Abaddon Books

Abaddon Open Subs Month: the synopsis

2 years ago

Here’s Blog #3 for our Open Submissions Month. This time I thought I’d look at the submission itself. Specifically, the synopsis; what it should look like, how you can make it engaging to us as we work through the stack.

And actually, some of this applies to any other submissions channels you might go to.

READ THE GUIDELINES 

So first of all, go back and check the guidelines now. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Done? Okay.

Follow them. Follow the file type instruction, the email composition request, the word counts. This is true for any submission, to any market; there’s always some sort of guidelines, and you should always look them up and follow them scrupulously. We put them there for a reason – for convenience, for fairness, time concerns – and not following them can cause delays in what’s always a huge task.

It’s also about professionalism. If we can’t trust you to follow guidelines, we have to ask what we can trust you for, when time comes to exchange money and contracts…

…and it’s an advantage you can give yourself. Agents talk about rejecting as many as 90% of pitches just for not following the guidelines. Turn that on its head: just by following a handful of fairly straightforward rules openly published on an agent’s or publisher’s website, you’ve put yourself in the top 10%! For our part, we’re not mean enough to reject you out of hand, but if we’re picking between two equally promising pitches and one of them followed the rules, it’s pretty likely to have a bearing.

WHAT TO INCLUDE

The brief answer is: everything, but not too much of anything.

We’ve read your elevator pitch, and we know what your story’s about. Now we want the nitty-gritty; what happens in the story and how it gets there. In your pitch (which we’ll get to in a future blog), you’ll be picking out the highlights – what makes your story different and exciting – but here you’re blocking out the whole story, including incidental characters, backstory and flavour scenes. This should literally feel like the (highly-accelerated) experience of reading the book.

But be careful about lingering. We’re going to use this to gauge the pacing of the story; if half your synopsis is used up describing that one fight scene in the bathroom, we’re assuming half the final book’s going to take place in a toilet. You can add wordcount guides to each section to clarify this, but if it takes you a third of your synopsis to describe what’s intended to be a one-page scene, that’ll tend to raise questions.

HOW TO LAY IT OUT

The key word is “easy-to-read.” We’re still at the skimming stage here; we won’t really settle in and relax until we hit the prose sample. Think bullet points (literally, ideally) rather than paragraphs, and don’t get too florid in your bullet points, either.

People sometimes ask about grouping the synopsis into chapters, story arcs or plot beats, and the simple answer is, we don’t care. Structure your synopsis however you think best describes it, and makes it accessible to us. It’s best if the synopsis follows the story order, though; if you feel you have to pull scenes out of sequence to explain it, once again, that’ll raise questions.

This may all seem very reductionist and severe – not to mention lazy, on our part – but the overarching theme here is discipline. Your story should be organised in your head, with strong plot beats and a clear message, and the synopsis is your chance to show that off to best effect. If it’s not right in your head, we can’t be sure it’ll be right on the page.

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So there you go. Loose, rambling, undirected, overlooking key plot points – all these are terms that shouldn’t describe your synopsis. Tighten it till it squeaks and polish it till it gleams.

Good luck, and see you next week for Shared Worlds…