Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Wait, you want what when?

I sent a query to an agent this morning and received a request for the full and a synopsis this afternoon. I'm through the roof, but also panicking. The full isn't an issue, but I don't have a synopsis. I have a full of the same manuscript out to another agent currently and they never requested one, so it just hasn't come up. My question is, do I write a slap-dash draft and send as soon as possible, do I respond and explain that I don't have one but that I'd be happy to draft one, or do I have some time to get back to her? I don't want to commit a rookie mistake that costs me my chances, and I don't know the etiquette when this happens.

Well, there's nothing you can do here short of calling the agent and telling her she's a dunderhead for asking for a synopsis that would cost you your chances of representation. Since, we know you're not going to do that (being a blog reader, and a person of common sense) stop worrying.

Here's what to do:  email Agent Speedy Gonzalez and say you don't have a synopsis ready right now but you will soon. 

Then get your tail feathers in gear and write a synopsis. You're going to suffer mightily doing this, so lay in the choccies and the vodka and your favorite movies.

You should plan to have it done in no less than five days from sending the email.  If she's as quick as she seems, you don't want to keep her waiting much longer than that AND you don't know if she reads the synopsis before the manuscript (some agents do.)

Me, I burn the synopsis while chanting invocations to the publishing deities.

And of course this serves as a gentle reminder that before you query, you have a synopsis ready. And a completed manuscript.  Yes querying can take forever and you might be tempted to start before you finish the novel, but this is a classic illustration of why you don't do that.


Susan Bonifant said...

This happened to me once at 10:00 p.m. when I did not yet have a Janet Reid to 911. Had I been advised to produce it in five days, it would have been much better for my mental health, I'll tell you what. Instead, I cracked a TAB and went to work.

However, the sudden pressure to get this thing out focused me like no other stressor. I had it ready twenty-four hours later and it was so good I could look at it a year later and not feel queasy.

I hope you have the same experience, good luck!

Sam Hawke said...

I'm a crazy over-organised loon, but before I started querying I assembled:
- query letter (standard - short, with pitch, Query Shark style)
- query letter UK adjusted (more like a cover letter, and to be read with a synopsis)
- synopsis (1 page)
- synopsis (2 page)
- synopsis (5 page)
- partial (5 page)
- partial (10 page)
- partial (20 page)
- partial (1 chapter)
- partial (50 pages)
- full MS

And then 3 versions of them all, for Australian, US and UK recipients (differences in spelling etc).

And THEN I started querying. :)

I'm exaggerating a wee bit. I might have added a couple of items to the list when I came across a random request (once I had to do a proposal, which sent me into a spin because who asks for that for a novel?). But it never hurt me to be super organised.

AJ Blythe said...

Gah, Sam. You put me to shame. Before querying my checklist includes both a 1- and 2-page synopsis, a query letter and a complete, polished ms.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

What?! Vodka? I'd go with whisky.

Back on topic
Opie: what wonderful news for you. A request for a full and one full already out. And yes, good luck on the synopsis.

I keep going back to fine-tune my query and my synopsis alongside the manuscript. Characters and plot twists change.

Susan: great phrasing-a Janet Reid to 911.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Will you marry me ?


Ring !
Where's the ring?

Oh sorry, Don't have a ring yet.
Lets go to Walmart.
No to Walmart?
No to all of it.

Moral of the story.
If only he had been better prepared he would have lived happily ever after.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

The dreaded synopsis! I'm a terrible writer unless I have 70,000+ words to play with, so anything shorter than a novel gives me heartburn. Luckily, I won't have to worry about it for a few more months at least.

But this is a good reminder that I should worry about it at some point. Maybe when I'm revising major plot points, I can write up the first draft to see any glaring errors. I'll freak out less if it starts as a revision tool.

OT - I've been in Houston for the last week or two, and I'm so glad to be back in Wisconsin with my cats and my regular work and schedule. Houston was an adventure - especially when the highway overpasses got little scary (exacerbating my fear of heights. Yikes!) - but I'm glad to be home.

nightsmusic said...

I was told: "Have a synopsis before you query." I have a synopsis! I am prepared!


I started with a 12 page synopsis. Whittled that down to 5. Still trying for three. When I get that far, I'll try for one.

Writing a synopsis, for me, has been a lot harder than writing the damned book! But I'm getting there.

Joyce Tremel said...

I think I'm a little weird. I write the synopsis before I write the book. I don't write a detailed outline, but I use the one page summary as a road map for the book. As I write the book, I tweak the synopsis and change it to fit what I've written. It's much less painful than waiting until the book is done and trying to distill it all into a few paragraphs.

And yes, most published authors still need some kind of synopsis for the next book/s. I'm actually working on two at the moment!

nightsmusic said...

I came back to say, Kristen Lamb has a great post this week on the synopsis:

The Dreaded Synopsis

RachelErin said...

I write both a query and a synopsis as part of my planning/first edit. So, hopefully when I finish the book for reals I'll have some revising to do, but a pretty good idea of the essential plot points.

I started doing it after reading examples on query shark where either Janet, or the writer, or a commentator suggested the problem might be the book and not the query.
I wanted to see if I could write a reasonable query for my WIP. I found it super super super helpful. It showed both where stakes were in the query but not in the book, and helped me get to the core, non-negotiable story line. Also no pressure because I'm not actually ready to query, which helped me experiment more and get a better first draft.

I draft twitter pitches sometimes, for the same reason. Not that I think every book can be effectively described in 140 characters, but its interesting to see what I refuse to leave out, and how many different ways I can describe the story. I always have improvements to my MS after doing one of these.

so, yes, when you get stuck on a scene, or edits, write a synopsis! (or query, or tweet, or character background, or backstory, or....)

Colin Smith said...

When I queried my first queriable novel, oh so long ago now (5 years?!), I had a query that had been through edits and even posted on the WriteOnCon query board for people to take pot-shots at. Not only that, but I had read the QueryShark archive so I thought I knew what I was doing. Then I got a request for a full. Not just a full, but a "package." What in the name of all that is holy is a PACKAGE? I looked up the agency website, and Googled around a few other places (sadly, I didn't feel I could ask on this blog at that time). I determined a standard "package" contained the query, the synopsis, and requested pages or full. Like Opie I didn't have a synopsis written (who ever asks for a synopsis??!), so I spent a couple of hours cobbling one together. I managed to whittle the story down to five pages, and then, just for grins, I did a three page version. It wasn't bad, though I don't know how effective it was since that agent ended up passing. Given her comments, though, I don't think it was because of the synopsis.

So, my take aways:

1) As much as we all LOATHE synopses, write one anyway. Not only might you query an agent who wants one, they're good writing practice. Also, paring down the story like this can help reveal plot issues you may not have noticed before.

2) Don't sweat it. Do the best you can, but don't over-think it. I've never heard an agent say they rejected based on a synopsis. That doesn't mean it doesn't happen, but agents far more frequently complain about bad queries or bad pages.

And congratulations, Opie, for getting a request! It's a great encouragement. Treasure that feeling. :)

Kyler said...

Love your incantations...in case you need it, the specific publishing deities are Mercury (Hermes) and Jupiter (Zeus) - both together in the sky right now (in Libra). But you MUST have known this...the conjunction is just this morning. Hopefully, good luck for all us writers today!!

Dena Pawling said...

I'm with those who write the synopsis as part of the initial set-up/draft. It does end up needing revision as I go along, but having it really helps me when drafting/editing.

>>do I write a slap-dash draft and send as soon as possible

In my opinion [which is worth the paper it's printed on], you never never never want to send an agent anything other than your best work, even if it's the spawn of Satan synopsis. NEVER send anything that you would consider a “draft”. Behave like a professional and you'll be considered one.

>>You should plan to have it done in no less than five days from sending the email.

What would be the outside limit? When I read this, I thought the next sentence was going to say something like “you want to take the time to do it right” but the next sentence sounded like maybe you meant to write no MORE than five days.

Susan said...

I actually enjoyed writing the synopsis for The Last Letter. Like others have said, it helped me whittle down the plot and clarify the stakes/see where there were problem areas so I could tweak them. But the full manuscript was already written then, which made it easier.

I'm looking forward to my next WIP--finishing the draft of last year's NaNo. While The Last Letter was written out of necessity, this book has me excited because it's fun (relatively-speaking), and if I can get my brain to cooperate, I'll be in my happy little writing place again.

For this book, I have alternating storylines for the same character--one in the present and two told through flashbacks, which make it somewhat complicated in the writing. I've laid out the scenes/outline using a spreadsheet, but I think, like Rachel, it would be beneficial to write the synopsis before I continue--so I don't add layers that I have to pull apart and fix later. I see why agents request the synopsis--it's like doing a walkthrough of a new house where you get to see the structure and imagine all your stuff there. Will the furniture fit? Do you have to paint? Where does your favorite picture go?

I think that's why it's good practice for writers, too--the synopsis is essentially a blueprint that saves you from rearranging the rooms a hundred times before it starts to feel like home.

Em-Musing said...

"I burn the synopsis while chanting invocations to the publishing deities." HAHAHAHA!

Brigid said...

Belated congrats to Nate Wilson and rpostupak! Very well done, you two.

And I loved nightsmusic's link to Kristin Lamb's post. Best misaligned skeleton picture ever.

JulieWeathers said...

I have to take Gage the Wonder Dog to the vet this morning. After going through the yard looking for poop in a different kind of adventure, I'm passing on breakfast the most important meal of the day. Normally, you just walk across a yard and find poop when you walk in it unsuspectingly. If he didn't object to me watching him do his business, it wouldn't have been a treasure hunt.

Anyway, I will comment on synopses, the contest winners, and probably something else y'all are dying to hear about...but not more poop. Unless the bill scares the poop out of me, and then you will hear about it.

Sherry Howard said...

Query an agent = ask an agent if they'd like to read my work, and maybe represent me in my quest for publication. With all due respect to agents and the work they do, I wonder why writers are so fearful, rather than respectful.

OP, congratulations and good luck!

Adib Khorram said...

I love that the standard form of synopsis is "The Dreaded Synopsis."

I tell myself I will write a synopsis soon but I keep finding other things to do instead.

Colin Smith said...

Sherry: Have you SEEN Janet's teeth?! Big and sharp enough to scare the poop out of anyone!! ;)

Julie: Now you've got me talking poop... not that anyone noticed any difference. :)

Colin Smith said...

Adib: I tell myself I will write a synopsis soon but I keep finding other things to do instead. You mean like clean the toilets? :)

Panda in Chief said...

Joyce, I like your idea of writing the synopsis before you write the book! I just had to do that for my agent as he starts the submission process for my graphic novel. Apparently, for middle grade, the y like series, so I had to come up with synopses for the next couple books. It was a little intimidating till I got started, but then it was kind of fun to let 'er rip. I'm pretty much of a pantser, so I'm sure things will change as I start writing, but the idea that I can then go back and adjust the synopses as needed is really helpful.

Meanwhile, wish me luck as the pandas are out there trying to make their way in the world!

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Susan B. - "a Janet Reid to 911" Love it!

Nightsmusic - Thanks for the Kristen Lamb link.

And Janet... Sound advice delivered with wit and humor. "email Agent Speedy Gonzalez" HA!

OP - Congrats on the request for a full. Once you inform the agent you haven't written your synopsis, isn't it possible the agent herself might provide the timeline she'd like to see it in her inbox. Who knows, she may say, "Have it to me in two weeks." Or, "Tomorrow."

Mark Ellis said...

Back when I was hoping to be a Hollywood screenwriter, I submitted to a young agent requesting a synopsis and the first five pages of the script. He wrote back saying (in so many words) that the synopsis indicated that I wasn't hitting the plot points in such a way that would lead him to believe my story was properly plotted. In Hollywood, they designate the actual range of pages in a 90-120 page script in which the plot points should occur. Extrapolating to all synopses, I think that's what they're looking for, plot construction, and a Joseph Campell-esque overarching theme.

Beth said...

Congratulations, OP, and best of luck on that synopsis. I'm sure this varies by genre, but I've discovered (the hard way) that in Romance, they don't just want plot points but key emotional turning points in the synopsis.

I'm trying out the synopsis before writing technique. I outlined my current WIP, wrote one chapter to get to know my characters better, then wrote a synopsis. We'll see if it makes writing the book easier, but at least I know how the story flows narritively as well as scene by scene.

Mark Thurber said...

All right, y'all have just convinced me to write a synopsis for my WIP. I've just finished a significant revision of the first half, and I'm questioning whether the second half hangs together with it. I suspect a synopsis may help me figure it out. Woohoo, here we go!

Lennon Faris said...

I agree with all those saying to write the synopsis and query with the book. I'm doing that with my 2nd WIP and it's making it a much faster writing process and more coherent to boot.

OP clearly that's not possible at this point but I wish you all the best. That is awesome and try not to stress too much. You apparently nailed the query!

nightsmusic said...

One more think I wanted to say since this is my three and out:

I am a pantser.

The thought of writing a synopsis prior to writing the actual story induces complete confusion in me. Once I've written the synopsis, I have no further reason to write the story. I know how it ends. But that's me.

Catherine Vignolini said...

Well hello Joyce Tremmel. I did a double-take on your name here.
We met this past Saturday at Mystery Lovers Books in Oakmont PA for the launch of your latest cozy, Tangled up in Brew. Nice time! (Jog your memory: Catherine and Connie sign sign sign sign...)

BJ Muntain said...

Me, I'll write a synopsis if I get stuck in a story, mostly to figure out the next step. Even as a pantser, I usually have an idea of the ending; I just don't know how exactly I'll get there. I can't outline for the reason you describe: once it's outlined all the way, I get bored with it. But a synopsis can help you figure out your main theme(s), your main arcs, and help you figure out the protagonists or antagonist's next move.

A synopsis is basically like zooming out of the big picture. You can see all the details in the big picture, but you may not be able to see the whole picture on your screen. You'll have to zoom out in order to see the whole. And you'll be able to tell if something's not quite right. Like in the picture of the skeleton in the link someone gave above, the femur may look perfectly fine, but the ribs aren't holding anything in.

Joseph Snoe said...

nightsmusic, I'm with you. One force keeping me writing my WIP was needing to know what'll happen two chapters down. When I started to write I knew the expected ending and about a dozen major scenes I wanted to include. Later, when I worried about word count, two major multi-chapter sections were dropped.

The only synopsis I wrote for my WIP was one page long. I'll worry about drafting new ones after my big revision is done.

nightsmusic said...

Joseph Snoe, that's ME too! I know the beginning and I have a pretty good idea of the end, but the journey for me is the exciting part. I want to take that with no real knowledge in advance of all the ups and downs of the story. If I know how it all plays out, I'll be bored writing it all over again.

Andrea said...

A synopsis is the least of my worries, perhaps because I wrote tons of them, for both fiction and non-fiction texts, in secondary school and had to take an exam in it. It was considered an essential study skill, especially in higher education. I think I might start hiring myself out...

But it's something you can do in a few hours, especially since you know your own novel better than anyone. Of the agents who ask for a summary and have discussed this online, as far as I know none of them said it had to be something fancy, just an overview of the story so that they know what they are getting themselves into.

Andrea said...

Just read what BJ said about the big picture, and re-reading my own comment, maybe I should add that I'm very much a big picture person (so much so that I can't function without it) so someone who's not a big picture person might need more than a few hours to write a synopsis.
But really... all it is is a list of events that lead from the initial disturbance to climax and resolution, written down in narrative form. Read existing summaries of well-known novels as examples, or write them yourself first as practice and then compare them to existing ones, from the library or the internet.

John Davis Frain said...

So we're not allowed to send an 85,000-word synopsis and add "Oh, this synopsis doubles as the manuscript as well." Like me for my efficiency, love me for my story. (Not vice versa.)

More importantly, congrats to the OP for garnering a second full request. Exciting times ahead!

roadkills-r-us said...

nightsmusic, yes! At most I typically have a beginning and end, and maybe a vague idea or two of the middle. As I write the story I learn it, just like any reader. The more I know about where it's headed, the less I want to write.

I wrote my first novel totally inside my head over a year. To date, I have not managed to get a word on paper.

OTOH, for technical articles and books I map it all out meticulously.

When I started querying Year of the Dragon Lord, I had:
- a manuscript;
- a spreadsheet of agents and notes based on a week's worth of research;
- a query letter template;
- never heard of a Query Shark (sad face).

I don't recall anyone's website or WM listing asking for a synopsis. I got a request for a full, but no synopsis requests that I can recall. Of course, it's been a while. For any future queries, I will know to have these ready. After the ms is finished. 8^)

roadkills-r-us said...


I suspect any one of can write a synopsis in an hour or two. But writing a good synopsis might well take a lot longer, especially for someone who hasn't done it much. Short stories are easy for me. Novels are easy. Synopses, not so much- at least good ones. They take effort. And more revision than short stories. Why? No clue.

I can knock out an 80K word first draft in a month, while doing my day job and keeping a busy life. Not everyone can do that. Don't ask me how; I don't know. I think God stretches time for me or something.

K White said...

OP - congratulations on two full requests. That's exciting - even if the request for a synopsis has probably given you hives.

nightmusic - I, too, am a pantser (outlining ruins the writing for me). However, as I pants I also keep a story journal describing what I've just written. Later, I can cobble together the descriptions into a synopsis that's typically too long, but editable.

Bethany Elizabeth - the traffic in Houston is like Mad Max on triple steroids. You didn't mention the humidity or bugs (the city was built on a swamp), but I doubt you enjoyed those either. As a native-born Texan I can honestly say the best part of visiting Houston is seeing it in your rear-view mirror as you drive away.

JulieWeathers said...

First off, how exciting for the OP. There is nothing more exhilarating than a request for a full. Well, there is, but it usually has a Wrangler patch involved and isn't discussed in polite company.

Anyway, good job! As always, follow the sharque's advice.

I'm sort of like Sam. I like to have all my ducks in a row before I start querying. Sometimes it's hard. Even when you have all your little writer friends cheering you on and trudging across the street with you.

You're out there thinking if I can just finish this book I'll have it made. Then someone says, "Oh, no, that's the easy part. You have another step or two."

"What! I'm not done?" Revise and edit. All right, that makes sense. Hemingway wrote forty-seven different endings to A Farewell To Arms before he was satisfied. Of course, I'm no Hemingway, a quick lick and a promise should do it.

"Oh, all right. A thorough revise and edit." *grumble grumble grumble* "There, I'm done!"

"That's step one. Now the query."

"O M G a query." So you drink a lot and eat a lot and do whatever else gives you comfort and finally hammer out what you think is an acceptable query and throw your hands in the air like a champion calf roper. "Done!"

"Did I mention synopsis?"

A few hours later your dearest friend comes in and finds you huddled in the corner gibbering madly, because in truth, you have lost your mind at this point. The friend, also a writer, swaddles you in a protective layer of quilts, binding your arms to your sides before daring to ask what happened.

Ah, the dreaded synopsis she finally discerns from disjointed bits and bobbles of rantings. She gently wipes the drool from your chin, careful to avoid snapping teeth. She'd been there. She knows what happens. Being the best kind of friend, she starts mainlining an emergency whiskey feed and assures you she'll help you with your synopsis.

Also being a friend of the highest magnitude, she does not mention some agents will ask for a marketing plan or a proposal. There is only so much a human mind can withstand, after all.

JulieWeathers said...

I can't do a synopsis ahead of time.

As I said before, Barbara Rogan is meticulously organized. She knows ahead of time what she wants to accomplish with each scene and each chapter. She knows what needs to happen with the plot and the characters and then goes to work. It's a system that works very well for her.

Also as I've said before, Diana Gabaldon's publishers asked for outlines and synopses for her second two books. After that they told her to stop wasting her time and theirs because the finished project never bore the faintest resemblance to the outline and synopsis. They'd just trust her to deliver a good project.

Which proves, there's no right way or wrong way to write as long as you write.

I'm normally a linear writer. "The Rain Crow" has been a chunk project. I write scenes as I see them. I had a line in one scene that didn't fit, but I left it and thought, "I'll change it later." Well, lo and behold, as it turns out the MC does have to sell some land to pay debts her father left and this was NOT something I planned to deal with as it puts me deeper into the women's rights issue.

If I did a synopsis ahead of time, it would drive me nuts rewriting it constantly.

Both Rain Crow and Cowgirls have to hug a historical timeline pretty closely, but that still gives me a lot of leeway about what happens.

Peggy Larkin said...

I'm a pantser by nature and tried the write-a-synopsis-first thing. Pantsing the synopsis was kind of fun, but didn't tell me anything I didn't already know--I.e., that I had no idea where this novel was going.

On the plus side, it helped me figure out some places the story ISN'T going, because they felt totally wrong.

At least it's a data point...?

Anonymous said...

My internet connection is back! It was fine for a few hours after the storm, but has been AWOL since Sunday morning. I tried to comment from my phone yesterday, but I think it got gobbled up in the spam filter.

OP, congrats on the request for a full and good luck with that synopsis! You can do it.

And congrats to the finalists and winners of the writing contest. You all have raised the bar way higher than I can reach and it's pretty darn impressive.

Adib Khorram said...

Colin: More like make gelato, clean the apartment, work overtime...

Karen McCoy said...

Good luck, Opie!

Synopsis formula:

200 words = main character and what they want

200 words = rise in stakes

200 words - how character rises above stakes and gets what they want

A bit oversimplified, but you get the idea. No more than three character mentions too--if you can help it.

Congrats again!

JulieWeathers said...

I should add that Janet is right again about the be prepared. Sixty days was the average response time for queries for me, but I got one request for a full within ten minutes after sending it. I thought I had sent it to myself and it pinged back.

Don't ever assume anything. Wear your tall boots just in case.

Craig F said...

My synopses come somewhere between the second and final drafts. I do a basic outline and let shit happen then define that outline some as a base for my synopsis.

I have to admit that some of those who have read my synopses have said they are crude. They are almost bullet point lines of character insertions and plot twists. They are not meant so much to be read as to be scanned to make sure the plot arc carries through.

On being prepared: I build packets for query and pages; query and more pages; query, synopsis and pages; and so on.

I do that so I can format it all for email protocol. I know I will screw something up if I try doing it at the last minute.

Now all I need are those sox knocking queries I am looking for.

Off Topic: I left a note on Donna's blog. Go there and add your amens or F offs or whatever. I saw a map of overflowing rivers today and her house sits between a couple of them.

Joyce Tremel said...

Hi Catherine Vignolini! I signed a lot of books on Saturday and sometimes it's hard to put the name with the face, but I remember you. I hope you had fun!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Here’s my true story.

First year of high school I was removed from English class for a ‘special’ reading class. I was devastated. Was I being targeted because I was behind the others? Why was I being taught to read? I told my mother I wasn’t sure why they picked me, I read fine, actually I thought I really read well. Depression doesn’t even describe the sense of failure I felt.

A small group of us were given machines which our books fit in. A flat device on the machine traveled down the page, with a slot showing only one line of text. We were taught which words out of each sentence to actually read and which to skim.

Pretty quickly the speed of the slotted piece was increased until we were able to “speed read” pages unbelievably fast. Our small group was targeted because we were excellent readers.

That was the only time in my life I was recognized as better than the other kids we all called smart.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carolynnwith2Ns said...

My comment posted above was for tomorrow. This was not posted in error. I am actually a time traveler.