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Creating the Saleable Synopsis

Even editors agree that writing the synopsis is the toughest kind of writing, but the harsh fact is itís usually the synopsis, not the manuscript as a whole, which opens the door to agents and publishers. Very few editors can buy manuscripts entirely on their own; most take the synopses of their proposed purchases to a weekly sales or acquisition meeting, where the synopsis is passed around and discussed before the decision to acquire is made. The synopsis is the authorís best and sometimes only sales tool.

There are as many ways to write a synopsis as there are books; if there was a fool-proof formula someone would have discovered it by now, everyone would be using it, and manuscripts would be selling like Internet stocks. But all good synopses have certain things in common, and there are certain common-sense rules which will make your synopsis better.

The three Cís for a saleable synopsis

Clear. The information is straightforward and presented in a logical manner which does not force the reader to re-read, pause and wonder, or question.

Concise. It doesnít fill space with details, backstory that is unnecessary to the understanding of the main plot, dialogue, internalization, etc.

Complete. It includes all the information necessary to understand the characters and the conflict, and it plays fair by showing how the conflict is resolved and how the ending comes about.

Necessary pieces

Hook. Whatís going to appear on the back cover of the book? What element in your story is going to grab the readerís eye and make him/her say, "This is so different / unusual / intriguing that I have to read this book"?

Protagonist. What makes the main character interesting? Physical description is usually a waste of space, as is most of the characterís history. The editor is more interested in what kind of person the character is and how he/she got that way.

Antagonist. Why is the other main character in opposition to the protagonist? What does he / she want, or why does he / she not want the protagonist to succeed?

Conflict. What is the protagonistís difficulty at or near the start of the story? Conflict is not storyline, and it is not simply an intriguing situation. Conflict a problem which will keep the characters apart, force them to work together, create tension between them, and/or change their entire future. You should be able to state the conflict in one or two sentences.

Story. How is the conflict shown to the reader? How does it intensify? How does each element affect the main characters? What twists and turns in the plot will keep the reader fascinated and unable to put the book down? Sketch the beginning, middle, and end of the story in skeletal form, while still being as specific as possible. (Writing "The heroine does something hilarious" leaves too much open to question because opinions on hilarity differ.)

Resolution. How is the conflict resolved? How does the ending come about? What makes the ending satisfying for the reader?


Write the synopsis in present tense.

Think book review, not book report.

Tell the story in a logical way, not necessarily in the order the story will be presented in the book.

Remember that less is better than more.

Strive to capture the tone of your book--i.e, the synopsis for a humorous book should have a light-hearted approach.

Keep the synopsis roughly proportional to the book; donít spend the first half of the synopsis on the first chapter or two of the book.


Waste words; i.e., "The story starts...", etc.

Include adverbs, internal monologue, dialogue, scenic descriptions.

Use cliches.

Comment about how humorous, mysterious, suspenseful, etc., the story is. Let the editor be the judge.

Leave the ending mysterious.

This exercise is copyrighted material and is offered for the individual's own use. Further distribution or sale is not permitted without permission of the copyright holder. Copyright 2013 Leigh Michaels.

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