The Agony of the Synopsis, or How Not to Write a Synopsis

I’ve been pretty busy for the last few weeks, starting with sending out a new round of query letters. I’ve found five really kick ass agents to start with, with four queries still out there. With any luck, one of them will request a partial or the full manuscript, and I am hopeful.

Interestingly, the third agent I queried effectively wanted everything an agent might want: a query letter, a synopsis, the first three chapters, and a separate bio. Note that a query letter typically has a very short synopsis/description along with a short bio included, so there’s a little redundancy there, but that’s the nature of the beast.

In any event, I mention it because it turns out that writing a real synopsis is frakking hard. Taking a 119,000 word story and condensing it to 3,200 words while keeping some style, voice, and personality in it is just obscenely hard. You have to get all the major ups and downs of the plot, mention all the main characters—but not to many, mind you, and make sure you aren’t leaving anything out.

The Mason Truman Project - Synopsis

Artist’s Rendition of My Synopsis

(I found some examples of synopses that helped authors land publishing deals. That was also quite informative.)

Fortunately, I had some great help from a writer friend I think you’ll be hearing more about in the future, and she took my plodding and pedantic piece and turned into something sexy, with some style. It was interesting even! And after agonizing over it for more than two weeks, I got it a perfect—and I mean perfect—3,253 words.

Now, I need to submit it as a Word document, and there are some very specific formatting things that go with everything dealing with the publishing industry. Use the right font of the right size with the right formatting and the right header structure with the right font that’s the right size…I mean, ugh!

Fortunately, I found this great step-by-step how-to make a Word template for a synopsis! Using that, it only took me a few hours to get it right, and I considered myself lucky.

That’s when I found some killer advice from Nathan Bransford that let me know mine was way too long. I had to cut my perfect 3,253 word synopsis down to 1,500 words, and even that is a touch too long (depending on who you ask, and I was apparently asking Mr. Bransford). It took two weeks to make the long version, and it took three hours to slash it to less-than-half.

And every moment of it hurt, let me tell you, but I did it. So yay.

Anyway, I then had to format the first three chapters, and that was a pain, but Scrivener’s awesomeness helped out a lot. Oh, and I probably should have mentioned that I spent three weeks going over those first three chapters with a fine tooth comb. They were the first chapters I wrote, and I felt they needed more work to be ready to be my main presentation to an agent. It was a fun process, believe it or not, and now I’m quite proud of them.

I’ll write more about this when and if I land an agent, but I research the hell out of each agent before I query them. That’s to figure out what they are looking for and to try and ascertain if I’ll like them. When I’m done, I personalize my queries to an extreme, but my real point is that now that I’ve put together this material that accompanies the query letter, I can pretty much plug and play it as needed going forward.

So again, yay.

Thanks to Shutterstock for help with the image.


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