Thursday, January 13, 2011

Are You Up For The Challenge?

I had been happily tooling along for awhile, sending out queries and fulfilling requests for partials and fulls, when I was confronted not once, not twice, but three times this past week with agents asking for a 1-page synopsis.

I have two mss circulating and each has a tidy synopsis that clocks in at 1.5 - 1.75 pages. Some agents don't stipulate a page count and most that do ask to see a 1-2 page summary. The guidelines for the initial query package are usually specific yet pretty standard as to what's required and it's easy-peasy to anticipate and prepare what you need in advance: query; separate short bio; 800-900 word synopsis; 5 pages and 10 pages formatted for pasting into an email; 10, 20, 35 and 50 pages formatted as attachments; and, of course, the full ms in both .doc and .rtf formats.

It's those requests that can throw you.

I know writers who plan their query submission strategy around which agents require synopses upfront. The only thing that buys these writers, though, is a lot of headache as they scramble to put something coherent together late at night with no vetting by their critique partners when they do get a request.

So, as I was chopping into my synopses, trying to squeeze a couple of ugly step-sisters' fat feet into delicate glass slippers and, most importantly, tinkering creatively with line spacing, it occurred to me that YOU, too, may one day need to produce a skinnied-down synopsis on the fly. So, for those of you who have already played the 1000-word max game as well as for those of you who haven't, I'm throwing down the gauntlet and daring you to do what I didn't do myself: Tighten the word count on your synopsis to less than 550. Make it fit that single page and adorn it with lots of pretty, pretty white space all around. Flood the page with voice without scrimping on characterization, motivation, or plot. Give us an ending that makes us laugh or cry or sigh. Distill all the thrills and chills, love and heartbreak, yearning and complex twists of your grand opus into fewer than 550 words squiggled across the page.

You think writing an engaging query is hard? Honey, it's a whole lot easier to flirt and tease than it is to stare your audience right in the face and tell them exactly what you're going to do to them before you do it -- and make them beg for you to get started. We'll be waiting. 


Matt said...

I've read some good queries where you could tack the ending on and call it a synopsis. Although, when I see people actually do this it looks...tacked on.

Honestly, I know in theory why people like to see synopses, but I don't get it. Who would you rather talk to: a bleached skeleton or a fleshed out human?

Still, it's an evil of the business. Writing a gripping synopsis is a huge accomplishment.

Whirlochre said...

Synopses are horrific.