Once you’ve written an entire book it can feel like the hard work is over. Then you have to start editing and then you have to try and summarise the whole thing. Knowing how to write a summary effectively can be a challenge for even the most seasoned authors. Thankfully our editor Jenni is at hand to lend some advice.
So before we get to it, what exactly is a synopsis? Oxford English Dictionaries describes a Synopsis as ‘an outline of the plot of a play, film, or book’. That seems straightforward doesn’t it?
TOP 5 TIPS
1. Cover the basics
What exactly a synopsis is can be hard to pin down. Maybe we should start with what it isn’t. It isn’t a short teaser (that’s more like a blurb) and it isn’t a complete telling of the contents of the book (that’s what your book is for). The synopsis exists to tell a publisher or an agent what you have written about. You need to give basics of the book from start to end; that is to say the major points of drama, climaxes and resolutions and a general overview of the major characters. Notice how I said major twice? This isn’t all the nitty-gritty details, it’s the general shape of the book.
2. Need to know basis
Your agent or publisher needs to know what they might be creating and promoting. When you write a synopsis you are doing it for the benefit of an agent or publisher, not the reader. If you are too vague they will have no idea what your story actually is and will have no interest in reading sample pages. This is your sales pitch to them so you need to give them points of real interest. They want to know if the story will sell and to do that they’ll want to know the whole story. There is a temptation to treat the synopsis more like a blurb and leave questions unanswered or not reveal the book’s climactic resolution. You might think this will encourage the person reading it to want to know more. You’d be wrong. The synopsis is a technical document and you need to tell the reader exactly what they're getting so that they can judge whether they can sell it or not. Do not leave out the ending!
3. One true voice
What people need to remember is your synopsis and importantly at this stage, who wrote it. If you want your synopsis to come across as not only good but distinctive the trick is to not just write ‘Then the man does this thing. Next this thing happens so he goes to this place.’ Write it in your voice. Be clear and don’t muddy the waters with extraneous flamboyance but also be engaging and tell the story rather than just describing a bunch of people and a sequence of events. This will suggest you do know what you’re doing and might make the reader want to see more of your writing generally.
4. Blood, sweat and tears
Let’s not beat around the bush, synopses can be tough. A lot of writers dislike them as they tend to come at the end of a long process. That said you can’t just knock out something slap-dash and cobbled together. That is noticeable immediately. What you need to do is slave over the synopsis in the same way you slaved over your book, with the same love and attention. Edit, reread, edit and edit some more until you’re happy you’ve got it right. That said it doesn’t need to be terrifying as it can be a hugely rewarding experience and you’ll learn loads about what’s most important to your book once you’ve had to condense it down to its core.
5. Know your limits
Do not just rewrite your book. You might think that goes without saying but it can be really easy to run away with retelling what you’ve already told once. It’s crucial to know the submission guidelines of whomever you’ll be sending your synopsis off to and to stick to them. Some publishing houses and literary agents have stringent rules and some are slightly looser (looser can sometimes be trickier as rules give good boundaries whereas suggestions are open to interpretation). Judge the company as best you can and see if you can find example synopses online. As a rule try to stick to two pages at the most.
BONUS TIP! Read your book back. It sounds obvious but it isn’t always. As the author there is a tendency to believe you know what sort of book you wrote but you may be wrong. Make sure you read it back through and note down any new arcs or parallels or repeated themes and metaphors that have slipped their way in. Keeping a track of what is actually there will help you to sell it better and make the synopsis far more accurate.
With these top tips under your belt you should be able to move forward with forming a strong synopsis. As long as you keep these central things in mind you have nothing to fear.
If you’re writing a synopsis the chances are you will need to write a blurb too. We’ve tried to help you out with that as well so head over to our How To Write a Blurb blog post.