Saturday, June 02, 2007

Q & A 113 Who's calling the shots here?

From what I’ve read it would seem that an author could be requested to write a synopsis from 2 to 25 pages, and it’s entirely at the whim of the agent or editor. Is this true? Does an author get asked to produce a synsopsis of a specific length depending on who is considering it? Or can I just write a good 2-5 pager and say: “take it or leave it.”

You've admirably toned down the language, but your question seems to be, I spent hours writing a five-page synopsis for Miss Snark, and she retired. Now I want to send my manuscript to Evil Editor, and the bastard wants a seven-page synopsis! If I have to write twenty different synopses for twenty submissions of the same crappy manuscript, I'll be spending longer on the synopses than it took me to write the damn book. Screw that. You wanna know what happens in my book? Read it!

Here's what to do. Write a 2/3-page synopsis, put it in the middle of your query letter, and send it to a few agents. If requests start rolling in, some of them will be for the manuscript or a partial. Send them what they want. Others will be for a partial and a synopsis. Those go in the trash, and rightfully so. They're from agents who are trying to get out of reading your book! Is that the attitude you want from someone you're hiring to represent you?

Now, if requests aren't rolling in, if only one agent shows the slightest interest in your book, and that agent wants a thirteen-and-a-half-page synopsis, hand-written in pig's blood on artist's canvas stapled to a piece of sheet rock, you have some shopping to do.


Chris Eldin said...

EE, I'm really confused. What do you mean about putting the synopsis in the middle of your query? Were you serious? Isn't a query supposed to be only one page?

If you're joking, I feel kinda stupid. But only kinda, because I still consider myself a newbie.

My query-obsessions are coming back with a vengeance. Thanks a lot.


Evil Editor said...

Yes, a query is one page. If you'll look carefully, you'll see I suggested including a two-thirds-of-a-page synopsis within that page. Surely you're willing to devote two thirds of your query to telling what happens in your book?

Of the nearly 400 queries on this site, I'm guessing more than 375 include synopses--a synopsis being "a brief summary of the plot of a novel." (

Robin S. said...

So structure the query like the ones we've been reading here, especially the rewrites you've done, or the queries you've said "good job" on. Then no separate synopsis necessary, as it's already included.

I'm a little concerned about the agencies that request specific items - such as a one-page query with a 2 page synopsis. Wouldn't doing the one-page query/synopsis be considered a submission faux pas? A good reason for a quickie dismissal?

Anonymous said...

Ah. So we shouldn't even write a synopsis unless asked?

Cool. I can live with that.

Evil Editor said...

Yes, yes, the main point of the Q & A, beyond getting the laughs it clearly has failed to get, was to suggest sending what they ask for.

Robin S. said...

OK, OK, don't get all mad. I have a screaming case of jet lag, so I'm slow on the uptake along with everything else right now.


Anonymous said...

Anyone know how much a pint of pig's blood goes for these days? (There, there, EE. I laughed! And I loved the way you rephrased the question to capture the real thought process!)

Guys, selling your writing is a business and business is harsh. Here's a real-world (read non-publishing) analogy of "give them what they want." (Think of yourself as the vendor supplying the work.)

I write sales proposals for a multi-billion-dollar company (the vendor). We depend upon our clients (the agent/editor) needing our services. Each client sends over their guidelines for how they want our work proposal to be sent to them. One client may say write your proposal however you want. Another may say write it the way you want as long as it's under 50 pages in 12 pt. type and 1-1/2" margins. Another may dictate exactly how they want the proposal structured and go so far as to mandate character-count limits for each section.

If we don't follow the client's guidelines to the "T," the proposal is rejected out of hand. No matter that we're a big-name company with tons of clout and make more money than many of our clients do. If we can't follow the damn directions, all the time and money we've sunk into creating our deal-winning proposal is wasted, not to mention losing the money we could have made if we had secured the deal. We're not talking chump change here, either; we're talking deals in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. We can plead, "If you just read it, we know you'll love it!" all we want, but it won't be read or considered. End of story.

Yes, it means we spend LOTS of time and money re-writing the same proposal in various lengths and formats, jumping through all the hoops. Yes, it's frustrating (although great job security for me personally). But that's the nature of the business. Any business -- including publishing. If we don't like it, there's always a choice: Don't submit.

Evil Editor said...

OK, OK, don't get all mad.

Hey, the minute I act all nicey nicey, people complain I'm not evil enough. I can't win.

amy said...

I understood what you meant the first time, *and* laughed. So your work was not entirely wasted.

Anonymous said...

*smooch* Be evil at us, darling. We like it like that.

PS - Hey; I got the joke. *preens* *iz smug*

Evil Editor said...

Be evil at us, darling. We like it like that.

Okay . . . nitwits.

Brenda said...

Crack a whip, EE. I like the sound of it.

Query is to intrigue with a snapshot of your book.

Synopses are to show them you can carry the weight of a book, maintaining character development and plot points, telling (not showing) them the progress of the book, INCLUDING RESOLUTION - no cliffhangers!

On my first book, I had a one page query/synopsis - it was a FILLED page and it did get me a couple of requests - and then I created a 3, 5 and 10 page sypnoses, each one giving more detail depending on the length.

Julie Kenner has been known to send in a 20 page, SINGLE SPACED synopsis for one of her demon books. That said, it's like anything else: it's about the writing... about the story. Get the story told in whatever length you think it takes. I promise if they like the story, they won't count the pages of the synop or the format in which it was written.

Anonymous said...

Shouldn't that synopsis be nailed and not stapled?

On the larger, tail-waggin'-the-dog feeling the ?er seems to have: I am still overwhelmed by what appears to be expected of me (a flightly writer from Cloud 9)should I enter the race to publish. I too, have sensed an undercurrent suggesting that abdication of duty ( agents ... trying to get out of reading your book!)might be just as rampant in the publishing/entertainment field as it is in every other aspect of corporate America.

Cutting to the one thing I think I understand -- It's not just about the query. It's a whole package you practice presenting to 1st an agent, then editors, then maybe some low level publishing law hack (but by then you are probably so excited you just start doing exactly what they tell you), and it all leads to signing stacks and stacks of your very own published novel for a long line of fans. But it is also up to the author to initiate and maintain control over the whole process. Remember that link on Snark "No one belongs here more than you,"by Miranda July? Where the author did the video on her refrigerator and then oven HAHA? That novel was just given a pretty good review in the local crappy book review section of my local crappy newspaper!!

The thing that still bothers me the most is that my life's work, my precious novel, ends up feeling like an accessory, a toy poodle in a Louis Vitton.

Anonymous said...

You're all missing an easy solution, one I learned in fourth grade when I had to write books for the teacher's "writers workshop": God invented font sizes for a reason.

That is, write a really good one-page synopsis (or a two-thirds page synopsis, like EE wisely suggests). Then, if the agent/editor wants a three-page synopsis instead... change the font size.

Those books I wrote in fourth grade start off with about 60 words a page, but by the end they're down to about 8 words a page. And, even though they're hand-written, it's all about font size, baby.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who thinks commercial publishing is about the sublime pursuit of Art is on the wrong road and headed nowhere fast. Ditto anyone who thinks it's all about their precious snowflake self and their precious snowflake book.

Follow the directions now and you prove you can follow directions after your precious snowflake (which had better be the first of many, and each one had better be at least as precious as the last one) gets accepted for publication. You will be following a lot of directions. Starting with revisions for the agent, negotiations for the contract (read the fine print, really--even with an agent's help, you need to know what you're getting into), delivery deadlines, revisions for the editor, copyedits (man, those can hurt) on brutal deadlines, and proofs on even more brutal deadlines. Then there's all the assorted farp different publishers will saddle you with. Some want you to write your own cover copy, drum up blurbs, write (unpaid) essays for various promo purposes...the list goes on and on. I have, more than once, had to write a 600-word short story for a publisher's website, and I've had to write articles to extremely specific word counts, on extremely short deadlines, a fair number of times as well.

If you collapse in a fit of the vapours over having to write a synopsis to a certain length, the agent or editor will rightly surmise that you will not be able to handle the metric ton of sheer slog that goes with Being An Author.

Beth said...

Okay . . . nitwits.

Aw. Sniff. Makes me nostalgic for Miss Snark, it does.

Chris Eldin said...

Hi EE, Thanks for the clarification! Me-thinks Miss Snark let you borrow her clue-gun!

"Surely you're willing to devote two thirds of your query to telling what happens in your book?"

You mean 2/3 isn't supposed to be comparing my manuscript to other bestsellers? Ha Ha

Hi Phoenix, I agree with what you said. I used to write speeches for one of the Ambassadors in D.C. He wanted them all in CAPS at 18 point font. He da' boss.

Me said, I loved that video! That was so creative!

Brenda, don't give EE any ideas!!

Query-obsessions now going away again. Thanks.


Anonymous said...

Okay . . . nitwits.


Anonymous said...

. . . after your precious snowflake (which had better be the first of many, and each one had better be at least as precious as the last one) gets accepted for publication...
so we agree on something there, dancinghorse.

I am well aware of how little a connection there is between the pursuit (sublime or otherwise) of Art and the publishing biz. I'm hoping the author profile is not as rigid as I'm lead to believe.

And I guess we must be agreeing too, that the tail is wagging the dog -- calling the shots -- and that's why the whole process appears so distateful (only to some of us), resembling as it does the butt end of a very, very old dog.

Robin S. said...

I'm fully content to be a minion,

PS- this isn't me in the picture. It's my daughter- she's the reason for my jet lag brain hangover.

Evil Editor said...

Tell her to dump the guy. Tell her Evil Editor said so.

Anonymous said...

me 4:46, look at it this way. The industry can't exist without writers, and technically we hire the agents and license the publishers to sell our work. (And, of course, money always flows TO the author.)


Count the agents. Count the publishers. Now count the would-be authors.

You're using the wrong analogy. It's not the tail wagging the dog. It's the kennels at the ASPCA--thousands upon thousands of eager, panting puppies, all begging to be adopted. Which one would you adopt? The one who barks incessantly, pees on the rug, will not heel no matter what, and bites you when you tell him to stop? Or the one who plays by the rules?

To get back to the subject of the discussion, no, in traditional publishing you don't call the shots. If that doesn't fit under your hat, you can always self-publish. You'll still run into other people's rules when you try to get your work distributed, but that's the way the world works.

Personally I don't waste time getting bent out of shape about the scutwork that goes with the job. Every job has scutwork. If I'm asked for a 358-word blurb using only words of one syllable, fine, it's a challenge. Pays the rent, keeps the ponies fed, and it's a whole lot more fun than a lot of other things I could be doing.

Anonymous said...

wags tail and emits short, friendly barks. Has floppy ears.

foggidawn said...

I laughed and laughed. . .

. . .at EE's last comment, that is. Who knew evil advice could be so good?

I kind of chuckled softly at the original post, but that's mostly because I was reading it at work and didn't want to laugh too loudly.

Robin S. said...

Hi EE,

The picture was taken at their winter ball/dance, whatever Brits call it. The guy normally doesn't wear his hair in his eyes, he's actually got a good combination going - good jawline, very talented, and very sweet.

My daughter's designs were great - and she was the subject of a series of photographs in the main room of the gallery showing - fashion photography. All in all, a satisfying trip.

OK- I have to stay up for a while longer so I can sleep tonight. Any more words of wisdom or humor you have available- have at it. My husband is on an overnighyt golf trip, my other daughter is out of town, and I'm sitting on my sofa with my 16 year old neutered cat. Oh, boy.

Evil Editor said...

Next time you're in Britain, be sure to visit Portmeirion in Wales.

Robin S. said...

I've never been up to Snowdonia. I've heard it's a beautiful area, but my husband isn't interested in going up, and, as my driving on the opposite side of the road has resulted in a few, shall we say, "hedge incidents" (oh,yeah, the rental companies just love me over there- they see me coming and run like hell), I don't take off driving on my own much at all.

My husband is from the Mumbles - see panoramic views at the following URL, I know how much you love long URLs - so this is a short one -- We're usually here two or three times a year.

Anyway, back (finally) on to topic, (queries, right?) - what's funny about all of the hooplah I read through when I revisited this blog early this evening, after several aspirin, lots of water, and other stuff - is that, like a fool, I thought you were serious, so I was trying in a nice way to say - what the hell - hence the "quickie dismissal" question.

I've looked at enough agency websites to see that individualizing queries is just the way it is. No big deal. Not one big party, but not unexpected, as I wouldn't expect agents to be clones of one another.

Sandra Cormier said...

Good jawline. Gotta have a good jawline.

We were talking about synopses, right?

I have several lengths -- one, two, five and ten page, ready to go.

Brenda said...

Jaw lines and shoulders. I have a massive thing for broad shoulders.

God, I gotta get outta the house sooooooooon.

Anonymous said...

Others will be for a partial and a synopsis. Those go in the trash, and rightfully so. They're from agents who are trying to get out of reading your book! Is that the attitude you want from someone you're hiring to represent you?

This was sarcasm? Right?

Brenda said...

I have a feeling I'm flashing back to Miss Snark and I sooooooooo wanna get an ink stamp out and slap QUIT OBSESSING on a few foreheads.

I know I've done this before, but seriously, those so freaked over snyposes, go to Lisa Gardner's website and read her incredibly extensive lesson on this topic. Not only does she write incredibly gritty and complex novels, she also has a weakness for Free Cell - what's not to love, right? She covers this topic better than anyone I've ever seen, and she's a riot to hang out with at Nationals to boot.

And yes, all my heros have incredible shoulders...and usually great forearms too. I mean, c'mon, ya gotta have that upper body strength for good wall sex, right? Right.

Robin S. said...

OK - what the hell is Free Cell?

Is it like a no-cost sample of an acid hit or something? It sounds liek something some fool dreamed up in the 70s.

Evil Editor said...

It's a form of solitaire. Odds are you have it on your computer, if you can find it. On mine, I click Start/all programs/games.

Robin S. said...

Oh. I found it. I never noticed these games before. Thanks.

Too bad something named Free Cell isn't a little more interesting or risky than a computer game.