They Want What? The Difference Between Blurbs, Queries, and Synopses!

All industries have their own specialized terms, and even inside an industry, different people can want things done different ways. In the publishing world, you hear a lot about blurbs, queries, synopses, and more.

Now, I can’t tell you what ALL agents, publishers, and readers are looking for, but I can point you in the right direction.

High Level Distinctions

Before we delve into the nitty-gritty, let’s talk about the big picture.

For the most part, blurbs are what you find on the back cover of a novel. (Or want to, what’s with this trend of bigger-name-author quote on enjoying the book, without saying ANYTHING about the book, not even the genre??) What you see in the Facebook ad as you scroll past.

Queries, if you’ve been to my blog before, you should know, are what you send a literary agent (someone who helps you find and negotiate with your publisher).

And synopses? Those are for agents or publishers, to find out how the plot progresses.

Three different tools, for three different tasks, all describing the same story. But, they all go about it in very different ways.

The Blurb

Blurbs are your seasoning, without much substance. Blurbs push the secretive, trying to give away only enough to entice the reader to pick up the novel.

This is where you’re going to see all the cliches pop out, “a man on the run”, “a woman with a deadly secret”, “will it come back to bite them?”

Rhetorical questions are perfectly fine, here. In moderation. All things in moderation.

Blurbs spark interest, but shouldn’t give anything away.

The Query

Queries are nicely seasoned but have definite substance to them.

As I may have mentioned here once or twice, queries should be told in 3rd person, present tense. They should be about two paragraphs, maybe as many as four if you have multiple protagonists.

And? They should take the agent to the first major plot point, setting up the rest of the story.

They do NOT give away the ending.

How is this different from the blurb? In a query, the agent wants specifics. Readers are looking for ways your book is like things they’ve already read, agents are looking for ways your book differs from others in the same genre.

How is this different from the synopsis? A query is focused on the main character(s) – who they are, what they want, and what stands in the way. The stakes are the entire point of the query.

Some agents like a query that starts off with a logline/pitch. A single sentence (try to keep it to 2 lines or less), that almost summarize the story. These overlap a lot with so-called elevator pitches and work best with “high concept” novels. “Alice in Wonderland meets The Jungle Book” (good luck!). These are what you can tweet during twitter pitch parties or say when someone asks you “what you write?” during a party.

Other agents prefer you skip the logline, get right to the story, and then give a brief stats paragraph (genre, wordcount rounded to the nearest 1,000, any novels/writers you’d compare your work to), plus, your brief bio.

Your bio should be shorter than the story part of the query. If you have no publishing credits, do what I do: brief and simple. “I write from my lair in the DC metro area.” Occasionally, I add a hobby or so, if my reading of the agent shows they have similar interests, or if the hobby is something displayed in the novel.

Just remember who the query is for and what it’s supposed to do, and you’ll be in good shape.

The Synopsis

Synopses have substance, but are light on the seasoning.

The synopsis is all business. WHO does what, WHERE. You can give motivations, you can add a little description. But you need to detail the major plot points and completely give away the ending.

Different agents/publishers ask for different length synopsis. Anything over 1-page is single-spaced. (Hence my insistence that 2-page synopsis don’t exist. They’re just double-spaced 1-page synopsis)

I’ve seen agents ask for 1-page synopses, 3-page synopses, or a full-synopses. So? I have 3 versions. My long one is 5 pages.

To write my synopses, I often just build my query up — adding the ending/etc, for the 1 page synopsis (plus, caplocking the first mention of any proper noun — person or place). For my full synopsis, I write a 1-3 sentence description of what happens in each chapter, then edit it for clarity and flow. My 3-page synopsis is my 1-page combined with my 5-page edited down, until they meet in the middle. This is usually the synopsis I like the best and what I’ll send unless otherwise specified.

The synopsis shows your plot and pacing, often delving into character development as well. It needs to be coherent and clear, more than it needs a strong narrative voice and descriptive imagery. If you can do both, more power to you.

If your query is strong enough, the agent or publisher is going to want to look at your synopsis to learn more.


By keeping in mind exactly what each is for, you’ll soon find that you too, can keep blurbs, queries, and synopses straight in your head.


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DragonCon: Writing a Selling Synopsis

Writing a Selling Synopsis

The first writing panel I attended at DragonCon was on Saturday, with Anthony Francis, Jade Lee/Kathy Lyons, David B Cole/DB Jackson, Esther Freisner, Bennet Coles, and Jennifer St. Giles/JL Saint, where they discussed the ins and outs of writing a synopsis that will sell your book.

Don’t

  • Ignore directions
  • Use bad grammar
  • Sell yourself, instead of your work
  • Use back cover blurb language
  • Conceal the ending
  • Use bullet points, it should be written in prose
  • Explain the magic system

Do

  • Write only 1 sentence for the setting
  • Describe what happens in 3 pages (then cut to 1)
  • Follow the directions – so editors won’t think you’ll be hard to work with
  • Cover plot points, but if the character growth is important, include it!
  • Go back to your novel and edit/revise if your synopsis exposes holes in your plot

Marketing Notes:

Marketing is in on the buy decision (w/big press), so your synopsis must appeal to marketing AND editors. It should demonstrate the following:

  • internal growth
  • External growth
  • the tropes it uses/subverts

2 Methods to try:

Screen writing

Try to follow the suggested script writing beats:

  • Inciting incident
  • Main Character’s intentions
  • How bad will it be
  • The surprise at the end
  • Lessons learned/resolution

Start with 1 sentence for each and build UP with those points.

Use a sense of pacing, and make your story sound thrilling.

List out everything until you’re done:

Write what happens:

then cut to:

  • 3 pages – long synopsis
  • 1 page – short synopsis
  • 35 words – query pitch
  • 25 words – elevator pitch
  • 140 characters – twitter pitch

Don’t expect to get it done in a day!

Suggested synopsis structure:

  • Describe main character and emotional actions
  • Describe second main character or villain and emotional actions.
  • Inciting incident
  • Plot point 1
  • Plot point 2
  • Midpoint
  • Climax
  • Epiphany

How do you get your Synopsis Written?

  • Remember your ABCs: Apply Butt to Chair – Jade Lee/Kathy Lyons
  • “I tell myself over and over and over again, no one is going to give me money until I write it.” – David B Cole/DB Jackson
  • I regard it as a big ole helping of creamed okra. I write it all disjointed and it’s horrible, but it works. Free form. Then, I clean it up.

 

What about mentioning series potential or how it fits into the series?

  • Book 1 HAS to stand alone.
  • Series potential IS attractive.
  • New authors can have a trilogy, or at most, 6 books.
  • If you say there are 19 in the series, you’ll scare off the publisher.

 

I’m Ready To Query! Or Not.

Readying Query Packages:

Types of Queries and Sizes of Synopsis

This month, I’ve been getting ready for the next step, (while waiting for feedback on my new ending…). Yep, I’m back to getting ready to query. (You’ve heard this before…)

I started researching.

There are probably as many best-practices for querying as there are agents to querying.

Types of Queries

  • I’ve been mostly following Query Shark and reading 8+ years of archives. She advocates getting straight to the plot, no hook. Minimal platform and bio, let the story sell itself.
  • But there’s also Writer’s Digest. Explain why you picked the agent (flatter lightly). A few paragraphs about the book and the initial motivation for the main character. Finish off with the book details, the market description, and compare your book.
  • Finally? There’s the brief version: give a hook and the book’s stats, a paragraph about the story, and a bio: the standardized pared down version advocated at AgentQuery.

So what do I do?

Multiple queries. Then, read the agency recommendations for the agents whose profiles include interests in my genre and category of writing, and hope I picked the right one.

I THOUGHT I was ready. I have my 3 queries.

And then I read their query directions.

Types of Query Packages That Were Requested:

  • Query letter alone
  • Query letter and pages/chapters*
  • Query letter and synopsis
  • Query letter, synopsis, and pages/chapters

Since they’re typically requested to be pasted into the email, the next question is:

What order?

Luckily, Janet “The Query Shark” Reid’s blog addressed that today.

Always put pages before synopsis. Your novel should be your strongest point. Your opening needs to be grabbing. If your opening pages aren’t more interesting and engaging than your synopsis, you’re probably not ready to query.

Thus, I had to write a synopsis. Condensing my full-length novel into HOW many pages?

Guess.

.

.

.

Agents all have different preferences!

Read their profiles and find out! Here are the different lengths they asked for:

Synopsis Page Length:

  • Yes
  • Brief
  • 1-2 pages
  • 1-3 pages

What’s a writing-gal to do?

Create a Brief Synopsis:

  1. Write a 3-page synopsis
  2. Edit it down to 2 pages
  3. Edit it down to 1 page
  4. Edit it down to half a page.

And BAM! You have all the versions you need.**

The best thing about a synopsis?

  • You can see all the weak parts within your story.
  • You can see the scenes that don’t necessarily support the plot.

Now?

You can either edit them to fit better or delete them.

* (Specified between 3 and 50 pages, or 1 to 3 chapters)

** (Like it’s that easy. If I could have told my story in 3 pages, I wouldn’t have written the other 347!)