Synopsis Tips from Agent Joanna Volpe, Part 1

I've read about synopses. I've blogged about synopses. I've written several, but I've never felt confident doing so.

Several things always bother me. First, a synopsis is pretty dry and boring. It's hard to evaluate how effective it is, when it makes me yawn. Second, I always have a hard time deciding which characters and events to include, and which won't make the cut. I feel sorry for my wonderful sub-plots that don't even get a mention.

I almost skipped Joanna Volpe's synopsis workshop at the writing conference I attended recently. The synopsis I've got is adequate, and there were so many other sessions to choose from. But now, I'm so glad I went. I think it was the most practical of all the workshops I attended.

First off, Volpe, an agent with Nancy Coffey Literary, set our minds at ease about synopses in general. The synopsis will never be the critical factor in an agent's decision to offer representation. And it could actually be a writer's saving grace. 

Volpe says she always asks for a synopsis, but doesn't always read them. If she's partway through a fantastic manuscript, she might glance at the synopsis to see if the plot is working all the way through. That will bring her to a decision on representation faster. Alternatively, if there are issues with the manuscript, sometimes a great synopsis can keep her reading the novel because she knows the issues can be fixed.

She also uses a synopsis once she's offered representation. There are many people an agent needs to "sell" the book to. Most of those individuals need a sense of what the book is about, but they won't have the time to read it immediately. A synopsis can give them the bird's eye view of the project.

Secondly, Volpe assured us that the synopsis is supposed to be boring. It's just a collection of names and facts. She described the synopsis as a book report, while a query letter is the coming attractions.

As part of the workshop, Volpe conducted an interactive session where the group helped her come up with a synopsis for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. A book like that, with a broad scope, and a huge list of characters and events, would seem like a nightmare to summarize. But Volpe's techniques made it a short, fun exercise.

Tomorrow, I'll share the details of Volpe's synopsis method. Come back to check out her secrets.

Oh, and here's something she posted on her Twitter account the other day. Since I pitched to her, I hope my novel was one of the ones she was talking about!

Do you enjoy writing synopses? If you've got any hints, I'd love to hear them!


  1. Very cool! Sounds like a great session :) I look forward to tomorrow's post!

  2. Love the way you've organized things on your blog! Something for me to aspire to. Someday . . .


  3. Those kill me. I can't wait for the tips.

  4. At least you won't have to wait too long. :)


  5. Oooh! Excellent! Can't wait for that post.

  6. I took what I learned in that workshop and whittled a 3 1/2 page synopsis down into a 1 page one! It was astounding how easy it was.

    It was nice to meet you at the conference! I'm sorry I wasn't able to catch up with you again, but am looking at SCBWI, so we may cross paths again.

  7. BTW, how did your pitch go? Have you submitted?



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