When I was at NAWGFest17 last month, I attended a Q&A panel session where two agents (Kate Nash and Hattie Grunewald) spoke freely about their work, what they could do as agents for authors, what prospective authors can do to increase their chances of securing an agent, and general chat about the book industry at the moment. Actually, I should probably also confess that I was there in a semi-official capacity as cameraman … for NAWG wanted to record the event and share it on their website (all camera wobbles are, therefore, my fault).
You can watch the event here: (it’s about an hour, so make yourself comfortable).
What many of us found interesting were the comments both agents made concerning synopses. Many authors detest writing these. I do. For those of you who don’t know, a synopsis is a summary of your novel, which reveals the whole plot. It’s not a blurb designed to intrigue the reader into reading the story, but a complete revealing of the plot: twists and all.
At the same event I attended Cressida Downing’s excellent workshops on editing, editors, and creating a synopsis. She explained that a synopsis was an important tool in the traditional submission package (to publishers and agents), comprising an introductory letter, first three chapters of the novel and the soul-destroying (for the writer) synopsis.
The introductory letter is where the author sells themselves to the publisher/agent, explaining why they’ve written the novel, the market it’s aimed at, and any particular relevant experience they might have that’s connected with their story. (For example, if your novel is set on a submarine, and you’ve spent 20 years working on submarines, then that’s a useful point to share, because it suggests that you’ll know what you’re writing about.)
First Three Chapters
The first three chapters of a novel are what a publisher/agent wants to see to get a feel for your style of writing. They will use it to assess how good a writer you are. They’ll gauge how skilfully you draw the reader into your story, introduce characters and setting, and take your reader on a journey.
The synopsis is designed to show the publisher/agent that you understand how to structure a story. It shows them where the twists and turns occur and how the whole premise is resolved satisfactorily.
And this is why publishers and agents ask to see all three documents. It’s an excellent way of assessing a writer’s skill. If they like the first three chapters, and the synopsis shows the story works, they may ask to see the whole manuscript.
Except, as both Kate Nash and Hattie Grunewald explained, sometimes they don’t. They don’t always read the accompanying synopsis. For those of us who’ve spent days, weeks, or even months, trying to nail our synopsis this was a surprise, because … no matter where you look (, agency websites, writing magazine features) they ALL demand a synopsis as part of the submission package.
But, as both agents explained, reading a synopsis is a personal preference (other agents may read every synopsis they receive). A lot of it depends upon the genre the author is writing. For example, there has been a popular trend for novels with an unreliable narrator. So if an agents picks up a submission package and read such a novel, finding the first three chapters engaging, both Kate and Hattie explained that they don’t want to know the ending – they want to read the rest of the book, just like a reader would. They don’t want that surprise spoilt. But that’s THEIR personal preferences. At other times they might read a synopsis.
So that doesn’t mean you can avoid writing a synopsis. You can’t. Even if the agents you approach choose not to read your synopsis, that doesn’t mean everyone else along the production trail won’t either. In fact, Hattie explained that at the agency she works for (Blake Friedmann) they have people looking to sell the film rights to books, and their most important tool for doing this is … yes, you’ve guessed it … the synopsis. So even thought Hattie might not read your synopsis, that doesn’t mean that it won’t be used.
Likewise, even if an agent chooses (and remember, it is their choice) not to read a synopsis, that does not mean that the publishers they submit your novel too don’t want to read one.
So as writers we’re going to have continue writing our synopses for our novels. But don’t be so surprised if an agent chooses not to read it.
Enjoy the video. (And if you liked what you saw why not consider going to next year’s NAWGFest?)