For me, fiction synopses that detail every step of the plot are hard to read and fairly useless. The same description might yield work that’s boring, amazing, or ridiculous; it’s all in the execution. The ability to talk coherently and convincingly about your work is important, though. I like a query that communicates the book’s territory, feel, and type; your influences and credits; and, above all, a sense that you know what you’re trying to do. And then it’s on to the work itself. To that end, I ask for a query and the first page. One book I’m extremely excited about is a debut novel, Games to Play After Dark, by Sarah Gardner Borden (Vintage, May). It’s about a young marriage falling apart—a common subject, but the writing, sensibility, and quality of insight bowled me over. (First sentence: “Kate and Colin met at a party thrown by Kate and her West Twelfth Street apartment mate, Darcy, a party Colin turned up at only by happenstance, knowing neither Kate nor Darcy and tagging along with a friend of a friend.”) I look for authority—the sense that I’m in the capable hands of a real storyteller. Of course, you should follow the guidelines of the agent you’re querying.
Do agents really read synopses? Isn’t a ten-page sample more useful?