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How Not Following an Agent’s Request Labels You

When it comes to queries and submissions, every agent has different guidelines and requirements because every agent works differently and is looking for different things in a book and an author. It’s a source of constant frustration to authors, but also makes perfect sense for agents.

Submissions are more than just a critique of your writing, they also give us a sense for whether or not we can work with you. How you present yourself, as well as your book, is part of what we’re looking at.

When requesting submissions I always request a synopsis. I never look at the synopsis until I’ve read at least part of the manuscript. I know some agents (and editors) will read it first. Recently I received a submission in which the “synopsis” the author included was essentially a table of contents of chapter titles. She felt, and said, it was enough for me to get a feel for the book. It wasn’t.

I struggled with the first pages of the manuscript and started to question where the book was going. I needed the synopsis to give me perspective. The book was very well written and I loved what I was seeing, but I had some niggling concerns. The synopsis would have helped me decide whether to continue reading or whether, as I was suspecting, the book went off the rails. Instead of finishing the book, I opted to pass. A synopsis might have given me the ammunition I needed to keep going.

The biggest thing a lack of synopsis said to me, was that it gave me the impression that the author was going to be difficult. She didn’t want to write a synopsis so she didn’t. She thought her book was so great she wouldn’t need a synopsis and she thought she was above a synopsis. At least, that’s the way I read it, not just in a lack of synopsis, but the fact that she told me she thought the outline was enough.

A huge part of my job is trying to guide an author. We need to work together to make major business decisions on everything from contracts to revisions to cover copy. There are times, many times, an author needs to trust what I’m saying. If I feel the author doesn’t respect my requests going in, how is it going to be later on?

Mistakes will be made and requested material will be missed, but if I get a feel from your material and letter that you don’t respect my requests or opinions going in, I don’t want to work with you. It’s as simple as that.

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8 comments

  1. It’s the special snowflake syndrome. Ugh. I can imagine it would be a non-starter. If I had to read hundreds of query letters and many requested manuscripts in order to find the needle in the haystack, I can only imagine how annoyed I’d be at people who refused to follow rules.

  2. It makes perfect sense to me that different agents want different thing, even from the initial introduction, you’re all different people. I imagine there are some agents out there I wouldn’t want to work with and some I do.

    There are to many special snowflakes in the world today, the rest of us have to do things the hard way. Taking classes, following the rules and listening to the experts.
    Oh and writing, writing and re-writing.

  3. I’d love a peek into the slush pile someday. It must be quite an experience, reading through a mountain of cool blurbs every week and, when they’re not good, the megalomaniac query letters must be a good laugh. Until they stop being funny, I imagine 🙂

  4. Some writers don’t want to include a synopsis because they don’t want to “ruin the ending”. They don’t understand that’s the whole point. An agent or editor asking for a synopsis wants to see the story arc. It’s not going to ruin anything to tell them what they want to know; it’ll simply help them make their decision.

    A good book is worth reading multiple times–which means the reader knows the ending and reads it again anyway. A book that’s only good for one read through isn’t really what agents and editors are looking for, and I doubt it’s one most writers are aiming to write.

  5. It’s no secret that I don’t know much about this side of the industry. When I first started hearing about about synopsis, I thought they were a kind of longer blurb, so yes ‘spoiling the ending’ was a consideration for me.
    Luckily I stalk the Bookends blog and Jessica quickly put me right when I made a similar comment.

  6. My forehead almost always has a palm print as I learn more and more about this business. My goal has always been to tell a good story well and with the help of teachers, editors, and agents willing to share information like this, I may some day succeed. Thanks for the insight.

  7. I once got a reject that was quite lovely – she loved my writing, found the concept original and intriguing, but rejected after reading three chapters because she couldn’t figure out where the plot was going. I kept thinking, but I’ve got a synopsis! If you’d asked for one, you would know. LOL. I of course did not say this, and merely thanked her.

  8. You wouldn’t go to a job interview without your resume, or a work sample, or whatever the interviewer has requested. This should be no different!

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