Thursday, July 18, 2013

What Your Synopsis and Word Count Tells Me About Your Submission

I am one agent that does believe in the power of the synopsis. I know that there are indeed a lot of other agents out there who frequently comment that they do not look at a synopsis and rely heavily on the actual piece of writing. Often, they will say the same about the query letter because, in the end, it is the story that matters the most. Although I fully agree that it is the writing that will always be the major deciding factor in whether I request more material or decide to offer representation, I am still someone that sees a major power in those minor elements of the submission packet. For me, the query, the synopsis, and even the word count provide for me a huge foundation to approach the reading of the manuscript. Today, I strictly want to focus on the synopsis and the word count.

I started thinking about this yesterday when I conducted a phone pitch from that offer I made to people on July 4th here on the blog. When we got to the pitch element of the conversation, I simply asked her to "tell me about her story." So she did.

I have to say, there were a lot of things to be said about this story that intrigued me. There were plot twists, secondary characters who had some "umph" get the idea. At this point, all I knew was the genre, the title and now this synopsis. After she finished, I eventually asked what the word count was for this story.

Before I tell you, let me just say that as I listen to a pitch (or read one), one portion of my brain starts thinking about possible placement of the story. I think about genre, voice, subject matter and so forth. So, in this case, I had a list of potential publishers going in my head. But then I asked about word count.

Roughly 60-65 K.

Hmmmmm? Now what does this tell me about the story. Why would word count matter if the premise sounded really good? The point is simple. Stories with a lot of complex twists and turns, stories with secondary characters that do more than simply act as sounding board for the characters or to bring them coffee in their offices require space to tell that story.

At Greyhaus, I do have a word count submission requirement. If you are submitting a single title project, the stories need to be at least 75 K in terms of the word count. I have found that stories that have a single title premise but a word count that falls short often rely heavily on only dialogue to tell the story and frequently, the project lacks the depth of character and plot development.

Now, on the reverse side of this, when I hear a story premise and then the word count is well in the upper reaches of the limit 120 K - 150 K, I also have to start to question what is going on. Again, I look at the premise of the story, the main story arc, and then roughly estimate what I believe would be the right length necessary to tell the story. If the premise seems to be something a little more straightforward, but, the word count is way up there, the odds are this person will have rambling issues or a lack of understanding what is important to include and what could be hacked from the story.

Please don't get me wrong. I am not saying I make every decision on these two elements. The actual writing is still the deciding factor and yes, I have had people truly prove to me my doubts were wrong. Still, I hate to say it, but those are rare situations.


  1. This is very interesting! I have read that you need about 75-80k on the low end to "be safe."

  2. One of the issues I personally work on as an author is making sure to balance dialogue with description and character development. My mind knows the story and just gets it out there quickly (whether on paper or in Word), but my self-editing always consists of adding and enhancing. Cutting scenes is quite rare for me.

    This post is an excellent reminder that I must continue to focus on things, especially character development, and remember the story doesn't need to move at a lightning-fast pace.