Synopsis: overview or chapter-by-chapter analysis?

traditionalbritishfemale

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My non-fiction book has been edited and proofread.

I am now starting to pitch agents. For the last few months I have read a few books and various articles online about submitting to agents. Whenever I read the word ‘synopsis’ I don’t know what is expected of me.

Different sources define the word ‘synopsis’ in different ways. According to some, a synopsis is something like a short proposal. The way https://literaryconsultancy.co.uk/media/press-publicity/how-to-write-a-synopsis/ describes it, it is the same as the Overview section of a proposal (including its marketability). However, according to others the synopsis describes the structure of the book so it is something like a chapter overview.

The website https://stevelaube.com/book-proposal-basics-synopsis-series-sample/ describes it as: “… a chapter-by-chapter analysis of what is in each chapter. Simply state the name of the chapter and one paragraph of what that chapter will cover.”

So, which is it please? What does it mean when agents asks for a 'synopsis' or ‘brief synopsis’?

Thank you.
 

waylander

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I think the protocol for the synopsis is different for non-fiction than for fiction. How many of the sources you've looked at are describing synopses for fiction queries?
 

dickson

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I come from the fiction side of the fence, despite having written (and published) numerous research papers. So, cum grano.

My understanding is that, in a synopsis, you tell your tale in abbreviated style, so an agent or editor knows what she can expect from the MS. That can be chapter-by-chapter, but (I think) more often not. Mine have been more like blurbs, spoilers not omitted.

In a spirit of disclosure, none of my synopses have yet gotten my novel out of the slush pile. For a while now, I’ve been writing short stories, partly to hone my skills, but also to build my strength against the day I rewrite the novel and resume throwing myself on that particular grenade.
 

Helix

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One of the difficulties with information about non-fiction synopses is that they don't distinguish between the different types of non-fiction, such as narrative non-fic (where a story synopsis could work) and other forms. From memory, yours isn't narrative, but divided into chapters covering different topics with an overarching theme.

FWIW, I would pitch a book like that with a short summary of the theme stressing the new stuff (why this book, why now and why you) and a chapter-by-chapter outline (one paragraph per chapter -- enough to get an idea of the contents). Agents/publishers will need to get an idea of the coverage and depth. All the other stuff - word length, target audience, similar books etc are additional to this.

Unfortunately with non-fic, there's no one size fits all template.
 

traditionalbritishfemale

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I think the protocol for the synopsis is different for non-fiction than for fiction. How many of the sources you've looked at are describing synopses for fiction queries?
I agree the protocol is different. That is why I quoted the protocols for non-fiction only.
 
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traditionalbritishfemale

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One of the difficulties with information about non-fiction synopses is that they don't distinguish between the different types of non-fiction, such as narrative non-fic (where a story synopsis could work) and other forms. From memory, yours isn't narrative, but divided into chapters covering different topics with an overarching theme.

FWIW, I would pitch a book like that with a short summary of the theme stressing the new stuff (why this book, why now and why you) and a chapter-by-chapter outline (one paragraph per chapter -- enough to get an idea of the contents). Agents/publishers will need to get an idea of the coverage and depth. All the other stuff - word length, target audience, similar books etc are additional to this.

Unfortunately with non-fic, there's no one size fits all template.
Thank you for your comprehensive reply. Your memory is amazing, yes, that is exactly my type of book.

So both then, both a summary and chapter-by-chapter outline? When they ask for a 'brief synopsis' I should paste a bit of our Overview section of the proposal (the place where I give some general idea of what kind of book this is, where I summarize it) followed by a very brief summary of chapters?

Ssome agents ask for a brief synopsys of no more than 200 words. If this guideline is followed, what will be left of the synopsis will be this:

1. An elevator pitch (this alone is 20 words, one sentence only) and this will not include any marketability arguments;
2. The table of contents (if that) because there will be less than 15 words left per chapter and the chapter titles alone are up to 12 words.

May be I should have mentioned the '200 words' detail in the OP.
 

Helix

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There are often two stages to querying, depending on the agent. The first stage is to present a brief introduction after which you might (or might not!) be invited to submit a more detailed query. Other agents ask for proposals, and that's where the chapter by chapter would come in.

Obvs you can't go into detail in 200 words, but you can tell them the theme -- an exploration of modern history that reveals an alternative interpretation of society. (Sorry, that's a terrible description and probably inaccurate, but hopefully you can get the gist.) Mention perhaps one or two intriguing elements and what gap the book fills in the market. The word count, brief bios and those sorts of things are extra and not counted in the synopsis.
 

traditionalbritishfemale

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Thank you Helix. So, when an agent asks for a ‘brief synopsis’ or a ‘synopsis under 200 words’, I must initially send her the second paragraph of my query letter, the paragraph that describes the book, or equivalent info taken our of my Overview section of the proposal. Have I understood you correctly?
 
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Paul Lamb

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Fiction writer here, but I do have one little insight. I skipped agents and got my novel accepted by going directly to publishers.

Now, I'm not saying you should do that, but you might go to publishers to research the kinds of queries they want for nonfiction, and that could give you a guide to how you could do it.

When I was researching publishers, I looked at many who also published nonfiction. And in their guidelines they were often quite specific about what they wanted in a nonfiction submission, including what they wanted in a synopsis.

So you might do this so you have a synopsis to submit to an agent.
 

traditionalbritishfemale

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Are querying in the UK or US? The expectations seem to be diffferent.
This may assist http://www.andrewlownie.co.uk/2014/...good-non-fiction-book-proposal-for-submission
Thank you waylander. It is an interesting read, but it does not discuss the different meanings of the word 'synopsis', it just covers one of the two meanings, breaks down how one particular agency understands the word, not the industry as a whole. I'll now consider submitting to them, but I am still none the wiser on what to do with the agencies who do specify which of the two meanings they mean when they ask for a 'synopsis'.
To answer your question: I am querying both UK and US. But I did not find any info re the difference between the meaning of the word 'synopsis' in the article you suggested. Have I missed something?
 

Helix

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Thank you Helix. So, when an agent asks for a ‘brief synopsis’ or a ‘synopsis under 200 words’, I must initially send her the second paragraph of my query letter, the paragraph that describes the book, or equivalent info taken our of my Overview section of the proposal. Have I understood you correctly?

I think so. Keep it tight and include the book's raison d'etre.

Writing a synopsis is an art in itself!
 

waylander

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Thank you waylander. It is an interesting read, but it does not discuss the different meanings of the word 'synopsis', it just covers one of the two meanings, breaks down how one particular agency understands the word, not the industry as a whole. I'll now consider submitting to them, but I am still none the wiser on what to do with the agencies who do specify which of the two meanings they mean when they ask for a 'synopsis'.
To answer your question: I am querying both UK and US. But I did not find any info re the difference between the meaning of the word 'synopsis' in the article you suggested. Have I missed something?
Possibly you need two different synopses and send whichever one seems closest to the agency's requirements