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Giving It All Away

Today’s post is inspired by a question from reader J.P.:

I’ve assumed that it’s okay to have “spoilers” in the plot summary of my query letter. Am I wrong? My book is a mystery. Do agents like to have mystery books’ punch lines revealed before they read the book, or do they like to find out the answer for themselves? Should I put the answer to my mystery manuscript into my query?

This is a very common query question.

It’s totally fine to spoil the plot in your query or your synopsis. Sometimes a query won’t deal with the entire plot and you can save your revelations for a synopsis (if requested or if sending one). But, either way, reveal your twists and turns. Withholding exciting plot points isn’t going to make the agent or editor crave to read it and find out…we most often don’t have the time to read every single manuscript through to its conclusion, no matter how delicious the mystery pitched to us in the query.

There’s a big bonus to showcasing your mystery in the query or synopsis. If you indeed have some show-stopping plot twists, I want to know about them as soon as possible. True surprise is one of the most desirable emotions that you can make your readers feel. If your novel is packed with surprises, if the mystery is unpredictable and twisty, give us a sense of that, tell us exactly what happens, and I will be that much more eager to read the manuscript.

Some writers think they have an amazing and unique idea (and some genuinely do) and therefore they don’t want to spoil it all in a query, but every idea is about execution. No matter how great your plot, I still need to see it come together. So revealing plot points isn’t the end of the world…it will at least give me a teaser of the book itself.

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  1. Barbara’s avatar

    Thanks very much for your POV. Agents differ on this topic, and I have, of late, read from several that they don’t want you to “give it all away” in the query, or often they say “tell me just enough to make me want to read the book.” More than anything, it’s a reminder that there’s no set way to write a query because every agent has their own style/content preference. All in all, if the story — and of course the writing — is good, and you’ve done some homework on query writing, whatever you’ve crafted will hopefully be enough to at least get someone to take a look.

  2. Kathryn Roberts’s avatar

    I agree with Barbara. Thanks for your opinion. I think that if you’re going to reveal a plot point, it won’t be the ONLY twist and turn you reveal. There simply isn’t enough room for it in a query letter. So, there still will be more for the agent to be surprised by (if that’s what a person is afraid of. Does that make sense?).

    But, again, as for what Barbara said, this is why a writer should really do their homework on the agents they are sending queries to. I like that Mary is okay with some of the plot being revealed. This takes out a lot of guess work, at least for me, and gives me a clear direction when writing the synopsis.

  3. Leanne’s avatar

    Excellent post. Informative blog. This is me linking to it.

  4. Stephanie Scott’s avatar

    There’s definitely a balance between saying “this is an exciting mystery with a twist ending that will leave readers wanting more” and actually describing what makes the book exciting, hinting at a twist etc. I’ve seen a lot of queries posted on the critique sites with all kinds of jargon that doesn’t tell at all what the book is about or what makes it unique. I think some writers are afraid of giving the plot away, but maybe they’re not understanding the purpose of the query.

  5. Laura Pauling’s avatar

    That makes sense. Though I read a lot of advice that says just focus on the first 50 pages. But I can see how revealing the later surprises can be a good thing. As usual, everyone has a different perspective. :)

  6. Judith van Praag’s avatar

    Mary, This is a question I pondered for a long time. When I shared log lines or query points with other writers I discovered they absolutely didn’t get enough of a clue from obscurity. My thought is, there’s a big difference between the final blurb on the published book and the plot points you toss at agents to lure them in. Thank you much!

  7. Tracy Sottosanti’s avatar

    At times it comes down to knowing the preferences of the agent you query, which is why ‘blindly’ querying a bunch of agents with the same letter isn’t a good idea. But Mary’s post reiterates what I’ve heard from a lot of editors and agents- because of time contraints they need to know exactly what they’re working with up front.

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