Thursday, May 31, 2007

How I View a Synopsis

In a recent post on the synopsis I gave you some advice on writing your synopsis. After reading a number of comments and questions, I want to expand on that post and give you a look from the other side. How important a role does the synopsis play in my decision-making process and what happens if the book doesn't match the synopsis you've already written?

I'm going to let you in on a little secret . . . more often than not I don't read the synopsis. Every agent is different, but for me if the book is really good and I'm thoroughly enjoying it, I will often ask for more material without even reading the synopsis. After all, I hate a spoiler. However, if I'm on the fence about the book or I don't think I want to see more, but I'm just curious, I will definitely read the synopsis. Sometimes it's just to find out what happened, even though I know it's not strong enough to sell, or at least not strong enough for me to take on (the two are not the same). Where the synopsis truly comes into play for most agents is to make sure the book doesn't run aground at any point. Reading the synopsis allows me to know that the author hasn't gone off in some weird direction that doesn't make sense or doesn't suit the genre she might be targeting.

These days a lot of published authors are required to submit some sort of short synopsis to their editors either before another book deal is made or as part of a current contract. And let me tell you, very, very rarely does that synopsis match the final product. I always tell my authors to think of it as giving a rough idea to your publisher. The primary concern your publisher usually has regarding this synopsis is that your character names and general plot don't change too much since this synopsis is often used for cover and catalog copy.



Aimlesswriter said...

How long should the synopsis be? One paragraph for every chapter? One or two sentances for every chapter? I'm prepublished at this point but I take my book and go through the finished product chapter by chapter to write the synopsis. This is almost as hard as writing that query letter.

Unknown said...

I struggled and struggled with my synopsis to match the tone of my book, and get everything (well...all the good stuff anyway...) into it in as little space (one to two pages as I could. Then the first time I talked to a real editor at a conference, she asked for a TEN page synopsis.

Yeah, knock me dead. That was hard.

But the good thing is that you can use that bit of writing for everything from blurb stuff, to cover material, to pitching. It's not just an overview, it's a very important tool.

kris said...

Aimless Writer, I can't give you any answer on length - and it seems every agent/editor has their own preferences on this - but I can tell you that synopsis writing becme a LOT easier for me when I stopped thinking of it as a sequential summary of the action. Instead, I try to focus on:
- the turning points in the story, giving just enough explanation to show how they fit together
- making sure I follow up each turning point by showing how this impacts the character, forcing them to change & grow
- showing how the plot & subplots fit together, playing off each other to echo/enhance/support the overall theme of the book.

I leave out LOTS of details.

Remember, the whole purpose of your plot is to make your character grow, so all you need to include are the big steps in that growth.

I've also joined the "write the synopsis before the book" camp. Not that I can come up with a fully-fleshed synopsis, just like that. But I find that if I sit back and just WRITE for about 200 pages - taking myself out of the equation, letting the characters reveal the story to me - then, at that point, I understand what this book is really about and can write a synopsis. From there I can pitch/revise what I've already written & go on to finish the book with far more purpose and direction.

Kimber Li said...

Dear aimless, I try to write my synopsis based on the agent's preferences. I've written one paragraph, one page, two, page, and three pages. I've read that two pages, double-spaced is standard when no preference is given. But, I could be wrong. This business changes daily it seems! Writing a good synopsis is tough and that much is certain. I'm still learning!

Thanks for the agents' perspective on this!

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...


I'm not going to help you at all here because I don't care how long the synopsis is. Send me whatever you've got. I think the synopsis should tell the story and reveal the ending. How long it takes for you to write that is up to you.


T. M. Hunter said...

I've also joined the "write the synopsis before the book" camp.

After the trouble I went through trying to come up with a synopsis after finishing my latest novel, I decided to join that same camp on the next one. I also came up with a query letter.

We'll see how it goes...

I pulled a no-no and didn't give away the final ending of the book...I guess it's a good thing BookEnds doesn't take sci-fi. :-)

Unknown said...

I'm with Kris Flethcher on this one. You don't need to do a chapter by chapter breakdown of your book. Just the turning points and story arc. And lol--yes, you have to tell all.

It gets easier. Why don't you just carry a notepad with you and think of nifty phrases during the course of your day? It spreads out the time-investment.