When sending in a partial, the synopsis is key. I know we have blogged about this subject before but I can not overstate how influential a synopsis can be. A synopsis should be a concise overview of your manuscript’s plot, consisting of no more than 3-5 pages, preferably double spaced. It is important to remember that your synopsis is just as much of an example of your writing style as your manuscript. It is the first thing an intern reads and it creates the initial and most important impression.
Recently I have received several synopses that approach ten pages, single spaced. Right away this page count tells me one of two things: that either the author did not bother to check on our criteria for partials or that the author lacks sufficient self-editing skills. Often the synopsis itself answers this question, but the partial confirms it.
The problem with the first possibility is that it demonstrates a lack of effort on the part of the author. Completing a manuscript is difficult, but in order to get your work published more effort is required at every stage of the process. A lengthy or sloppy synopsis indicates a certain lack of follow through that we can be reluctant to take on. As an agency we want to know that an author is as invested in the manuscript as we are and willing to work with us to get it published. Even before the publishing house gets a hold of your manuscript it goes through a certain amount of editing within the agency.
The second possibility, a lack of self-editing skills, presents a different problem than a lack of follow through. A long synopsis, without any evidence of editing, tells me that the author may not know their own story well enough to separate the main plotline from its subsidiaries. Such an understanding is important for both the agent and the author. We want to help you turn your manuscript into the best possible version of itself and we are willing to put in the time and energy required. Unfortunately there is only so much time for editing, and a distinguishing characteristic of success is utilizing editing skills to make several later drafts unnecessary.
As an intern, I most often find myself recommending requesting full manuscripts from those partials that have a well-written synopsis. A drastic change in writing style from the synopsis to the first chapters of the manuscript makes me question how much polish went into those first three chapters, editing that might not be seen in later chapters. Since a synopsis deals with the same plot and characters as the manuscript, I expect to see the same traits in both pieces of writing. A well-constructed synopsis paired with intriguing characters and a strong voice always gets my recommendation. It makes me want to find out exactly how those characters deal with the plotline indicated. Knowing the major events and the ending does not affect my enjoyment of the work because I want to see all the little details and nuances that complete a book and that a three-page summary can not possibly contain.