Maybe I’m in a self-reflective mood lately or maybe I’m collapsing in on myself like a character in a Zola novel (that oh-so-literary name-drop just earned me 5 future The Hills references), but I’ve been thinking a lot about how agents read. One thing that people sometimes ask me, especially with regard to synopses: should I worry about spoiling the ending? Doesn’t the agent want to be surprised?
I can only speak for myself personally (“I know myself… but that is all,” – F. Scott Fitzgerald — watch out, we’re up to 10 future The Hills references and a Bachelor breakdown), but I wouldn’t worry too much about spoiling the ending. I don’t read books like a normal person, where I’m waiting to see what happens next and where I need the element of surprise.
By the time I shop around a manuscript I’ve probably read it at least three or four times, sometimes more. I’m not going to be surprised every time, and I have to be able to see a work “fresh” even if I’ve read it before. It’s a strange process where I basically dislocate my brain and think, “Even though I read this before, would this surprise me if I had read it the first time?”
In other words, no matter how many times I’ve read something, I’m looking for “what works.”
Trying to figure out “what works” is sort of a reading style that I think everyone in publishing develops over time. When you’re in college, you read to find hidden meaning. When you’re reading for fun, you’re reading for pleasure. When you’re an agent, you’re sort of like an architect searching for design flaws — it doesn’t matter what the building is going to look like in the end if the structure is unsound — while still keeping the big picture in mind. (BTW, you know what’s not “working” these days? THE HILLS)
So when an agent asks you for a synopsis: spill the ending. If they don’t want to hear the ending they won’t read it. Don’t sweat that part. Instead, in the immortal words of Tim Gunn, MAKE IT WORK.