Writing a good synopsis

Once I finally had a query letter I was happy with, it was time to write a synopsis. In the past, I had thought it would be easier to do it the other way around — write a 4- to 6-page synopsis of my novel, then write the 1- to 3- paragraph query blurb; work down in size. But it didn’t work for me. While I was struggling with my query blurb, I tried writing the synopsis and it came out drab and boring. But once I got over my trepidation of the query blurb and found my voice again, I re-wrote the synopsis in the same style and it came out much better (gaining approval from my critique group).

One of the things that helped me was Erica Orloff’s synopsis boot camp. I found this after the boot camp was finished (it’s five days, so check out all the subsequent posts), so I wasn’t able to participate, but I wish I had seen it earlier. (Erica, if you read this, your synopsis boot camp was awesome. Any chance of a repeat? Monthly? Too much. Quarterly?)

Why pay attention to what Erica Orloff has to say about writing synopsis? Well, as she points out, she has sold more than 25 novels on the proposal alone! (Presumably she sold a finished manuscript first, before she made a name for herself, but either way, that’s impressive.)

Erica offers up the opening of two of her synopsis. She also says a synopsis should be around 5-6 pages. I went for 4 pages as I’m writing middle grade and that’s a little less complex than most adult books (what Erica writes). Other research I did for my genre suggested 4 pages would be good, and once I had a winning version, I cut it down again for one agent who specifically asked for a 2-page synopsis in the submission requirements.

But I still had to get to that workable synopsis first, and Erica’s boot camp really helped. Reading Erica’s beginning and how she edited the beginnings and other parts of the boot camp participants, you can see a pattern emerging. Here’s some of the tips I picked up:

  • Voice is king
  • Don’t tell the story just in chronological order; show themes, emotions, choices
  • Reveal characters
  • And make it exciting (as exciting as your book)

Another great thing was that you could use the query blurb as the beginning of the synopsis, even if you’re sending them both to the same agent/editor. I would have tried to avoid that, but frankly, after seeing that it’s ok according to synopsis guru Erica Orloff, it makes sense. They’re two parts of the same package, marketing the same book. They should have similarities. If you think of your submission as a press kit (hey, my day job is in journalism), there’s nothing wrong with the cover letter, press release and any other supporting materials have the same words, sentences, etc. As long as they are the right words, sentences, etc., it reinforces the idea of what you’re trying to sell, i.e. my novel.

And that’s exactly what we’re trying to do with our query letter and synopsis: sell our work.

So, I’ve got a query I like and a synopsis I like. I’ve got a few last corrections for the manuscript, then I’ll send out. This won’t be for a few weeks, probably, as I’ve got some things coming up. But soon. I’ll let you know how I get along.

How are you doing?

Write On!

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