Why I’m never writing a single page synopsis again

December 22nd, 2006

The other day I was driving behind a green Mini that brandished two noteworthy items: a learner driver’s plate, and a bumper sticker that simply stated ‘Examine your Assumptions’.

Up until this week, I had always assumed that a synopsis sent to an agent should be one page, no more. Why? Firstly, because agents do not like synopses to be too long. It makes for quicker processing of the slushpile, I suppose. Secondly, if you are constrained to describe your novel in one page, then the synopsis really stretches your writing prowess, and so is a quick way for the agent to judge your capabilities as a writer before deciding whether it is worth spending time reading sample chapters. The purpose of the covering letter is to get the agent to read the synopsis; the purpose of the synopsis is to get the agent to read the sample chapters; the purpose of the sample chapters is to get the agent to request the full manuscript. Or at least, that is what I thought, until this week.

I had managed to deliver all this to an agent, successfully enough to be asked for the manuscript. (Note: Agents will not be identified, nor will any be harmed in the making of this blog.) When the manuscript was rejected it left me examining my assumptions about the length and content of a synopsis. It’s all very well to ‘hook’ an agent into requesting your manuscript, but then you incur cost of postage and the risk that the synopsis is not detailed enough to give the agent a reasonable expectation of where the full story goes. The agent then incurs the return posted also. From now on, I think I would rather ensure that the synopsis has enough detail to give the agent a sufficient knowledge of the story so that there are no big (and bad) surprises in store, even if that does mean soiling a precious second page with ink.

So while this thought was running through my mind, the philosophical Mini that invited me to examine my assumptions veered sharply to the right on the narrow road and hit the brakes. Slamming on my own brakes to avoid careering into the back of the learner driver, I managed to stop safely only to see the driver indicate a right turn. So while I sat there, examining my assumptions about learner drivers, I found myself thinking that perhaps ‘Indicate your Intentions’ would be a better philosophical motif for that particular learner driver to adopt. 

It is a good motif, perhaps, for learner authors also.

Entry Filed under: Writing

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