These days, submission guidelines for agents vary. It is prudent for writers to look closely at each agent’s submission materials and pay close attention to the separate synopsis requested.
Some writers want to skip this step and won’t write a synopsis because they don’t consider submitting to agents who want one, aren’t sure they want to spend the time to write a synopsis in addition to their other submission materials, and are concerned about spending their valuable submission time to craft and write a synopsis if it is not needed.
In this series of interviews, I will be dialoguing with Kelly Thomas, an Associate Agent from Serendipity Literary Agency, about the importance of taking the time to write a successful synopsis to improve your submission materials.
I will also be sharing the other benefits you get when you take the time to write a synopsis for your project and how crafting it can improve your approach to pitching your project for more than just a publishing prospect.
Q: Do all agents want you to write a synopsis?
KT: No. Not all agents want you to write a synopsis with your submission. Agents have different tastes. Some agents want the first three chapters with a 1-page synopsis, some want the first fifty pages with a 3-page synopsis, and others want the full manuscript with no synopsis. Some agents may not want the spoiler that a synopsis poses. I suggest setting up a tracking system and make note of what materials each agent requests as part of your submission.
JSW: Agents are selective and provide their specific guidelines because the materials each one wants to see speaks to their individual process and helps them determine which projects they want to see more of and which ones they want to pass on.
Some agents don’t want to invest their time in reading a manuscript if they can’t follow the story or understand the plot from the “short stuff” when you write a synopsis. Other agents skip the synopsis because they want to see how you have crafted the entry point for the story on the first page in the first chapter of your manuscript and how you keep the reader immersed in the unfolding storyline. Still, other agents won’t let you submit any pages or write a synopsis for them at all.
KT: Because many agents will request you write one, it is important for you to know how to write a synopsis and have it ready to go when the time comes to submit. I suggest writing three different versions of your synopsis: a 1-page synopsis, a 2-page synopsis and a 3-page synopsis. I personally feel that three pages is too long. The point of a synopsis is to be able to briefly tell the plot points. The operative word there is briefly, so the 1–2-page synopsis is the sweet zone. That also doesn’t mean making your font smaller to squish it all in. Single spacing is fine, but don’t make your font any smaller than 11.
JSW: Don’t be fooled by agents who don’t request one. Taking the time to write a synopsis will save you a lot of time crafting your pitch later if you choose to pitch your project in-person at a conference or event or for another medium like film or television.
Q: Why isn’t there one set standard for submitting a synopsis?
KT: It would be so much easier for writers if there was one set standard for how to write a synopsis, but unfortunately, there isn’t. You are at the mercy of what each agent requests, but there is a method to the madness. Agenting can be an overwhelming job, with hundreds of submissions coming in a week. We do our best to stay as organized as possible with this large workload.
Part of staying organized is setting up what works best for us. If the standard submission process to agents was a one-page synopsis, I would be frustrated that writers would be forced to live within the constraints of one page. I prefer that writers have the room to elaborate on their storyline without worrying about staying on one page.
If the standard was no synopsis, I would also be frustrated because I find value in a synopsis. The synopsis is a glimpse into the author’s writing abilities, but it is also a snapshot of how the storyline is executed at a high level. It may be harder for the writer to have to keep track of each agent’s requests, but it makes agenting much more streamlined.
Having been a submitting author myself prior to ever working in publishing, I feel your pain as a writer! There is so much to learn and remember. First, you have to research the agents that represent your genre and find out if they are currently open to submissions, then you have to learn how to write a query letter—and actually write it—then you have to learn how to write a synopsis—and actually write that too—and not just one, but several different versions. All this takes place after you’ve already done the hard work of writing and editing the entire manuscript. Trust me, I get it!
As agents, we understand how much hard work authors put into this process and we appreciate it! If it wasn’t for all you writers, we wouldn’t have jobs. More importantly, we wouldn’t have the pleasure of reading your work.
JSW: When you write a synopsis, you present the storyline, introduce the character development, and take an agent on a journey. That is its purpose. For those agents who do request a synopsis, it is a chance to succinctly show the development of your story, immerse them in the journey, and demonstrate your storytelling abilities.
When you write a successful synopsis with these essential elements, that in turn is appealing to an agent who may then request the full manuscript after reading the pages you submitted, confirming their hypothesis that you can write – and write well! All of this is ascertained simply from reading the synopsis you took the time to write.
Q: What if an agent asks you to write a synopsis and you don’t submit one?
KT: I hear this question a lot. Writers can become exhausted with trying to keep up with the different needs of agents and may want to “phone it in.” I can’t stress this enough: reject the urge to do this! Take breaks in between submitting if you get submission fatigue or slow down and submit to fewer agents, but don’t purposely not include what an agent asks for.
Many agents will refuse to look at any submissions that don’t meet their guidelines. This is more common than you think. You want to be sure to put your best foot forward and include what they have requested. You have put so much hard work into every step of the submission process; you don’t want to mess it all up at the eleventh hour over something as trivial as having to write a synopsis and then write one that is too long or too short. It is in your best interest to write a synopsis—or three—so you are prepared to submit to every single agent on the market, whether they request you write a synopsis or not.
JSW: When an agent asks you to write a synopsis, it is essential that you have one. These days, many literary agencies have gone to online submission forms that require you to complete the section for the Synopsis before you can submit your project. This will be a showstopper for you if you haven’t written one.
Many of those software forms limit the number of words you can submit when you write a synopsis. Pay attention to the word count when you write one so as not to be surprised when you have to make it shorter in order to submit your project.
Whether you submit to an agent who has a query inbox or an email address, if they want you to write a synopsis, and you don’t include one, it reflects poorly on you and makes it appear that you don’t know how to follow directions that are clearly provided. This may lead to the agent doubting whether you would be a good client for them or their partners at the publishing house if you can’t follow specific directions.
Want to learn how to write a successful synopsis for your project? Join us for our upcoming workshop: 8 Simple Steps to Write a Successful Synopsis For A Novel, Film, Book, Course & Your Agent where you will get hands-on help and guidance from us for how to craft and write your synopsis.