Saturday, April 08, 2006


If you’re a writer, you know what I’m talking about and odds are you don’t much like writing them. Recently, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about synopses so I thought I’d share here my philosophy about them.

First, it’s important to understand how synopses are used so that you can write an effective one.

Editors use synopses to:

1) Decide if the story meets the expectations of the genre.
2) The author can write a complete story with no huge, gaping holes.
3) Has compelling characters and situations.
4) Help sell a manuscript he or she wants to buy to the editorial team (who will not have had a chance to read the entire manuscript).
5) Create cover art and back cover blurbs.
6) Help the sales and marketing teams know what your book is about.

Writers can use the synopsis to:
1) Make sure the story has no gaping holes.
2) Judge if the manuscript has all the essential elements for the target genre.
3) Gauge if this is a compelling story. (i.e. Would YOU buy this book?)

What do I mean by all of this? Well, let me begin by using the example of a synopsis for a romance novel.

Readers (and editors and agents) will look for a story with:
1) A satisfying romance.
2) A hero the reader wants to take home with her (and keep in bed for a month).
3) A heroine who deserves the hero.
4) Characters who grow and change in some way.
5) A plot that makes sense.

Readers—including editors and agents—care about these things in that order of priority. This means that when you write your synopsis, if it’s a romance novel, you want to make sure the focus is on the romance and how that plays out. You want to make clear how and why your hero is compelling and how the heroine deserves him. You want to show how your characters grow and change. And finally you want a plot that makes sense BUT the plot elements will be discussed primarily in terms of how the events move forward the romance and/or the character growth and/or reveal information about the hero or heroine. If you do this, then you are making it easy for an editor or agent to see that your story will be appealing to readers.

If you were writing a mystery, the order of priorities would be more like the following:
1) Satisfying mystery with no gaping holes.
2) Compelling characters—though it might be the villain who is most compelling.
3) An interesting setting or context within which the story plays out.

Every type of book has reader expectations that must be met and that’s what you want to highlight in your synopsis.

Synopses are not fun to write but they can be an extremely useful tool—both for yourself as the author and for your publisher once you sell.