“Gee, it’s far easier to write 70,000 or even 90,000 words than it is to write a winning synopsis.” You must have heard this a million times. You have written your book and the next thing you need is to have ready a synopsis because that is what everyone, from your agent to a potential publisher will ask for.

Let me give you my take on some of the questions that race into the mind of the author, especially someone who is learning the trade :

  • What goes into a synopsis and what does not? The entire story needs to be covered, without getting into minutiae. Focus on the main characters . What do they do and why? Skip the subsidiary characters and their part in the sub-plots because this is a synopsis, not the book.  I would skip too the snazzy dialogues, however good they may sound to you as the author.
  • Any other points to keep in mind? Always write the synopsis in the present tense. The event may have happened five years ago but we would still write,”Fresh out of the Army, HARRY JOHNSON is looking for a job in which his skills as a sharpshooter will be valued.” Use the same name ( I generally use the surname always.) Don’t alternate between “Harry” and “Johnson” in the synopsis. It’s a good idea to capitalize the names of characters when they are first mentioned. And yes, it’s a good idea to use double spacing when submitting your detailed synopsis.
  • How long should the synopsis be? Everyone says this is the most difficult question to answer, quite simply because there is not right answer. If your book is complex and lengthy naturally the synopsis will be longer as you would have more to cover. That’s not to say that brevity isn’t important. The secret is to cover your entire story in detail with a focus on the main people and events.
  • How’s the book synopsis different from the back cover copy? The main difference from my perspective as a writer of thrillers is that the back cover copy remains couched in mystery. You do not reveal the end. You leave it to the reader who is glancing through the BCC to guess what might happen. This is not true of the synopsis. The publisher wants to know who actually killed that guy. He doesn’t want to publish your book first and find out later. That’s too much of a risk for him, I guess. Without being gimmicky, the back cover copy needs to attract attention. The detailed synopsis need not be that “salesy.” It tells the story as it is.
  • How important is the synopsis? Extremely important. It can decide whether your book gets published or not.

For perspectives from people more experienced in the trade than me, read these posts by Nathan Bransford , now an author but a successful literary agent before that, and by Anne Mini in her blog, “Author! Author!” Some weeks ago, you may have seen a blog post here when I pointed you to tips from author Mike Wells on writing a synopsis.

So if your book is done, get cracking on that all-important synopsis. I wish you every success.

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