This post originally appeared way back in September. I was looking at my earlier material to get a sense of what kinds of topics I’ve covered before posting a new article today when it occurred to me that this little treasure is buried in my archives, mis-tagged and lonely. So here it is again with some minor edits.
Giving them what they need
The next Great American Masterpiece is finished and in your My Documents. You think you’ve found the right choice for an agent, you’ve got your query all ready to go. Yet you sit apoplectic, shaking and practicing your “deer in the headlights” look. So, what’s the holdup? Oh, that’s right – the dreaded synopsis.
Agents, editors and publishers want this component. It provides a thumbnail sketch of what you’ve just bled into your computer over the last year. It’s completely understandable. You’re asking them to buy something of yours, they want to know what they’re going to get.
The problem is this: How do you condense without putting too much in or leaving too much out? Do you just put in excerpts that are particularly powerful or witty? Maybe you could just do the first paragraph from each chapter. Oh! Oh! I know! Just send the whole manuscript. That way they’ll really know what the damned thing is about. Hmmm. Ok, so maybe none of those are the best strategy.
Remember, this is about salesmanship. You’ve got a product, you want someone to purchase it. One simple tip about sales: Successful salespeople don’t sell a product – they sell their love or enthusiasm for the product. First and foremost, put yourself in this mindset.
What’s the best way to sell this unique product? To illustrate, let’s look at how another artistic medium gets attention, and lots of it.
Books are like movies
Rocky 97 opens today. You’ve been waiting forever to see this movie. Got your popcorn, Got your Mega-Mammoth 148oz soda. The movie starts at 7:00, but you get there 15 minutes early. Why? Two reasons, most likely: You wanted a good seat and you wanted to catch the previews. Ahhh, previews. Why do we care so much about watching the previews? After all, it’s not a whole movie. We watch previews because we want to know if a coming attraction is worth our attention and a bit of our hard earned dineros. Do the studios know this? You bet. Do they put a lot of thought and effort into producing the preview? Absolutely.
The relationship between a movie preview and your synopsis is clear. A preview condenses the story and creates anticipation. Your synopsis should do the same. You want the agent or publisher to anxiously await the arrival of your manuscript. You want to create excitement. You want buzz. You want to give your story “legs”. Approach your synopsis from this perspective. As you write this very important piece, picture in your mind a movie screen with your synopsis as a coming attraction. Condense the action and plot. Show the main characters in scenes that exemplify who they are. Make it so real and compelling that the agent calls and asks to send the manuscript via FedEx.
The next time you are at the movies, pay close attention to the previews - find the commonalities, look for interesting approaches. Most cable companies have a channel devoted to just previews. Plan an afternoon around watching just previews for a few hours, taking notes and jotting ideas you can us when you write the synopsis for your book.
When the synopsis is complete, let is sit for a day or two. Come back to it with a fresh eye and from the perspective of a movie goer who you want to buy (go watch) your “movie”. See if it works. If it creates vivid detail and excitement, you’ve probably done a good job. Put the package in an envelope, lick it, stick it and send it on its way.