I’ve been doing something naughty. As a writer. I’ve been sending out queries for my mystery without having written a synopsis. If you’re not a writer, you’d think writing a novel was enough. It’s not. (To my non-writing friends, this will explain why writers talk to themselves. It’s not that we’re practicing our character’s dialogue—actually, I do that—but the real reason is that the querying process has left us a bit unhinged.)
After the novel, you must write two other things: query letter and a synopsis
A query is a letter, ideally 250 words, that
1. Introduces you to an agent.
2. Tells the agent about your book.
3. Gives them a glimpse of the tone and voice of your book.
4. Reveals key information so that the agent thinks that your book is one thousand times better than the other 300 books they’ve been queried about this week. (Yeah, agents get about 300 queries a week.)
5. Finishes with your qualifications for writing the novel, which isn’t “I own a word processor.”
All that in 250 words, which is about one half a page.
Besides the query, you write a synopsis. A synopsis:
1. Must not usually be longer than one page, single spaced. (Some agents will let you have two or more pages, but then you have to have multiple synopses. I’d rather eat cockroaches than write two synopses.)
2. Must be written in third person, present tense (regardless of what the novel is written in). Why? Who knows? Maybe it’s so agents can tell who has done their research, “Aha, you wrote this in first person, so I’m deleting it. Neener.”
3. Must cover all major plot points, but not in an outline or “then this happened” format. It must be presented in an organic/fluid way.
4. Must characterize all major characters, but only by weaving it into the action/plot of the story.
5. Must clarify each character’s motives.
6. Must actually be fun/gripping to read.
I’ve heard an ugly rumor that while queries are necessary, synopses are required as weeders. In other words, if you can write a good synopsis, maybe you can write a decent book. There’s probably some truth to that.
But that’s where I’ve been bad. I’ve sent out queries without the synopsis done. I know that I need to do it. But it’s so much more fun to pretend that I don’t. I got very lucky when a partial was requested without a request for a synopsis. Whew! But my luck can’t hold for much longer. And a lot of agents require a synopsis with a query. (I’ve avoided submitting to those.) But it’s time.
I think the only way that I’m going to get this done is if I bribe myself. I’m considering a bar of Lindt dark chocolate with sea salt. Does anyone out there have any suggestions how I should reward myself when I finish the dreaded synopsis?