The One-Third Rule

If you've queried, I'm going to bet that you've heard of the one-third rule. You know, the one where your query should pretty much only cover the first third of your story. (Roni Loren goes into more detail here. Read it if you don't know what I'm talking about.) The first time I heard that, I thought, "That's impossible! How can I convey my story by just summarizing the first third? Seriously!"

But the more I thought about it, the more I experimented with it, the more I read other queries, the more book flaps I read, I realized...it was true. The reader (agent or civilian) needs nothing more than the first third.

I know it sounds crazy. But we're going to use the Hunger Games as an example (hopefully you've read it, or you won't believe me). Watch this trailer (and yes, this is educational):

Okay. Notice something about the trailer? It ends as Katniss enters the arena.

Okay. If you've read the book, you know that the book is about the arena. That's where most of the book takes place! The arena is IMPORTANT! That's where the ACTION is!!!!
...and yet, it's not in the trailer. If you think about it, the trailer is only the first third of the story.

Does it work? Do you want to see the movie? Even if you've never read the book, you're dying to see the movie after watching that trailer. What happens? How does she do in the arena? Does she die? Does Peeta die? Does Gale survive watching his girl?

Personal opinion here...I think it works. And that's how your query is supposed to work. Set up the story, endear the reader to the characters, make sure everybody knows what the stakes are and that they're high, high, high. Then fade to black make sure the agent knows that the full manuscript is available upon request.

Have you heard of the one-third rule? Have you used it in your queries? For or against?

{If you haven't read the Hunger Games, pick a movie-turned-book that you have read. Watch the movie trailer.}

1 comment:

Robin Allen said...

I've never heard of the one-third rule for queries, but it makes sense. Everything surrounding your book should entice the reader to keep going.