Query Week 2: Synopses and Agent Tracking

15 Feb

Hey all, Savannah here. Welcome to Query Week Part 2! Now that we’ve discussed how to write a good query letter, this week we’re going to focus on what comes after the query letter. Here’s the lineup for this week:

Monday: I discuss Synopses and Agent Tracking

Tuesday: Sarah J. Maas explains what comes after the query (How will agents request your stuff, partial vs. full manuscripts, etc.)

Wednesday: Vanessa Di Gregorio blogs about what she looks for in the slush pile (She’s an intern at The Rights Factory!)

Thursday: Mandy Hubbard wraps up Query Week with some fantastic insight from the perspective of an agent.

Friday: Question of the Week: Ask us anything about queries!



Let’s begin with the basics. A single summary of a book is called a Synopsis. Plural summaries are called Synopses. So if you’re trying to sell a trilogy and your agent asks for Synopses of all three books, you know she means three individual summaries.

When writing Synopses, essentially what you want to do is write something that reads like the back cover of a book. It should be easy to follow, cover all the major plot points, and excite your reader. The only caveat is that a Synopsis must also include details about the ending, something that would never happen in a book jacket.

There are a lot of different ways to write a synopsis, so let’s start with some Do’s and Don’t’s:


  1. Involve all MAJOR characters.
  2. Talk about all MAJOR plot points (especially the climax).
  3. Resolve your ending.
  4. Use your query as a basis. You already wrote all that catchy stuff for a reason, and you should be able to recycle SOME of it.


  1. Name and explain every single character. It’s okay to refer to a character by their title, like ‘the principal’ or ‘the wizard’, if they are involved in a plot, but if they are a minor character don’t give their name. It clutters everything.
  2. Talk about every single rising action.
  3. Hint at your ending but not explain it fully.
  4. Use the same hook as with your query. A synopsis comes after a query; you’re not trying to hook anyone, you’re trying to tell, chronologically, what happens.

At the end of your synopsis you should have two to three pages of double-spaced text. Now, my original plan was to share my Synopsis for Antebellum with you today. However, after a tense half hour of combing my gmail account it became apparent that I no longer have the original synopsis, and while I obviously have sent it to my agent before, that email record seems to have fallen off the face of the internet.

Therefore, I have had to recreate my synopsis for you, and so I feel your pain if you are about to go through this process yourself.

Please note that Antebellum is not published yet, and so I can’t reveal the synopsis in its entirety or certain plot details, but I can share enough to give you the idea.


Antebellum Synopsis

At age 19, the famous and reclusive writer known only as the Poetess must take a slave and begin a family, or else face societal rejection and perhaps loss of patronage from the Empress herself. At the Choosing ceremony she is drawn to a Nameless about to be condemned to a life of hard labor if he is not Chosen soon, a young man whose muteness makes him worthless in society’s eyes despite his great beauty. Against counsel from her elders, the Poetess Chooses the mute Nameless and they return to her home in the countryside. That first night the Poetess discovers a terrible wound on her new Nameless, indicating he was abused by other men at the factories, and in her sympathy for his condition they never consummate his union into her household, as is traditional, and he does not receive his name.

The isolation that accompanies their daily life brings into question formerly close-held ideals concerning equality of the genders and the nature of slavery. The Poetess does not wish to further abuse the young man in her care, but she begins to desire him, learning to respect him as a human being and not merely a worker. The internal conflict resulting from feelings that deviate from the strict religious and social dogma that rule their society leads to a public physical collapse and the revelation that the Poetess suffers from a cancerous illness that leaves her shamefully barren.

Keeping this secret from her Nameless, the Poetess decides to end the uncertainty by Naming him, hoping that bringing him out of a status limbo will resolve her conflicted emotions about his place in the world. However, she reveals her respect for him by asking permission to name him. At his acceptance he takes on the name of Shaedyn, Shae for short.

The Poetess begins to teach him how to read and write, despite the fact that this is illegal. The affection between them grows, but Shae continues to rebuff any physical advances, defining the terms of their relationship. He chooses to accompany her to the Winter Solstice, a festival held in the castle-like structure of the North Hall, where he previously worked as a Nameless. When they are separated during the festivities, Shae is contacted by his former workmate, known as Number 17, and the Poetess finds them in a compromising position that implicates the abuse Shae suffered may have not been merely physical.


In a double-spaced, font size 12 document the above is 1.5 pages, and I’m not even half done (something really good happens after the Solstice, but I don’t want to tell you about it because you need to wait until it gets published 😛 )

I advise you to get a friend who has not read your book to look over your Synopsis. Ask them if everything makes sense, or if there was something they wanted to know more about. As the creator of the work you might assume the audience knows something and leave it out, creating confusion.

If you need more examples of Synopses or how to write them, googling for ‘synopsis’ + ‘literary agent’ will give you tons of great results.

WARNING: Unlike query letters, there’s no real ‘set’ way to write Synopses, and every agent will have different preferences. If your agent wants a Synopsis sent along with the query letter, chances are they’ll have some guidelines on their website. If there are no guidelines, do what feels right to you. If you feel like you’ve got a good Synopsis on your hands, given the amount of research you’ve done and the examples you’ve read, then you’re probably on track.



When I queried, I made so many juvenile mistakes. I talked about some of them in my article last week about my query letter: I had a bad manuscript, a bad title, I didn’t do enough agent research, and I queried way too many agents at once. Please don’t make these same mistakes. Make sure your manuscript is ready, your title is intriguing and not corny, you examine the website of each agent you query to make sure they’re a match for you, and don’t query a hundred agents at a time.

There are several different methods for querying agents. If I had to do it all again, this is the method I would use.

  1. Establish list of agents you think would be a good fit for you. I recommend agentquery.com to get a list of the general genres an agent represents, but you should ALWAYS check their websites to make sure agentquery is accurate. Sometimes I would get rejection letters from agents saying they don’t actually represent the genre agentquery said they did, or that they were no longer taking queries.
  2. Order these agents numberologically, with the agents you most want to work with first.
  3. Establish a number of agents I think are appropriate for me to query at once. For me, personally, I would probably pick 25.
  4. Send out your initial number of queries. Again, for me, it would be 25.
  5. Every time you get a rejection, send out one more query. This means that as soon as you get a rejection, send a query to agent number 26. On your next rejection, query agent number 27, etc. Eventually you will either run out of agents (find new agents) or you will be signed.

Now, naturally this order of events implies that you have established and are maintaining a list of agents. There are many websites out there today that want to ‘manage’ your query status for you, but when I was querying I didn’t feel comfortable using any of them, so I recommend the following method:

Do it yourself. Seriously. Make a chart in Excel, and then you can customize what you want to track about each query, and you have all sorts of sorting and highlighting options.

When constructing your chart, I recommend the following column headers (in order): Agent Name, Agency, Genre, Date of Initial Query, Date of Partial Request, Date of Full Request, Offer of Representation, Date of Rejection, Notes.

That should pretty much cover it. If the agent rejected you, but said something nice about your manuscript, I recommend putting it in the ‘notes’ column so you have an easy-to-organize inspirational list staring you in the face every time you look at your query list.

By making and maintaining an Agent Tracking List, you can easily do the following:

  1. Plan who you will query, and when.
  2. Track how many queries you have out at any given time.
  3. Track who has how much of your manuscript at any given time.
  4. Track how many rejections/requests you have had (this will either make you neurotic or very proud of yourself)
  5. Know who has your full manuscript that you haven’t heard from when someone offers you representation (hopefully you can get a bidding war started where agents will try to convince you to be their Client).
  6. Know who to email and tell them to nevermind after you’ve accepted an offer of representation and you still haven’t heard back from them.

Remember, agent tracking is not only beneficial for you, but it’s a courtesy to the agents you submit to. I didn’t do a very good job of agent tracking, and I will never forget how horrified I was when an agent requested my full manuscript AFTER I had signed with my current agent. I emailed her to apologize for wasting her time and explain that I was already signed and must have missed sending her a notification email.

Any questions? Hit me up in the Comments!


Savannah J. Foley is the author of the Antebellum (originally known as Woman’s World) series on Fictionpress. She has written five novels, owns her own freelance writing company, and is signed with the Bradford Literary Agency. Antebellum is currently out on submissions. Her website is www.savannahjfoley.com, but she updates more frequently on her livejournal.


20 Responses to “Query Week 2: Synopses and Agent Tracking”

  1. Sarah J. Maas February 15, 2010 at 2:14 AM #

    I want to jump in here and say that if you’re too lazy to use an excel sheet, querytracker.net provides a free program for you to keep track of your queries while submitting to agents. You can watch a demo video about it here:


    I wish I’d known about querytracker.net back when I was querying, because I had SO many lists to keep track of, and it was SO annoying to have to do it manually!!! But this does everything for you and it’s AMAZING!!!!

    • svonnah February 15, 2010 at 8:35 AM #

      I think I explored query tracker when I was querying, but I didn’t feel comfortable with it. Personal preference I guess, lol. I like to touch the numbers myself and move stuff around.

    • Rachel S February 15, 2010 at 9:43 AM #

      That is the best news I have ever heard (if you don’t want to use Excel). Because I get Excel, but sometimes its too complicated for me.

      Oh also, Happy Day after Valentine’s everyone!!!!!! ❤

      • svonnah February 15, 2010 at 6:20 PM #

        I used to HATE Excel, now I mostly understand it.

  2. Anthony February 15, 2010 at 12:30 PM #

    Months later I’m still amazed by this website. You provide such helpful information!! I will feel so much more comfortable querying after hearing all of this insight. Do other people know about this website? Seriously?! You guys are amazing…

    • svonnah February 15, 2010 at 2:09 PM #

      Aww, well thank you, Anthony!

  3. Angela February 15, 2010 at 6:10 PM #

    This is amazing! Though I can’t help but feel overwhelmed with all the agent tracking business.

    Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    • svonnah February 15, 2010 at 6:20 PM #

      Thanks! The agent tracking business IS a little overwhelming. If you do it right it’s a lot of planning and maintenance. I’m the type of person who loves charts and graphs though, so it’s a little fun for me, but if you’re not that kind of person I imagine it just sucks.

  4. Rowenna February 15, 2010 at 7:31 PM #

    Thanks for the advice! I’m such a nervous querier that I think I’m going to stick with smaller batches–I’d rather be slow than realize something sucked awfully and I’ve already knocked out a ton of possiblities. Clearly I’m overcautious!

    Thanks for the synposis advice as well–it’s so hard to boil down a few hundred pages of anything into a few tight paragraphs, let alone something you personally worked on for months–or years. I know I also worry about mine being dry as melba toast, but yours has some style to it while still hitting all the big points. Very nice 🙂

    • svonnah February 15, 2010 at 7:44 PM #

      Thanks Rowenna! I appreciate your comments about the synopsis. Like I said above, I realized at like 9:30 last night that I had lost my original synopsis, and given that it had taken me hours to write the first one I think this one came out fairly well.

      Condensing an entire novel is hard, I know. Some great advice I read is to tell your story, starting at the beginning, and when you get to the end, stop. Sounds simple but it made a lot of sense for me. That’s all there is to it!

      Querying small is a great idea -at first-. You’re right, if you are doing something wrong it will quickly become apparent and then you haven’t ruined 100 agents at once. But please don’t stay small! You put too much emotion in those 5 lone queries and it becomes harder and harder to keep your chin up as time goes by and you have handfuls of rejections but aren’t signed yet. Start small at first, then get bigger!

      Did you receive all our comments on your work?

  5. EeLeen Lee February 15, 2010 at 8:08 PM #

    thanks for the post, it clarified the distinction between query and submission content

  6. Vanessa February 15, 2010 at 8:56 PM #

    Savannah, that was a great synopsis! Loved the article!

    Did I tell you about the absolutely terrible synopsis I read that was a COMPLETE and total rip-off of Twilight and New Moon? It was terrible. Lucky for the girl, I still gave her partial a chance (although just based on her synopsis, I would have rejected her). Haven’t finished reading her partial yet, but so far I see no Twilight/New Moon in it, and so I think I’ll end up asking for her full MS.

    • svonnah February 15, 2010 at 9:51 PM #

      I’m so glad you liked the synopsis! I felt so bad having to recreate it last minute!

      I think you did mention that synopsis somewhere… would still love to hear more about it though! I’m so excited for your article on Wednesday!

      • Vanessa February 15, 2010 at 11:59 PM #

        I was telling June and Biljana earlier today that I haven’t quite figured out what to blog about yet!! I’m sure I’ll come up with something uber awesome though…. hopefully :p

      • svonnah February 16, 2010 at 12:03 AM #

        The article will emerge from the slush pile 🙂

  7. priscillashay February 18, 2010 at 10:45 AM #


    I have a question..

    Let’s say you’ve written a YA novel, contracted an agent and are in the works of publication..

    But, then you decide you want to try your hand at adult fiction (in whatever genre). However, your current agent only works with YA novels.

    At that point…would you seek another agent for adult works and hold onto the present one for future YA, or leave altogether and try to find a new agent that works with both YA and adult fiction?

    • svonnah February 18, 2010 at 12:41 PM #

      Hey there! I wasn’t sure about the answer to this, so I asked the group, and this is what Mandy Hubbard had to say:

      If you’re with a YA only agent and want to do adult, first step is to talk to your agent. My agent doesn’t do romance, but she was willing ot branch that direction for me, because she just likes me and my work. I know a couple of others who have done this too. There are SOME downsides if your agent doesn’t know the romance market beuase she’s a YA agent, but if she has others within the agency to ask Qs of, you
      should be in good hands.

      in some situations, people have worked with two agents– one for YA, one for adult. not all agents like doing this, so hence the “talk to your agent’ thing.

      And if you do end up querying agents for your adult work, be sure to mention in your query that you are “represented in YA by ___________”

  8. Marumae July 6, 2010 at 1:20 AM #

    This is so helpful! Thank you so much on synopses, I think you’ve finally (finally) given me what I need to really finish something, writing a synopses isn’t just about summarizing what’s going on (although it is that) it’s about finding out what the real focus (IE Plot of the story is, often times I’d get so caught up on my many subplots or focus entirely on one the rest would fall apart) now I think I have a real idea on how to balance things out.

    Thanks so much again!!!!


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