(Almost) every agency and publisher who accepts submissions from Joe Public says, ‘send a synopsis and first three chapters with a cover letter to us at….’ and it’s taken me a very long time to work out what I think that means. The ‘three chapters’ is relatively easy – it means, the first three chapters (assuming they are less than fifty pages); or no more than fifty pages (and if your first three chapters are more than fifty pages, you might want to edit them down. Who is going to want to read half a chapter?)
Fewer and fewer publishers take submissions from unrepresented writers, but a trawl of the usual sources does throw up a good handful; and the agencies are always on the look-out for new talent. So it’s worth knowing roughly what to do when you are asked to write a synopsis. No submission is perfect, of course, and there is some wriggle room for differences of style and presentation, so please don’t take me too literally.
The first sentence of a synopsis will often be a summary of the whole plot, giving a quick taste and flavour of the writing and the genre. The next two or three paragraphs will give a deft outline of the main plot developments, and will include mention of what happens at the end. The synopsis is not the blurb, so you don’t want to leave the publisher/agent thinking, ‘Yes, but I’m not buying the book, I only want to know if you can give me a plot that works.’ (And I haven’t got very long, so best keep it to one or two pages).
I always try to aim for one page, just because that is easier to read.
The synopsis is, according to Nicola Morgan, my current guru on such matters, the least important part of any submission package, which makes sense. The first thing any reader sees is your covering letter, and the only thing he wants to read is good material, so the synopsis comes home a clear third. But, everything helps, and my guess is that a well-written synopsis helps the writer as much as the publisher/agent.