Friday, July 9, 2010

How Do I Know This Is A Book I Want?

This is always a tough question to deal with. Like everything else out there in the publishing world, there is no one answer to this one. We hear the comment all of the time from editors and agents, "we know it when we see it." While this might be true, it certainly doesn't give you a lot of guidance as writers. So, with one cup of coffee in my hand, I am off to attempt to guide you through what I think about as submissions come in.

For most submissions, we begin with an e-query. In this case, here at Greyhaus, I ask for very little. If you use my form then I look at the TITLE, WORD COUNT, GENRE & THE 250 WORD BLURB. If you submit via a standard email, I will look at the larger cover letter, but still, we are dealing with this same amount of information. I NEVER ook at attachments at this point and very rarely will I look at a synopsis for sample of writing that someone embeds into the email.

At this point, I am simply looking at the premise of the story. Is this something that is unique or has a premise that just screams to me this could be something an editor would want. In many cases, this is just like you reading the back of a book cover to see if the story sounds interesting.

Now, do I know that I might be passing on a great story becasue someone can't tell their story in that short amount of time? Maybe, but honestly, I haven't seen a case yet where that happens. In most cases, if someone ccan't summarize their writing with a great blurb, that frequently shows something about their over-all writing. Not all of the time, but most of the time.

If there is something that sounds unique, then I will ask for more material. In this case, I will ask for one of the following:
  1. A synopsis only
  2. A synopsis and first chapter
  3. A synopsis and first three chapters

When I ask for only a synopsis, it is generally because I didn't have enough of the storyline in the initial query to make a decision about the premise.

When I ask for the first chapter only, the premise might be interesting, but there is something that is making me think the voice might not be right. In this case, there was something in their query that told me the writer might not be clear on the genre they are writing.

The standard response is the first three chapters. When I get those first three chapters, I am reading the full synopsis to see what the writer is doing with the over-all project. I know there are a lot of agents out there that never read the synopsis, but for me, it is an invaluable tool. what I am looking for is a story that has a focus, has a goal in mind and the writer has a story that is sound. Many times, I see stories that really fall apart between the middle and the end of the story. What I see are writers that start filling the story with plot devices to keep it going. In this case, this is a time when I know I will pass on the story.

Now on to the partial. When I read this material, I am reading it just like you would read any book you pick up. Does the writer balance dialogue and narration? Does the writer create characters that have depth and are three dimensional? Is the writer showing and not telling us the story? Do I have a sense of where things are going? Do I see a potential conflict that I will want to see resolved?

I also look at whether or not the writer has a sense of his or her own voice, or the market they are writing for. There are many cases when someone submits a project to me that is clearly not something they are familiar with.

If, however, I have seen a premise that is great, and the writing sucks me in, and I can't put the story down, then I ask for more.

When I get a full, I will return to the story again from the beginning, re-read the synopsis, but in this case, I am seeing if the writer could keep me sucked in the story. I don't want to find that I start getting bored, or that I see the voice just disappearing.

If, after all of this, I will call the author and then we talk. This still doesn't mean I sign the author immediately. I want to know if more about the writer and where he or she is going with their career. Yes, there have been times that the story worked great, but the phone conversation told me much more about the writer and I passed on the project.

I don't know if that helps, but this might give you a sense of the approach I take.

Have a great weekend.



  1. Scott,

    In looking through your blog, I didn't come across a synopsis example. Would you consider providing an example of a successful synopsis or an appropriate synopsis format?


  2. Thanks for sharing a sometimes-confusing process with those of us on the other side of the fence!

  3. Thank you for sharing this, Scott. Very much appreciate it.