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View Full Version : Is a Synopsis Necessary?



Taylor
03-30-2012, 12:06 PM
I read that one of the better ways at trying to get an agent is by going through a mutual friend. Miraculously, I have a family friend who has been published multiple times. He writes non-fiction, but he is well connected.

Anyway I sent him my manuscript and he said he knows an agent that would probably like to look at it and to send him a cover letter and synopsis.

I have the query letter done (I'm assuming that's what he meant by cover letter), and I know synopsis's are a huge hassle to write.

Should I write one, or not? I feel like agents don't even need that anymore, and a query letter and complete manuscript are more than sufficient. I figure an agent will skim the query, read the first few pages, and if it intrigues them they'll keep going, and at some point make a decision.

So what do you think? Do I really need to write a synopsis? Is that even necessary for submitting most of the time? I have not begun submitting yet, but I figured I'd start with my connection. My friend told me to do it, yes, but he is not up on YA. I'm aware that usually even veteran professionals are knowledgeable in their specific niche. I have a dayjob, I'm writing a novel, I like to read, I don't have endless time to write a synopsis if it's supernumerary.

Your advice is much appreciated. Thanks so much.

Taylor
03-30-2012, 12:16 PM
Darn it. The Curtis Brown website says to send a synopsis along with everything else. So it looks like I should probably do it, no?

Theo81
03-30-2012, 12:24 PM
No. You should absolutely not write a synopsis. You, quite clearly, know better than the industry standard. You already know it's too difficult for you to do without even attempting it. I mean, why on earth would an agent need to know if you fall into a logic hole halfway through your novel *before* they read it?

Dude. Seriously. If they ask you to skywrite you query, you skywrite your query. You don't have to like it, you do have to do it.

Get feedback in QLH on it if you want.

Mr Flibble
03-30-2012, 12:41 PM
Yes, you need a synopsis

It tells the agent what happens in your book - that your plot hangs together etc. It can show up weakness/inconsistencies in that plot (for you, the writer, so you may catch a fail before you send it put) It's used by agent to sell your work to publishers in some cases, or by your publisher to give instruction to the cover artist or sell foreign rights etc etc


If they want it, it's in your interests to do it. Though I feel your pain. Synopses are the work of 'insert evil thingy of choice'.

Filigree
03-30-2012, 12:47 PM
Yes, you need to be able to write a clear synopsis. Your query might get your mms through the agent's door. Your synopsis might help your agent get you a multi-book deal.

Terie
03-30-2012, 01:03 PM
Yes, you need to be able to write a clear synopsis. Your query might get your mms through the agent's door. Your synopsis might help your agent get you a multi-book deal.

Well, no, not really. Your synopsis is what might get your manuscript through the agent's door. Without a synopsis, if asked for, one is most likely to get a form rejection.

To the OP: If you want to be in the business of being a professional writer, you have to act like a professional writer. That means supplying what other industry professionals ask for when they ask for it. Agents who ask for synopses do so for actual reasons, not just for the fun of torturing poor hapless writers.

Writing is about art and craft.

Getting published is about business.

Start taking a business-like approach to the business side of the equation, and you'll find things much smoother sailing than if you keep looking at it from the artist/craftsman point of view.

heyjude
03-30-2012, 02:24 PM
Yep, write it. I hate them too, but as others pointed out, it's necessary. :)

Polenth
03-30-2012, 02:45 PM
A reasonable number of agents want a synopsis with submissions, so even if you decide this agent is not for you, you're going to need a synopsis eventually.

Sage
03-30-2012, 02:55 PM
Always send what the agent's guidelines asks for, no more, no less :)

Determination
03-30-2012, 05:56 PM
Sooner or later you'll have to write a synopsis. I was at a writers conference about a month ago and pitched to three agents. All of them asked for the manuscript AND a synopsis. By looking at a synopsis they can see plot holes and make sure your story has a coherent beginning, middle and end. It sucks but it's a necessary evil.

Marian Perera
03-30-2012, 06:21 PM
Darn it. The Curtis Brown website says to send a synopsis along with everything else. So it looks like I should probably do it, no?

Unless you want them to suspect you can't or won't follow guidelines, yes.

For every writer who thinks the requirements don't matter, there are other writers who will happily give the agent whatever he or she asks for. Which one do you think the agent will find it easier to work with?

I didn't enjoy writing a synopsis, and really didn't enjoy writing a one-page synopsis. It felt like trying to cram twenty pounds of plot into a five-pound bag. But if the agency asks for a one-word synopsis, I'll give them that... Actually, that would have taken so much less time to write. :)

Jennifer_Laughran
03-30-2012, 06:49 PM
I know synopsis's are a huge hassle to write.


All of these responses come to mind, I can't choose one:

* Several hundred pages of BOOK are sort of a "huge hassle to write", too, but you want to do THAT.

* Sounds like it will likely be a "huge hassle" to read, as well.

* In all seriousness, if they asked for it, that is what you give them. Some agents don't ask for them. But you really do need to have one at the ready, because even if the agent doesn't need it, the publisher may well. Or the marketing department. Or, or, or... just write the dang thing.

* If you can't coherently boil down your story into synopsis form, you either don't HAVE a story, or you don't know your story well enough. And if YOU don't know it, who the heck does?

* The plural of 'synopsis' is 'synopses.'

Mharvey
03-30-2012, 07:12 PM
All of these responses come to mind, I can't choose one:

* Several hundred pages of BOOK are sort of a "huge hassle to write", too, but you want to do THAT.

* Sounds like it will likely be a "huge hassle" to read, as well.

* In all seriousness, if they asked for it, that is what you give them. Some agents don't ask for them. But you really do need to have one at the ready, because even if the agent doesn't need it, the publisher may well. Or the marketing department. Or, or, or... just write the dang thing.

* If you can't coherently boil down your story into synopsis form, you either don't HAVE a story, or you don't know your story well enough. And if YOU don't know it, who the heck does?

* The plural of 'synopsis' is 'synopses.'

Thank you, Jennifer. I think you've just made me a better person. I honestly hate synopsis writing - most of it stems from it being my weakest form of writing. I usually go as far as to not write one and then just query agents that don't require one, but it never occurred to me that even if the agent doesn't want one, someone else is going to.

Well, it took me only 4 years to learn how to write a half-decent query. How long can it take for a synopsis? :)

mbowman
03-30-2012, 09:29 PM
I've avoided writing a synopsis for as long as I could--submitting only to agents who didn't require it--however, I'm coming to the conclusion that I will need a synopsis soon if I want to continue sending out my manuscript, simply because I am running out of agents to query who don't ask for a synopsis.

Quickbread
03-30-2012, 11:30 PM
I found my synopsis much easier to write than my query. I spent much less time on it, and I think it's a really solid one-page encapsulation that avoids being name and plot soup. It may not be as bad as you fear, especially if you use your query as the starting point and just keep asking yourself after each new phrase or sentence: but, however, meanwhile, in spite of that, etc....to keep yourself focused on all the conflict points in the book.

Sage
03-31-2012, 12:40 AM
A lot of writers freak out about synopses, but the good news is that they actually should be less stressful than queries. With the query, you need to summarize the book in a couple hundred words and do so with enough of a hook and enough voice to create that initial interest from the agent.

With the synopsis, all you have to do is show that your novel flows in a logical way with a beginning, middle, and end. Since your novel hopefully does do that, the hardest part is figuring out what to include and how to keep it to the specified length. But the initial interest grab has already been done by the query, so you can describe your story without the added need to pitch it.

A trick I've used on a few novels is to start with one sentence per chapter. Then you add and subtract to those based on importance (there could be full chapters that are unnecessary to the synopsis, but important to the flow of the book, after all, while others might take a few sentences). This doesn't always work. For example, some novels have a ton of chapters or only a few. Or, another example: I had a book with two MCs/POVs, and the flow of the synopsis worked better if I ignored the chronology of the book and put a few of each character's chapters together in one paragraph before switching to the other. But it's a great way to practice focusing down your book into a short space.

Filigree
03-31-2012, 04:20 AM
I start with one paragraph for each chapter. With the way I write, that's about 7 to 8 pages, single-spaced. Then I weed out the secondary plotlines. They're so much easier to spot than in book form, really! Once I have the primary plot, start to finish, I condense the material to one or two sentences per chapter. Bingo: a synopsis, whatever length it needs to be.

It's not much more than a book report.

OTOH, my queries have been as brutal as root canals, every one of them. I had a bit of sanity with the latest project, because I started writing the novel with a paragraph-long hook in mind. That flowed naturally into the synopsis in the end, and I used part of it as my query hook. The truncated synopsis I have for the next two books has already provided the hook for #2.

adm
03-31-2012, 05:44 AM
Your friend is doing you a huge favor so I think you should write a synopsis (and many agents request them so it would be good to have one in case this contact doesn't work out)

Good luck with your novel!

Taylor
03-31-2012, 06:44 AM
So it's looking like I'll need a synopsis?

Billtrumpet25
03-31-2012, 08:12 AM
Yep.

Taylor
04-01-2012, 04:58 AM
Thanks for your help, everyone!

rac
04-06-2012, 02:12 AM
Following your main character's journey from the beginning of the book to the end will give you the main thread of your synopsis. Don't get sidetracked in scenes that you like, etc. Just concentrate on the major characters and what happens to them, and you'll have it.

Taylor
04-06-2012, 02:37 AM
^^
Yeah I tried that. I still am having trouble keeping it under 2k words. And apparently it's supposed to be around 1K.

Deb Kinnard
04-06-2012, 04:20 AM
I think of it this way: synopsis is to contract as labor is to newborn.

zegota
04-06-2012, 07:40 AM
^^
Yeah I tried that. I still am having trouble keeping it under 2k words. And apparently it's supposed to be around 1K.

Where did you get this? Agents vary wildly, so you might need to write more than one synopsis, as horrible as that sounds. I've seen some agents demand a page long synopsis, and some request a 4-6 page synopsis.

RKLipman
04-06-2012, 08:12 AM
Where did you get this? Agents vary wildly, so you might need to write more than one synopsis, as horrible as that sounds. I've seen some agents demand a page long synopsis, and some request a 4-6 page synopsis.

Zegota, I get where you're coming from, but in this case the 1k rule is actually pretty good advice. Some agents will request a 1-page synopsis, and some a 5 or 10-pager, but 9 times out of 10 they don't specify length.

In which case, 2 pages single-spaced is about the average, and about 1k words.

My synopsis was about 900 words. I was paranoid about it getting too long but was assured it was fine.

I do think 2k is pushing it for a standard, boilerplate synopsis, unless possibly you are the reincarnation of Robert Jordan.

Taylor
04-06-2012, 11:13 AM
I got mine to around 900 words. Yes, I expect I'll have to write an assortment of different length synopses, because this industry seems to love making things difficult.

twright
04-06-2012, 11:21 AM
I got mine to around 900 words. Yes, I expect I'll have to write an assortment of different length synopses, because this industry seems to love making things difficult.

I finally managed to get mine down to two pages, double-spaced, 673 words. Took a quite a few versions, and numerous shreddings by my critique group, but I'm surprisingly happy with it.

Taylor
04-15-2012, 06:21 AM
I got my synopsis to 840 words. Do you guys think this is okay? I figure that's not too long, but wanted some of your opinions. Thanks!

triceretops
04-15-2012, 06:43 AM
The synopsis has everything you need to critique the arc/plot and the major MCs. I don't see a need for a query, which is really an over-bloated cover blurb. My HO, of course. So it's the other way around for me--why the query?

Filigree
04-15-2012, 12:35 PM
I'd rather craft the synopsis than the query, any day. Even when a magazine requests a synopsis for a *short story* (something I'd never seen before, in my limited experience). Query letters kill me.

dmickey
05-06-2012, 07:54 AM
How long should a synopsis be, generally?

ThunderBoots
05-18-2012, 10:10 AM
Where did you get this? Agents vary wildly, so you might need to write more than one synopsis, as horrible as that sounds. I've seen some agents demand a page long synopsis, and some request a 4-6 page synopsis.

Ah, I was wondering if someone was going to get to this point before me!

I have a standard 4-paged synopsis written for general use -- I say "standard" only insofar as it's MY standard, not an industry standard, mind you. I use it when the submission guidelines call for a synopsis, and the length isn't specified (which it often isn't).

If an agent requests more material from me, and to incude a synopsis, I always ask what length would work for him/her. I have heard of agents asking for a page per certain number of words of mss; others who only want one page.

Give 'em what they want, I say, no matter how big a pain in the arse it is to have to write/polish multiple versions of a synopsis.

Laura_6
05-21-2012, 01:06 AM
Thanks, ThunderBoots. I've been worrying about synopsis length. I have a 2-POV novel and it's almost impossible to get the salient plot points and both character arcs in a 1- or 2-page synopsis. I have a 4-pager and an 8-pager. I guess it makes sense to tailor one for each agent -- where length is specified.

writer_laurie
05-21-2012, 02:05 AM
If an agency requests one, I would send one. I have just started querying, and I have not yet written a synopsis, so I have only queried agencies that don't ask for one. But I know I'm going to have to do it sooner than later. It's probably a good idea.

BenPanced
05-21-2012, 02:08 AM
Even if you query somebody who doesn't request one? Write a synopsis because sooner or later, somebody's going to ask for one. You'll have it on hand and can send it out just that much more quickly.