The ‘Synopsis and First Three Chapters’ Nightmare

Trying to fnd an agent/publisher is hard.

I’ve been through the ‘synopsis and first three chapters’ nightmare like many other writers, trying to persuade someone to read the whole manuscript. But I’ve recently had an insight into what it might be might be like on the other side – to be an agent or publisher, sifting through a pile of manuscripts – and it turned out to be something of a learning experience. I enjoyed it very much, it was a great way to sample other writing and to see what new ideas writers are toying with, but three things in particular really stood out for me.

I was always told that a synopsis should be one page of A4 (two at the most) and should clearly show the plot progression. A difficult task, but for someone who’s just read a stack of submissions, I now know how important it is. I saw a lot of very long synopses – some as long as 10 pages – and equally as many that gave almost no plot detail at all. 10-15 of those a day? No one’s got that kind of time or inclination. In my mind’s eye, I can see agents and publishers flicking through those submissions and casting them aside in frustration.

Another surprise for me was how few submissions began with a really strong hook. And what can be more important than wanting to make the reader read on? Again, if you’ve got 10-15 of these landing on your desk every day, the beginning’s got to be good if it’s going to hold your attention. It has to reach out and grab. It has to make the person want to read it rather than skim through and move on to the next one.

And the third thing? Well, I expected to find some great stuff and some terrible stuff, but mostly what I found was a lot of OK stuff. And that’s much harder to sort out. A synopsis can be fixed, a hook can be worked on, but how do you really make the work stand out?

Well, if I could answer that, I’d sprinkle it over all my work, put it in a bottle, label it and slap on a high price tag.

And then I’d be a rich man.

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