Sunday, 29 March 2009


Two PSs, actually, because I can never do one of a thing if two are available.

Or maybe even three, because I am, if nothing else, intemperate and unrestrained. I blame my fantasising about those chocolate martinis that Lynn Price goes on about, even though I still don't quite believe in them, Britishy person that I am. I need to see them and the whites of their eyes.

  1. Anyway, yes, as Mary says, once the book is sold to the publisher, the synopsis will never be looked at again by your editor. In other words, you don't actually need to follow it. Follow It??? What an extraordinary idea! However, do beware of this scenario, as I have mentioned before, because lurking somewhere in a cupboard in your putative publisher's place is a frighteningly young person who will READ your synopsis, and nothing else, and she (for it will be a she) will one day write a glorious Amazon blurb based on this synopsis. So, if you have not followed it and have not reminded your editor to tell the child that you did not follow it, your crap synopsis will be There For All To See. And then little old ladies in Frimpton-on-Sea will complain that you said that there was passionate activity on the moonlit beach when in fact it was only in the church hall, which will have disappointed them.
  2. Yes, as Jane says, the synopsis is not the first thing that the editor or agent will read. Nor is it the thing that will draw them in and engage them with an undeniable fervour. Indeed, it's the covering letter that hooks them, and the sample pages that make them salivate, but it is the synopsis which shows them that you do actually have a book that hangs together and doesn't just get off on a stunning beginning and a thrilling concept.
  3. I can't remember what 3 was.
  4. Oh yes - various people on various blogs today have been angsting about the transatlantic divide between blurbs and queries and covering letters and synopses. So, let's get this straightish:
  • blurb - you find it on the back of a book or on a website - it's a teaser, something short and with wow factor, that makes someone (reader/agent/editor, who cares?) drool to read the full book. (In the US a blurb sometimes means what we in the UK call a puff / quote by a respected reviewer, just to be extra confusing ...)
  • query - a letter or email which you send to an agent or publisher on its own, to ask if they'd like to see more. So, it is very blurby, brief and snappy. It entices and teases and inspires and causes unpleasant salivation. In the US this (not salivation, query letters) is common practice; in the UK and elsewhere, it's perfectly acceptable and seems to be growing. Whatever, it means you don't send more at this stage, which is a) good because you don't have to spend on postage/printing etc and you can multi-send easily but b) bad because it's the only chance you'll get with that agent/editor. Do it, but do it brilliantly.
  • covering letter - included with your synopsis + sample chapters. If this is your first approach to that pub/agent, it's your first chance to wow them so do it well, tightly, succintly, blurbily and follow my advice in this post on covering letters.
  • synopsis - much more than a blurb or covering letter, more factual, though still sparky and readable and stylishish and it DOES give the ending. It outlines the plot. Why am I going on about this when I just did a big post (below) on it earlier today?
Jane mentioned Beth Anderson's advice, so, kindly though crabbit old bat that I am, I tracked it down and you will find it here.

And now, frankly, if there's any excuse for not being able to write a brilliant synopsis, I'd like to know it.


lainey bancroft said...

Hmm, I always put my blurb into my query letter, so I guess I have those three covered.

So far I haven't written a synopsis until the book is complete, so mine do follow the story, although a bit more punch and the ability to incorporate 'voice' into the synopsis would probably serve me well. I must admit, I'm relieved that not all agents read the synopsis first.

Melinda Szymanik said...

Over for a visit from Jane's party pitch post. I'm relieved to hear a synopsis isn't set in stone for the publisher as I never really know how my stories might end, and I actually like to change my mind - it keeps things interesting.


Nicola Morgan said...

Melinda - I'm absolutely with you on that, and the synopses that I write also tend to be before I've written the book. If you're needing your synopsis to get a contract (esp if you're unpublished and/or approaching a publisher whom you don't already write for), then you would normally have written the whole book anyway. In my previous post, I distinguished between writing a synopsis before the book and after the book, and they really are two different things, aren't they? Thanks for visiting - hope to see you again!

And lainey bancroft - good to see you too. Yes, if you think about it, it would be a strange agent/editor who'd read the synopsis first, since it's the part of the submission which is least appealing to someone genuinely keen on reading beautiful writing. And a good agent/editor, LOVES good writing!

Captain Black said...

Hi Nicola, I've arrived here via Jane Smith's Pitch Party. Thanks for the great tips on writing synopses. Very timely for me, as I intend to write one this week.

emmadarwin said...

Nicola, that's so clear, thank you.

Am I right in thinking that when it comes to the actual printed book, what we'd call a 'blurb' the US calls 'cover copy', and what they call a 'blurb' is what we'd call a 'puff' or a 'quote' - "The most wonderful fantasy novel ever written, since mine," - J R R Tolkein...

Nicola Morgan said...

Hi Emma - in the UK publishers also call it cover copy / back cover copy. "Blurb" is just the informal alternative term for it. HOWEVER, cover copy is exactly that (ie the text that goes on the back cover), whereas blurb also describes slightly longer ones that eg you might put on Amazon, fed through the "AI" (Author Information sheet) which publishers send out digitally. A "puff" or a "quote" is SHORTER than a blurb - it's a snappy one-liner, usually from a trusted reader (such as a well known author, reviewer or even ordinary reader), as per your Tolkein eg. Gosh, isn't it complicated???!!

Sherry Dale Rogers said...

Question...For a picture book wouldnt it be better to send a cover letter,synopsis and the manuscript? Plus if sending a query letter is it wise to mention if you have a blog...if it is concerning literature?

Nicola Morgan said...

Sherry - if you read my post about picture books (click on "Picture Book Perfection" in the alphabetical list on the right) - you'll find the answer to your first question, especially the section called "About the submission"
As to whether to mention your blog, yes if it's a particularly good/useful/relevant blog, with feedback that shows that you have an educated/relevant audience; but a blog will not contribute very much to selling your query, unless you're a non-fiction writer with a blog on the specific topic you're writing about. My instinct would be to include the blog address as part of your own address/contact details, but not use it as a hook by mentioning it in the letter, unless it is fabulously relevant and/or well-known.

Samantha Tonge said...

Covering letters are incredibly hard to write if the only added writing experience you've got is that you've written 3 other books (now under your bed!). I used to put in my age and other irrelevant twaddle but now i just concentrate on the book.