The commenter's life was simpler when she thought it was simpler, when she didn't know much about how to submit work, or the things that people might complain about, and could just send it off on a wing and a prayer, instead of angsting about all the faux pas she mustn't make and all the invisible boxes she must tick. After all, if you just think, "The agent / publisher wants a great book and I've written one, so I'll send it to her and she'll love it," it's so simple, isn't it?
This situation isn't helped by the fact that you'll read some rules, decide to follow them, and then immediately hear that so-and-so [insert name of extraordinarily successful writer] broke those rules and became an instant best-seller. The bastard.
Nor is it helped by the fact that Agent A thinks a synopsis must be about four pages, with biogs, and Agent B says a synopsis should never be more than two pages and what's with the biogs? And Publisher Q thinks a writer is ignorant if she doesn't understand that a synopsis is not a chronological outline while everyone else seems to say that a synopsis is a chronological outline. [Basically, it is. But with bells on. And some bells removed. See? Meh!]
At this point, you're with my confused commenter who wished she was still in ignorance.
OK, now let's unpick this a bit. It's like physics. [Don't leave me now.] Let me reassure you: I gave up physics and chemistry at the age of 12, after a school report that said, "Nicola has no aptitude for science subjects." Teachers can be wrong: years later, I became fascinated by science, and not only started reading everything I could find about chaos theory, randomness, mathematics, time, quantum theory, brownian motion ... but also ended up writing two books on the human brain.
And what did that mostly teach me? That there was far, far, far more out there than I could ever completely know, and that it was all horribly weird and certainly confusing, but that the more I knew the stronger I felt and the more respect I had for the real experts. I mean, how is a person like me supposed to get her chocolate-filled head around the idea of six dimensions? Or the fact that the faster you move the slower you age? [Or is it the other way round? You know, the physics that says if you took identical twins and put one in a spaceship and sent him as close as possible to the speed of light, and left the other one on Earth, they would be different ages when the first one had finished his journey? WHAT??? Blimey, give me publishing any day.]
Yep, it was all a whole lot less confusing when I didn't know any physics. When I just thought that if the Earth wasn't flat it made a pretty good job of seeming like it, except in Scotland where it's more hilly, especially when I'm cycling. Ignorance wasn't exactly bliss, but it at least wasn't difficult to manage. After all, the world continued to spin without my knowing why or with what effect on my molecules.
The analogy between the science and the writing/publishing knowledge holds in another way, too: even the flipping experts disagree about things. Hell hath no fury like two scientists disagreeing about The Theory of Everything [or TOE, as they quaintly call it]. So, just as the physicists disagree about whether string theory holds the key to Everything, so publishing "experts" will disagree about whether a synopsis should be two pages or one. Or four with biogs.
But the most important way in which this analogy works is this:
It doesn't bloody well MATTER! [Pun intended.] See, whether the physical world has six dimensions or the more visible three, whether string theory explains what Newtonian physics and Einstein's relativity theories couldn't, whether the Hadron collider is going to tell us anything, or not, we ordinary people will carry on waking up and eating breakfast. So will the physicists, actually, and though they may think their cereal is in a different dimension, it still gets soggy when you leave the milk on too long. And whether agents want synopses that fit these rules or those rules, readers [including agents and publishers] still just want great books.
See, the hoops we authors have to jump through are only there to make life easier - easier for the agent and publisher to find the books they can sell most happily to the readers who are there waiting for them. Trouble is that the hoops make it all look so damned hard.
Remember how I said earlier in this post:
After all, if you just think, "The agent / publisher wants a great book and I've written one, so I'll send it to her and she'll love it," it's so simple, isn't it?
Well, it's true. It is simple. If you have written a great book, and if you send it to the right agent or publisher in a sensible way and happen to hit lucky with your timing, it is that simple. There are, amongst all the weird and conflicting advice, only a very few rules that you need:
- Be a reader: so that you know how books and readers work.
- Write the best book you can. Write it for readers and think about your reader while writing it.
- Submit your work sensibly and reasonably. Don't over-analyse or over-complicate the situation: just like any reader, agents and publishers are looking for a great book. They don't really give a damn whether your synopsis is one page or three, as long as it demonstrates that you've written a book that they can sell and enough readers can love.
- But try, please, please, to make it easy for them to like you and the book. Don't do silly things like putting toffees in with the submission. Just be normal, for crying out loud, like the sort of person you'd like to have a business and personal relationship with. Because that's what it will become.
It won't confuse you more, I promise. In fact, the more you read of it, the less confusing the whole thing will be. If someone could do the same for physics...