A Pitch vs. A Synopsis: The Difference and Definitions (and ‘What is a Good Synopsis Length?’)

Q. In a query, should the synopsis tell the whole story in a short form or should it leave mystery to the story like on the back of the book? A. Queries and synopses are different things. You would never find a synopsis in a query.
A query is a one-page letter that explains what you’ve written, who you are, and why the agent should represent you.  In a query letter will be a pitch, which is a explanation of your story in 3-8 sentences.  It’s like the text you see on the back of a DVD box.  It’s designed to pique your interest.  A pitch, like the back of a book or DVD, will not spill the beans regarding the ending.
A synopsis a front-to-back telling of what happens in your story.  It’s like sitting down with a 12-year-old and explaining your entire story in about five minutes.  You explain who the characters are, what the conflict is, the three acts, and finally, what happens at the end (e.g., the villain dies).  So, in a synopsis, you do indeed give away the ending.  You would not do so in a pitch, and a pitch is what appears in a query.FOLLOW-UP QUESTION FROM ANN:Q. What length is a good synopsis? I recently sent out a query & synopsis. I managed to reduce the synopsis to one page, but now I’m wondering if it was too short for a multi-voiced novel.

A.  I recommend having TWO versions of your synopsis – a “long synopsis” and a “short synopsis.”  Let me explain.

In past years, there used to be a fairly universal system regarding synopses.  For every 35 or so pages of text you had, you would have one page of synopsis explanation.  So if your book was 245 pages, double-spaced, your synopsis would be seven pages approximately.  This was fairly standard, and allowed writers a decent amount of space to explain their story.  I recommend doing this first.  This will be your “long synopsis.”
The problem is: Sometime in the past few years, agents started to get really busy and they want to hear your story now now now.  They started asking for synopses of no more than two pages.

Many agents today request specifically just that – two pages max.  Some may even say one page, but two pages is generally acceptable.  You have to draft a new, more concise synopsis – the “short synopsis.”
So which one do you submit?  Good question.  If you think your short synopsis (1-2 pages) is tight and effective, always use that.  However, if you think the long synopsis is much more effective, then you will sometimes submit one and sometimes submit the other.  If an agent requests two pages max, send the short one (because, naturally, you’ve been instructed to).  If they just say “Send a synopsis,” and you feel your longer synopsis is far superior, and your long synopsis isn’t more than eight pages, I say just submit the long one.
Long answer.  Hope it helps.

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8 thoughts on “A Pitch vs. A Synopsis: The Difference and Definitions (and ‘What is a Good Synopsis Length?’)

  1. Office 2010

    A good reminder that when we put things out on the Internet, we never know who is going to read them. The results can be good or bad depending on what it is we wrote. I am glad to hear this one had a semi-happy ending.

  2. Jennifer King

    My name is Jennifer. Please take a look at my web site. I am a writer of Children’s books and teen novels. Book Publishers see the Synopsis for all my stories at jkmf.webs.com
    This is a lovely and colourful site. I believe that these stories would make fabulous viewing, which the entire family would enjoy. Having talent as a writer is one thing, however finding a publisher to consider the work is no easy task. Especially an unknown author. Gee, does anyone ever give anyone a chance these days. God didnt give me this talent for nothing. Someone out there needs to take a look at these stories and consider them, please. Thank you. Who knows I might just get a lucky break. God willing. Please do check out my web site at: Site Address: jkmf.webs.com

    Thank you.

    E-mail jenpen@info.bw

  3. Ann Victor

    Thanks, the answer helps a LOT! It’s too late for the novel I just sent out (sent the one page synopsis with all, because most of the sgents didn’t specify), but I will follow these guidelines for the next one.

    Thanks again! 🙂

  4. Ann Victor

    Thanks for the explanation.

    What length is a good synopsis? I recently sent out a query & synopsis. I managed to reduce the synopsis to one page, but now I’m wondering if it was too short for a multivoiced novel. I had to focus on one character’s arc, and (very) briefly touch on her connection to the other two main characters, although all three are of equal importance. I did put in the main issue for each of the three characters, but I was so anxious about the synopsis being too long I may have swung the other way! 🙁


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