Wednesday, February 2, 2011


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?  


  1. Curiously, an agent blogged today about the importance of the synopsis.

    If you're interested, here's a link.

  2. Blech. I hate synopsis. I never write them unless I know if they are needed, how many pages, etc. I mean, some like five pagers, some one, some two...

  3. Synopses are evil...even more so than queries :) The query can be a teaser, but the synopses has to actually cram the whole gist of the plot into a page--awful. Good luck :) Maybe have requests for synopses from agents will give you a good goal to write one under!

  4. I have to write little 250 word essays for a college application. It is pretty sad how hard it is to cram so many things into that limit!

  5. Trying to fit so much in so little can be tough. Just keep up the good work!! (And thanks for the nifty link)

  6. There are many agents who don't require one. I signed with mine before she asked for it, and she only asked for it when an editor did. So it's okay!

  7. I must confess that my synopsis' don't usually get written until the eleventh hour and long after my novel has had several edits. I just hate those guys.

  8. I really dislike writing synopses. And I confess, I'll only write one if I absolutely have to!