Thursday, July 28, 2016

In space, no one can hear you scream paginate

In space, no one can hear you scream.

They also can't see you paginate your email submission.

"Whut?" I can hear you say.

"What on earth are you talking about? Did you leave your mental acuities in Canada?"

Well, no, all evidence to the contrary this week.

What I mean is this: you guyz are sweating bullets on three-page synopsis, five-synopsis, three-five page synopsis, when in fact page numbers do NOT appear in email submissions.  Thus no one really knows the difference between a three, four, or five page synopsis.

Generally you want to keep a three page at about 750-900 words. If it hits 1000 words (thus 3.5 pages) no one will notice or care.

When agents say 3-5 pages, or 3-5 page synopsis what they mean is "don't send ten" or "don't send the whole manuscript."

There is no magic distillation of the synopsis to 3-5 pages that makes it better. It's simply to avoid the splat of words that would come if we didn't specify. "Here's my entire novel plus a synopsis, and it's a lovely 165,000 page epic fantasy that really starts in chapter 10"  And don't think I haven't seen those.

Submission guidelines are just that: guidelines. They're intended to help you, not make you crazy.

That they do make you crazy is just a bonus of course.


Kitty said...

That they do make you crazy is just a bonus of course.

That, or a version of that, just screams to be a subheader.

Amy Schaefer said...

I think this so-called "bonus" is more of a guarantee. Writers can always be counted on to provide their own crazy.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I realize that these guidelines think they are being helpful, but because agents are individuals with their own preferences, there are so many varieties of guidelines that in the end the already slightly mental writer ends up a slobbering demented and ever so obsessive pile of blood and bile in the end. But that could just be me.

And in truth I sort of enjoy the torture and part of me can't wait to reboard the query train. Or I possibly just need some coffee.

Colin Smith said...

The first synopsis I had to write was in response to the first full request I received. That agent will ever be dear to my heart, even though she eventually passed on the project. She was my first, after all. *sigh*. ANYHOO... as part of the request for a full, she also asked for a "package" which included bio and 5-page synopsis. This was to be a Word doc attachment, so in this case the pagination was not hidden. HOWEVER, that doesn't invalidate what Janet said. If my synopsis had crept over a bit onto page 6, I don't think it would have mattered. Similarly if it had stopped a few lines short of the fifth page, I doubt she would have called the synopsis police. Your hope is that the agent is following your plot, not watching the page numbers.

Synopsis police... now there's a scary thought. The query police sounds bad enough. "The synopsis police caught you violating the Synopsis Code. You will be sentenced to live a colorless existence where you only ever briefly experience the most important events of your life, and die in a terse, unimaginative sentence at the end of page five."

Eek! And on THAT happy note... :D

DLM said...

Janet, many of the agents I saw requesting x-page synopses were accepting them as attachments. So actually, yeah, they could see how many pages were submitted. All mine are saved in Word, and *mostly* were not submitted inline. Synopsis-requirers seem more open to attachment submissions.

Colin, I remember my firs too. :) I've seen her since, she remains a lovely, gracious, and successful agent.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Hmph, I need to get on with completing my first story so I can experience first-hand all the craziness and mind torture everyone here is steeped in.

It's good to be back amongst the Reiders after vacation time away.
(Happy dance)

Sherry Howard said...

It sounds like Janet has been on the Pitch Wars Twitter feed where all of us writers are obsessing over anything that can be obsessed about. If any of you guys are participating you know what I mean. No wonder writers have tortured souls!

Colin Smith said...

[Public Service Announcement]
For those without lactose or dairy issues, today is National Chocolate Milk Day.

Cadbury's once made a chocolate liqueur which I had for New Years 1991/1992, my first New Year with my wife. It was wonderful. I don't know that they make it anymore, which is a shame. This was in England. My wife's family were with us, having come over for the wedding. It was fun trying to accommodate them in our small two-bedroom flat. As I recall the second bedroom was heated by means of a space heater, and the north of England in December/January is not exactly warm. I don't think they took their coats off the whole time they were with us. :)

Happy memories...
[/Public Service Announcement]

Panda in Chief said...

I am only commenting for the novelty of being in the first 10 this morning.
Over and out and back to work for me.

Everything makes us crazy. It's a given.

abnormalalien said...

With a genetic history of minor obsessive behaviors (thus a little experience around people with such tendencies) I agree that writers often have obsessive tendencies. Except we replace must-click-light-switch-exactly-7-times compulsions with agent-might-be-offended-if-XYZ obsessions.

Donnaeve said...

QOTKU = the calm voice of reason - with a bite. I bet you sort of chuckle to yourself as you read all the little murmurings of distress out here in The Reef.

Colin Good to know, and what good memories. At least the chocolate liquer might have helped to keep them warm? And, see, there's something for hot weather too when it comes to chocolate. You really oughtta try a Mudslide.


DLM said...

"(W)e replace must-click-light-switch-exactly-7-times compulsions with agent-might-be-offended-if-XYZ obsessions"

Jamie (may I call you Jamie?), all too perfectly put!

OT, I ran across a new twist on "fiction novel" yesterday here:

Historical fictional novel.

And in the lead sentence, no less.

You may now cringe.

Karen McCoy said...

I'm guessing this also means it doesn't matter if the synopsis is shorter, say 600 words. Most things probably aren't going to rock the boat, and as long as you're not this guy, you'll probably be fine...

Theresa said...

Belated congrats to Donna on her flash fiction win. I wonder where she'll put the cow.

Word count always, always throws me because I default to thinking in terms of pages. I keep a calculator handy to figure out the conversion.

julieweathers said...

So there I was, walking along, enjoying my day, when I here Colin bust out laughing from a nearby park bench. "Ha, can you imagine? Someone wrote a 165,000-word epic fantasy that doesn't start until chapter ten and sent it to Janet Reid. Ho, ho, ho. Oh, my gosh. Too funny."

Hmph. I thought Janet was my friend and we weren't going to discuss this in public. Now what am I going to write about? Great, now a crow is following me. Can this day get any better?

Yes, it's true. We worry about everything. People still worry about how many words to a page and try to count them when every word processing program does automatic word counts. 1" margins, number the pages, Times New Roman or Courier, it's pretty simple and yet people are still worrying about how to count words on a page.

Yes, we worry about everything. We're always looking for something to fret about. It's our way. Except Captain B.S. He's pondering the meaning of life.

Morgan Hazelwood said...

I think the Synopsis Police would have you doomed to write synopses of varying lengths, for the extent of your sentence.

1 page for every 40 pages of novel
10 pages total
6 pages total
3 pages total
2 pages total
1 page
brief (so, a paragraph?)

THEN! They start getting into such precise word counts as
[Novel length] ÷ Pi
742 words
1 word that defines the essence

[AND! I just noticed the word recommendation for comments here.

I have 18 words left. Maybe I should just stop now to leave some breathing room. Five, four, three, two, one...]

Colin Smith said...

Julie: And knowing my good sense, Janet probably loved it. :)

Theresa: Interesting because I've become accustomed to thinking in terms of word count. That's actually a much better gauge of a book's length, since you can make a 40,000 word book 200 pages long if the font's big enough and you have lots of pictures. To help get into the habit of thinking word count, look online for sites that tell you how many words are in your favorite novels. You might be surprised. This is a fun infographic I found at

Craig F said...

I don't thing anyone is going to count the words of a synopsis. If you are consistent and coherent throughout it will work.

In other words do not put a speed bump in the middle of it. Agents are looking to see if you have or haven't got Aliens popping out in chapter fourteen.

A good example of a speed bump is to say "And then she found that she had magic." OR "Then she remembered the Katas her brother made her do in first grade and kicked the shit out of the trained assassin."

A year or so ago a few agents tried to propose standardizing a 250 word synopsis. Those are really fun but if you can do that you will have a base template you expand out into any kind of synopsis you might need.

Brigid said...

Morgan, that's hysterical! Please nobody listen to you.

RosannaM said...

I have to admit to being a fretter. And I do regard the submission guidelines (and any requested material) to be not so much guidelines as mandates.

I once went so far as to manually insert page numbers in the email in the appropriate spot because I had read somewhere that if someone prints out your material and they drop it, it annoys them to have to reassemble the manuscript without pagination.


And I think I have even sent such an exact page count that I may have stopped right in the middle of

Andrea said...

I think I'm already crazy. This week I beat up my printer because I was so fed up with it. It refused to print the second novel draft I finished on Monday. I swore at it first, I ranted at it, threatened to replace it by something far superior, and then I beat it up. It felt good.
It still works, by the way. It seems the problem lies with my computer, not the printer... though the printer still irritates me because it thinks for itself. I hate it when machines do that.

Morgan Hazelwood said...

@Andrea - I like to start off sweet-talking the printer. Because if you start off with yelling/swearing, switching to sweet-talk comes across as disingenuous. This way, you can escalate if needed.

Also, I've given up on the cost/effort of keeping a printer happy and have relegated myself to hitting Kinkos or bribing friends when I need something printed.

Lennon Faris said...

With pages, I've thought this very thing: No one will notice this extra half-page... Then, I imagine the agent carefully copying-pasting it into a Word Doc. on her side of the computer, just to check. Found one! she'll think. Then slash my name off with a big, fat 'X' (and a condescending laugh).

Nice to know Janet at least doesn't do this.

Beth Carpenter said...

From what I've seen, when it comes to guidelines, writers tend to fall into two camps.

"They don't mean me. My brilliant novel can't possibly be condensed into a synopsis."
"I must exactly follow guidelines, even if it means removing a useful word so the sentence doesn't scroll to the next line. Otherwise, I'll be disqualified."

I tend to fall into the second camp. Only a few wise writers are able to exercise common sense about this sort of thing. I bow to them.

Colin Smith said...

Here's a thought to throw into the mix:

Agents don't need a reason to reject. They can just because.

There's nothing in the Constitution that guarantees a writer a fair reading by every literary agent (I've checked--have you?). There are no agency stipulations that for every form rejection, or even personal rejection, the agent is obliged to provide proof of good reason.

The guidelines are guidelines. You can follow them and get rejected. You can fudge them and get requests.

I would say this. If you're going to fudge them, fudge them in good faith. Don't give a 5.5 page synopsis just to stick it to the man. Do so because you have edited that thing down to the nub, that last half page can't be cut, and all your beta readers think it sounds good as it is.

I'm not an agent, but this is how I approach the whole querying business. At least I do now, having been through the query trenches a few times. :)

Donnaeve said...

You can do just about *anything you want if the writing is so good, the agent can't find his/her sox.

*within reason

BJ Muntain said...

Querying really should not be that maddening. Guidelines aren't all that different. If you have a good query letter, a couple synopses, and your novel, it's all a matter of copy/paste.

Here's how it works:

1: Type 'Dear Snookums' <-- be sure to personalize, and spell the name correctly
2: Copy/paste the query into the e-mail. Does the agent want a bio? Type in an extra sentence in the housekeeping. Or a short paragraph just before the housekeeping. You can have these written to copy/paste in, too. Does the agent want anything else? Add a few words. It's an e-mail. If it's a few words longer than 250 words, no one will know. Even if the agent prints it out, not all printers format e-mails the same way. No one will know.
3: Copy/paste the pages. Does the agent want 5 pages? Go through your novel, copy/paste 5 pages into a new document. Read it through to be absolutely sure there's no typos (you can then use these 5 pages for further queries). Once it's ready, copy/paste that into the e-mail.
4: Does the agent want a synopsis? Copy/paste into the e-mail.
5. Hit send.

Even if you plan on sending five or ten queries on a day, do one at a time. That way you won't overwhelm yourself thinking 'I need two packages of five pages, one of ten pages, and two different synopses!' One. At. A. Time.

Then reward yourself. I use chocolate. Chocolate milk day sounds yummy...

DLM: Historical fictionAL novel? Historical fiction novel might be okay (like science fiction novel is okay - since the 'fiction' is part of the genre name). But 'fictional' kind of ruins that.

Craig: What if you do have aliens popping out in chapter 14? I mean, they're alluded to throughout, but I do write science fiction...

Joseph S. said...

I worry about everything, including how this comment will be received.

RKeelan said...

Joseph Snoe, I can't help you with the other stuff, but your comment is spot on!

Absolutely top notch work!

Amy Schaefer said...

Colin, your chocolate liqueur sounds excellent... at least now that I am a grown-up. When I was about four I found some foil-wrapped chocolates in a drawer, and thought I'd hit the jackpot. I bit into the first one and realized they were filled with some sort of a gooey, horrible red liquid, which I now assume was brandy or similar. It was my worst chocolate experience until last year when a friend gave me a bar of limited-edition vegemite caramel Dairy Milk. Even now the memory makes me want to brush my teeth.

Panda in Chief said...

I love BJ's suggestion. I used a similar (maybe exactly similar 😬) technique when I was querying for a non-fiction project. Definitely can endorse doing them one at a time, with all the obsessive compulsive typo checks.

As for chocolate milk day, I have discovered an excellent late afternoon summer pick me up. I recently "inherited" one of those little one pint icecream makers that uses a freezer drum, which you keep in the freezer. The other day I put my iced coffee (made with LOTS of fat free half&half) and made the most wonderful iced coffee slushy. I am thinking of making frozen white russians for days when. Need more of a festive pick me up. Yum, right? If I had some chocolate milk, I would through that in, with a little creme d'menth for a thin mint kind of vibe.

Is this a good time to mention that is a balmy 72 in Western WA?

Panda in Chief said...

Obviously did not obsevive compulsively check my previous comment for typos, but you know what I meant, right? Throw, not through.

Colin Smith said...

Panda: It's 102F feels like 118F here in muggy Eastern NC. Iced anything sounds good. :-\

Colin Smith said...

Oh, one thing I would add to BJ's process:

The last thing you do before sending your query is copy-paste the agent's email address in the "To:" window. Wait to do this last in the event you inadvertently try to send the email before you've finished it.


Craig F said...

Another problem with trying to count pages is the formatting needed for a successful email presentation. Using an extra blank line instead of the indent that email doesn't recognize you can end up with an extra page every 3 pages.

When dealing with pages it means that you get close and find a good spot to stop at. The end of the nearest chapter is a good spot.

With a synopsis just figure out how many words you works for you. 750 will look like three pages. To make it look like four just use a little extra white space. White space is a very good thing. It keeps you from dulling the attention span of an overworked agent.

BJ: that is why I said have or haven't. If you should have aliens they should show up by chapter 14. If you shouldn't, then you shouldn't. Aliens are an example for weird shit coming out of the woodwork.

Colin: have you got any Baileys for that chocolate milk?

Colin Smith said...

Craig: I wish. *sigh*

BJ Muntain said...

Craig: I knew what you meant by the aliens thing - I've heard that a lot. My response to you is my canned response to that sort of thing. :) But yes, a synopsis is to show you have a clear, thought-out plot, with actions and reactions, following a logical path. So a romance, where aliens only show up because you can't think of anything else to throw at the couple, is no longer a romance. And is no longer logical. And the reader throws it across the room. Or the fantasy, where someone suddenly develops a magical talent to save the day, with no build-up for it. Or the science fiction where a small plucky group of Earth fighters are trying to fight off an alien menace that is obviously too strong for them, when suddenly the space law comes in, beats the aliens and takes them away... Yay! Earth is saved! But not through the actions of our plucky group of Earth fighters.

This goes the other way, too. In my synopsis, I do mention outer space and aliens before I bring the aliens in. But I once read a synopsis of a friend of mine. In her novel, she has a character who is a highborn magical user. This is mentioned here and there throughout the novel, but not in the synopsis, because she was told not to say too much about non-main characters in a synopsis. But during the climax, she has this person step forward and do some pretty important stuff. Reading the synopsis, it sounded like she just stepped in out of nowhere to help the hero save the day. I pointed this out to my friend and told her what it sounded like just reading the synopsis. She fixed it, and her synopsis was perfect. Even got her a full request.

Brigid said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
E.M. Goldsmith said...

Yes, Julie's comment on That Guy's blog- just brilliant. But it's Julie and she is simply brilliant. But that guy- I simply don't understand in what universe he thought writing something so ugly about agents would ever help his career. Or anything.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

No, Panda, it is NOT a good time to mention that it is a balmy 72 in western WA, because in my western WA, i'm sitting here by the Indian Ocean freezing my patootie off at 3 degrees.

My summer envy knows no bounds.

AJ Blythe said...

Brrr, all this talk of iced things! It's currently -2'C (about 28'F I think), and the ground is still frost-covered, and fog is rolling in, so I'd settle for a hot chocolate with marshmallows (except it's 8am so I guess it's time for a cuppa tea).

Right. No need to worry over page counts for my synopsis *crossing off item 11 on list-of-things-to-worry about*.

Back to my wip. Must. Finish.

Has anyone else here noticed how appropriate that acronym is (wip/whip)?

Must 'wip' my butt into gear =)

CynthiaMc said...

When I was in Air Force electronics school, we were taught eleventy-hundred ways to troubleshoot all that expensive government equipment. The best of advice came from an old sergeant "And if none of that works, slap or kick the sh*t out of it."

Worked just about every time. And even when it didn't, it was a great stress reliever.

Joseph S. said...

How many countries are represented by the readers here?

I know
United States
Great Britain
New Zealand

Where else?

Annay Dawson said...

Oh yes, I have felt the worry of making sure that I have dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's and counted all the words. But then again I love to worry! As for the temperature here in the southwest we are at a cool 106 degrees today. Don't worry we will be back up to 112 by the weekend!

BJ Muntain said...

Joseph, have you seen our map? There's a link to it in the top right box on the blog page, but here you go: Pin your location to our map of readers!

(I like how you named Texas as its own country. In Canada, we consider it a part of the US. :) )

abnormalalien said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joseph S. said...

BJ - I did not know of the map. I'll check it out. Thanks.

BJ Muntain said...

Make sure you add yourself, Joseph! We want to know where you are. :)

roadkills-r-us said...

OT1H, I had thought about word count because the synopsis guidelines I had seen generally gave no other details. Five pages... double spaced or single? Font size? Margins? All the usual stuff. And of course, if they don't specify attachment those details go out the window.

OTOH, they did usually appear to be guidelines, which leaves some wiggle room. Triple spaced, 24pt Zapf Dingbats, 4" margins; no problem!

OTGH, every query I sent had different requirements. Every. Last. One. So I wrote a one page synopsis and a four-ish page synopsis and called it good.

A good example of a speed bump showed up in one of Colin's synopses: "And then he handed one of his secretly developed chocolate liqueurs to the agent. Within a minute she turned into a unicorn and carried his manuscript off to J. K. Rowling, who forced her publisher to put our hero under contract."

Why is this a speed bump? Because Colin hasn't shared his recipe with us.

BJ said: "In Canada, we consider it a part of the US."
Funny, in Texas we consider Canada part of the US! It's that state bigger than Alaska.

abnormalalien said...

DLM, you absolutely may call me Jamie; it's much less of a mouthful than abnormalalien. ;)

And yuck. My whole body participated in that cringe. I really wonder how people don't read their own words and think "Yuck, there's got to be a better way to describe this!"

BJ Muntain said...

roadkills-r-us: Canada: The state that's bigger than the US!


Julie Weathers said...


No, Texas pretty much considers itself a whole nuther country. It's kind of funny that when Will was in Iraq soldiers from other countries would even differentiate. Go talk to the Americans. Go see the Texans. We mount up an effort to secede every few years. Yes, Texas could survive and probably thrive and the rest of the US would probably celebrate.

The original Republic of Texas. Before he died, Captain Richard King was trying to establish a cattle corridor from Texas to Canada. The corridor would allow cattle drive to pass purely through cattleman owned land without having to fight and pay for permissions and passes. He wanted to pretty much use the original Texas land, plus a bit of Wyoming and Montana

Joseph S. said...


I'm on the map. I feel like an intruder. I didn't realize most readers here are members of the Point family.

A student of mine had the audacity to suggest the largest ranch in the US was in Hawaii (Can you imagine?). I spent hours getting data on the Hawaii ranch and the King Ranch (in Texas). I read the size data to my class the next time it met. Wouldn't you know it, the student who made the assertion was absent (but he got the word from his classmates).

Julie Weathers said...


Good grief. It would be the ninth biggest ranch in Texas and that is after the King Rand had sold off land from its original size. It had over a million acres at one time.

Beth Carpenter said...

Funny, Texas semi considers itself a whole nother country, while Alaska keeps having to explain that we are, indeed, part of the United States. I actually had this conversation by phone once.

"Do you ship to Alaska?"
"No, we only ship to the continental U.S."
"Okay. But we are on the same continent."
"But we only ship to the United States."
"Alaska is one of the fifty states, since 1959."
"Well, we don't ship to Alaska."
"Alrighty, then."