letters from the query wars

# of queries read last week: 135
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 0
genre of partials/manuscripts requested: n/a

# of queries read this week: 133
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 0
genre of partials/manuscripts requested: n/a

500+ queries still awaiting review

Recent commenters inquired along the lines of what percentage of queries I receive actually follow our guidelines….

For the record, our guidelines say to send a query letter, the first five pages, and a synopsis of your novel.

From Saturday, February 20th through Monday, March 1st, I tracked and categorized email queries received on that basis. This amounted to close to 250 queries.

Percentage of submissions that followed the guidelines close enough to pass: 48%. That’s right. Slightly less than half.

The other 52% either:

(a) did not include a letter (or sometimes even a salutation of any kind)
(b) did not send the first five pages
(c) included *way* more than five pages (the record was the first five chapters)
(d) didn’t include a synopsis
(e) sent attachments
(f) some combination of (a) through (e)

Over 30% of these queries did not include a synopsis (for the purposes of this review, a pitch paragraph in the letter wasn’t considered a synopsis — because, really, it’s not).

I’ve had some questions in the past about the synopsis length, but, as some have pointed out, our website doesn’t have anything officially listed. Ergo, I’m somewhat forgiving when it comes to that. I do want it to deliver information in summary (not outline or bullet-point) fashion about the story, the characters, the setting — you know, those things that go in a book. (I find the ones that don’t include the ending perplexing and unhelpful.) As a general estimate, 2-3 pages seems like a reasonable length, and more than 5 starts to feel hefty, imo. They don’t have to say everything; they just have to say enough.

For me, the letter, the first five pages, and the synopsis all assist me in making a decision. The letter gives me a feel for the author and their perspective on the book, the first five pages an impression of their writing style and talent, and the synopsis a way to see where the story is going to go and whether it seems marketable. If one (or two) of these are missing, I have less with which to make a decision. It’s that simple to me.

Percentage of queries included in this review that I’ve declined: 0%

No content assessment was made on any of these queries. In fact, they are still waiting to be read as I’m working on those dated during the first week of February.

So… do you send a synopsis if the submission guidelines request one? Why or why not? Are they a challenge or a snap to write? Are they a necessary evil or helpful tool? If you were going to a synopsis workshop, what should it cover to help you? What would you tell other writers about writing a synopsis?

53 responses to “letters from the query wars

  1. Thanks. You have clarified a question that I have been considering for some time.
    If I submit a thriller/mystery/suspense novel, do you want to know the ending? Although it some ways it makes perfect sense to provide that information, it also (from the writer’s point of view) eliminates the suspense that might be important to the potential reader. Obviously the agent is not “that reader” but it is nice to see what you’d like in the synopsis…including some ideas regarding level of detail and length.
    C

  2. My synopsis is not yet complete, as i’m still revising the main plot points until i like them, and to write the synopsis now might be foolish if revisions make drastic changes to where certain scenes fall in the story. Because of this, i haven’t submitted to any agents who require one (and have only sent four queries total).
    Synopsis writing is difficult because there are three general types and the term is used interchangeably. There is no set standard on length or detail for the synopsis on most submission requirements, so it does create an added level of stress on which synopsis (one page with few details – just plot, two page with more details of the entire story, or full scene by scene outline of action) to send. If there was a definitive standard that agents looked for in a synopsis, it would make that part of the process much easier.
    When you hear horror stories about submissions, and are very paranoid about choosing the wrong thing or doing the slightest thing wrong when submitting your work, the vague nature of the synopsis itself causes more anxiety and becomes less of a tool and more a necessary evil. It gives the agent/editor the information to make an informed decision, so i’ll write one, but i don’t enjoy the process of writing it.
    Adam

    • It sounds like you’re still revising the book. You shouldn’t query until it’s done and polished.
      And, yes, I agree that writing the synopsis is hard because there are a lot of different approaches. The thing is, I don’t think there is only one way to write them. Perhaps because the books they are based on are unique too (one hopes). In our agency, I’m not even sure we all agree on the optimal length, so getting everyone across the industry to conform to a standard seems really unlikely.

      • You shouldn’t query until it’s done and polished.
        Ah, but that’s often a difficult point to define, especially for someone who is new to the business. So far, the best definition I have found has been “until you are so sick of going over every word that you want to scream, and then a couple more reads after that.” But then, some new and very salient feedback is received and you think “Well, yes, it could be improved right there…” and you have to wrestle with the question of “can I stomach another set of revisions and polishings?”

        • FWIW, I usually hit a point where I’ve revised and rewritten and edited and polished, and I look at the MS and say: “It’s a good version of the story it is. Of course, if I were to start it now, I’d make it totally different.”
          That’s when I know it’s time to do one last proofread and send the thing out — and move on to that “totally different” story.
          mpe

  3. Purposely staying anonymous in this comment because I’m still waiting for a response from you on my query. For the record, I’m glad you post your query stats regularly. I was beginning to think that maybe mine had been lost in email nirvana, but I sent it on Feb 18th, and you’ve made it clear in this post that you haven’t gotten that far yet.
    On to the topic at hand…
    I slaved over my synopsis. It was harder than writing the novel, and it’s all of 2 pages long. Only *one* page long if it’s single-spaced. I asked someone with way more experience to help me because I felt overwhelmed by my constant failure in trying to write one.
    Yes, you need to include the ending. It surprises me how many people don’t know that. A synopsis is not a query, and vice versa. It also surprises/nauseates me how many aspiring novelists don’t know that basic truth either.
    My “synopsis coach” told me to try this approach, and it worked for me (may not work for everyone): Type a 2-3 sentence paragraph of your opening at the top of a page, then type a 2-3 sentence paragraph of your ending at the bottom of the same page. Fill the story in between. By the time you hit the middle of the page, you should be at the middle of the story.
    This. Helped. Beyond. Words. It kept me focused on the main story, which I think is where most writers go wrong. They wrote 300+ pages of this story already, and as the author, this story excites them. Every part of it does. So it’s hard not to let that enthusiasm out while writing the synopsis.
    And before you know it, you’ve written a 10-page-er, with no idea how to cut it back. Not good. In my experience, it’s easier to add stuff to a short summary, than try and cut back a long one.
    And yes, I always send a synopsis when an agent either a) requests one, or b) says “you can send it if you want to”. Definitely. The more of my work I can put in their hands, the better.
    I think they are a helpful tool that can feel like pure evil. Haha. And I think I’ve written enough here. Signing off…

  4. I figure if the agent requests it, then I should send it.
    Would you say that 52% figure is higher or lower than (say) a year ago?

  5. Thing is, while the guidelines request a synopsis, there’s no indication that synopsis should be more than the 1-2 paragraphs of synopsis already in the query letter.
    If you want a page or two, beyond the paragraph in the query letter, beyond the first five pages, that really should be explicit in the listed guidelines. Simply noting you want a 2-3 page synopsis pasted after those first five pages might be helpful for you, as an agent.
    -Will Entrekin

    • Here’s the quote from the website: “put your query letter in the body of your e-mail. Please also paste your synopsis and the first five pages of your manuscript into the body of your e-mail.” — Which I think does indicate that the synopsis and pages are additional to the query letter.

      • I’ll have to say I’m surprised that you do not give a suggested length to the synopsis. I’m sure you have a good reason; perhaps not wanting to crimp the author’s style, perhaps? But seeing the process as an outsider, I am left with the impression that you 1) work very hard at your submission process, 2) deal with a large number of inexperienced authors, and it would seem that a little guidance on length might actually make your job a little easier.

  6. It must be disheartening after so many years of blogging, and your submission guidelines being readily available, to find people simply can not, or will not follow them! You have the patience of a saint. I’d have packed it in long ago.
    I don’t really enjoy writing synopses and always save them until the book is finished. Chances are the story will wander from the starting path anyway. But no matter how little I enjoy them they are a necessary evil and if the agent wants one, the agent gets one.
    I try to lessen the pain by thinking of the synopsis as an extended back cover blurb that gives away the ending. Tension on every page applies to the synopsis as well. 😉
    LM@Oz

  7. I don’t bother to query yet if I don’t have what the agent needs. If they want a synopsis and I haven’t prepared one yet, I wait to query until I do.
    The hard thing about the synopsis is that there isn’t any real set guideline for length. I find them somewhat difficult to write and keep under any reasonable length.

  8. I do have to say, no element of the “query package” causes me more anxiety than the synopsis. I’m usually quite thrilled when submission guidelines don’t ask for them.

  9. I send whatever the agent asks for, in the form the agent wants. I don’t understand not doing this.
    Re Synopsis:
    It seems like most agents request a 1-2 page synopsis, so that’s the I length made mine. I struggled. I had to pare down to just the major plot points of the novel, which I found hard because there’s several subplots that twine about the major plot.
    I guess that’s the thing I would really like to learn: How do you distill a novel down to one or two pages and still keep the tone and flavor when you have to leave many, many things out. And not have it sound… insipid. (Which is my fear about my own synopsis.)

  10. from Carrie: anon because no LJ account
    If an agent asks for a synopsis, I SEND A SYNOPSIS. Now, the synopsis-writing process was hard and awful, so I sent out queries to agents who DIDN’T ask for a synopsis first, over the course of about 2 weeks, and then finally had something to send to those who wanted the syn. It didn’t occur to me that such materials might be optional.

  11. Synopsis
    Thank you, that was very helpful.

  12. Thank you for the percentage. Sad, but it might make my life easier someday.
    Synopses: I detest writing them. And I understand why they’re necessary — if I can’t summarize the book coherently in my proofread submission, how am I possibly going to be able to do so off the cuff at readings, in interviews and to editors?
    Of course someone had to point that out to me at some point. And it was probably an agent. Y’all should charge us tuition. *wink*
    My best tip:
    Practice by writing one-page synopses of your favorite books.

  13. I have to admit that when I queried you last year I forgot to include the synopsis. You were one of the first agents I queried and my number one choice. I was so nervous that I completely flaked and didn’t see where you requested a synopsis.
    Not that it would have made much of a difference, I definitely was not ready to query at that point.
    Live and learn. Now I double and sometimes triple check to see exactly what an agent wants. And if I’m still not 100% sure, I check the Absolute Writes forums.

  14. Of course I would send a synopsis. I really have a hard time understanding how it is that people manage to eff this process up so badly when the rules are so clearly delineated, but for whatever reason that they choose to fail, more power to me.
    My first few attempts at doing a synopsis were fairly painful; they always came out sounding very cheesy and breath-y in all the wrong places. What I finally did was sit down with the manuscript and a tape recorder; I’d flip through the chapters and say, “All right, now in Chapter One we start off on the deck of a spaceship that has its controls set for the heart of the sun and the captain has been killed, so the navigator–who just took a round in the gut–has to figure out some way to MacGyver a survival solution with the help of the navigator–who he doesn’t like–and then we…”
    And so on down the line. I then transcribed the results, cleaned it up as best I could, and polished it until it didn’t sound lame any more. As time went on, I didn’t have to use the tape recorder any more, and the polishing time dipped with every new effort. Like everything else in this business, it’s a fairly simple equation. Try. Fail. Pick self up, repeat until you get it right. That’s really all there is to it.
    I would tell a beginning writer, “No matter how awful you think this process is, you have to do it, because there’s no getting around it. Sooner or later you will have to pitch, either in person or in print, so you’d better start getting used to the way things are. Think of it as your own personal book report. Grab a tape recorder, or the technological equivalent these days, pick up the manuscript and bust out those editing chops. Quite simply, it is what it is.”
    Entries like this make me actually glad I’m on the writing side of the equation rather than the agenting one. I don’t envy your job, but you do it well. Cheers.

  15. I loathe them and have a terrible time writing them. As far as I’m concerned, writing the book is easier. In fact, I’m struggling with writing one this very minute.
    But I would never dream of not doing it. I mean, that’s how you get published and I want to be published. The logic seems pretty clear to me.
    As for how I do it, I basically write a blurb and then keep expanding it to include more of the plot until I think it will pass muster.
    I also agree with wood artist above–I myself couldn’t decide the merit of a mystery novel if I already knew the ending while I was reading it. I think that must be an acquired talent.

  16. I guess I consider the synopsis a necessary evil. But man does it feel good when you get it right. And I’m with jongibbs and others who say why wouldn’t you include something an agent asked for?
    As to what would be helpful in a workshop, maybe example synopses of well-known books/movies. One of the hardest things about writing a synopsis is knowing what to leave out. Seeing it done to someone else’s story might make that easier.

    • Synopsis Help
      Hi Adam. If you go to IMDB.com, and search for a movie you know inside out (I’m not going to guess which one!), most of the movies listed on the database have a synopsis written. Although it’s a movie synopsis, I still find it helpful to see which bits/characters they leave out. This is the link to the synopsis to The Hurt Locker:
      http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0887912/synopsis
      Best wishes, Suze

  17. Since I’m almost done polishing my manuscript, my synopsis comes next (and the query letter).
    I have sort of a synopsis draft done, but it was more for my own uses than to share with agents/editors. I plan on having three versions of a synopisis: long, medium, and short.
    The first version will be the long one, as I’ve seen some request a 5 page synopsis. The next pass will distill it to three pages, and then to a one pager.
    THEN I’ll start querying. 🙂
    ETA: And it baffles me whenever I see agents post such low percentages for people actually following guidelines. I guess I should be pleased, since it’ll put me ahead of the pack. 🙂 I still can’t help but wonder that people would spend years writing a novel and then shoot themselves in the foot at the finishline (ok, checkpoint).

  18. Wow, the idea of not following the directions as obssessively as possible is completely strange. Usually if I miss something, it is because I had a brain fart, but I really try to send everything.
    Obviously, that means I do send a synopsis when requested. I think they are easier, but I also used to make executive summaries for whitepapers, so reducing a chapter down to a small paragraph isn’t that too difficult. Plus, as far as I know, you don’t really have to be fancy in your words, just use correct grammar for the parts of the synopsis.
    It is tedious, though. 🙂 But, nothing more than going through one more round of editing. 🙂

  19. Definitely send a synopsis if requested. A synopsis shows that you understand the mechanics of what you’ve written, which is why they’re challenging to write. If you can’t pull what you’ve done together in the synopsis, chances are you haven’t done it very well. It’s the pop quiz that you knew was coming but can sting nonetheless.

  20. A synopsis is a helpful tool, but I sense some synopsis drama here. If one can accomplish such a task as writing an entire story, then one should be able to craft a synopsis. It kinda goes with the whole being a writer thing. Sorry, I’m not seeking haters here, I’m just saying, you have to take all the passion you have for your story and make it show through the words. You open your mind and let the strongest thoughts pour onto the page. Don’t worry about making it too long at first. Write it blindly, then go back and edit out what’s not needed.
    I have written a synopsis and do understand the stress. However, to me the truly evil thing is still the query letter. It’s evil, yes it is, like horns and fangs and all things dark kinda evil. Yep, I have query letter drama.
    Hehe, I think I just schooled myself? Perhaps I should take my own advice for the synopsis in regards to the query letter?

  21. Quel surprise
    I’m still shocked not only at the percentage of people who don’t follow submission guidelines (which would require its own explanation) but also at the number of people who then argue about it. Strange. The query/synopsis/etc are as necessary as the completed novel (which I’m surprised to see is a loosely defined term, itself) in that they’re the initial delivery system. No one’s ever going to see the novel if you don’t write them.
    My feeling is that if you’re not sure when a novel is complete, you’re too green to worry over publishing. And I mean seedling green.

  22. I always found synopses extremely painful to write. I could never fit everything in, and I couldn’t decide what to leave out. I’ve since found a technique that helps a lot.
    Write out the turning point (the moment of irrevocable change) for each scene.
    Toss out the ones for the subplots.
    Cobble what remains into as readable, coherent and engaging a form as I can.

  23. I don’t even write fiction, so I can be blunt here!
    If I recall correctly, last year you took two new clients after having read 8000 queries. So, the odds of an author getting representation from a query are 1 in 4000. With such long odds, it doesn’t make sense for an author to spend much time finding out what an agent wants, and tailoring the query to those requirements.
    Suppose an author already has the synopsis written, and suppose it takes only 30 minutes to find your website, read your submission guidelines, and edit the query email (it probably takes longer.) On average, for each author that gets representation, query writers would end up spending 2000 hours–the equivalent of a year’s full-time work– tailoring their queries. That’s a lot of time!

    • ” With such long odds, it doesn’t make sense for an author to spend much time finding out what an agent wants, and tailoring the query to those requirements.”
      How do you job search? Do you have a resume or CV? Do you change this document for each potential employer and each potential job?
      If so, you’re doing the same thing you’re saying writers shouldn’t do for novel submissions.
      And as a writer, I have to disagree with your comment. It seems to me that agents want the personal touch. They waste just as much time going through queries for genres they don’t represent, reading “good” stories for novels that aren’t finished yet (RE: her no ending comment), and wading through submissions that aren’t polished. How much of her time is Jennifer wasting just trying to reach the queries of finished novels which met the items she represents?
      Understand that I say this as an author who’s been rejected by her just last year. In fact, I was rejected by at least 10 agents last year, possibly more. And I did follow guidelines, or at least made an effort. Yes, it took time, and there were moments where I got confused between what agent wanted what, but I didn’t think it was a waste of time. And I still don’t. It’s just like preparing for a theatre audition or applying for a job.

      • How do you job search? Do you have a resume or CV? Do you change this document for each potential employer and each potential job?
        I haven’t applied for jobs in a long time. But, back when I was applying for things, I would spend a lot of time tailoring my application to the position IF I thought there was a decent chance of getting the position — say, one in 25.
        In the hypothetical case where I applied for a position with 4000 applicants for each open slot, then, no, I would not tailor my applicant at all. I would just send whatever I already had.
        If so, you’re doing the same thing you’re saying writers shouldn’t do for novel submissions.
        I’m not saying authors should never tailor their submissions to a particular agent’s requirements. If there were some reason to think a particular agent would be interested in one’s work, then it would make sense to put some real time into tailoring the submission. But, in other cases, it makes sense just to send a quick query, and I imagine most agents get quite a few of those. (I explain more in my next post.)

        • Your comment about “a reason to think a particular agent would be interested” caught my attention. (FYI: The following is more of an opinionated ramble and is not meant in anyway to start trouble.)
          I think this is an example of how different writers search for agents. For instance, I’m not going to send my novel to an agent that I think would *not* be interested in my work. In my opinion, that is a greater waste of time than tailoring my query to the agent’s specifications. That’s why I try to go beyond what agents post on their blogs / websites about their submission guidelines. I ask other writers’ thoughts, I check out other books represented by these agents.
          That doesn’t mean I ignore agents who don’t quite rep what I write. If they list “fantasy” or “science fiction” without any qualifiers, I’ll send my epic fantasy or my soft science fiction book out, assuming they’re not looking for urban or hard sf specifically. But if they don’t have those items on their list or the books they rep are way out of left field (from the perspective of my type of work), I’m not going to bother until I’ve gotten rejected by every other agent on the list.
          Whereas some authors just seem happy to slap a stamp and an address on their manuscript and send out to every agent who has the words “fantasy” or “science fiction” in their submission guidelines.
          Of course, at this point, if I’ve done this much research, I’m going to tailor my query letter and my submission. I know it might be a waste of time from a certain perspective, but I’ve already put that much work into the process. That little extra detail might be the one that sells my manuscript. (I hope it will be, anyway).
          Actually, I’d like to know how many people have actually gotten accepted by an agent by using form queries and the same X number of pages for each of their queries. This blog isn’t the place for that debate, but I wonder if I should post my question on mine or on AW…

    • I’m sorry, but this is a bit of a silly argument. Getting an agent isn’t a lottery; those 8000 queries didn’t all have an equal shot at being offered representation.
      If a writer has written a publishable, enjoyable novel, then their “odds” of getting an agent are quite high–a lot higher than 1 in 4000.
      However, their getting an agent sooner, rather than later, could depend on them taking the time to personalize their query and send the agent what the agent wants to see. It’s not wasted effort.
      Also, most writers will give up on finding representation for a particular novel (and hopefully start working on their next novel) after about 100 rejections. That’s roughly 50 hours of work, by your calculation, and 50 hours is almost negligible compared to the number of hours that went into writing the novel itself.
      Again, the time taken to tailor a query to an agent’s preferences is not a wasted effort; it’s a small investment the writer makes in hope of protecting the huge investment they’ve already made in their novel.

      • Getting an agent isn’t a lottery; those 8000 queries didn’t all have an equal shot at being offered representation.
        True, it isn’t a pure lottery. But, it isn’t like the Boston Marathon, either, where there can be many thousands of entrants, and yet it’s generally very clear who is the fastest runner. Submitting a query is somewhere in between these extremes, with some proposals clearly stronger than others, but no objective standard saying which proposals are best.
        Of the 7998 (or so) aspiring authors that Jennifer rejected last year, I’d expect many eventually got their book published anyway–I’d guess at least a couple hundred. It takes more than a publishable, enjoyable book (and good query) to get an agent. There are all sorts of subjective factors involving fit with the agent, the agent’s taste, etc.
        If a writer has some reason to think a particular agent will like their book–maybe the agent handled a similar book, say–then it makes sense to spend some time tailoring the query. Or perhaps the writer met the agent at a conference, or admires their blog, and so forth. But, if all you know about a particular agent is that they handle your genre and are open to queries, then a writer might just say, “What the heck, I’ll send them a quick query.” I’m not saying that firing off random queries to lots of agents is always the best strategy. I’m just saying that it’s sometimes a rational strategy, and that’s why writers do it.
        One thing we don’t know here is how necessary it is to tailor a submission to the agent’s requirements. Jennifer implied that she doesn’t necessarily reject queries that omit the synopsis. If other agents also consider queries that don’t quite meet their guidelines, then tailoring may not matter much.
        most writers will give up on finding representation for a particular novel (and hopefully start working on their next novel) after about 100 rejections. That’s roughly 50 hours of work, by your calculation, and 50 hours is almost negligible compared to the number of hours that went into writing the novel itself.
        Well, 30 minutes was a deliberately low estimate; my point was that even if it takes only 30 minutes to tailor a query, that’s still a full year of authors’ time for every one author who gets representation. I suspect I spend more like 2 hours each time I tailor a query, so it would be 200 hours for me to tailor 100 queries.
        But, you might say that 200 hours is still a small amount of time time to spend trying to get one’s book published. True, but there are other options besides tailoring a query or giving up an entirely. A writer might try a totally different slant for the query, or make major revisions to the book, or spend time networking at conferences, or approach publishers directly instead of looking for agents. If the first batch of queries doesn’t bring a response, there are a number of things a rational author might try, and sending lots of queries may sometimes work.

  24. Given my tendency to send an agent as much as her guidelines allow, I imagine you got those five chapters because the writer misread your guidelines. It’s the sort of wishful thinking mistake I could have made. Nobody’s fault.
    I don’t like writing a synopsis, because I feel like the book is being stripped of its muscle and all that’s left is the bones, but it’s the muscle I enjoy writing and the bones sound like just any other story (I feel a poem coming on), which is why I like sending as much as agents want, but if it’s just a query letter I sigh and hope for the best.
    Fortunately one of my best friends is a published writer and she’s happy to read my synopsis, query letters, etc. We’ve been reading each others’ novel drafts since we graduated from Odyssey.

  25. It’s worth considering synopsis writing as a form or genre in itself. I used to hate them because I was trying to “distill” the novel, which is a ridiculous exercise — if I could tell the story in 2 pages, I wouldn’t have written 400. Now I write a *synopsis* (NOT a story) based on the pitch paragraph, touching on some of the main events but without any attempt to get across the exact storyline. If I can’t express something clearly and succinctly within that context, I just leave it out.
    Of course, my synopses do tend to run short — rarely more than a page. It works for me, though.
    mpe

  26. brandietarvin
    A synopsis is the hardest thing for me to write. I’m always fighting myself to figure out which parts of my novel are the most important to include. In fact, in my current novel, which I’m re-writing, I have such a huge ensemble cast, that even determining which characters to include in the synopsis is hard.
    As far as advice goes, I’m learning that the best thing to do is to find the two or three most important characters and to simplify the main plot thread (removing extraneous subplots that don’t answer the questions at the end) and to write the synopsis about that.
    And if I can’t seem to pull a main plot thread or main characters out of the story, then apparently I’ve done something wrong in the writing of the book. Of course, I suppose this is the hazard in writing free-form instead of using outlines. @=)

    • Obviously I failed to log in correctly to make the above comment. For some reason, I put my user name in the title bar.
      Silly me. Techogeeks should know better. @=)

  27. Only written one synopsis for one book so far, but I hated it! At first I thought the query was harder, until I realized the synopsis sucked. I still went through more versions of the query summary, but only because I was trying to get just the right snap in those few words. That synopsis probably had 7 or 8 edits, and I was doing a 5 page double-spaced version for a pub.
    I’ll have to edit it again because I’ve modified the book recently. And…I have another book that’s almost complete, so I have that one’s synopsis to write soon, which means more head pounding on desk.

  28. So… do you send a synopsis if the submission guidelines request one? Why or why not? Are they a challenge or a snap to write? Are they a necessary evil or helpful tool? If you were going to a synopsis workshop, what should it cover to help you? What would you tell other writers about writing a synopsis?
    I dislike writing synopses, and I’m not very good at them; nonetheless, if submission guidelines request one, I always send them.

  29. Synopsis…
    I always follow the submission guidelines. Will there be mistakes? Sure, but I do everything I can to minimize them to nothing.
    Writing synopsis are hard for most authors, me included, because we know the details of the story. What we don’t realize is everyone else doesn’t. So we’re afraid of leaving anything out, the good parts, for fear that the story through synopsis will seem incomplete.
    But since a synopsis is a summary, I list 15-20 plot points. Then I simmer them down to around ten important ones and write the synopsis. And I do include the ending.
    Jimmy Ng

  30. Yes!
    yes, i follow instructions (well, I try to.)
    Why? because I figure that, as Agents, the people looking at my work have boiled the process down to its essence by now. if they need XYZ to figure out if they can get behind my work… They’re getting XYZ.
    Yes, writing a synopsis is a pain in the arse! I’m one of those people who ends up telling you the whole movie in my “synopsis”… only it takes three hours instead of one and a half.
    In point of fact, I often find that, in trying to write a synopsis (sometimes I try to write them first, to get all the thoughts out of my head), I end up with dozens of pages.
    its frustrating as a writer to feel like there’s “so much more!” that the reader needs to know than what a synopsis can provide.
    this, however, sounds awesome… I’m gonna have to give it a shot:
    “My “synopsis coach” told me to try this approach,
    and it worked for me (may not work for everyone):
    Type a 2-3 sentence paragraph of your opening at the
    top of a page, then type a 2-3 sentence paragraph of
    your ending at the bottom of the same page. Fill the
    story in between. By the time you hit the middle of
    the page, you should be at the middle of the story.”

  31. Yes, synopsis are a pain to write.
    But I find them useful for my writing. If synopsis doesn’t feel right, my story needs a rewrite. So yes, I do use synopsis as a tool to tighten my writings.
    Haven’t submitted to agents yet. But will try to follow submission guidelines, for sure.

  32. I always comply with all guidelines requested by an editor or agent. I consider their review of my submission to be somewhere between a favour and a chore, and as a participant in the process of getting my books published, it falls to me to do my part. If you can’t count on me to follow some basic guidelines, how are you going to count on me to follow edits, marketing strategies, and more? It seems ludicrous to me to do otherwise. I need to be worth your time and trust, as a partner in business, not just someone who can ‘rite gud’.
    Interesting comment on synopsis length — it’s significantly shorter than one D and I wrote recently (per the requested guidelines, submitted to an editor for an un-agented submission — the novel was accepted — and, iirc, the max was 10 pages). It was 2500 words for a 93,000 word novel, and it allowed for a very detailed look at all plot/character points that were of significance. I think it was definitely right for the genre and the situation.
    Going forward, I wouldn’t necessarily know to write something shorter unless I were asked to make it snappy. I’ll definitely keep it in mind from now on. I can see how what I would submit to you would require something other than what I would submit under other circumstances.
    Another thing about the synopsis: we were taught to make the synopsis appealing, to be mindful of our prose while writing it. I think that’s definitely possible to do at any length. It’s good to know your key images and concepts so you can slip those into the synopsis. My completely un-expert take on the process is that if you’re not ready to write the synopsis — to commit to the concepts and the facts — your novel isn’t ready to go.
    (The word of the day seems to be “definitely”. It’s a safe bet I’ll be pulling it out of every nook and cranny all day today. :p Definitely.)

  33. Synopses are hard
    Part of the technique I use to help plot out my ideas is to write a synopsis of the book BEFORE I even start writing. I feel like once I sketch out the plot and main characters, I can then start to slowly expand from there. Of course, by the time I have 80,000 words done, the whole thing has changed drastically. But at least its a starting point. Then I can go back and revise the synopsis.
    However, once you do have those 80,000 words, full of twists, turns and exciting plot and character developments, condensing it all back can be hard. I feel like getting it all “in there” can sometimes strip away the feel of my writing. I end up transforming back into a journalist with the who/what/where/when/how. I sound more like Hemingway than myself.
    Gotta work on that…!

  34. I’ve written 6 novels to date. I’ve written a synopsis for all of them; a query letter for 4 of them. Mainly it was practice because I’ve only shopped around 3 of them.
    By the time I’d written my 4th novel, I was doing things in the opposite order. My Query/blurb came first followed by a synopsis. I then wrote a chapter-by-chapter synopsis of the book. Then I wrote the book. I found this helped the organization of my books much better than the ad-hoc method. My characters still change things around, and the finished novel is usually a bit off the synopsis because things happen and parts of the synopsis don’t make sense any more.
    So really a synopsis isn’t that hard if you outline your book before writing it.
    Now as to the talk of job resumes vs query letters: apples and oranges. While both have a degree of subjectivity to them (excluding of course cronyism and nepotism), agents are FAR more subjective. It’s similar to going on a date. Except on a date you usually have more time to make a complete ass of yourself. A query letter is more like the agent read your online profile and figured you either like long walks in the park and cuddling up to read a good book with wine and a crackling fire, or you don’t.
    I believe premise is conveyed in a QL and that’s the first stage of acceptance. If the premise seems too worn, you probably won’t get past the first step.
    Synopsis carries premise a bit further to see if you can fashion a plot.
    The first 5 pages answer whether you can write or not.
    Jennifer, if you’re not intrigued by the premise in the QL do you read the synopsis/first 5 pp or not?

  35. What would you tell other writers about writing a synop?
    Stack up all the DVDs in your collection. Read the back of each one. Sit down at the computer. Type something like the hype you’ve just read, but include your book’s ending.
    That’s what I did. I’ve gotten one request for a partial and two requests for a full, but no takers on actual representation yet. YET. It’ll happen. It’s only a matter of time.

  36. I’m baffled that individuals would fail to follow the guidelines when it could mean you outright rejecting their book. Absolutely baffled. I am currently querying and it is time-consuming, but I wouldn’t waste my time by doing it incorrectly. Just curious, is the writing that you receive typically of a high calibre, or do you get a lot of spelling mistakes, typos, poor sentence structure, etc.

  37. Here by way of . The statistics are fascinating.
    In answer to your questions, I like synopses; I think it’s a good idea to be able to describe the plot and characters of your novel in a synopsis. (If you can’t, it seems like possibly you’re lacking a degree of perspective on your work). If I were to go to a workshop, I think I’d like to see examples of synopses that were good and ones that weren’t, from an agent’s perspective, though I wonder if it would be difficult to get permission to use people’s synopses in such a workshop.

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