Jennifer Hillier


Sep 24, 2009 | Uncategorized

I would rather write one hundred books than write one stinking synopsis.

I know I’ve been bitching a lot lately, but this part of process – for lack of a better, more articulate word – sucks.  There is no joy in Mudville right now.  I love to write stories, and nothing has felt more joyful or fulfilling than creating worlds and characters and conflict.  But summarizing the story?


It’s one thing to break the novel into plot points.  I can do that.  I have a detailed outline that’s twelve pages long and it’s easy enough to condense it down to five pages (the standard length of a long synopsis – a short synopsis is one page).  But then it’s just a bunch of “And then this happened. And then this happened.”

How I do make it compelling?  How do I inject voice?  How do I keep it from being wooden?  I’ve just spent the past hour surfing my go-to writer’s website for samples synopses, and you know what?

Most of them suck, too.

I’m scratching my head.  Why the hell would an agent ask for this?  But I know they will, because many of them do.  And I need to be prepared.  Last thing I want is to write something on the fly and send if off.  But what I can’t figure out is how to inject soul into something that is, in its very nature, well… soulless.

The query letter and synopsis are marketing tools.  Advertising, if you will. T hey’re the equivalent of a glossy ad in a fashion magazine featuring a handbag you simply can’t live without.  Their purpose is to create desire.  The agent is supposed to read my query letter and want to know more about the book.  The synopsis is supposed to show I understand story structure and character development, and that I can bring the story home.  But both need style, not just substance.  Both need to reflect my ability as a fiction writer to tell a damned good story.

A writing friend, in her quest for publication, hired someone in public relations to write her query letter for her.  She didn’t feel she had the objectivity to do it herself, and now I see why.  She picked ten agents to query, sent out the letter she didn’t write herself, and eight of the ten agents were interested.  She had deep discussions with each of them and ended up signing with her number one choice.

A few weeks later, the book sold.  Two-book deal, six figures.  I’m looking at the first right now. It’s sitting on my shelf, in between Steinbeck and Tolkien.

And her manuscript wasn’t even complete.

I’ve written two novels that are four hundred pages long, each.  I can write twenty pages of fiction in under ninety minutes if I’m focused.  And yet I can’t write five pages summarizing a story I’ve already written to save my life.