Our topic at the SFF Seven this week is “Queries & Synopses: Bane, Benefit, or Both?”
Besides all of us immediately screeching BANE – because all sane human beings hate writing synopses – I’m here to tell you to learn to, if not love, then at least bear with them. Being able to write a decent synopsis is a critical skill for a writer, even indies. Same with queries. Come on over to find out why.
My lovely agent, the vivacious and Bookalicious Pam, keeps a Tumblr where she generously answers publishing questions. I amuse myself by reading through it. Not long ago, an aspiring writer asked her a question about whether Pam wanted to see a book from a particular genre. The writer said:
Should I send it your way (you are my top pick from Foreward), or to one of the other Foreward agents? Thanks.
*minor note that the agency name is Foreword
This triggered a memory from college. One evening our apartment phone rang and I answered. Now, this was in Ye Olden Days and we had a landline phone with a verrry long cord. Six of us shared an apartment suite with six bedrooms off a super long hallway. We’d drag the phone into our rooms to talk. But we all shared this one phone. I just happened to answer this particular time.
A guy on the other end invited me to a fraternity dance. I only vaguely knew who he was, but I was flattered to be asked. Sadly, I had a scheduling conflict and couldn’t go. When I told him as much, he said “Oh, well how about one of your sorority sisters?”
I mean, not only was I more or less interchangeable with my sorority sisters to him, but he didn’t even specify which of them he might be interested in spending the evening with. Because, well, it ultimately didn’t matter to him, right? He needed a date for the dance and any girl would do.
I think my analogy here is obvious.
You know – I get this. I really do. I felt this way back when I was first seeking an agent. They all seemed pretty much the same to me. One big sorority of faceless people who could bestow the boon of their efforts upon me or not. I wanted to go to the Publishing Ball and I really didn’t care who escorted me.
I just wanted to BE THERE.
One of the things you learn over time, however, is that it really does matter how you get to the Publishing Ball. You can buy your own ticket and go. Maybe you’ll be invited as a special guest. But I can tell you this – if you go with the wrong escort, that can suck way worse than staying home alone. At best you might be miserable. At worst you might get date-raped in the parking lot.
Seriously. I don’t think I’m taking this analogy too far.
So, that’s one piece of it. Pick your agent carefully. It may seem that any one will do, but that’s just not so. And I’m saying this as someone who does not believe in the “Dream Agent” concept. Nor do I believe in True Love. Just as I believe any of us could find any of a number of people to make delightful life partners, I think any number of agents would work out great for a given author.
But don’t treat them that way, okay? I mean, that guy who called me up so long ago clearly didn’t care a whit for actually dating me. He never asked me out again or made any effort to get to know me. So far as I know, he planned to ask out whoever answered the phone in our six-sorority girl apartment. Now, WE all know that he missed out BIG TIME, but he wasn’t looking for a life partner. If he was, he went about it in absolutely the wrong way.
What if I might have been the girl for him? Maybe True Love did await us and we would have hit it off, found a delicious mutual accord and gone on to marry right out of college and have brilliant careers, a scintillating social life and a passel of over-educated kids.
(Hey – I write fiction, run with me here.)
The way he treated asking me out, that one incidental time, ruined that possibility forever. I couldn’t go that night – just as an agent might pass on your book because it’s simply bad timing – and by treating me like I was unimportant as a person and interchangeable with any of my random sorority sisters, he not only blew it with me, he blew it with everyone in my sorority. Because OF COURSE I told them about it. It became a running joke that this guy said this to me.
Agents gossip, too. Especially when someone treats them carelessly, as less than an important individual in their own right.
Something to contemplate.
Have a great weekend everyone!
Another photo from the Chicago Architectural Boat Tour. That was just an amazing tour – one of the best I’ve taken, anywhere, ever. Many thanks to Lacey Savage/Hunter Raines and Fiona Jayde for inviting me along!
I’m over at Novel Spot again today, for the fifth installment on making the writer thing happen.Today’s is all about perseverance, shopping the novel and selling in unexpected places.
It will come as no shock to any of you writers out there that I avoided doing it As Long As Possible. In fact, I had a list of ten agents I wanted to query and I managed to send to eight of them without writing a synopsis. (Which shocked one of my CPs, but it’s true.) Part of this was because a couple of them had asked to see the very next thing I wrote. One of them I’d talked to via email just recently, so I just emailed her with a “here it is” note. Another I tweeted, asking her if she wanted to see it, which she did.
Love those easy ones!
Now, I should say that I did have a pitch paragraph for the book, that I included with these messages. My CPs who’d read the book helped me put that together. Then, there were several more agents I’d had previous positive contact with, that I sent more formal queries to. None of those blessed souls, however, required a synopsis for submission.
When I’d knocked out eight queries/submissions, then I hit the big white wall.
You know the one I mean: the empty screen. The blank page taunting you with the certainty that you can never ever condense your long, lovely, intertwined story into a one-page plot summation. The thing I like to say – which ALL the publishing people hate to hear – is, if I could have told the story in one page, I would have.
Yes, I see you people out there, making faces at the screen.
And I know I’m wrong.
I know you need the synopsis and, if I can’t explain what my story is about in a short space, then either there’s a problem with my story or with me. Possibly both.
At any rate, though I knew that a synopsis is a necessary evil, I didn’t really see the light until I read Malle Vallik’s post this morning about all the things Harlequin and Carina use a synopsis for.
I tell you: I have drunk the Koolaid.
I bookmarked this post for the next time I write a synopsis. Or, for rewriting my Middle Princess synopsis, as I’m now seriously considering.
Now, go get you some Koolaid.