Thursday, 21 October 2010

Answers on a postcard please

I'm posting this early, as I have to take my daughter to the starting point for her school walk. I could collect some pastries on the way home if you like, but help yourselves to tea and coffee, oh and there's some orange juice in the fridge.

It's hard to think what to write for these Novel Racer posts, especially as we've probably covered pretty much everything related to writing, that I can think of anyway.

So I had a bit of a think (it does happen occasionally) and thought I'd ask about something that baffles me. When it comes to submissions, how long are your synopses? I know that writing the dreaded synopsis seems to be somehow more daunting to some writers than the thought of writing an entire novel, or is that just me? Do you try to keep your synopsis to one page, two, or more?

I also find it difficult to precis 80-100k words down to a two-page synopsis and still make it grab the reader. How do you cover everything in so few words, whilst still keeping the feel of the book you're submitting?

9 comments:

Karen said...

I might as well answer early as I have to nip out in the morning! Ooh and I'll have a cuppa please.

I'm afraid I only wrote about 300 words as a synopsis, and it was more like the blurb you read on the back of a novel in a bookshop. A no-no according to the 'rules' but it didn't do me any harm!

I truly believe that if an agent is hooked by your opening pages, likes your 'voice' and the premise of your story she/he will ask for more regardless of how long or short your synopsis is :o)

Adina West said...

The hard thing is when agents request a synopsis with the query, they often don't indicate how long they want the synopsis to be - not even a general guideline like 'short synopsis'.

I ended up writing a 1 page, 3 page and 5 page version, and never needed any more than that. I think I only used the 1 page and three page version to send to agents, with the 3 page being my preferred one.

The funny thing was I really didn't lose that much of the important stuff in the 1 page version, which just goes to show you can condense things if you really have to. I did find my synopses and queries very time consuming and difficult to write though - apparently if this isn't what a writer experiences first time around they're not doing it right!

When condensing for the synopsis, remember you can and should be shedding all discussion of any sub-plots. Just sticking to the main story makes a tidy synopsis more achievable, but I admit it did feel a bit naked to me at first without all the interweaving sub-plots I knew were in the full manuscript.

DOT said...

As far as I know, and as my children constantly point out, what do I know? a synopsis is precisely that: a brief summary of the book in plain prose. It is not intended as piece of selling prose, or the blurb on the back of a dust jacket, but an indication of how the plot/characters develop the course of the novel. In other words, it is a fairly dry description and so difficult when you have poured your heart into writing wot you have writ.

Denise said...

I have a 1 page version, and was told by the 2 agents I saw at Winchester writers' conference that it was fine. They were far more interested in the opening chapters and both said they only give them cursory glances. All that suffering for nothing!

sheepish said...

This is not something I have given much thought to yet and don't anticipate doing so in the near future. Writing the novel is hard enough!!!!! I have heard of the one sentence synopsis so I may go for that!!!!!
Oh and can I have a squishy pastry with my tea please?

Cathy said...

My original synopsis is almost two pages, but I have now condensed it further into one page for agents/publishers who specify that length. To do that though I did have to omit some things I'd have prteferred to keep in!

Jenny Beattie said...

Sorry I'm late.

When I went to the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook course in the summer, Cressida Downing, who is a reader for multiple agents, told us: one page or two at the most.

Later in the summer, the literary agent Geraldine Cooke told us on our Arvon course that she never looked at the synopsis. She said 'Why would I? I want to know what the writing's like.'

Liane Spicer said...

"Dreaded" just about sums up the synopsis for me. I usually start out with about six pages of single space text and whittle it down to three as required by my current publisher.

Submission requirements differ, though. I've seen a range of 1 - 10 pages on synopsis guidelines.

Captain Black said...

I expect the coffee will be stone cold by now, so I guess mine's a frappé.

I'm no expert on synopses but I've done a fair bit of reading around the subject and I've written four or five of them. Actually, it would be more accurate to say I've maintained four or five of them. More on that later. A few important facts I've found along the way, are:

* A synopsis and a blurb are very different and have different purposes (as pointed out by DOT).
* A synopsis and an outline, though similar and related, also serve different purposes.
* The rules are different for different nations. For example, a synopsis for US agents/publishers will be different to one for a UK one.

Writers often refer to it as the dreaded synopsis. In my opinion, it doesn't have to be this way. The problem is, for many, that they leave it very late; they tack on the writing of a synopsis as an end-task to the process of creating, editing and submitting a piece of work. What I do is to keep an outline for my book, which evolves alongside the work itself. An outline is a breakdown and summary of the work and it can be as detailed as you like, ranging from simple chapter summaries to complete scene-by-scene storyboards. It's much easier to maintain the story and the outline in parallel, rather that try to retro-fit an outline to a completed book.

From the outline, you can relatively easily derive a synopsis, which is a summary of the structure and content of your book, for the purpose of attracting an agent/publisher. Even a blurb, which is for the purpose of attracting customers to buy your book, can more easily be derived from an outline, rather than writing from scratch.

As I say, I'm no expert but Nicola Morgan is, and she has lots of very useful things to say about synopses. Have a look at her articles and see for yourselves. Here are a few pointers I got from wh@c a while back, obviously aimed at UK based synopses.

Synopsis

* Single-spaced.
* Try to keep to two pages in length.
* Write in present tense.
* Only mention names that are main characters, or significantly important characters (agrees with Adina's comments).
* Consider ages when thinking about target readership.
* Plug any unique selling points.
* Up the ante and tensions.

Covering Letter

* Keep to one page.
* Make sure you state the title, genre and length early on.
* Use proper stamps on any SAE - not pre-franked stuff.
* Include successes in any writing competitions.
* Other non-fiction writing capabilities.
* E-Mail address.

I hope this information is useful. I for one no longer have any dread about writing synopses. Liane, I hope you lose your dread soon too.