Synopsis. A word that rolls off the tongue, but for whatever reason, torments the mind. Meant to be brief, it summarizes the enormous novel that took up hours, weeks, months or even years to write. It’s one of the smaller tasks on the homestretch toward publication. But let’s face it, the SINopsis is nothing short of hell to write; the wolfsbane that taints a writer’s healthy motivation. Why? The story’s already written, what’s an extra dozen pages?
Well, that’s part of the problem. Is it a dozen pages? Or half that? Should I give the play-by-play or pare it down to the bare essentials? Double space?
Unfortunately, this part of the process requires a bit of a Psych degree. And I’ll just tell you up front, I really suck at reading minds. I’ll often go to the agency website and since I have no idea which agent has the best reputation in the industry, it’s a random guess. You have to be adept at reading and analyzing pictures like a forensics expert. Much as I loved forensics, it was never my strongest subject. For me, the agent that draws me is typically the one with the coolest name; perhaps the one that looks like he/she might divulge a bit more than the average agent; the one who went to Michigan schools; the brightest smile; the funniest, most laid-back bio, etc.
Once I’ve secured the ‘face’, the next step for me is trying to get inside the inner child of this person to determine what might interest them about my book. Not easy. Did the individual grow up with a strong religious background? Perhaps the demon/angel bit might entice. Is this person single and living the high life? What a coincidence! So is my MC! Does the agent love a sexy alpha? Oh! Oh! Me! Me! Notice me! *raises hand in the air and jumps up and down like a fool*
Do I use my ‘voice’? I’m the kind of gal that does a lot of side-bar chatter. Oddly enough, so do all of my MC’s. Is such a thing appropriate for a synopsis? Perhaps I should just turn my brain off and tune up the zombie mumbling in my ears. Well, the Fiction Writer’s Connection says I can incorporate a little chatter. So it must be OK. Nothing beats a synopsis for a titillating romance novel that reads like a boring text book. If I want to make it all the more entertaining, I’ll just ask the agent to enable the voice read-back option on Word. What better compliment to the robotic storyline I’ve just handed off! If I’ve gone through the trouble of writing some brilliantly entertaining novel with hints of dark humor, why would I send along a synopsis that reads like a master’s thesis on the genetics of fruit flies? But how do I know whether or not the agent likes a wee bit o humor in a synopsis? I’m imagining Sam the Eagle from the Muppet Show (blue eagle dude with the thick black unibrow) reading my poor attempt at being funny.
This is what sends me running in the opposite direction, into the open arms of self-publication. I’m not good at reading people that I’ve never met, talked to, emailed, tweeted with or threw some serious ESP waves at. So how can I possibly determine what they want without breaking down and dialing the agency, looking like a desperate, unpublished, newbie writer who seems willing to roam the streets of New York, knocking on agents' doors, begging for a contract?
Uh. Wait. Me?
I know what you’re going to tell me: “Keri, have you tried to research the topic on the internet?”
There was a time that was a legitimate question, but Googling has become as second nature as asking if I remembered to open my eyes when I woke up this morning. Yes, I’ve researched. The results have further confused the issue. Everything from apples to oranges returns in the search engine. There are reliable, recognized resources like Nathan Bransford. In fact, he’s the top result. And then there are folks like Charlotte Dillon. Ever heard of her? I hadn’t, not that it means much, but still. Funny thing is, she lists a multitude of resources for writing a synopsis like she knows what she’s talkin’ about. And Writer’s Digest listed her as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers.
Who is this woman? And what makes her qualified to tell me what an agent is looking for in a synopsis? According to her bio, she’s an unpublished writer. But she’s got an extensive listing of sites and books on the topic. Meaning? Woman’s done her homework. So while she may not have direct experience reading through millions of synopses and knowing EXACTLY what any given agent is looking for (if she did, she’d make JK Rowling look like a pauper), she has obviously written a few in her lifetime and found some helpful websites to pass along. This makes her a great resource in my book.
The internet is flooded with blogs, articles, book excerpts, websites and forums on just about any topic of writing. A convoluted path toward the holy grail of publishing. And who are the experts?
Who knows! That’s the beauty of the world wide web. Everyone can look like an expert as long as they have expert-looking links on an expertly designed website. The trick is, to extract what seems like sound advice and ditch the rest.
I’m not even certain that I plan to go the agent route, aside from gaining some knowledge that I might glean in the process of sending out queries and experiencing rejection. I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I may consider self-publication. If that’s the case, do I still need to bother with the synopsis?
The answer is yes.
This may not be the case for everyone, I sure as hell don’t profess to be the expert, but one of the things I struggle with when it comes to my story is highlighting the important parts. Has anyone ever asked you what your book is about? Do you suddenly feel intense heat beating down on you from the scorching spotlights, and sweat forming on your palms? I do. Battling with this momentary paralysis is a rush of pure excitement. Where do I begin? How much do they want to know? How do I entice this stranger into reading my book? This is my chance! What do I say?
The lengthy interlude that follows is filled with a silent void and tumbleweed, while I pick my jaw up off the floor. I’ve been so engrossed in my 90K storyline, that I hadn’t given much thought to how I might respond to such a question. Funny how the same questions begin to swirl in my head as those I pondered for the synopsis. This is my chance to ‘sell’ my book. I’ve observed many a face contort into absolute confusion when I’ve offered a tangled web of a summary. I’m sure the individual walked away, thinking I’d just given them an impromptu blurb for a book that doesn’t exist…Try asking a 5-year-old what his book is about, I guarantee you’ll hear three different versions in the same sitting. Yep, that’s about how mine sound too. Oh merciful synopsis, save me from this unintelligible disaster!
When approached by a stranger who asks what my book is about (this doesn’t happen often, only when moons and planets in the solar system align), I first gauge how much time the person has. One might consider this when sending the synopsis off to a literary agent. Am I sending it to one of the big dogs? Maybe I better give the short and sweet. That way, I don’t risk rising above the slush only to secure a ticket to the circular vortex of lost souls.
The synopsis is a good means of pulling out the highlights of the book. And sometimes, it surprises me by offering some contribution toward editing. Holy smokes, I had no idea how illogically stupid that sounded until just now. So if nothing else, it can be used as a tool to narrow in on some inconsistencies that may have gotten lost in the long version.
The fact is, we are inundated with information. Everyone has an opinion these days and they’re not afraid to post it. With time, we eventually develop the skills to nab valuable stuff from the mass of useless ramblings….um, kinda like this blog post. And maybe I don’t have to know the intimate details of each agent to learn what they’re looking for. Maybe I just need to pay attention to what makes sense. If I were reading hundreds of these things a week, what would make my life easy? A BRIEF, well-written SUMMARY of the novel, double-spaced so I don’t start seeing triple, with elements that might keep me from skimming through it for the sole purpose of giving my eyeballs some exercise. And what the hell do I have to lose? If I can make an agent laugh, ain’t nothin’ wrong with that. Lighten up, Sam!
Even if the synopsis is an abomination to everything that is good and holy, it serves a purpose. So maybe I need to get my ass in gear and write a good one. Oh… and ditch the agent-stalking while I’m at it.
I don’t mind a few pointers along the way. Anyone care to enlighten me?