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.