Thursday, August 18, 2011

It's just not that complicated

I'm a starry-eyed novelist eager to undertake the Great Publishing Adventure. So over the past few years while working on my craft, I tried to absorb as much information about the industry and the ideal submission package as possible from sources in the know.

Unfortunately, I am cursed with a terrible affliction: I'm as easy to confuse as a drunk peacock at mardi gras.

Because I’m painfully aware of this flaw, I quadruple-check everything to make sure I don’t have my wires crossed. To that end, I caved and bought the ‘A Decent Proposal’ guide from the ASA, and though I found the advice and the examples therein to be an extremely helpful addition to my resources, I was struck by a clash of terminology that’s left me befuddled and chewing my nails in uncertainty.

The synopsis has always been the bane of my existence (isn’t it always?), and I felt that I had finally got a good handle on the stygian beast. All the advice and examples I’d read online pointed towards an abridged thematic summary of the story. However, the description of an ideal synopsis in the guide -- categorising the kind of information one would normally find in the query letter: word-count, genre and the long pitch with market information etc -- and the related successful examples have left me wondering if I’ve missed something important.

What I was hoping you might be able to clarify is, is this actually typical of what Australian agents want to see in the synopsis? Or is it acceptable to submit the typical query & author details cover letter + a summary-style synopsis that I’d been under the impression was the norm?

The guide also refers to things like chapter outlines and market rationales and series summaries. How important do you think these things are to a fiction -- specifically a YA fantasy series -- submission? I'm aware that YA fantasy is very competitive because there's a lot of hopefuls like me out there, so I feel the pressure is really on to stand out as best I can.

That's a long, somewhat complicated question that has a fairly simple, two-part answer.

First: what you need to put in a submission is what's in the submission guidelines. Yes, it's frustrating that there's not a universal code of submission guidelines but there's not a universal code for anything, including laws and recipes, so it's just the way it is. Follow the guidelines for each agent and publisher you submit to - they're likely to be similar, so you shouldn't have to do too much extra work for each submission.

Second: to my way of thinking a synopsis is closer to the 'abridged thematic summary' than the word count, market information etc, but I suspect the ASA is trying to give authors a hand by telling them that that information is important. Some authors won't know the term 'query letter' but they know 'synopsis', so the ASA has grouped that information under the latter.

One last point: I hope you're putting as much thought and energy into your writing as you did into this question. The writing is what's important. Your query letter and synopsis are an introduction to your writing, but if the writing itself isn't any good, it doesn't matter how much effort you put into the letter and synopsis.


Marlena Cassidy said...

Great question, great answer. This actually helped my perspective on querying, so thanks!

Raquel Byrnes said...

I don't know about Australia, but in the states, the best way to figure out for sure what agents and publishers want is to ask them outright.

Meeting with agents that represented my genre at a writers conference really cleared up what they were looking for.

Also, I've found that figuring out the publishers that print the kind of book I've written and then signing up to meet with their acquisitions agents at conferences is extremely helpful.