Friday, January 15, 2010

Please Query With A Short Synopsis

Nothing can strike more fear in the mind of an aspiring writer than the phrase please query with a short synopsis. For the aspiring writer (like myself), it literally triggers the debilitating disease called "writing by paralysis".

Working in a business environment, I can generate reams of thoughtful and concise business correspondence. In my off time, I could write a reasonably fluid short story or blog posts that make sense and refreshes the brain cells. But ask me to explain in great detail about what my story is about, and I quickly develop "writing by paralysis". Doesn't matter if it was a short story, a piece of flash, or something longer, I literally could not get a grip on a pen to put words down on paper.

The only reason that I can come up with as to why, is that somehow in my mind, I equate queries and synopses with job interviews. As a rule, I interview very badly for potential jobs, unless I actually know the person I am interviewing with. Same goes for querying. The only magazine (or in this case, e-zine) that I felt comfortable querying was Beat to a Pulp. And that was due to the fact that I had gotten to know both David and Elaine over the past year and a half or so, through their respective blogs.

Now if you thought I was having a major panic attack while just writing a simple query, then writing a synopsis literally made me run away from my computer for about 2 1/2 weeks. The main reason as to why I had a problem writing a synopsis is this: I didn't have the confidence and know how to condense a 90,000 word manuscript down to about 8 to 10 pages (one rule of thumb I learned early on, was to write one page of synopsis for every 20 or so pages of text).

So here I am, an aspiring writer who after a three-year hiatus has decided to have his ego battered and bruised again. Unlike last time, when I was really clueless on how to write a query letter, let alone a synopsis, this time, I have a basic idea on how to write a query letter. Instead of trying to figure out how to do it from a couple books, I found one good agent blog (Nathan Bransford) that is as informative as all get out.

If a newbie like myself can't get any good tips and ideas from a blog run by a respectable literary agent that has as a minimum, 120 commenters per post and has recently set up a discussion forum for all things related to writing, then I might as well call it a day, shut down my blogs and crawl back into my spacious cave to while away the hours until I die from a lack of get-up-and-go.

As for having an idea on how to write a synopsis, that is all different animal altogether. I think that this time, I have a better grasp of the concept called "synopsis", because I now realize that a synopsis is nothing more than a 4,000 to 8,000 word short story. If I approach it like I'm writing a short story (not too difficult of a concept for me to grasp), then I shouldn't have a problem in doing it. I think one idea that most of these writing books could explain more clearly is that a synopsis is nothing more than a good short story. If you approach it like a short story (complete with a basic outline) it should be a snap to write.

A synopsis is pretty much the same concept as a short story: the basic plot; the beginning; the slow build up to the middle; the middle itself where some of the action takes place; the buildup to the ending; and the ending itself. If you can write a short story (and using me as an example, I've written all types ranging from 2 to 32 pages in length), you could write a synopsis. Shoot, if you can write a basic outline and create a storyboard, then you've got 50% of the problem solved. The remaining 50% is simply filling in the details that explains your novel from beginning to end. The key is not to get too wordy while doing it.

So as you can see, I managed to present to myself (and to the world at large) a pretty rational and concise argument on writing a query and a synopsis. In the coming months, we shall see if we can successfully pull this dual animal off, and like previously with my self publishing ventures, I'll be bringing everyone along for the ride.

Of course, the key to any successful querying/synopsis writing endeavor, is actually having a finished product to show everyone.

Now where did I put that pesky manuscript......


  1. Yes, yes: Synopsis = hives. I hate them. I can write them, but I have anxiety about the process. I think a query letter is easier.

  2. I have the same issues but since it takes me forever to finish what I'm working on, I never get around to querying or synopsis hell.

  3. I have the opposite problem. problem. Finish the book....snore.

  4. The world of publishing is quite complicated, isn't it? I'll be interested to see how it turns out.

  5. General comment here people before I get down to the nitty-gritty.

    I plan on making another attempt at finishing my curent manuscript this weekend. I'm actually at the very end; I just need to write a funeral, a suicide and get the two major characters together and on their way to a possible sequel.

    W.W.: Oh man, you should have seen my first attempt at writing a synopsis. It was very very bad. 8 pages of garbage that I unfortunately inflicted on at least a half dozen agents. It was actually for my eventual first self-pubbed book. Someday I may show it to everyone.


    As for a query letter, I would have to agree with you about it being easier. From the one example I saw at Nathan Bransford's writers forum, I don't have any doubt that I can do it. Sometimes its easier seeing an actual query letter, than reading one in a writer's book.

    David: You're so lucky in that aspect, although I would think that doing a query for a short story is a bit easier than doing a query for a novel.

    Still, it's a tremendous leap that one should take only with the greatest of care. If you got a fragile ego or a hot head (like me), it can be a minefield.

    bearman: That is definitely an interesting take on it. To have an entire synopsis finished, yet not have the book done, is a bit strange indeed. Sort of like having an outline for a speech, but doing the speech from memory.

    Lynn: It can be. Three years ago I approached it supremely overconfident and I got my head handed to me on a silver platter.

    This time, I'm more realistic and less of hot head about it.

    But like I said, I will bring people along for the ride, which is sure to be a bumpy one indeed.

  6. Synopsis, cover letter - what the fuck can they really tell you without reading the book?? It's tricky. I'm at my wits' end writing them, too.

  7. I agree, the only way that you can really get a better idea about a writer, is to read the actual book.

    However, in order to get them to that, you have to make your query/synopsis outstanding enough or intriguing enough for them to take a chance.

    I know it kind of sucks, but what are you gonna do? I do know when I was querying some three years ago, there were a few out there who required a couple of chapters instead of a synopsis.

    To use a really bad street level analogy, this is what I equate it to:

    Agent/publisher: pimp.
    You the writer: potential money maker for the pimp.

    In order for you to become a money maker for the pimp, you got to give him enough of a sample to rock his proverbial world, so that he'll want to take a chance on you to become his money maker.

  8. Congrats on your story being published!!! And best of luck with your synopsis. Have you checked out the QueryTracker blog? They have some great how-to's.

  9. Suzette: Thanks. It really was a long time in the making. I originally wrote that story back in the fall of '07, and managed to connect with the right person last year who thought highly enough of it to recommend it to the e-zine in question.

    I have heard of that particular blog, but haven't found the time to check it out (since I was busy trying the self-pubbed route), but I will give it a look see as things progress.

    Always on the lookout for sites that I can pick up good writing tips from.

  10. Good luck with the self-selling. That's the part that always drives me nuts-
    Making a short story out of a novel completely changes the piece. Mine would become very out-line like. Like Better to send a three chapter sample...

  11. Thanks.

    And yes, making a novel out of a short story does change the pace and has been more difficult to complete than I thought it would be when I first started writing it late last year.

    The one thing that has helped so far, is that the original story has worked quite well as an outline.

    I think it will be a lot tougher when I start work on another project of mine, because that one is 100% original with no outline to fall back on.

  12. Good luck, G. I know you've got writing skill and now you've got the right info all you have to do is hammer it out and re-hammer it and then hammer it a bit more and send it off on a wing and a prayer :)

  13. Talon: No doubt in my mind on the wing and the prayer bit. At least this time, I know what I'm doing.

    As the hammering, it seems like for every successful strike of the nail head, I do two of bending.

  14. I'm with Bearman. I can write the synopsis, but finishing the actual story is what kills me.

    Thanks for posting this, G. It's something that all of us aspiring writers can relate to and learn from.

  15. Bschooled: You're more than welcome. My problem has not so much been finishing the story, but writing that pain in the butt synopsis, and to a lesser degree, the query letter.

    Hang in there, because there's hope for you yet.

  16. What I dislike about writing a synopsis is - it's writing a story you already know the ending to. Dull.

    Hmm...that's given me an idea G. Next time I submit a synposis I could give alternate endings and the agent could chose the one they liked! Even better, I could add in subliminal messages using key words such as "best", "seller", "money"..."agent", "wonderful" that could make the project much more interesting:) Yeah, I'm gonna do it for a laugh. See if anyone picks up on it:)

  17. Jane: Make sure you swing around in a couple of days. I wrote a devastating follow up to this post, based on one of the quotes up above.

    Since you're a published somebody, you might find it either incredibly funny or incredibly troubling.

  18. You got me intrigued now! I shall keep an eye out for it. (It'll hurt - but there's no end to what I'll do for "Art".)

    Umm...I guess that's a British type of humour. Sad and pathetic I know:)

  19. Jane, I actually find British refreshingly cerebral, having been exposed to the following:

    Monty Python.
    Dave Allen.
    Benny Hill.
    Morcrombie & Wise (probably misspelled the first one)
    Rowan Atkinson.


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