Writing a Synopsis

As some of you may know, I’m currently in the process of querying literary agents to represent my novel, Regnum Terra. I’ve really enjoyed the query process because it reminds me a little of turning in papers for my English classes, (which I did, in fact, enjoy. Yes I’m a little weird…) Each literary agent is different, but they all want essentially the same things:

A Query Letter

This is the most essential part to any query. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a letter where you basically ask a literary agent if they would like to represent your book. You introduce yourself and your story in a short, 1-page-ish letter, being sure to include crucial information about your book, such as genre, title, and word count.

Sample Pages

Before you query, (if you’re writing fiction, anyway,) you should have a completed, edited manuscript. Most agents ask for some sample pages, but the number they request varies greatly. The highest number of sample pages I’ve sent thus far is 30, or 3 chapters. Most literary agents request 10 pages, or the first chapter of your novel. The key thing I’ve learned with this requirement is that you should never send your sample pages as a link in an email, unless the agent specifically asks for them that way. All of the information in your query is usually pasted into the body of an email.

The Dreaded Synopsis

And now to the beast… I mentioned earlier that I’ve enjoyed the query process, but for the past few weeks I’ve been struggling to write a synopsis. “What is a synopsis,” you might find yourself asking? That’s exactly the problem… a synopsis is a document that details the narrative arc of your novel, explains the plot, introduces the characters, and spoils the ending. Essentially, you have to condense your 300-plus page novel into 500-800 words. Ooof.

Not all literary agents request a synopsis as part of their submission requirements, so I kept putting off writing it; that is, until I found one literary agency that seemed just perfect. You know how, sometimes, you look across a crowded room and see someone you just know is a kindred soul? It was like that, but for a literary agency. I knew almost immediately that I wanted to work with these people. Only problem? You guessed it: they wanted a synopsis.

“That’s it,” I told myself. “No better time than the present, right?” So I sat down and promptly re-wrote the first paragraph of my partially-started synopsis… and re-wrote it… and re-wrote it… until, an hour later, I was on my sixth-or-so draft, and absolutely exasperated with the whole thing. I mean, it took 300 pages to tell this story; how could anyone expect me to condense it to 500-800 words, and still expect things to be interesting?

After a lot of internet research, a ridiculous number of drafts and edits, and cutting out way more of the side-plots than I would have liked, I finally finished my synopsis. I’ll be honest: it’s a little dry, but that seems to be the norm for these kinds of things. The moral of the story? Sometimes, you just have to sit down and do something hard. Finding time, consistently, to sit down and work on my book was hard. Figuring out the ins and outs of the querying process has been hard. Sending out drafts to beta readers and taking their feedback has been hard. Writing that darn synopsis was really, really hard. But in every single case, doing the hard thing has been absolutely worth it.

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