The subject of this post has been on the hamster wheel of my brain for awhile now, and our Bitchstress Dreamkiller’s post on patience just brought it home.
I, too, want to talk a little about time and patience. No, not taking the time to edit your manuscript for the tenth time before you submit (because believe it or not, there is such a thing as polishing a turd – you can shine it up all you like; it’s still a piece of shit – but that’s another post).
No. In this post I want to discuss a diabolical evil. No, not the kind of evil we here at the Evil League are known for. I’m talking about a horrific, unspeakable, “abandon hope ye who enter” kind of sinister.
I’m talking about the synopsis.
Many agents agree that the synopsis is harrowing, but necessary. I think Jessica Faust of Bookends, LLC said it best in her blog post on the subject:
A weak, hastily written synopsis is going to give the editor the impression that you’re a weak writer who doesn’t or won’t take the time necessary to really make sure that what you’re turning in is the best it can be.
As with everything else you’re doing besides writing the book, make sure you take the time to write a strong synopsis, but throw all the rules out the window. Write a synopsis that sounds like you and that works with your book and for your story. That’s the synopsis we want to see.
I know, I know. It’s really tempting to just submit because your manuscript is polished so much you can see your reflection and your query letter could be sold as granite, it’s so solid. But, as Skyla said above, “Patience, Grasshopper.” One more bit to go, and THIS TIME, tell it in your own words.
A synopsis is basically a sales pitch. Where a query letter is your résumé and introduction to both yourself and what you’re selling (your manuscript/story), your synopsis is the technical specifications of the product you’re looking to sell. The synopsis shows not only how well you write, but how well you know your story and your skill at adaptation. It’s a little like the Twitter version of your book – short and sweet. Condensed. (Twitter is a great tool to teach you how to condense thoughts and reword, FYI.)
Now, there’s all kinds of info out there on how to write a synopsis, and not all guides agree. What is consistent throughout the various advice is this:
Don’t write the synopsis in a “and this happens, then this happens, and then” manner. Also, don’t say things like “Chapter Five opens with…”.
Remember, “synopsis” means “outline,” which basically translates to “BRIEF.” A synopsis is a snapshot, not a painting. While you should take your time writing it and make sure it covers all the important plot points, don’t waste time giving every single character’s backstory or listing every minor character.
Think of it like telling someone about a movie. If you sit there and explain the whole movie to someone, shot by shot, it’s going to take hours and they’re not only going to get bored, they’re probably not going to see the movie. If you give them the major points and gist, they might be interested in it. The difference here is that in a synopsis, you TELL THEM THE ENDING. No one, from English teachers hearing book reports to agents looking at your material, wants to hear “if you want to know what happens next, read the book!”
Seriously, that is the biggest, lamest, fucking passive-aggressive attempt at garnering attention in the history of lame-etry. (Shut up, it is so a word.) Anyone who might have been interested in your work will immediately shut down at that phrase, or any version thereof. It’s juvenile, and you will very likely be told to grow the hell up in the form of a rejection letter if you pull this stunt.
Querying is a tough, time-consuming endeavor and I know it’s hard to wait until everything is together before you do it, but believe me, take the time to write a good synopsis. That way when you’re in the middle of querying and the submission guidelines you’re carefully following (you’d better be anyway – to the fucking letter) say “send the first ten pages and a one page synopsis,” you’ll not only know what that means, but will have them ready.
Oh, didn’t I mention that? Yeah. You’ll need more than one synopsis. Some agents ask for one page, others ask for a synopsis regardless of length. (There are some agents who skip them entirely, but it’s still best to have it ready in case they want it later.) Most guides say three to five pages is a good length for a synopsis. Others say “however many it takes.” Personally, I’d stick with three to five for the long one, IN ADDITION TO the one-page version.
So, get your story condensed down to a three to five page version, then shorten that to the one page version for those who want it. You need to be able to tell your story in short form, and writing a synopsis is a fantastic way to answer the question, “So what’s your story about?”