Tips for a Great Synopsis by Gale Winskill
Tips to Unleash Your Potential
Book synopses are one of those strange publishing phenomena with which many authors struggle to contend. These tips will help you focus.
Short v. Long
Faced with the task in hand, many writers embark, with unrestrained enthusiasm, on an abridged novella, summarising every chapter of their novel in minute detail, in a document stretching to ten pages or more. Alternatively, they submit an extremely brief paragraph that gives little away about their masterpiece.
Which is best?
Neither. Not to be confused with a ‘book blurb’, which serves a different purpose altogether, the point of a synopsis is to give a first impression of your written work to a prospective reader — that is, an editor, agent or salesman — and convince them that you have a commercially marketable creation.
A synopsis is an author’s one chance to grab someone’s attention and make their work stand out from a pile of other submissions, and thus a unique opportunity to encourage a particularly influential reader to consider the actual book, with a view to publication or sales distribution.
A good synopsis has certain rules:
- It should ideally comprise no more than one page (maximum two pages) of single-spaced type. These are very busy people; they don’t have time to read a plethora of lengthy summaries.
- It should be as well-written, if not better written, than the book itself. If your synopsis is full of poor diction, silly errors and typos, and sloppy grammar, what impression of your magnum opus is that likely to present? An atrociously written synopsis will ruin any possibility of further consideration. Even if your actual manuscript is flawless no one is ever likely to discover that fact.
- The plot development should be clearly delineated, and the climax revealed. Yes, give away the ending! They need to know that, in essence, your book looks like a good read, with a strong narrative construction, full of pace and drama, leading to an explosive denouement. Would you want to read a book that didn’t have these ingredients?
- The plot details given should tally with the actual content of your book; i.e. not with a previous version, you wrote several months ago. As a result, the synopsis should be the last thing you write, once plot and text have been finalised.
Start with a bang
A handy way of launching a synopsis is to use a sound-bite of text, quoted from the work itself; something that gives your synopsis a point of departure, and whets the reader’s appetite for the ‘real thing’. It should be brief but arresting, showcase your writing, and encapsulate a fundamental aspect of your book.
Make sure you advertise the book’s appeal. Stating that ‘this is a gentle, meandering story of a woman’s life in 1940s suburban America’ is never going to cut it, whereas ‘a devastating but uplifting account of tragedy and hardship in the uncertain climate of 1940s America’ might just be more interesting! This is the ultimate spin exercise.
Whatever you do, remember that a synopsis is your moment to shine, to persuade an individual to invest their time in reading your submission.
Make sure your synopsis stands up to scrutiny and stands out from the crowd. Give it the time and effort it deserves. The rewards are what authors’ dreams are made of.
© Gale Winskill
Gale Winskill is an experienced freelance editor, who works on a wide variety of genres, offering a range of editorial services. She also provides training on different aspects of editing and freelancing. She has lived and worked in Italy, Hong Kong, Thailand and Egypt, importing fruit, writing school books and scuba diving … some of which has proved surprisingly useful in her editing career. She now resides in Scotland.
Find out more at Gale’s website.