Tag Archives: synopsis

How To Write A 1-Page Synopsis

24 Nov

by Susan Dennard

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Note:

This post has been UPDATED

and re-posted on

Pub(lishing) Crawl!

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Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. Her debut novel, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from HarperTeen on July 24th, 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.

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Premise Me This, Synopsis That

24 Jun

by Vanessa Di Gregorio

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Since our 3-day-long query critique week is over, I thought that now would be a good time to talk about writing synopses and figuring out your premise(s); because they can really help you when it comes to writing your query.

See, the problem people have when it comes to writing queries is that it’s difficult summing up your 60,000 word manuscript (or however long you MS is). Heck, summing up a short story isn’t much easier! So what’s the best way to go about summarizing your novel-length work into the few paragraphs required for your query? Write a synopsis (which Savannah talked about here). Okay, so Savannah does say that using what you wrote for your query letter can help you write your synopsis; but who’s to say that you can’t use a synopsis to help you write your query letter? They’re both similar in that you need to somehow narrow your story into very few sentences. Which is hard, right? That’s why your manuscript IS 60,000 words long, after all! But though difficult, this is a skill you need to work on as a writer. And writing a synopsis is great practice for summarizing your beast of a manuscript.

It can also really help you figure out where you want your story to go, and figure out what your story really IS about. I mean, with all the sub-plots that might be lurking around in your manuscript, you need to still be able to clearly decipher what the main plot is. And sometimes, when you’re THAT into your story, you can’t differentiate. You probably tell anyone who asks that your story is about a girl falling in love with a boy, but with an epic battle between good versus evil and a long and dangerous quest involving needing to find all the pieces of the Triforce in order to save the Princess of Hyrule. And that the young hero travels back in time with a magical Ocarina and needs to go from dungeon to dungeon in order to obtain grappling hooks, and boomerangs, and all sorts of other gadgets in order to continue on his quest and overcome the obstacles in his path. And then there are zombies inhabiting the future, which is the future that will come to be if the evil isn’t stopped. And the other young man who is helping him turns out to be a woman who turns out to be the very Princess whose kingdom he is trying to save. And he wears green and lived in a tree before all of that happened. And there is a little blue fairy that follows him everywhere. And so on and so on. See, we can get a bit lost in the details of our own work. Every word and every action and every minor character is significant in our minds. Now, my reference to the Legend of Zelda aside, you need to be able to sum up your story into a cohesive and easy-to-follow synopsis. Which the above clearly wasn’t.

But aren’t queries shorter than synopses? Well, yes. But why not take small steps towards your query? Condense your manuscript into a synopsis (which, in itself, will be challenging). And then, take your synopsis and condense it into your query.

Now that I’ve talked about why switching it around and writing your synopsis before your query might be helpful, let’s move onto the dreaded one-sentence pitch. Yes, I know; no one likes summing up their story into one-sentence. It’s blasphemy, using only one sentence to sum up the entirety of your 60,000 word manuscript. BUT! Working out this pitch is your premise.

If there is one thing that I learned from my fiction editing class, it’s that your story needs a clear premise. And here’s the thing. Your premise often starts off as that initial idea, that spark that sets you writing that manuscript. Even if you don’t realize it, you probably started writing after thinking up a premise in your mind. Mine, for example, began with the idea, “What if there was a young girl who had never seen the sky?”; and sure enough, my manuscript started to form. Of course, as you build on your premise (and often, as you write and take that initial idea in new and different directions), your premise changes and grows. So now the main premise for my story centers around Danae, a young woman who risks everything she knows by leaving the caves she calls home in search of a friend in a dangerous new world, where she meets new people but finds herself the enemy. Of course, my manuscript is about more than that; but so far, the main premise is that. And while I, as you no doubt, have sub-plots and secondary parts to your premise, your main idea isn’t that much different than your one-sentence pitch. And this one sentence pitch is great practice for not only understanding your story better, but for being able to pitch it in your query. If you can sum up that monster of a manuscript in one sentence, what CAN’T you do?

Queries are often difficult, because it tends to be the first time you try to sum up your story. So if you start with writing a three-page synopsis first, you’ll have a much better understanding of the key points of your story. And while a synopsis is chronological in order (which I’m sure you know from Savannah’s post here because you’ve read it, right?), your query doesn’t necessarily have to be. But at least you know what the main events in your story are, and what happens that is useful for a hook. The one-sentence pitch will also help in your query writing, because you’ll have been able to sum it up in one sentence; so summing it up with a few more sentences, while still challenging, won’t be as daunting as it was prior to the one-sentence pitch. Because really, what’s scarier than that?

If you had asked me about what my manuscript was about a few months ago, I would have gone off into a long-winded explanation about how Danae’s people are called the Ane’a, and how they had fled to the caves years ago. And how they had once upon a time lived up in the trees, and had once been great. And how now they were forced to live hidden from the entire world, underneath the rocks in the Fog Lands, where nothing but a dim grey light shines through the cracks. And I would’ve gone on and on about all the details in my story that make it what it is. But really, the point of the query is to entice the reader enough for them to WANT to read about all the little details. Your query is a teaser. If you asked me now, I wouldn’t mention any of that. I would sum it up very shortly; I would mention my premise (with a bit more detail), and that’s all. Because really, when someone asks what your story is about, they don’t want an in-depth, scene-by-scene or chapter-by-chapter explanation. They want the general gist of things.

So, embrace the synopsis and the one-sentence pitch! Your query will probably look better after you practice condensing your story a few times. And then try verbally explaining your manuscript to someone. You might actually find yourself better at putting your manuscript into words.

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Vanessa is a Sales Assistant at Kate Walker & Co., a book and gift sales agency located in Toronto. She is also enrolled in a publishing program. Currently, Vanessa is working on a YA fantasy novel and a Children’s non-fiction series.

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!

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SYNOPSES

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:

DO:

  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.

DON’T

  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.

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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.

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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.

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AGENT TRACKING

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!

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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.