Saturday, 27 August 2011

What is a Synopsis and Why? . . . Part One

As a general rule, I believed a Synopsis was used to sell most fiction books, whereas a Book Proposal was the selling tool for nonfiction.  My book is a memoir and I was taught a book proposal would be required for submission.  I spent agonizing months laboring over this monster to put it kindly, and was ready to throw a party when I was finished.  Yet my research  uncovered a conundrum between the two . . . different books, articles and agents say one thing . . . while others say just the opposite.  Great!
The solution:  Be prepared to do both . . . unless you know something I don't know, or plan to self-publish.

. . . See B is for Book Proposal . . . Part One and Two in May & June.
Your initial contact determines the agent's first impression of you.  You want to be professional and brief.  Research plays an important role, show the agent you've done your homework.

"Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up."       Anne Lamott
Submission guidelines . . . The agent I described in my last blog stated they do not accept email queries.  This pleased me because of all the email queries I've sent . . . only 1 replied.  Instead, this new agent asked for a query letter,  a 1-3 page synopsis, and the first 50 pages of my manuscript, which is different from most.   Rewriting my query letter was a snap compared to the synopsis.  My original synopsis is part of my book proposal.  I slaved to shave the 109 chapters in Diary of a Vet's Wife down to 7 pages and I was RELIEVED when it was DONE!  Now I'm being asked to condense this same information into 1-3 pages!  Are they serious???

The SYNOPSIS is the most important part of your submission package!!!

It's your selling tool . . . your ticket in the door!  And it can prove harder to write than the actual book, but it's worth it.  You must develop, sweat over and polish it . . . giving it the same attention you devoted to your book!

Your query letter and synopsis are what sells the editor on your manuscript!

Your synopsis is an outline describing the general events of your book written in the PRESENT TENSE NARRATIVE. 

Some key questions to answer in a synopsis:

  What is your story about?
  •   Who are the main characters?
  •   What do these characters want?
  •   What stands in their way of getting it?
A short description of the main theme of a nonfiction work should focus on:
  •   The Main Characters
  •   The Main Plot
  •   The Main Conflicts 
How to Write a Great Synopsis . . . 

  1. Focus on your characters and what is happening to them!
  2. Give editor a sense of setting, tone and pace of your book.  They are your reader . . . entice them.
  3. Follow the editors instructions!!! 
  4. Don't reproduce first pages of your book!  Make synopsis original, yet a true representation of your story at the same time.
  6. Don't include character's physical description
  7. Don't include secondary characters, unless important to plot and affect your character
One Step at a Time . . .

Don't be intimidated . . . break it down . . . step by step
  •   Sit for a final reading with a pen and notebook
  •   As you finish each chapter, write a 1 or 2 paragraph summary
    •   What happened?
    •   Where?
    •   To which character?
Notice themes running through chapters as you read.  Make note of themes.  You may uncover your one-line summary agents and editors like so much.

When you are done, you will have a chapter by chapter book outline called the author's outline.

Though this outline is no longer favored by editors and agents, it will remain one of your most valuable writing tools.  Never throw it away!  This outline will help if you ever decide to revise your novel.

Immediate use for the outline . . . Now you can pinpoint the most important plot points in the outline and put them into the synopsis. 

To be continued . . .

My trip to Ohio . . .

At my mom's, I was greeted by 100 empty cream puff shells, covered in plastic wrap, waiting on my bedroom dresser.  She's 94 and my cousin assisted in this endeavor.  As tradition goes, I help mom and my sister fill and frost these delicate shells the morning of the reunion. 

Mom was up early, too excited to sleep, and had 40-some filled before I wandered into the kitchen for coffee.  Everything went well until it was time for the frosting.  Mom didn't have a recipe . . . it's in her head and all she remembered was the list of ingredients!  What to do?  So, like 3 mad scientists, we added a little bit-of-this and a little bit-of-that into the pan hoping it won't turn to fudge. Soon mom announced, "It feels right," as she sat stirring the smooth, warm chocolate with a wooden spoon.

The cream puffs were perfection.  All 45 at the reunion once again savored this infamous delicacy . . . unaware of our chaos.

Lessons learned . . . my two cents

"Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality."  C.S. Lewis 


  1. Hi Nancy your post is excellent! You are an expert on the art of publishing!
    Best to you always, Patricia

  2. Great post. Synopses are pretty much awful to write. I like to let my MC write them and then tweek them a little.

  3. Hi Patricia, Thanks and I'm so happy you stopped by. Can't wait to see you in class.

  4. Thanks, Kelly. This synopsis business is a pain but necessary. Now that it's done I can smile again. May be a silly question, but what is an MC? :D

  5. I stopped by from SheWrites today. This whole synopsis thing is something I am still figuring out. What an enormous challenge. Thank you for your helpful tips.

  6. Florida Girl, you are very welcome. I hope you can use my information as a model. I'll explain more on my next post. Please stop by again.

  7. I stumbled on your blog by accident, in a Tuesday blog hop and it is right up my ally! Next month is NaNoWriMo and so many of us come next spring will be looking to publish. I want to follow you but your follow button is not working...