(You know — Synopsis!)
Two weeks ago, I got a phone call from my agent, who is currently shopping around a new manuscript for me. He said “[Editor Redacted] is very interested in Shiny New Project, but he needs a synopsis to continue pitching it in-house. Can you get one to me by the end of the day?” I, of course, put a smile into my voice and said, “Of course.”
And the thing was, I wasn’t really lying. I could get him the synopsis. I hadn’t written it yet. But I had just finished putting together my speaker’s notes for a presentation to a local writing group — all about writing synopses.
I still haven’t heard back from [Editor Redacted] yet. But I figured there was no time like the present for sharing my thoughts on synopses. So, without further ado…
There’s a lot of confusion in our field about what a synopsis is. It isn’t (just) a plot summary. And it isn’t a collection of the wittiest dialog, chosen to entertain your reader. Rather, a synopsis is a document, presented in paragraph form, in the present tense, in third-person POV. It relates the complete story of your novel, including all character arcs and the final revelations of your plot twists and turns.
Lots of people might be interested in your synopsis. For example, you might use one to get an agent (after your amazing query letter has peaked her interest.) Or you might use one to get an editor (see, case in point above). Your editor might use a synopsis to sell your project to internal sales committees (see, above, again), or to present the work to internal market committees. Similarly, your synopsis might provide vital background for the art department. At Harlequin, authors submit synopses prior to writing the book to fulfill one major contract obligations — once the synopsis is accepted by the editor, the author is paid one third of her advance.
Your synopsis, like any business document, should provide essential background information. It should have a heading that clearly states your name and your contact information, along with your agent’s name and contact information (if you have one). Your heading should include your manuscript name, the genre, and the word count of the complete work. The body of your synopsis should be double spaced, with one-inch margins.
There’s an open question about the proper length of a synopsis. Most people use the term to mean a 2-3 page document. Some folks, though, mean a much longer document — 10-15 pages, for example. If you have any doubts about what someone means when they say, “Send me a synopsis”, don’t hesitate to ask. You can even phrase your question in terms such as “Some people mean different things when they ask for a synopsis — how long of a document do you want?” It’s not a crime to give someone the type of document they want!
In my next post, I’ll talk about the specifics for writing a synopsis, telling you paragraph-by-paragraph how to close the deal. For now, though, what questions do you have? Have you written synopses before? Do you enjoy the process? Do you dread it?