Traditional publishing, part 4: Synopses

I want to get my novel published, and I keep reading that I need something called a “synopsis.” That sounds like a disease. What is it and and How do I create one?

In plain English, a synopsis is a summary of what happens in the book. Tell the story of your novel in condensed form, from beginning to end. You write it up in paragraphs , using present tense, even if the book is written in past tense. For example:

Tim Brady, a divorced high school math teacher in upstate New York, wonders how he can possibly keep going until retirement. Then, one day, into his classroom walks the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. “I’m your new assistant,” she says.

Okay, this sounds like a lame book, but it’s an example of how you start this thing. Paragraph by paragraph, you describe the main events and the characters involved, adding bits of dialogue and brief quotes from the text of the novel, working your way to the conclusion. Don’t try to put everything in, just the highlights, the most important things that happen, and don’t keep the ending a secret.

You can find two great articles on writing synopses at  “How to Write a Synopsis” by Marg Gilks and “Writing a Synopsis from the Ground Up” by Dee Ann Latona LeBlanc offer step-by-step advice on how to write a synopsis. Also, publisher Moira Allen explains it all in The Writer’s Guide to Queries, Pitches and Proposals.

How long should a synopsis be? It seems like it would take a lot of pages to sum up a whole book.

It certainly could take a lot of pages, but it’s a summary, not a book. Opinions on length vary. I have heard of synopses going as long as 50 pages, but editors and agents generally don’t have time to read that much. Limit yourself to 10 pages maximum, and if you can do it shorter, that would be great. I’m not saying it’s easy.

What else do I send with my synopsis?

Your package, which could be sent by snail  mail or by email, depending on what the editor or agent wants, should also include: a cover letter, briefly explaining what you are sending and who you are, the synopsis, the first three chapters, and–if using snail mail–a self-addressed stamped envelope for their reply. If you’re using email, make sure you include contact information, and use the subject line to describe what you are sending, e.g., “suspense novel submission.”

Got questions? I’ll be happy to answer them.