Writing a synopsis can be daunting for many writers. Why are they such an important part of the pitching and publishing process?
Yes, writing a synopsis can often feel more difficult than writing a 70,000 word manuscript! Why are they so important? Because they show the synopsis reader that you understand very clearly what you are writing about, that you are able to encapsulate the intent and trajectory of the manuscript, that you know where your project fits into the marketplace, and more broadly, that you have enough understanding of the publishing industry to know what is required of you at this stage of the project, including how to write a synopsis!
What are the biggest mistakes writers make when writing a synopsis?
There are two common mistakes I see when it comes to synopses. Firstly, many people put off writing the synopsis until just before they hit the submit button to a publisher or agent. However, not only does synopsis writing take practice – and your synopsis is likely to go through more drafts than the manuscript itself – but it is a very useful development tool. I advocate writing a synopsis after each draft; the challenge of distilling your work into 500 words or 50 is an important part of the process of understanding and shaping your manuscript. It may provide insights into what is and isn’t working.
Secondly, writers often try to convey the wonderful complexity, the subtle nuances and the artistry of their work in the synopsis. That’s not what you should be trying to do. That’s what your sample chapters are for. The synopsis has a specific and practical purpose: it is designed to get someone wanting to read the manuscript by providing certain information – no more, no less.
What are agents and publishers looking for when reading a synopsis?
Agents and publishers are looking for your clarity about the work – its themes, the storyline, what’s at stake for the main characters, comparison titles – and an ability to pique their interest in a concise number of words.
A methodical approach can demystify what may feel like the daunting task of synopsis writing. With the right ingredients, mixed together with a deep level of understanding about your story, you can learn how to cook up a great synopsis.
Dr Laurel Cohn is a developmental editor with a PhD in literary and cultural studies. She’s passionate about communication and the power of stories in our lives, and has been helping writers prepare their work for publication since the late 80’s. She also works with publishers, businesses and community organisations, and is a popular workshop presenter.
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