Synopsis [si-nop-sis] noun: the atrophying of synapses, a common affliction found in the brain of a writer trying to get published.
I thought this somewhat clever while staring at my computer screen this morning at 1:28am. With a little bit of drool hanging from my lower lip, my synapses certainly felt fried and I seemed to resemble a lobotomy patient.
When I finally did go to bed, I couldn’t sleep. And what surprised me even more, when I woke up later this morning, after only a few hours of sleep, I felt great. My brain seemed to be eager to get back to work, back to the synopsis. Maybe today will be a break through or maybe I will just continue to stare at the computer screen like the victim of an ice-pick lobotomy…
Query letters and synopses present their challenges and there is an overwhelming supply of information and advice on the internet. There are multiple books published on the topic. What should an aspiring writer buy into and what should she not? I’ve tried to save my pennies and do most of my research online but who can you trust?
While I am no expert, I will say that online, the greatest advice I could find about query letters came from Janet Reid the Query Shark. When I first went to her blog, of course I didn’t want to read through the archives. I wanted to submit my query. Dammit. But I found that after reading through a good majority (seriously, just do it) I was able to critique my own query letter fairly well. Of course I was still plagued by uncertainty but that will always be part of the game. Because of the query shark, I was able to compose a brief list of how to detail my query letter.
- Keep it main character focused
- Keep it around or under 350 words (including everything from the salutation to the sincerely)
- Who is the main character?
- What does she want?
- What is keeping her from getting what she wants?
- What must she sacrifice to get what she wants?
I also found a great resource in Kristin Nelson of the Nelson Literary Agency as she posts awesome PubRants. Read them, they’re great.
Here are the essentials of what I took from her rants in regard to the query letter:
- Shorter queries get quicker results – Make every word count – No more than 5-7 sentences long
- Agents read pitch first (you have 30 seconds to sell yourself, go!)
- Clearly outline in query letter how story fits in the market – List other titles comparable to yours – Add a line that readers who enjoyed X, Y, Z will also enjoy yours – Clearly distinguish your novel’s correct genre type
- Have a good title
- Remember that a great pitch is the second most important aspect of writing after, of course, writing a great book. So perfect your pitch! A novel’s pitch will be used extensively in the beginning life of the novel. The agent uses it to get the publisher excited, the publisher uses it to get sellers excited and the seller uses it to get the reader excited.
And lastly, for the synopsis, I have found the best help and advice from Chuck Sambuchino. He has an amazing blog that I wish I had found earlier. I feel that nearly every post I read offers some insight or detail into the publishing world. He also introduces new agents so it is good to keep an eye on his list of literary agents.
What I’ve taken from his blog so far in relation to writing a synopsis:
- List no more than 5-6 characters
- When name of character first mentioned –> ALL CAPS
- Objective – convince agent to read book
- Focus on telling the story – think flash fiction – same tone and style
- Expand your query blurb
- Cover essential points of novel from beginning to end in the correct order
- main characters
- main plots
Maybe you already knew this and I am late to the game. If not, I hope I’ve helped, maybe even just a little. And if you have any advice, please feel free to share 🙂