Monday, 22 August 2011

WHIPPED INTO SHAPE: Synopsis Special

Whipped into Shape is a series in which a reader of Write to be Published comments or asks a question about something in the book, perhaps asking for further information or sharing their own take on a topic. And then I add answers as appropriate and readers add comments. Today's contribution comes from Joy Spicer, who writes a rather nice looking blog about art, riding and family.

Hi Nicola

First I'd like to thank you very much for writing the super-fab 'Write To Be Published', exactly the book I've been looking for ever since I began writing ... hmm ... pre-children, so that would be well over 16 years ago!! [...]

I've always sweated buckets when it came to synopsis-writing but after reading your book, I actually found it fun, in a perverse sort of way. [NM: Now that is perverse!] Colour me oh-so-pleased when I managed to fit the synopsis of my YA fantasy onto 2 sides of an A4, and in a coherent manner! Then I came back to earth with a bump. The first agent on my list wants the query to be the equivalent of one page in length, to include a short synopsis and a few lines about me. So, my question is, should the synopsis in this case be more like an extended version of a pitch, focusing fully on the main character, and including the ending? Probably seems silly but I'm quite nervous about the sending the 'wrong' thing and inadvertently shooting myself in the foot.
The short answer to that question is "Yes."

The longer answer is still yes, but includes an explanation of what's going on with this specific request. (Always allow specific guidelines from an agent to over-ride any general advice.) What this agent is asking for is something much more like a US query letter. A US query does not include a sample of the book or a longer synopsis. It has to work even harder than a normal UK submission (which usually consists of a covering letter, synopsis and sample, and may also include a CV and proposal, for certain types of book.)

So, yes, the "synopsis" that this agent is asking for is a slightly extended version of a pitch. It's not really much different from our covering letter - though you don't say whether this agent is also asking for the first three chapters as a sample.

Yes, you should indicate how the book ends; make the main character feel very compelling; make the agent understand exactly what the MC's driving force is and what the stakes will be if he fails.

When you give a few lines about yourself, do try to make this either 100% relevant to your writing career potential or incredibly interesting in some other way. If you have reasonably strong publishing credits, mention them briefly (naming publications) but don't scrape the barrel for minor or unimpressive items or list everything. Whether you're talking about the book or yourself, pick only the most important and most compelling points.

Most of that applies to all submissions and to be honest the answer to your question is simply YES!

Any comments to add from anyone else? Other insights? Anything I've forgotten?


JO said...

Only thing you've forgotten - writing synopses is bloody difficult And comes at a time when all you want is to send the wretched thing out, and so polishing every word feels more like hard work and less a labour of love.

(And I'm a planner - but my plans are all crossings-out and arrows, so are no help at all!)

Christine Murray said...

Great point, and I agree with Jo. It's much harder to write a two page synopsis than it is to write ten chapters. It is in my experience, anyway.

Joy said...

Thanks Nicola, that is a big help. And sorry, forgot to say -- agent does want sample chapters but only the first one (which is making me ever-so-slightly panicky!)

Totally agree with you, Jo & Christine -- synopses-writing is HARD work (even tho I found it fun!) especially for someone as long-winded as me!!

Right, shall fortify myself with choc, re-group, and dive back in!

Nicola Morgan said...

Jo, I do honestly think they are not as hard as they seem and would seem less hard if you tried to forget about rules (except the one about as short as poss) and focused on telling your story in its simplest, stripped down. core-focused way.

Joy, ah. Don't panic - just make it sing. Make sure your first chapter well and truly hooks the reader and includes the minimum (if any) back story.

Julian Hill said...

What a great post!

Joy, your idea sounds absolutely bang on to me. I'm taking it as good advice for writing any synopsis now. Trying to get mine down to one page was torture. Your words will stay with me - like a pitch, but outlining the protagonist and giving away the ending. That really helps!

I guess some submissions editors may use the synopsis to deduce the shape of the plot (where the climaxes and gates are), so that has still to come across, however ruthlessly you're summarising.

You know, I think the hardest thing about doing one of these things is that the book's already written and you have somehow to make a couple of sparkling paragraphs that are actually about it. Next time, I might try writing a pitch first, expanding it into a synopsis and finally writing a novel around that. It's just got to be easier that way round. And if half the people involved in acquiring and marketing your book will only ever read the pitch anyway, maybe it's not a bad idea to come up with that first. Or write a dozen of them and turn the best one into a book. You've really got me thinking now!

Joy said...

Still trying to make it sing, Nicola, doesn't help that I can't sing to save my life ;o) I'm pleased to say that the first chapter has NO back story :D (hanging on to any bit of positivity!!)

Julian - thanks! Glad to be of help :D This feels like the hardest thing I've had to do yet with 'writing' -- making it all fit onto ONE page!!

And your last paragraph has certainly got me thinking ... hmm...