Mar 02 2009
The synopsis is the most important part of a novel proposal. If the synopsis looks bad, the editor will toss the proposal without even looking at the chapters.
1. Keep the novel synopsis 2-5 pages (double-spaced). This may be the fiftieth synopsis the editor is reading this week, so brevity is essential.
2. Focus on the characters (particularly their personalities, goals and conflicts), the plot (particularly the main arc) and the sequence of what happens. Also, describe the setting as necessary, particularly if it is interesting.
3. Please leave out minor plots and characters. I wouldn’t recommend naming more than a handful of the most important characters. The more characters you name, the harder it is to keep the names apart.
4. Begin with the main character as he starts an interesting plot sequence, NOT a demographic description of the main character. The first paragraph should introduce the editor to a likable character facing a high-stakes challenge. Here are some sample opening sentences.
- AWFUL: PETER PARKER is a sixteen-year-old with brown hair.
- BAD: PETER PARKER is a sixteen-year-old student at Midland High School.
- GOOD: PETER PARKER is a superhero teen that fails to save his uncle’s life.
- BETTER: GARY BLACK is an accountant that becomes a superhero after narrowly surviving an assassination attempt.
5. Don’t leave the editor hanging. That’s the main difference between a synopsis and a backcover blurb. A blurb won’t reveal the ending or how the arcs of the story are resolved, but a synopsis must.
6. To save space, I recommend keeping it as active as possible. Also, avoid unnecessary adverbs.
7. The synopsis should be in the omniscient present tense. For example, “John draws his gun even though he doesn’t know it’s empty.”
8. If you get jittery when you start to do your synopsis, it might help to practice by writing the synopsis for another author’s novel instead. That will help you get in the mindset of figuring out which elements are most important.
9. Please do not describe what your characters look like unless it’s important to the plot or REALLY helps develop a character. The editor wants to know if you have a story, not what the hero looks like.
10. Publishers will not buy a novel manuscript from a first-time novelist unless the manuscript is completed. So you don’t need a synopsis unless your book is completed. However, nonfiction is a bit different.
11. Finally, some formatting tips.
- Use size 12 Times New Roman or Courier.
- Double-space the synopsis.
- Use a header that includes the name of the book, the page-number and your name. That will help the editor keep everything together.