You’ve written your book but what to do next? Well of course, it needs to be published but how? You decide to approach an agent or a publisher, and after reviewing their submission guidelines you see they want a full synopsis and a few sample chapters of your book!
An author creating a book synopsis is a lot like a marketing writer having to put an advertisement or online landing page together. Both messages are usually short, sweet, and designed to instigate interest and hopefully, some action in the reader. But where new authors tend to fall down is in knowing their audience.
Let’s talk about a synopsis in the strictest sense. In other words, a complete, condensed insight of your story. Image it as being a snapshot of your book. Perhaps a trailer you’d watch if your novel were a movie, except in this case, the ending is revealed. And the intended audience?
Prospective agents and/or publishers.
When preparing a synopsis for these prospects, lots of authors think they need to leave the reader with a cliff-hanger. Keeping them in suspense! After all, this is about getting them excited and willing to take the next step. Right? Wrong.
Actually, the reality is totally different, as no-one is going to financially back a piece of work if they don’t know how it ends. So, what are the nuts and bolts of preparing a synopsis that is likely to grasp the interest of those on the business side of publishing?
Step 1: Creating a strong synopsis might give you some surprises. You should in theory do it before you write the book. What I hear you saying. But yes, it’s true. Writing the synopsis before you begin isn’t technically writing a synopsis – it’s creating a rough outline of what is going to happen, but it can form the basis of what is required to explain what your story is all about.
Few publishers are interested in helping you bring an idea to market (unless you’re already signed to a multi-book contract). They are looking for a finished product they can bring to the market, so you should be offering them something that has shape and which allows them to do it quickly.
Step 2: Always follow correct synopsis formatting. You can rarely go wrong by using the standard manuscript format. A caveat there, however, is to always keep an eye on the publisher/agent’s specific demands. If they ask for something different in their guidelines, then that will beat any standard conventions for the industry.
Step 3: Make sure you write in the third person, using present tense, and regardless of what *POV or tense the book is written in. Also, put the first occurrence of each character’s name in CAPS so they can easily be picked out as the reader skims down the page.
Step 4: Moving on to content. The meat of your submission. Firstly, reduce the beginning of the book down to just a couple of sentences. Remember, you have pages and pages where you have introduced characters, settings, and conflict in the actual novel. What you need to do is pick out what’s essential and present only the bare facts. Don’t go for atmospheric vagueness more a concrete foundation for the reader. You’ve reached a pure business stage in communication between publisher and writer, and your synopsis is a functional outlay of your story’s plot. It isn’t the blurb on the back of your book, and therefore isn’t meant to act as an end-user sales piece. Teasing the twists and turns and speaking directly to the reader aren’t techniques that fit in well here.
Stick to a direct and professional method of revealing your story’s structure. And, leave out any details or subplots that aren’t essential to the main narrative(s). Focus more on chapters than individual scenes. This is a concise breakdown of your story. Often no longer than 800 words but sometimes even less. So, always keep in mind that you are providing an overview rather than a blow-by-blow account.
Step 5: Read your synopsis through once more with your eye on character arcs, and make sure you’ve included your protagonist’s journey from the person they were at the beginning to who they become at the end. This is where you’re most likely to realise you’ve accidentally created a plot hole by omission. Show off your protagonist’s goals and actions, and your villain’s counter-actions. Look for defining moments in your characters’ journeys, and highlight how they change the course of the narrative.
When you’re done with that, read it through again for clarity, flow and rhythm, and then just one last time for spelling and grammar. You’ll probably be sick of reading it over by this point!
Trim as many words as you can. Use descriptive phrases sparingly, and choose words that carry a lot of weight instead of packing your synopsis with fluffy fillers.
In the end, you’re likely to have roughly a page to a page and a half of writing. A hard-fought distillation of your entire novel, ready to hit the desk of an agent or publisher with professional, no-nonsense aplomb. And, if it’s got to be shorter then you need to start cutting.
To help you why not try and write a synopsis of a book you’ve recently read and see if you can match the story-line? Remember, perfection comes with practice.
*POV – Point of View