This little woodland creature has just leapt her way into the query pool, and unfortunately some agents are cruel enough to request synopsis in addition to the normal query and pages. My question is this: when querying such agents, if they don’t specify, where the heck am I supposed to put this darn thing? Usually my queries are laid out as such:
So should it be:
I really have no idea and both options look pretty bad to me, and while I know you don’t request synopsis, do you have any advice for where, in general, the evil little thing belongs?
Yes, we saw you make the dive into the query pool.
To keep you afloat, here's the answer:
Here's why: You want the agent to read your most compelling work first and I hope that will be your pages. Synopsis are by definition terse and not-tasty. Your pages are (we hope) quite the opposite.
What's a synopsis? (Joking!!).
Makes sense to keep the compelling writing together, but good to have the Queen confirm for us woodland creatures of uncertainty and worry.
Is this too much?
End before the good part? Include the good part? Move the good part forward? This is a piece of sh*t why am I sending this?
Why am I doing this? Who the hell am I to think I can pull this off?
Nightmares about comma shaped villagers with flaming exclamation points circling your castle.
Hung over, feeling like crap, dreaming of success, convinced you are total failure.
Oh good, that would've been my guess! And I think what I've done, the couple of times a synopsis has been desired of me.
Congrats on entering the query pool OP! The cabana boy (or girl) comes around eventually, the sharks are circling (how'd they get in here?), and make sure to have waterproof sunscreen.
2Ns: *sound of microphone falling to the ground* FTW. :)
Manda: "What's a synopsis?"--I wish. It's the second most favored form of punishment at the Carkoon Correctional Facility for Incessant Infractors. This institution was named by Porthesque Pomfrey-Jones, the first person to serve time there after the re-naming. Carkoonians hate smartypantses, which is anyone with an IQ bigger than their shoe size.
Just FYI, the most favored is being dangled from the nearest tree by ones toenails while having extended passages from the TWILIGHT series read to you. At least that's what it was a few years ago. I hope I don't have to find out what it is now. How did the vote turn out, btw? :-\
CarolynnWith2Ns The exact same experience - not enough Advil in free world.
That damn dread synopsis. I am convinced agents get together at a weekly torture the writers and laugh fiendishly meeting to make sure each of their submission policies are a hair different from each other.
1. Query with first 5 pages (new agent not yet adept at torturing writers or veteran agent with more advanced techniques perhaps hidden in a blog)
2. Query only. Proudly claims the Norman banner. If you haven't heard from us in 30 days, please assume we hate you and it's personal.
3 Query, 1st 10 pages, synopsis of unspecified length. Claims "your call is important to us. Please hold." You are a year dead when they get back to you.
4. Query, first 3 chapters or 40 pages (whichever is shorter). Synopsis 2-3 pages (how is this even possible for a 125,000 epic fantasy). One email address for entire agency, put name of book and agent in subject line. If that agent disappears in Vermont before you emerge from slush pile, well tough toenails for you.
5. Each agent at our agency has a different submission policy. (apparently, links to each agent's page is a well-guarded secret. Contact Wikileaks for more information)
The list goes on and on and by time you are done, you have dozens of submission packages. And eventually you just write another book because writing the damn book is so much easier than navigating the query trenches with or without a synopsis.
For my shiny new book, Sariel, I wrote my query and synopsis first. I am not letting the League of Writer Torturing Agents have their way with me again. Well, at least, not this month.
My issue with synopses (apart from being so hard to make tasty for sharkly nibbling) is less where to put the dang things (I used to put them in whatever order an agent lists their requirements, which meant the synopses led off after query; lesson LEARNED!) than the umpteen different versions you have to write.
Agent X wants a one-page synopsis. Agent Y wants one three pages long. Agent Z wants five. And yes, they specify this narrowly - it's never "three to five pages" so you can use your four-pager for Y and Z and feel good about it.
The result of this all-over-the-mappery is that I can recall writing a synopsis just for a particular query, which is SAT-testing pressure - and provides under-pressure writing results. I will admit it, when I was writing to the assignment, I did not have the new special snowflake synopsis beta read, I possibly didn't even read every single one of them aloud. I was entirely focused on resenting the hyper-specificity of each agent's submission requirements, because you don't want to fail at that level, so "LOOK I DID WHAT YOU ASKED" became perhaps more important than a fully vetted set of submission pieces. I bet you I wrote at least a dozen synopses over the period of a couple years of two rounds of querying. I bet you eight of those were shite, too, because: writing to the assignment, not really writing to the story and character and rhythm and feel.
I ended up saving a half-page (yes, some agents required THAT SHORT a synopsis - and yes, it was synopsis not a pitch), a one-page, a three page and a five page. The five page one I still dislike; it is both too much and not enough. The three pager is the one I felt and feel is probably the most reasonable standard.
So. Yeah. Synopses just suck.
Donna Everhart, on the other hand, rocks. As does everyone here, pretty much.
Donna definitely rocks. Winning this contest is way better than having a book release. At least, in my experience. Of course, I am not a stbnytbs like Donna and that probably is kind of awesome. And it tells us that occasionally a woodland creature survives the query trenches. Although I suspect this is done by avoiding them for the most part :/
I put each item in the order they ask for them, and where they ask for them (in the body of the email or attached or a combo of the two)...
[Public Service Announcement]
For those who missed the late result, Donna won the writing contest (see yesterday's updated post). Congratulations Donna! I have updated the Contest Spreadsheet in The Treasure Chest. Donna has now joined the ranks of THREE-TIME WINNERS! Wooohooo!! :D That's better than having a novel about to be published! Well, okay, maybe not. But it's still jolly good. :)
[/Public Service Announcement]
EM: Number 2. You know it's true.
So, first we attach the query as a .doc file. Then we attach our contact info as a .xls file. Then, we attach [“You want the agent to read your most compelling work first”] a copy of John Frain's manuscript as a PDF [to minimize the chances of you stealing it and calling it your own]. Then we attach the synopsis as a virus-infected .exe file. I assume the body of the email is reserved for the pitch about the Nigerian business scheme? Thanks for clearing that up =)
It's nice to have a rule of thumb for submission packages, and to think that one day, I too may be ready to query. (edits during lunchtime)
EM - about fantasy synopses, I've been collecting successful fantasy queries and synopses (yes, I have an Evernote folder), because they are more likely to be spectacularly ineffective, and what strikes me about them is how little world-building is included. Usually it's around three details that make the world different from the comps, and the details are significant to the plot.
I found that encouraging - because fantasy does tend to be longer due to world-building. If we can just select two or three 'divine details*'...and then weave them in to a 'regular' query. I think it's harder than it looks to write a fantasy where the unique parts of the world impact the plot, and that might be the problem for a lot of fantasy queriers.
*heard the term in a book by Cheryl Klein
A Quick Note of Explanation: I deleted the PSA and reposted it because the link in the original went to my blog and not the Treasure Chest. Ooops! Huge apologies. That was not a covert effort to get more blog readers (though my blog is an excellent cure for insomnia). It was a genuine error which I have corrected. OK. That's all. :)
Thanks Colin and all for your kind words.
Ah, the lovely synopsis. Not.
Actually when I read this, something instinctively told me pages first b/c as QOTKU said, that's hopefully where an agent would see the best work.
Thing is...I suppose they can choose to open whatever they want. Getting them to read the pages first (IMO) would only work as intended of one doesn't have to do enclosures, i.e. copy paste into the body of the email.
Colin, you BRUTE! Trying to make us read your blog!? But it's interesting and contains learnful things! How could you!?
Who's for keelhauling the Brit?
*Hugs Colin and punches him in the shoulder with a laugh*
Carry on ...
Diane: Awww... *blush* shucks! I couldn't be keelhauled by a nicer person. :D
I did wonder about the sudden spike in my blog stats over the last hour. I thought maybe my Mum had called the family and told them to check out my latest article. Though given how many cousins, second-cousins, etc I have in N. Ireland, that would have probably melted the server. :)
I can't miss the opportunity to congratulate the winner of a cow! Congratulations Donna!
All I can say about querying: just do it. It's like diving into reezing water-if you don't die of shock the swim is great.
Congratulations, Donna! Good luck with your new bovine companion! My sister-in-law was raised on a dairy farm, and she'll tell you that cows are great pets. She loved them so much, she even kept one inside her room for an entire winter, because it was a runt and wouldn't have survived outside. First tip for indoor cows: diapers.
Now, of course, she's a veterinarian.
Veering a little bit back in the direction of the post - can you get beta readers for a synopsis? That doesn't sound like a fun job. I guess switching favors could work well.
I think Caroly2n's first comment would make a good subhead. Maybe she can tighten it up a wee bit- say, down to one line- without losing anything? Failing that, either of the last two lines would work. I'm especially fond of "Nightmares about comma shaped villagers with flaming exclamation points circling your castle."
Congrats to Donna!
If you write short stories as well as novels, something that *might* work for you it o treat a synopsis like a short story. I was reasonably happy with a couple of those.
It always boggled my mind that agents ask for an N page synopsis rather than an N word synopsis.
I took the day off to be with my god-daughter from Chicago, her fiance', and their baby bump. Fun day with no day job worries, and no thinking about publishing stuff allowed.
Yep, I'm totally excited for my cow. (I posted my euphoric statement regarding that on the post QOTKU updated yesterday)
OK, I just had the strangest experience. I'm filling out an online form for work, and there's a box for comments. It rejected my comment because I used TOO FEW CHARACTERS. 8-O I guess there's a first time for everything...
Bethany: If you have a critique group, or beta readers who have been willing to read your novel, I don't see why you couldn't ask them to give your synopsis a quick glance. Certainly have them review your query. However, my experience is not to sweat the synopsis so much. As far as I know (and Janet can sentence me to a month of Trump rallies if I'm wrong), most agents look to the query and pages for your writing chops. The synopsis should just be an outline of the story, so the agent can get an idea of the plot. This helps them see a) how clever/complex the plot threads are, b) how you tie everything up, and c) whether s/he has something too similar already on his/her list. As long as the synopsis is logical, grammatically sound, and coherent, it can be as dry as dandruff. Hopefully, you've already sold the agent on your query and pages, so don't worry too much about writing a throat-grabbing synopsis. :)
Donna: yes, congratulations. Now will you please stop with doom, despair and agony thing of that white noise post. The RNC scared the shit out of me too and the DNC looks to be doing the same thing from a different direction.
On Topic: I think that with a one page synopsis you could put it third on that list. That way the agent could quickly peruse it and use it for a comparison for those pages.
Two of the hardest things to get right are the beginning and the ending. That can be relatively easily fixed if the writing and story arc are above reproach.
With my style of writing I don't think I could write the query and synopsis first. My stories tend to grow as subplots are explored and exploited. I also like to have three or more endings and pick the one that fits the grown up story the best.
I thought the synopsis was included in the query, that shows how much I know. So what are we talking about for yer actual synopsis, a chapter by chapter breakdown? Yeah that gonna be a thrill: Chapter 9, Jake takes a break from chasing terrorists when he when visits his auntie Nora...
...will he live to regret eating all that ginger fruit cake?
Oh my goodness... I think I might have an actual legitimate on-topic question... deep breath everyone...
When we talk about "synopsis" here, are we being US-centrist? I've looked at a few British agents in the past, and the ones I read didn't ask for queries, just synopses. Is the UK synopsis = the US query, or do UK agents generally want the plot synopsis as opposed to a query?
Thanks to summer break, I'm blissfully rich with free time and am so happy to visit my favorite shark tank again. Congratulations to Donna Everhart for the well-deserved FF contest win.
Re: query package goodies, I'm glad to know the logical order now. Synopsis at the end makes sense. I'm full of questions about the contact page, though. Do agents ask for a separate contact page? How many forms of contact should be included on it--every social media site or just basic contact info and maybe a website? Isn't basic contact info already listed on the query letter and manuscript?
Craig sing with me, "deep dark depression, excessive misery. If it weren't for bad luck..."
Needle scratch - um, no, not really. It's just I'm sort of sick of it. I'm promising I won't do what a lot of others are doing. FB for one, has become a billboard for everyone's viewpoints and they can do that if they want, but I won't and never plan to start.
The thing is, that post should have gone out to my FB page as well...and didn't. Damn it.
Embarrassing but true: If I'm on the fence about querying an agent, reading that they require a synopsis will usually bump them down to the "Maybe Later" list.
Not to say that I've ever NOT queried someone because they wanted a synopsis, but it definitely gives me pause. And stress. Lots of stress.
Queries are hard enough.
Dooooonnnnnaaa, you won the cow.
Yee haw !
I've been so in my own moving-world of moving my world...well anyway, WOW. Congrats.
Oh! That's brilliant and makes so much sense.
Joining in the chorus of:
"I was just assuming order parts were listed!"
Bethany, I got several folks' fresh eyes on my synopses when I was writing them, just as I had with my pitch and query. Invaluable! My writing group routinely does this sort of thing, and I also asked a civilian or two to take a look/listen.
Donna, may you and Mabel enjoy the cow days of summer, and nestle in for a nice autumn and cozy winter. CONGRATULATIONS!
Colin, if you think I am nice, I must be off my game. :P
And I believe that's my three. Ciao for now, fella babies! Aufwiederschrieben!
Adib, a synopsis isn't that bad and honestly, it's not a bad idea to do one anyway so you know your story holds up.
I once took a course just on writing the synopsis. Like other writing skills, once you internalize the perspective of a synopsis, they still make your head hurt, but they become easier.
OP, congrats on starting your query process!
I always put my synopsis last because I know it's the weakest of my submission materials. My CP always reads mine for me. Luckily, she's much better at them.
Adib, I admit none of my first round agents required a synopsis. I always do one eventually but tend to drag my feet about it.
Colin, I'm getting ready to query here on the other side of the pond. Querying a UK agent is a little different to a US one - standard submission package is:
1. Cover letter (which is more of a business letter than a 'lead with your story' query letter)
2. Synopsis - 1-2 pages is usual
3. First 10,000 words/3 chapters
All of which can be sent as unsolicited email attachments! At least to most agencies; there are one or two which still request snail mail.
Congratulations on entering the great query adventure OP. Be fearless. If your dreams don't scare you, they aren't big enough. Never give up.
I always follow precisely whatever their guidelines call for. I'm very good at following instructions if people will just tell me what they want.
However, in the absence of a preference, I follow the Queen's advice. Though I think I have a decent synopsis thanks to the help of many minions, I certainly can't write a good one, it's still like reading Life Magazine's directions for kissing as opposed to a well written love scene.
One-page synopsis--single space.
Two-page synopsis--Basically the same synopsis double spaced.
Five-page synopsis--You've got some room to flesh out the story. Praise the Lord and pass the taters. Use your one page for the bones and build from there.
As I've said before, Diana Gabaldon got her agent for Outlander with a 28-page synopsis, some chunks of writing where she thought they would fit in the synopsis, and a sample of her work from Disney. Of course Outlander turned out nothing like the synopsis, but the agent fell in love with the idea and writing. NOT the recommended route, but she felt she needed to strike while the referral was fresh.
The point is a person COULD write a lengthy synopsis if needed. I haven't seen any agent ask for anything over ten pages.
Rachel, agreed. In fantasy world building often is what sets your story apart. Especially if you're sword and sorcery, you have to have something unique to catch their attention. Big Time Agent wanted me to expand more on my magic system in the rewrite as he felt that set it apart, but wasn't explored enough.
Congratulations to Donna on the win!
OK, good to know. I didn't think the order would make a difference but I forgot for a sec. how the publishing world works: an agent can (and will) stop reading your stuff as soon as they are no longer interested. Just like a real reader!
Congratulations, Donna!! I did love your entry!
And 2Ns - I love your comments so very much. They make my day.
I don't have a lot of practice with writing a synopsis, but I guess someday I'll probably have to learn. :) If you have beta readers or your writing friends read your synopsis (thanks for the suggestions, everyone! :D), don't you still run the risk of gaps in understanding for a new reader? I can see the value in having someone familiar with the story read over the synopsis, but I would probably want someone who hasn't read the story to look it over as well.
The biggest challenge I ran into writing the synopsis for a previous MS was that I got bored writing it, and so it was boring to read. I gotta figure out how to get some spice in there!
Good advice today, with some additional good thoughts in the comments.
On a personal note, I finished revising “Part I Bahia” of my WIP yesterday. It’s 35% to 40% of the novel. It took forever to revise. Next up is “Part II The Amazon” (my favorite part). I’m not really finished with Part I. I must print it and read it solely for style issues, and hope that doesn’t lead to massive rewrites.
Personal observation about me. When I was in high school and college, I conscientiously minimized my Texas accent. I wanted that TV news anchor sound. Y’all can understand that I’m sure. Well, howdy. Now when I read my manuscript, I find I enjoy it so much more when I read it like a Southern Storyteller. I take a little Hondo Crouch from Texas. Add some Kathryn Tucker Windham from Alabama. And top it off with a sprinkle of Dukes of Hazzard from TV Land. Yum-my.
Writing a synopsis is like trying to condense a Thanksgiving feast into a bite-sized sample. It’s impossible to get every flavor in there, but if it’s tasty enough, they’ll want to come to dinner.
Beth: Perhaps the synopsis is the menu for the Thanksgiving meal... with some gravy stains. :)
Joseph, I've lived away from Texas for thirty-four years and the accent is almost gone, but whenever I visit, it sneaks back in. It just feels right to talk Texan in Texas. And stories are better with a drawl.
The purpose of a synopsis is solely to show that you've got a pretty good plot. (This is in the USA; I've heard that British publishers expect something different.)
So include your main characters (use as few names as possible beyond these characters), the inciting incident, the characters' choices, risks, and results - all through plot points. Include the ending, so the agent knows you can end a novel. Make sure your plot points make for a good plot. I suggest finding a good book on structure, and include the main structural points (don't label them as 'inciting incident' or 'doorway of no return' - that uses precious space and isn't interesting. Just include them as plot points.)
I've heard some agents say that point form is fine, though I don't know if that works for all agents. I've heard some say single space your synopses, and others say double space them. My view is, if an agent tells you what they want in a synopsis, do that. If they don't, then it's whatever you prefer.
Again, the purpose is to show you can plot, not to thrill the agent with your brilliant style. That's what the pages are for.
(Although, I understand that British publishers look for style in the synopsis, too.)
Eve: Put the contact information under your signature. Include at minimum e-mail and phone number. If you have a web page and/or social media that you wouldn't mind the agent seeing (especially if they make you look good), include them. Otherwise they may go Googling for them, and find all sorts of interesting information about you (or someone of your name)...
I loathe synopses. One of my novels is a dual POV and I could never figure out how to write a synopsis that worked for that one because if I wrote each character's strands separately, it didn't make sense, but if I wove the two POVs in together, the synopsis was choppy and weird. Possibly why the book is still sitting in the depths of my hard-drive….
I spent much of elementary school ridding myself of my KY accent (particularly how we add R to random words - water becomes warter). It worked as far as KY folks are concerned. People up north, however, still ask what part of the south I'm from.
Well, since we're talking about accents now, I HAVE to ask... those who met me at Bouchercon last year--could you tell I'm from NC? ;)
Colin, your accent is pure Carkoon.
Janet: Mmm... "Pure Carkoon"--can't decide if that's your way of saying "music to my ears" or "I remember noises coming out of your mouth, but I thought perhaps you had some digestive disorder, so I ignored it." :)
Thank you Lennon, you just made my day.
And, if ever a day had to be made, this one was it.
Colin - you didn't sound southern (by all means!) but your Brit accent was very light. I worked with quite a few folks from across the Pond in my corp years. I loved their accents - and I loved London when my husband and I went. It was the last leg of our mission trip to the Ukraine. We got to spend 3 glorious days by the Thames River. I might have to resurrect that post again too. It was called I LOVE LONDON!
Lucie - I spoke to a KY author yesterday (she's the one I mentioned before, not sure if you'll recall) and she'd done a little thing for B&N, and she said "warsh," for wash. I kidded with her about it. Personally I'm proud of my accent.
By the grace of God, I didn't just now choke. I'm still alive too. *pinch to check*.
Whew! I just read Colin's comment to QOTKU about his Carkoon accent and I did one of those bust out laughs - with a mouthful of beer.
See, Colin? That's what KALE will do. Those noises.
Kate: I have the same issue with the dual POVs, and the way I've handled it for both query and synopsis is to concentrate on one POV only. For the query, I don't even mention the second POV. For the synopsis, I include information about the second character and what he's up to, but since it's the heroine's narrative that dominates the story, I focus on that. Maybe that's a way to solve your issue? Figure out which of your two principal characters is closest to the "hero's journey" and focus on that one? Or, if they are antagonists, write the hero first and what he/she is up against, then switch to the antagonist as the person who is standing in the way of the hero's goal.
I found this advice about dual protagonists useful in thinking about how to frame the question of "whose story is it?": http://thestorydepartment.com/dual-protagonists/
So many comments, and they look like fun, but only time to skim today. Need to be writing the wip so it stops being a wip. Getting close...
I did see someone (DLM perhaps??) who made mention of the evils of agents who request anything from 1 to 5 page synopses. As if writing one synopsis isn't pain enough. Have only managed to complete the 1 and 2 page versions for the wip. The rest will come once finished.
Speaking of wip, back to it. Happy writing everyone.
There was a minor kerfluffle on twitter today. Someone who pitched an agent at a conference then got a rejection decide to vent about his rejection #319 on his blog. It was pretty scathing.
Not a good idea.
Janet can take this down if she doesn't want it here. Regardless, I think it goes without saying, no matter how disappointed you are, don't vent your spleen on the internet, especially about agents, editors, publishing, other authors, readers, etc. if you think you want to be a writer.
For heaven's sake, use a little common sense.
You'd have thought it was Hunter S. Thompson's rejection letter to Anthony Burgess. I'm quite sure it wasn't. There can be only one Hunter.
Similar experience. I was sure I had that Midwestern, All-American, no-regional-accent voice. In my first job out of college. I traveled to Michigan. I said hello to the woman at the hotel registration desk. Her response, "What part of Texas are you from?"
I attended a WLT Conference in Austin at the Hyatt two years ago. Maybe I'm wrong but based on my conversations with other writers there, most pitch sessions resulted in requested pages. I don't recall talking to anyone who was rejected by more than one agent (writers were allowed to sign up for three pitch sessions). P.S. - You wrote an excellent reply to that fellow.
I followed your link and I'm appalled by what this guy wrote. I'm so glad you responded. And, of course, you're so passionate, so smart and so steady with your response. Well done. Thank you for speaking for so many of us because I couldn't even hang out on that website any longer. My skin was starting to crawl. And the last thing I want is for him to feel good that he got website hits after that post.
I can't believe how pissed off that post makes me for so many reasons, but perspective is a good friend here. There are bigger issues in life that deserve more focus. No need to lower yourself to his level.
Julie, as Forest Gump's mom said, "stupid is as stupid does,"
So I read the guy's missive on his latest rejection and I wasn't appalled. Names and photos, okay, that might be appalling but let's give him some licence here, the cat might've peed in his bong.
He gets his point across about being a adrift amid the hoi polloi, a point that I think would resonate with many writers. Something a little odd occurred though, he sets up quite a sympathetic figure as his nemesis but there's no acknowledgement of that person's perspective. So his observations, which seem quite skilled, are represented as pertaining only to his existence and only relevant in that context. There's no insight into the possibility that she might be, ooh I dunno--concerned about running into a loony?
Intrigued I tracked down the other examples of My latest...
...yeah ok--from now on I promise to try and be a much nicer person.
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