Thursday, June 05, 2014

What fresh hell is this?

I slaved to create a 240 word query letter. I toiled to construct a 400 word short synopsis.
For both documents, I debated the necessity of each word. I slashed what didn't belong and added what did. I read it to friends, to neighbors, to the cat. Then I begged my beta-readers to read it. Thrice.
FINALLY after weeks of letting them stew and simmer, I felt my query and synopsis were ready to be released to the world (or at least agents).
Then when checking the submission guidelines for a particular agent, I get this: "For queries regarding.... adult fiction, please send the first twenty pages in the body of your email, along with a one-paragraph synopsis."

A one paragraph synopsis? Are prospective agents trying to kill me? Turn me into an alcoholic? Test my limits of sanity? (No need to respond, my questions are rhetorical. And besides, I already know the answer: Yes. YES THEY ARE).
I searched the web for guidance on what exactly, an agent expects of a one paragraph synopsis. The hits covered a variety of synopses types, but nothing that addressed a one paragraph synopsis specifically written for an agent.
Are you able to provide any insight as to what to include in a one paragraph synopsis? For instance, does an agent expect the ending to be revealed or are they looking for a summary? (I am so confused!). An example would be most helpful.

I will be waiting with ‘shark-baited’ breath for your quick response. I am hoping to query this agent soon and am guessing I will need four days to write and allow for paragraph ripening.


p.s. I hope you’re feeling better. To be honest, I initially took your 'cough*gasp*hack*snort*spew sick’ statement as a euphemism you were playing hooky (forgive me - I thought only guppies got sick).

Given the only person who hates a synopsis more than you (and your writing brethren) is me, I share your horror at the idea of a one-paragraph synopsis.

Realistically there is no way to write a one paragraph synopsis that would entice an agent to read on.  I am going to suggest that this agent is using synopsis to mean "concept" or "premise" rather than "full rundown of the book."

As an example: a one-paragraph statement about the Harry Potter books might be: Harry Potter discovers he is a young wizard and there are more like him when he is whisked off to Hogwarts, the school for young wizards and witches. The downside of discovering this is learning that one of the worlds most powerful wizards is out to get him. Harry must learn fast or die young.

(Obviously this is terrible writing but you get the idea)

And thanks for your good wishes. I was felled by the galloping crud, crawled through BEA (barely) and retired to my couch with a carton of Kleenex and all six seasons of The Sopranos.  I'm now well, but feeling the need to shoot someone and say "what can ya do" in a Jersey accent.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

My favorite episode is when Tony takes Meadow to Maine to view a college and ends up offing a guy. For years my family had a vacation home in Maine and I used to live in Elizabeth, NJ.
Yo, I’m connected and still saw’ta hav’a Joisey-girl accent. It comes out during road rage along with my one fingered Joisey salute.

Regarding the one paragraph quote Tony, “Oh, poor baby. What do you want, a Whitman's Sampler?” and “If you can read the rules you can follow them.”

Relax, fuhgeddaboutit. RIP JG

Joseph Snoe said...

Your Harry Potter concept paragraph would have gotten my attention.

I would like to see the query letter for the first Harry Potter novel.

Colin Smith said...

Just when I thought there was a semblance of order to the publishing world, I read this. I thought there were standard definitions for everything! We all know what a query is. We all know what a synopsis is. We all know what a tag line is. Being in the query trenches is bad enough--and now THIS?!?!

I would never have considered that one paragraph "synopsis" to be a synopsis--at least in the context of query submissions. Maybe in the context of a Publisher's Weekly write-up. And frankly, I would be given to suspect an Agent who asks for this kind of "synopsis" as part of their submissions guidelines of being a little green around the gills, and I would query with caution.

But perhaps I'm being unfair, and the publishing world is as seemingly reckless and unpredictable as the real world. Perhaps terms aren't so well defined, and respectable Agents use terms differently, throwing us all into confusion.

See--this is what happens when the Queen of the Known Universe is out sick for a week! All chaos breaks loose. I'm so glad you're well again, Janet, to bring order and sanity to this crazy world! :)

Seriously, though, I'm very pleased to hear you're feeling better.

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

To the writer of this letter I have only one piece of advice: don't stop believin'...

Beka Olson said...

Ms. Shark you do not give yourself enough credit. Now I have to go re-read all the HPs.
ps, glad to hear you're doing better.

Jane Lebak said...

When my own agent asked me for a one-paragraph synopsis to present to the agency head, I gave one sentence for the introduction, one sentence for the middle, and one sentence for the conclusion. Once I had that, I fiddled with it until it didn't sound like crap.

Granted, I was already represented at that point. But it worked.

DK said...

I assume the "one paragraph synopsis" would be like a back-cover blurb. They're not easy to write, but not impossible, and pretty much every book has one.

Kitty said...

I picture you on the snot-green couch watching Tony Soprano puke, fart and SWEAR (cough*gasp*hack*snort*spew)

Anonymous said...

I miss Tony Soprano. Must revisit my own collection soon. Lately I've been soaking up the FARGO series. Loved the movie, love the series. Can't wait for Boardwalk Empire to return.

Oh? We're not talking series...okay, I was thinking a one paragraph synopsis was what DK said, like a back of the book blurb.

Sioux said...


Since Donna got off-track, I will too.

"Breaking Bad" is better than "The Sopranos" in my opinion. If you haven't checked it out, I strongly encourage you to do so. (It's highly addictive.)

Terri Lynn Coop said...

SO GLAD you are feeling better and able to make it off the reef for a quick swim through BEA.

I never came across the one-paragraph version, but several half-page synopsis requests.

Agent X could have used synopsis to mean those 250 enticing words that make up the perfect query letter.

There's a contest idea - one paragraph (or 100-word) synopsis (synopsii?) of famous books.

FEEL BETTER! (listen to your lawyer) Terri

DLM said...

"Realistically there is no way to write a one paragraph synopsis that would entice an agent to read on. I am going to suggest that this agent is using synopsis to mean "concept" or "premise" rather than "full rundown of the book.""

So. VERY. *This.*

I've run across an agent or two asking for the one-paragraph, but definitely never took it in my mind as any sort of actual reflection of the plot or even characters. DK seems to me correct, but the terminology and the placement in a query does make this strange animal VERY hard to corral. Not least, because it's so frustrating. I must have had seven different synopses at one point, owing to varying lengths required by different agencies/contests. Don't even ask how many rewrites there've been (and the stuff on my blog, if I had any sense, I'd just take DOWN, because these things become obsolete so easily).

At least this agency HAD guidelines posted. I've been astounded at how hard some firms seem to work to hide their expectations for submissions. Then of course there are the agents who say "ignore the firm guidelines, my blog says what I really want." *WINK!*

(Swims really fast away from the recuperating Shark ...)

LynnRodz said...

I would think the agent is looking for an elevator pitch to get the general idea. It's the 20 pages, more than anything, that's going to speak for itself. Well, the first page really whether she'll continue to read on or not.

So, that was you, a little gray around the fins at BEA! There were rumors that a ferocious shark had turned into a sweet little dolphin. (Kidding! I was on my side of the pond.)

Lance said...

So glad you're well and back to bring order out of chaos. The sound of blog readers butting their heads against your blank wall kept me awake at night.

The one paragraph synopsis is an awful concept, but then so is a two-pager. But for a contest, how about a one-sentence synopsis of one's favorite book. Three clause limit.

Stoich91 said...

Oh my!

Only thing worse than an armed-and-dangerous Soprano's hitman is a raving NY'er with fantasies ala Don Quixote and a stock vocabulary of Jersey slang. Bahaha I missed reading these posts last week while I was out! lol

Ilex said...

I'm pretty sure I came across that same agent when I was querying! I dutifully wrote a one-paragraph blurb that kind of summed up the whole book and submitted it, more as a writing exercise than anything else. But I never got any response from that agency.

Eventually I got an agent who didn't want any synopsis at all.

Jenz said...

I saw that guideline, too. My guess was that they meant the kind of summary you'd do for a query (like Janet described), but in one brief paragraph.

Why don't they just say they want a short or one-paragraph query? Because people will most likely just send whatever query they have. So this is their tricky way of getting people to cut it down to the bare bones.

That's my theory, anyway.