When reading partial manuscripts, the first thing that I always read, before even taking a peak at the partial itself, is the synopsis. As of late, I have found this to be a particularly troubling element for many writers who have submitted their work to us.
Some writers submit synopses with not enough information. I like brevity and conciseness, but when I see a synopsis that is only a few paragraphs long, I am always concerned. Usually these synopses give a hint of what the story is about, but they don’t outline the full plot, leaving me to guess what kind of climax and resolution the story might have. They almost always end with something like, “Will John Doe learn to let down his defenses and go after the woman he loves?” These teasers drive me crazy! How am I supposed to know whether or not your novel has a decent climax and resolution and is something that we can market if you don’t tell me how the story plays out?
And then there are the writers who submit incredibly long synopses (usually four pages or more), outlining every single detail of their story. When I see these, I feel like I’m back in high school, reading Cliff Notes or Spark Notes, in which every minute detail in every single chapter is spelled out. I don’t want to feel like I’m cramming for a test on a book that I didn’t read. I just want to know what the story is about, generally speaking. Who are the main characters, and what is the plot arc, including conflict, climax, and resolution? That’s all I need to know. I don’t need to know every single detail—that’s why I’m reading the manuscript.
A synopsis can make or break your chances. After your query has been accepted, it is your first chance to make a good (or bad) first impression. You have to find a good balance between saying enough and not saying too much. Generally speaking, if it is only a few paragraphs, you haven’t written enough, and if it’s more than
three five pages (with 1.5 or double spacing), you’ve written too much. Think of the synopsis as a sales pitch in which you have only a few minutes—or pages, rather—to convince us that your story is worth publishing. Don’t tease us, don’t ramble on forever. Just tell us what we need to know.