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Cover Letters and Synopses

Many emerging authors struggle with the three major components of a query. We briefly review cover letters, samples, and synopses. All pitches to Lakeshore Literary must conform to these standards.

Cover Letters

A good cover letter serves several essential purposes:

  1. Its formatting (or lack thereof) strongly telegraphs the author’s professionalism and skill.
  2. It should offer an introductory hook, hint at the primary plot-and-conflict trajectory, and offer competitive titles.
  3. It explains why the writer is the best person to have written the book — by dint of education, or experience, or publication history, or some combination thereof.
  4. It sticks to one page and doesn’t read as if the author’s mere pitching a sample back-of-the-cover marketing blurb.
  5. The personalization in the letter signifies that the author took the time to pitch this market rather than that market. Generic letters are a red flag for the recipient.

Rely on The Chicago Manual of Style for in-depth guidance about structuring a letter. As a rule, though, your letter will not look as if it were an afterthought.

Cover letters should look like letters.

Book Synopses

A synopsis is not the back-of-the-book marketing copy that readers review. Rather, it’s a highly formalized document that helps editors and agents to determine whether a manuscript is structured correctly and paced effectively. Regardless of whether a given agent or publisher requests a sample chapter or the full manuscript, the synopsis offers a brief high-level overview to help the recipient grasp the story as a whole.

A sample first page of a novel synopsis.

Please observe the following synopsis rules:

  1. The length of the synopsis should be 1/35th the length of the manuscript, plus or minus 50 words. Thus, a novel of 70,000 words should incur a synopsis of 1,950 to 2,050 words. These wordcount windows are strictly enforced.
  2. Every paragraph of the synopsis corresponds to one chapter of the manuscript.
  3. The synopsis is always written in third-person, present tense, active voice — regardless of the voice of the manuscript.
  4. Major characters (including any character that obtains point-of-view privilege) should be referenced in ALL CAPS the first time the character appears, with a brief appositive to identify the character and his or her role within the story.
  5. A synopsis should summarize the text; it’s never intended as a “marketing tease.”
  6. The synopsis should match the manuscript in its visual presentation — i.e., same typefaces, same margins, same line spacings, same headers.