The Query Synopsis: More Than a Summary

Lately I have been struggling with an issue that has gnawed at me until I felt like flies were inhabiting my bones: why did The Crows’ Nest feel so… flaccid… to me compared with other middle grade adventure books? At first I thought it was just because I was so close to the story and thus it was  boring to me. But that didn’t alleviate my concern, nor did it give me more manuscript requests from agents and editors. The fact that I couldn’t figure it out was driving me insane… until I put my query up on AbsoluteWrite for critique, and learned that a synopsis can shed light on the darkest of confusions.

For those of you who are not versed in the concept of query, it is a letter that a writer must send to most agents and some editors (though many editors prefer a full manuscript submission for children’s books) in order to ask for representation/publication. It is somewhat like a cover letter, but far more insidious to get just right. One page of words that will make or break everything you have worked so very hard to do.

Yeah. THAT is a query.

I have written about querying before, but this post focuses on one particular aspect of a query letter and quite possibly the very most important one at that: the synopsis.

A synopsis is a summary of everything that happens in your story, and in a query letter it can only be up to two short paragraphs long (one is preferred and more than two… well… good luck).  In that short span of words, you must tell the agent/editor everything they need to know about your story, from who your protagonist is to why they should care about him/her to why the protagonist is doing what they are doing to who the antagonist is and that THEIR motivation is, etc. No questions can be left; this is not a black cover blurb. A synopsis gives spoilers. It literally tells the whole story.

And the critiquers at AbsoluteWrite had no idea what was going on in my story based on my synopsis.

It took me reading only a few of the same questions over and over again to realize that not only had I not answered some of the most basic facts of a story (who is the antagonist; what is the hero’s motivation; what is the quest), but in fact, I couldn’t. Why? Because The Crows’ Nest itself didn’t answer them!

Oops.

That’s when I realized why my story was so blah: there’s no focused storyline within the book, only a lead-up into the series storyline. I hadn’t written a book, I had written a prologue.

And a prologue can’t stand alone.

So now I am working on giving The Crows’ Nest its own answers to the synopsis questions, so that it is its own story. Yes, it will still be a part of the series, but it will have its own specific antagonist, its own specific quest, and its own specific plot. And THAT will give it its own specific personality.

What I have learned from this experience I now pass on to you before you make the same mistake as I did: if you are uncertain about your story, if something just doesn’t feel right, but you can’t put your finger on it, try writing a short synopsis of the story itself, then show that synopsis to others and ask what is missing. I can’t stress harder how invaluable that exercise can be.

Turns out, a synopsis is far more than a summary of your story, it’s a snapshot into everything that is right… and everything that is wrong… therein.

Happy writing!

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