For the last two years or so, I’ve come to embrace the synopsis. And though embrace is a strong word, since you won’t find me just jumping into one, I have realized the importance of one if I ever want to be considered by a big publishing house.
So instead of listing all my struggles with writing them, I decided to write how I became comfortable with writing synopses.
I’ve read a lot of articles on the topic and watched a few online teachings. I’m not good with textbooks because it makes me feel like I’m back at varsity and my “Am I going to get graded on this?” mentality isn’t so easy to shake off, even years later.
But the light-bulb didn’t come on until I realized that 1) there’s a specific publisher I like to write for and they require a synopsis. Without one I’m toast at the door. They won’t even consider me no matter how intriguing the pitch, hook or first three chapters. My submission won’t make it past the threshold. So to not put myself at a disadvantage, I knew I had to master the synopsis.
2) I came across a Harlequin editor who gave advice on synopsis writing. A side note: whenever an editor from a respected publisher give advice on writing, take note.
She hit all the points I’ve read so far. But what stood out for me from her advice was how simple she made synopsis writing seem. At the end of her advice she said, synopsis writing is you drawing a map. The map contains all the high points, the beginning and ending. You have a good idea of where the highs and lows are going to be. And writing the story are filled with all the meaty parts in-between, like the ditch the car falls into after a deer crossed the road. You write about all the angst and fear that came along with the experience. A minor setback, but the end destination still needs to be reached.
I started writing my synopsis like this. A road map. And that’s how I still view a synopsis, especially one that’s aimed at an editor.
So besides these things, here are a few points I focus on when I sit down to write a short synopsis:
- First thing check the length the publisher wants. This can range from 1-2 pages to 5 pages. Reading the guidelines will save you a lot of time.
- Format: Double-spaced, 1 inch margins, Times New Roman font and Header over every page (check with the publisher if they require a specific style of Headers).
- Start bold. The same attention you spend on the opening line of your book put the same effort into the opening line of you synopsis. Grab the editor’s attention first before you summarize the book.
- Stay focused. In a short synopsis for 1-2 pages there aren’t space for extraneous details. Don’t include secondary plots or characters, unless they play a part in understanding the resolution. Don’t use multiple points of view (POVs) even if they are present in the novel.
- Determine your romance’s focus ahead of time. You should determine your target publisher’s preferences ahead of time and use it to guide your effort. A publisher like Harlequin wants romance, so get to that quickly and end on the romantic resolution.
- Write in present tense. This is something I didn’t know at the beginning. It is so simple and makes so much sense. Because the present tense creates a sense of urgency. This makes it effective.
- Show, don’t tell. Yes, even in a synopsis. Show the story through a good plot. Don’t describe it.
- Don’t resort to empty questions. “Will they fall in love?” This is an editorial pet peeve. You’re going to have to answer the question, so you’re wasting space. These types of sentences also yank the editor out of the story. They are views as “author intrusive”. You are not letting the story speak for itself, you are speaking for it.
- Many editors make it a rule not to read after the third typo. So be thorough!
Sweat the opening three paragraphs. Most editors conduct a “three paragraph” test. If you don’t grab their attention by then, they simply won’t read on. A strong opening line and a quick tight overview of the hero/heroine and conflict.
These tips I learned from romantic suspense author Lisa Gardner. I look at them every time I sit down to write a short synopsis as a refresher. And even as I type this post, I learned something new.
Learning this skill isn’t a once off thing. You’ll have to practice it and practice some more. It’s not for the fainthearted and it’s not for the lazy writers. It’s not for the ones who are ‘stuck in their writing ways’, the ones who skip publishers because they want to avoid a synopsis. Because it’s a hurdle they can’t exercise enough to jump over.
Hard work do pay off. And I do believe getting the synopsis is one step closer to publication.