Now that you’ve read through your novel a few times and are pretty happy with how things look, it’s time to work on your query letter and synopsis. If you’re seeking a traditional publishing deal, this is a necessary step, but I’ll be frank with you: It isn’t very fun.
What is a synopsis?
So what is a synopsis? Let’s look at the trusty old Merriam-Webster for that:
A condensed statement or outline (as of a narrative or treatise)
Sounds good to me. A synopsis is basically a summary of your novel that you’ll use to show agents and editors interested in knowing what your book is about.
Writing your synopsis
Writing a synopsis is hard work. I haven’t been able to find any consistent advice on the web, so I’ll just tell you how I went about it. The size of a synopsis varies between different literary agents and publishers, so be prepared to have two or three different ones ready to use with your queries. I’ve seen some agents request a single page with a query letter, where others may ask for up to ten pages double spaced.
The first step to creating a good synopsis is to write a chapter-by-chapter summary of your novel. If you’re the type of writer who outlines your work beforehand, then you’ve basically got this part done. Consider yourself lucky.
If you don’t have an outline or summary yet, it’s time to read your novel one more time. I know you’re probably sick of your novel by now, but nobody ever said this is easy stuff. Here is what I did: read a chapter from start to finish and then after you finish reading, write a paragraph that sums up the key points of that chapter. Use this summary as the basis of your synopsis.
This is where things get difficult. You somehow have to confine your novel into the number of pages the agent allows. Not only that, you can’t just hand an agent a dry summary or they’ll reject it. They want something interesting and not just bullet points. To put it another way, take your chapter-by-chapter summary and rewrite it as a short story. For a one-page synopsis, rewrite it as flash fiction. I’m not joking. Write it like you were writing a short story.
But since you don’t have a lot of space to write, focus only the main storyline and conflict. Only include vital details and try to use the smallest number of characters possible. You don’t want your synopsis to be full of clutter, and by that, I mean a whole bunch of unnecessary character names and minor subplots that won’t help sell the story. I should also mention that not only does it need to contain those important characters and plot elements of your novel, it must include the ending.
Finally, remember that your synopsis is your chance to show an agent or publisher your best work. That means it should still must read like polished fiction, allowing your voice to come through while developing the characters enough to make the agent or publisher care.
And then, after your synopsis is ready, you can start working on your query letter. Fun, fun, fun!
What has you experience writing a synopsis been like? Care to share an example? Leave a comment and let us know!