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ANNIE
07-31-2005, 09:57 PM
I asked this question on the writing novel thread, but thought i would ask it here as well.

When an agent asks to see an outline instead of a synopsis is that really what they want? A chapter by chapter outline, or are they actually asking for a synopsis? How do you know without calling and asking and being a pain?

WriteRead
07-31-2005, 10:31 PM
At the time, this q puzzled me quite a lot. I was confused as to the exact meaning of them. No longer :)

Why would it not be clear from the terms? I mean in pubbing industry "outline" is what you just said, a ch by ch short description, while a syn would be the overall summary of the work.


Admittedly, by definition, a syn is "outline, abstract, summary", so it seems that syn = outline, but I think that in submitting, when they state "outline", they mean the explanation above and when they state "synopsis", they mean the latter explanation, i.e., an overall "summary".

Dan

kristie911
08-01-2005, 01:28 AM
I was excited to see this question because I, too, wondered the same thing. I've submitted to agents and sent a synopsis instead of an outline because I don't have an outline, hate to outline and don't want to outline!

So that was not the answer I was looking for! lol

ANNIE
08-01-2005, 04:34 AM
Kristie, Me too! I've even gone out of my way to avoid sending in submissions if they ask for an outline! wow so not worth it!

Andrew Zack
08-01-2005, 05:59 PM
Every author should outline their novels before they write them. Just sitting down and writing off the top of your head is fine if you just want to write to amuse yourself and there's nothing on tv. But if you are writing with the hope and intent of publication, you should outline your novel with the same level of attention that a good movie director puts in. There's no reason you shouldn't prepare each scene the way the director does, figuring out exactly what will happen, where it happen on the set, etc. Failure to prepare, outline, etc., is the reason why authors introduce elements out of the blue, like some holographic game on STAR TREK. If you have ever had an agent or editor tell you that something was a deus ex machina, then chances are you didn't outline, or you would have asked yourself the questions, How do I get there from here? How do I get out of this corner I've boxed myself into?, before it happened and avoided it.

Andrew Zack
08-01-2005, 06:02 PM
On a separate note, I never want an outline submitted to me. They are agonizing to read. I want a synopsis of 3-5 pages, double-spaced, and the whole story included (don't leave me hanging; I've rejected plenty of books because I didn't like the ending of the synopsis, which saved both myself and the author a lot of time that would have been wasted if the synopsis was one where the author tried "not to give away the ending"). Some agents may want a shorter synopsis. I encourage all authors to have all three documents available.

Best,
Andy

aruna
08-01-2005, 07:29 PM
Every author should outline their novels before they write them. .
Andrew, these days many succesfull many authors admit to NOT outlining before writing! I am not an outliner myself. Writing an outline or synposis before writing the story is th ebest way to kill it before it is even born - for me. The last book I wrote, I had no idea what I was going to write beforew i began. It turned into a 160k word novel, with never a chapter or the ending planned in advance!

Andrew Zack
08-01-2005, 07:48 PM
Sharon:

That may work for you, but if I'm going to give general advice, I'd say outline. I don't think it kills a book; I think it organizes a book. I once edited a name-brand author whose manuscript was so confused that I had to do the outline in order to figure out how to fix it.

And I admit that when you say you had a 160,000-word novel in the end, I wonder how much of that might have been cut? An outline can help keep an author from overwriting. I recently read a manuscipt from an author that was quite good. Some might even call it publishable. I found it too long and dozed off more than once because he digressed into long scenes that did nothing but show off his research. They did not further the plot.

I find that writers who outline are writing for their readers and others are writing for themselves. If readers like the latter result, great, but I prefer it when a writer keeps his or her audience in mind. My understanding is that Dan Brown meticulously structured THE DA VINCI CODE and, no matter what you think of the book, you can't argue that reader's loved the result.

Best,
Andy

aruna
08-01-2005, 08:06 PM
Sharon:

And I admit that when you say you had a 160,000-word novel in the end, I wonder how much of that might have been cut? An outline can help keep an author from overwriting. I recently read a manuscipt from an author that was quite good. Some might even call it publishable. I found it too long and dozed off more than once because he digressed into long scenes that did nothing but show off his research. They did not further the plot.



Hi Andy, there are many readers who LOVE long, lush books, and I am one of them - so when it came to writing myself, it stood to reason that my books would also be long! I can't help it - left to me they would be MUCH longer. I'm aware of the dangers of overwriting. People who don't outline ususally spend a lot more time on revision than on the actual writing. It took me only two months to finish the first draft, but I spent seven months revising it, which meant cutting out all the flab and making it as tight as possible. It just happens to be a long story, time wil tell if it is boring to readers, but I don't think it will be.

Twice I tried writing an outline in advance (at the request of my editor) and those books ended up boring me to tears - during the writing, and afterwards. I don't think they were my best books. My firest book, however,m was not outlined, and that was the one everyone couldn't stop reading. I am hoping that this fourth one, written in the same manner, will be like that.

I think every writer needs to find which way he/she writes best; some really don't need to outline. Just my 2 cents, couldn't resist!

Bufty
08-01-2005, 09:05 PM
The question isn't whether to Outline or not - it's 'what does the Agent mean when asking for an outline'.
I think you'll find the Agent really means a 'Synopsis'. An Outline is far longer and more detailed - chapter by chapter - and, I believe, more usually submitted with a proposal prior to writing the Novel. If in doubt, ask the Agent what he means.

Good luck

aruna
08-01-2005, 09:26 PM
The question isn't whether to Outline or not - it's 'what does the Agent mean when asking for an outline'.
I think you'll find the Agent really means a 'Synopsis'. An Outline is far longer and more detailed - chapter by chapter - and, I believe, more usually submitted with a proposal prior to writing the Novel. If in doubt, ask the Agent what he means.

Good luck


Yes -I'm sorry I digressed from the thread subject. I was commenting on Andy's remark that we should outline before we start writing. I agree that probably a synopsis was meant, but just to be sure why not ask?

kristie911
08-01-2005, 09:38 PM
Yes -I'm sorry I digressed from the thread subject.

But since we did digress...I have to throw in my 2 cents. I think it's silly to say that every book should begin as an outline. Everyone writes differently...sometimes you have two characters that have a story to tell and you may have to follow them a bit before they'll tell that story...yep, you may end up cutting and doing some heavy revisions but if the story wants to flow, you'll find it...without an outline. I have to imagine that Dan Brown wrote The Da Vinci Code with some sort of plan, it's a very techincal book behind all the excitement with a lot of research beforehand...it's a non-fiction with fictional characters.

I have to believe that if outlining was a requirement to write a novel, there would be a lot less great books out there for us to enjoy.

aruna
08-01-2005, 09:47 PM
I have to believe that if outlining was a requirement to write a novel, there would be a lot less great books out there for us to enjoy.

I know for a fact that if it WERE a requirement I would never have started writing! Since in every English class ihad I was taught to outline before writing I thought that was the only way and I knew I;d never be able to. But then I read Dorothea Brande's book; and that was an eyeopener! Immediately after reading her I started my first novel - without an outline - and to my delight it flowed out as if it were already written inside me! It took me over 30 years to find my writing voice - all through the fear of outlining in advance.

Very technical stories, and, especially, crime novels which require intricate plotting, probably do need some sort of a layout in advance. I write big family saga type historical novels, character driven, which allows me to simply go where they take me.

But it is up to each author to find out what works best for him/her.

Andrew Zack
08-01-2005, 10:05 PM
Well, as an agent, I'd have to agree that if outlining were a requirement, I'd get far fewer submissions and more of them would be good books!

clotje
08-01-2005, 11:02 PM
Personally I can't work without an outline since I write crime. I have to have a structure and plot before I start or I'll never be able to write a "believable" book.

I tried my hand on writing without an outline but it didn't work for me. I got stuck halfway in the story.

maestrowork
08-01-2005, 11:07 PM
Well, as an agent, I'd have to agree that if outlining were a requirement, I'd get far fewer submissions and more of them would be good books!

Perhaps. Or maybe not. I think there's a big assumption that writers who don't outline can't write a good book... Or those who outline writes better books... I don't really outline (except thinking out the next few scenes in advance), and I have one book in production, and another one on the way.

Besides, I think a writer's outline is different than the "outline" an agent is asking for... so this discussion is kind of off topic.

aruna
08-02-2005, 10:48 AM
Perhaps. Or maybe not. I think there's a big assumption that writers who don't outline can't write a good book... Or those who outline writes better books... I don't really outline (except thinking out the next few scenes in advance), and I have one book in production, and another one on the way.



That's the truth. Those who see outlining as essential think of a non-outlined book as simply a pile of chaos. They'd be surprised to know of the order and discipline the subconscious is capable of, and how perfectly it can arrange and create a wonderful story. Though it may be true that many inexperienced wannabe novelists simply write down a pile of chaotic crap without outlining - this I assume is waht Andy means - a real storyteller can create as she goes, and the story not only works, but it sings. Many of our best-loved, most enduring books are written this way; that's because they come straight from the heart. They resonate with readers.

maestrowork
08-02-2005, 05:57 PM
I do think the advice is sound for new/novice writers because novel writing is a daunting task, and to keep everything straight (characters, plot, subplot, relationships, etc.) can be mind boggling. So keeping notes and doing an outline would help someone starting out, just to keep their heads straight. For a seasoned writer, it might not be necessary, depending on how the person works.

Also, some genres may be better served with outlines: Mystery? Science Fiction? Fantasy?

When I started writing my first book, I was relatively new to the whole novel writing thing. So I did do a little bit of outline in the beginning, just to help me keep things straight. But I found myself deviating from that outline all the time (not a crazy mesh of chaos, mind you -- just that my characters took me places I hadn't thought about...) and eventually just abandoned the outline and wrote without one. Everyone who read it, including my editors and a couple reviewers, told me how well the story flowed and the characters came together. So I must be doing something right without having an outline...

azbikergirl
08-02-2005, 07:08 PM
I'm reading A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (fantasy). I cannot imagine, with the complexity of this plot and all the characters, that he did not outline it. Maybe a book like that can be written sans outline by a master storyteller, but I wouldn't be able to keep that many balls up in the air without getting bonked by most of them and end up chasing them around the floor.

dawinsor
08-03-2005, 03:41 AM
I'm hyperventilating at the thought of writing without an outline. By an outline, I mean a narrative that tells me what's going to happen in what order, very much like an extended synopsis. I won't say I never deviate from the outline, but it helps me to know where I'm going.

aruna
08-03-2005, 10:38 AM
I'm hyperventilating at the thought of writing without an outline. By an outline, I mean a narrative that tells me what's going to happen in what order, very much like an extended synopsis. I won't say I never deviate from the outline, but it helps me to know where I'm going.

Nobody is suggesting that you don't use an outline, dawinsor! We are just saying that some very good authors don't, and their books work well.

Xavier Kobel
08-03-2005, 11:32 AM
Aruna, I've got your back concerning writing without an outline. The work I am currently editing started from a single powerful word and evolved from there as I free wrote daily.

The evolution will continue into the second, and possibly third installment in the series. But now that I have a solid start, I do agree that an outline will keep me on track to accomplish where I want this to head.

There are two sides to every coin. My theory is since agents are so inundated with submissions they are forced to fit allot into a little time, hence the synopsis and outline requests.

Speaking for myself as an aspiring author with a full time blue collar job and family. It is a serious pain in the A** to find time to create these documents if you have not prepared them prior.

Anne, super question! I can't offer advice, but will be following just the same.

Jim
AKA: Xavier Kobel

aruna
08-03-2005, 11:45 AM
There are two sides to every coin. My theory is since agents are so inundated with submissions they are forced to fit allot into a little time, hence the synopsis and outline requests.



Oh, I have no problem writing an outline for an agent - but that happens AFTER I have finished the novel, when I already know the story. That's part of the job and I don't find it difficult.

I think there is some confusion on this forum about outlines written BEFORE writing the novel, as a guide for the writer, and outlines written AFTER it is finished. The latter are intended for submission for the agent/publisher's benefit.

I have had problems with a combination of the two; when in order to get a new contract, my publisher wanted to see an outline/synopsis of a novel I hadn't yet written. I can understand their need for this but for me it's like letting the air out of a balloon. So I made the decision never to sign a publisher's contract before the novel is written. THEN they can have an outline.

Andrew Zack
08-03-2005, 06:01 PM
The submission of an synopsis (I try to never let the word "outline" appear) and chapters for an option novel is there for two important reasons:

1. The author can write that without writing the whole book and can therefore have a contract in hand and money in the bank while writing the book.

2. If the publisher doesn't like it, the author can either (a) throw it away and go find a new idea and submit that to this publisher and other publishers or (b) shop the existing synopsis and chapters elsewhere.

Submitting JUST a synopsis and chapters was never for the publishers' benefit. It was always for the authors'. Publishers would be happy to wait for full manuscripts.

Best,
Andy

aruna
08-03-2005, 06:44 PM
The submission of an synopsis (I try to never let the word "outline" appear) and chapters for an option novel is there for two important reasons:

1. The author can write that without writing the whole book and can therefore have a contract in hand and money in the bank while writing the book.

2. If the publisher doesn't like it, the author can either (a) throw it away and go find a new idea and submit that to this publisher and other publishers or (b) shop the existing synopsis and chapters elsewhere.

Submitting JUST a synopsis and chapters was never for the publishers' benefit. It was always for the authors'. Publishers would be happy to wait for full manuscripts.

Best,
Andy

Yes, synopsis is the better word when referring to submissions to agents/pubs. But there are very few publishers who will accept a novel directly from a first-time writer ONLY after reading a partial manuscript. It does happen, but rarely...

In the cases you outline above, this is what happened to me with my second and third books, ie I was already with a publisher at the time. In my case, it would have been great to get the contract and the advance while writing the fourth book but the publishers didn't agree and so I went with the option "don't write any synopsis, start a new book, and look for a different publisher".

Andrew Zack
08-03-2005, 07:06 PM
I sold a first novel by a first-time author on a synopsis and three chapters. My friend, also an agent, said I should get a medal! ;) It's nearly impossible. She had great television-writing credits, though, and the synopsis and chapters were terrific! You can read the result. The book is KILLER HEELS, by Sheryl J. Anderson (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ISBN%3D0312319460/tzc-20/102-4906700-4772940).

I find that if an author is unable to sell to their current publisher on a synopsis and chapters (option book), it's usually because of sales. Since pretty much every publisher can pull up figures from Bookscan and B&N, it means moving an author from a publisher that doesn't want him to a new publisher is very difficult. What can overcome the resistance, though, is a terrific, NEW, FULL manuscript that blows everyone away and infuses them with the energy to try and overcome the prior publisher's sales track record.

Best,
Andy

aruna
08-03-2005, 09:35 PM
I find that if an author is unable to sell to their current publisher on a synopsis and chapters (option book), it's usually because of sales. Since pretty much every publisher can pull up figures from Bookscan and B&N, it means moving an author from a publisher that doesn't want him to a new publisher is very difficult. What can overcome the resistance, though, is a terrific, NEW, FULL manuscript that blows everyone away and infuses them with the energy to try and overcome the prior publisher's sales track record.

Best,
Andy

Congratulations on that sale!
As for the second part, that's exactly what happened. The first three books didn't earn out their advances and their strategy was that the fourth had to be EXACTLY as they wanted it. If I had agreed to my editor's manipulation of the synopsis I could have had the contract but I felt it was a distortion and not at all what I wanted to write. But as you say, overcoming the past record will take a killer of a book. I think actually it IS the best of the lot but I need to find a publisher who agrees with me! I am quite willing to erase the record by changing my name, however, so we shall see.