Sometimes authors submit proposals that don’t reveal the ending of a novel. I’m the first to admit that a teaser will encourage a reader to buy a book. Once the reader has to know how the story ends, they’re hooked!
Yes, agents are readers. However, when evaluating a novel for representation, we are marketers. Agents must consider if editors will be interested in the book. In turn, editors must consider if their teams will approve the novel. The publisher’s sales team must decide if they can sell the story to the particular audience to whom their house caters.
To make this series of determinations, all of us must understand how the book ends. We need to know if the reader’s payoff for spending hours with the author’s characters and the story will be enough to keep them buying books from that author.
Yes, we want to see an author write a fantastic back-cover copy to tease the reader into buying the book. But as for the synopsis? Let us know how the story ends.
Great reminder, Tamela!
Recently, I’ve begun seeing guidelines from “query only” agents and publishers which say “include a 5-sentence summary of your story” or “give us a synopsis in 2 paragraphs.” Do you think that means a COMPLETE synopsis? Or do you suppose they’re looking for more of a back-cover copy? That just seems an extremely short space for encapsulating a book in entirety!
Tamela Hancock Murray
Cole, I don’t pretend to speak for every agent, but my guess is that the agents asking for this type of submission are seeing if the story is at all workable for them before investing the time to consider a complete proposal. I can understand that approach. For example, if someone is pitching a romance novel to me, I will work on the assumption that the couple will have a happy ending. Therefore, in a query for a romance novel, I don’t have to know the ending to discern whether the overall book has the elements and structure to work for me. Granted, I might ask to see a complete proposal, only to discover that the book doesn’t work for me, but at least the query got the author in the proverbial door.
That said, if you are writing a story where the ending answers a big question that the story puts forth and the plot can move in several directions, it may be to your great advantage to work to reveal the ending even within those limitations.
Besides, “paragraphs” have flexible lengths. Ust that fact to your advantage. 🙂
Tamela Hancock Murray
Sorry — USE that fact to your advantage. Perhaps you can also ust that fact to your advantage. If so, I hope that involves eating your favorite ice cream. 🙂
Thanks so much for the reply, Tamela! And I will most definitely “ust” it. 😉
Sydney F. Grey
Thank you for your tips, Tamela! My novel is a mystery that is very hard to sum up in a few short paragraphs. It is also difficult to know if the synopsis should only cover the main events of the story, or focus on the Christian message within the story. I am finding it very difficult to squeeze both into such a short description. Any advise?
Tamela Hancock Murray
The main events, with the Christian message emphasized when appropriate.
Thank you, Tamela – I wondered about this.
DAMON J GRAY
Many years ago, I sat in the audience wrestling with my embarrassment for a youth pastor who was preaching the Sunday sermon to 3,000 adults, and she was oblivious to the fact that we were not all 12-17 years old. It was a bomb from start to finish. She was trying to get people in their 60s and 70s to chant in unison, to “Whoop, whoop, Raise the roof!! Come on – Everyone together, ‘To the extreme with 3:16!'”
To this day, som3 15 years later, I have no more idea what the point of the sermon was than I did as she preached it, but I have a vivid memory of what it felt like to sit in that seat.
The point is, I MUST know who my audience is, and in a book proposal, my audience is the agent, and the editor board at publishing house ABC.
You want to know the ending
of my proffered tale
to see if it’s worth sending
to publishers, for sale?
With my grand outrageous book,
I do not think that’s wise,
for the biggest brightest hook
is the grand surprise
when the whole thing comes together,
the characters and story arc,
and I think it’s really better
that you’re kept in the dark;
just tell acq editor and buyer
that you’ve another “Lady Or The Tiger”.
Enjoyed reading it, Andrew!
I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Peggy!
In the beginning, I wondered about sharing the ending of the story when writing a synopsis or speaking with an editor. Since then, I’ve learned differently. This article will help answer many writer’s questions. Thanks, Tamela.