Never the less, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t attempt to make one up.
You have to assume that whoever you’re writing to has a very low attention span so your first goal should be to try and construct a first sentence that weaves every element necessary to the premise together without being much longer than two lines.
For instance: “Cursed by the magus who killed her parents to remain the same age forever, Magi hunts them down in the hope of one day undoing the spell.”
If you can’t construct a first sentence that covers both your main character and their relationship to the plot and/or setting, then you might have to pick the one that is most important to your story. For instance if your main character’s story demands the context of a backstory, that will obviously go first.
For instance: “When Māui’s brothers cut up the Great Fish of Māui, they left their divine tools behind. Years later, Tama discovers a necklace that can transform into a taiaha.”
After introducing the main character you should explain the key conflict of the story as precisely as possible, making sure to show what they will be dealing with throughout the majority of the book. The more personal you can make it, the better.
For instance: “He is falsely accused of being an assassin and is detained by the city’s inquisitor, the very man who killed his father.”
Now that you have introduced the main character and their conflict, you must make sure to explain the notion of their struggle and/or the larger implications of the consequences if the problem is not solved to escalate later events and create hype.
For instance: “By the time of the red moon, the barrier will be broken and demons will roam freely in the land. It is up to Nathan to reunite with his estranged sister and reseal the barrier before it’s too late.”
You see! It’s hard to imagine that a mere four or fives sentences can be so crucial to whether or not you get published. You must make very sure that this is as clean as possible with no unnecessary fluff, or else even the basic gist of your story will get lost on them and you will be left thinking that it was the book itself that needs polishing.