the synopsis: the final frontier

For us writers, that is.

To those of you thinking about publishing, maybe you know or maybe you don’t, it’s not as simple as sending your manuscript off to a publisher with a letter introducing yourself. But it’s pretty close. šŸ™‚

Query letter, synopsis (usually 1-2 pages), and a manuscript. Three things a fiction writer (non-fiction is different) needs before contacting an agent or publisher. It took meĀ monthsĀ of writing and re-writingĀ and a lot of feedback from other writer friends to finally developĀ a query letter that I feel is compelling and polished enough to use. Is it perfect? Of course not, and I don’t think it can be the first time out. But I’ve decided that I’ve done as much as I can with my query letter, and it’s time to see what it can do.

I thought I was done. Until I started researching fantasy lit agents (my manuscript is fantasy) and realized that 99% of them want a synopsis. I had written synopses before, in film school. We don’t call them that, though. We refer to them as treatments or outlines or beat sheets. Unfortunately, treatments are usually too long and outlines are too dry to meet the criteria for a great synopsis. So I went back to research, and I thought I would share the most important, seemingly universal pieces of advice that I’ve found on what a synopsis actually looks like on the page.

First, about the formatting: a synopsis is either single-spaced or double-spaced, although most agents seem to want one that’s double-spaced. It doesn’t really affect the length of the synopsis word-wise, though, since a synopsis should be somewhere between 500 and 1000 words regardless of how you space. It seems, then, that the question of spacing was more relevant when letters and synopses were printed out and mailed. Although it seems to be strongly suggested that if you are going to single-space your synopsis, separate each paragraph with a blank line, sort of how your query letter looks.

Second, use the standard font type and size. This will most often be 12-point font Times New Roman. There really is no need to use any other, but if you do use a different font, use one that has a serif. Also, use one-inch margins on all sides. This won’t really be noticeable when you paste it in your email along with your query letter, so I presume it’s to make sure your synopsis isn’t too long (again, 1 or 2 pages). Indenting each paragraph is recommended.

Write the synopsis in present tense (is, notĀ was) and in the third-person (he/she, notĀ I)–even if your manuscript is in the first-person. I found this surprising, but this is how we write things in the film industry. Scripts, treatments, and outlines are all written in present tense, third-person. The reasoning for this is that it adds a sense of urgency to the reading experience.

I know none of this really has much to do with the actual content or style of your synopsis. As I’m reviewing my notes, I suddenly realize just how much I need to communicate about this. I’m definitely going to have to add another post. Maybe more.

I can’t emphasize the importance of your synopsis enough–if the agent/publisher you’re looking at requests one.Ā The synopsis will often be the only representation of your voice and skill as a writer that the agent reads–even more so than your query letter. While some may ask for the first ten, twenty, or thirty pages–or the first few chapters–of your manuscript, your synopsis will impact their expectations and perceptionĀ first.

So will this take time? Absolutely. Weeks? Probably. Months? Possibly. Years? No. šŸ™‚

But is it worth it? Oh yes.

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