The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
(photo credit: Wikipedia)
Again with the synopsis. That dirty, dirty nightmare of a word. No one really gets excited when you say synopsisnot fiction writers, college students or, I'm guessing, agents and publishers, since they have to muddle through myriad half-hearted, but well-meaning attempts at boiling a 100,000-word manuscript down to a few pages.

But as annoying as they may be, synopses are important for a few reasons:
  • They help writers focus their plot lines.
  • They are an effective way for the agent/publisher to see if aforementioned writer knows how to tell a story without having to slosh through hundreds of pages to find out.
  • They are great practice for concise writing.
Every writer should want to write a synopsis for every manuscript. And they should do it before they send out their first query letter. Many writers get ahead of themselves and dash off a query letter while they're still editing. This is like auditioning for X Factor after your third voice lesson. If you want to be taken seriously, you won't waste your time and the agent's/editor's. This is how your query checklist should look.
  1. Write manuscript--it seems obvious, but sometimes people try to skip over this step.
  2. Edit manuscript at least twice--no matter how awesome you think it is on the first try.
  3. Let a dozen beta readers read the manuscript and consider their suggestions/comments--you don't have to use all of them, but if five people are telling  you the same thing, maybe you should listen.
  4. Edit manuscript again--until everything flows.
  5. Write query letter--one page to really sell your story.
  6. Edit query letter at least twice--no matter how awesome you think it is on the first try.
  7. Let at least one beta reader read the query letter and consider his/her suggestions/comments--are they dying to read your manuscript based on the query?
  8. Edit query letter again--until everything flows.
  9. Write synopsis--summarize each chapter and condense and hone.
  10. Edit synopsis at least twice--no matter how awesome you think it is on the first try.
  11. Let at least one beta reader read the synopsis and consider his/her suggestions/comments--but only choose the people you don't mind spoiling your story for. The synopsis should include the ending.
  12. Edit synopsis again--until everything flows.
  13. Research agent/publisher--what genres do they represent? What books/authors do they represent?
  14. Make sure your manuscript fits agent/publisher criteria/book list--you're wasting your time and theirs if it doesn't.
  15. Send query letter according to agent/publisher guidelines--they love it when you do this. It's like candy in a rainstorm.
That's right. There are (at least) 15 steps you should take before you send out a query letter. Most importantly, your manuscript should be finished, unless you are pitching a concept, and by the agent's/publisher's guidelines it is okay to do so.Only slightly less important, is the targeted query. It's important for the prospective agent/editor to know they are more than a whim or afterthought. You should know who they are, what kinds of books they represent and which books, specifically, they represent.

I was recently involved in the hiring process for a job that opened up in my company. I got cover letters that were obviously not intended for the job we were looking to fill, and one very unprofessional phone message, during which, the caller forgot a) who she was calling b) which job she was calling about. There was a long, awkward pause while she searched through a pile of papers for the information and ultimately, she named the wrong job. I immediately shredded her resume, and agents and editors will do the same if you send a half-assed query letter. It's about quality, not quantity. It's not how many agents/editors you can annoy, it's about finding the one who's a fit for you and your story.

That's my rant. In other exciting news, I finished reading The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern last night. It was one of the most beautifully-written books I've ever read. You should read it. Everyone should read it. When they make it into a movie, I'll watch the hell out of it, but it won't be as good as the book.

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