The thought of condensing your 100,000-word masterpiece into a synopsis may seem more daunting than writing the novel itself (which is why so many people come to us for our synopsis-writing service), but it is this document that sells the book. Don’t expect a publisher to even look at your first page if the synopsis is bad. They need to know that you have a solid story and the ability to write it, and will even use your amazing synopsis to sell the book to their superiors – so no pressure then!
In reality, however, you have done the hard part in bringing a novel to fruition, and if you can do that then writing a synopsis will be easy as long as you follow the guidelines. Number one guideline is not to stress out about it. It would be a tragedy for your masterpiece to remain in the loft because you were synopsiphobic. You can do it, but the essential here is planning.
A good way to begin is by breaking the novel down to the bare bones. Do an intentional reading of the finished manuscript and make notes on each chapter. Include the following:
- What happens and where?
- Who does it happen to?
- How does this affect the character?
- Any themes or symbols which are developing in the text.
Although what you have created is valuable, there is still a way to go before the synopsis is complete. The current publishing preference favours a completed summary rather than chapter by chapter breakdown and ultimately not all of the points you have listed will be included.
The next step is to pinpoint the most important plot points in your outline. This will create the foundation of your synopsis. The most important plot points are those that drive the novel and the main characters forward.
From this skeletal writing it is time to polish the synopsis. Remember, this should stand as a piece of writing on its own to enthral and entice the publisher and ultimately prompt them to choose your book from the thousands of manuscripts that fly through the letter box each year.
How you structure your synopsis will depend on the type of book you have written, but here are some general pointers to help you:
- Start with a hook. Think about the blurb on the back of your favourite book and how you were enticed to read it.
- Introduce your main character and his/her predicament. Keep it brief, but don’t be afraid to include their motivations and emotions. There is a lot to include in a synopsis, so being direct is an advantage.
- When using a character’s name for the first time, present their name in capital letters (just the first time). Include the letters (POV) after your main character’s name to indicate that the story is told from their point of view.
- Avoid clutter. Do not introduce too many characters and sub-plots. If you do introduce secondary characters, refer to them by their relationship to the main character.
- Tell all of the important plot turns and their resolutions. Editing is very important here. Cut anything that isn’t completely relevant.
- The synopsis should be written in the same style as your novel. For example, if your style is quite chatty, the synopsis should be the same.
- You have to tell the complete story, ending and all. The synopsis is essentially a mini novel. Don’t keep the publisher guessing.
- Search the web to find synopsis examples.
- Don’t make grammatical mistakes.
In addition to the content, the synopsis must comply with formatting guidelines. These vary from publisher to publisher, but here are the general rules:
- Length: two to ten pages.
- Written in the present tense/third person.
- Double spaced.
- Include a header at the top of your synopsis including your name, contact details, the novel title and word count.
This is the first example of your writing, so use your talent to write it. No one is going to respond to a synopsis of ‘And then he said… And then she said… And then this happened…’ Build up excitement and tension. Give them a taste of what you have to offer.
Make every word count.
Download your free copy of Ditch the Publisher: 40 Indie Authors on Their Unique Self-Publishing Journeys, an invaluable companion for writers considering the self-publishing route.
Also available – Blood, Sweat and Ink: The Pleasure and Pain of Writing a Novel