Picture the agent or publisher arriving for work on a Monday morning. Their slush pile is the least attractive part of the week but today just might deliver that career-changing, elusive gem. Let’s make their lives easier:
- Your synopsis should look professional. If they don’t specify on their website, then go for 12-point in one of the usual business-like fonts on one-sided A4 with broad margins. Single or 1.5 spacing is fine.
- Make sure your book’s title and total word count are clear, with your name and contact details.
- In around 500 words sum up your story. This exercise is excellent for the health of your story and may well take you some time. It can reveal flaws in your plot and character work that need to be fixed in your script before your submission goes out. You wouldn’t be the first writer this has happened to.
- A synopsis is not about every turn in the plot. Go for the narrative drive of your main events without slabs of back story. You are after the essence of the story’s conflict, the main flight of your story arc with a clear idea of what the stakes are on every level. If you have several plots, pick one thread to expand from.
- Your tone should be engaging and give a sense of your fiction style. Funny, if that’s appropriate. Tell it like a story, not a washing machine manual.
- Try to give an idea what kind of book it is, even if it does not fit a genre.
- Start with your main character: ‘Jane is a governess who falls in love with her employer…’ Give vivid, short descriptions of your other main characters as they appear. Each time you move to a different character, start the sentence with the name so that the reader knows who you’re on about.
- Include your ending. It’s tempting to leave it open but they want to see how you handle your story’s finish. Do you deliver the combination of surprise and inevitability that readers love?
- Weed out the typos, spelling, grammar and syntax problems, and above all clichés. This exercise might also make you aware of clichéd situations in your plot as well as your use of language. Remember that your respected agent/publisher reads very widely and can spot clichés in their sleep.
What is a chapter summary?
Your synopsis (above) is a broad summary of your novel, told as if you are talking to a friend who has pressing things to do elsewhere.
A chapter summary is what it says: a brief description of each chapter as it comes, from beginning to end. Some agents and publishers prefer this as it discloses how the story unfolds, who drives it, how sub-plots knit and how the arc rises and falls to the end. In short, it is more unsparing about your handling of plot than a synopsis. The good news is, it can be a bit longer.
Summarise each chapter in just two or three lines (making it clear whose point of view we are in by starting with the relevant character’s name) and work up to a maximum of about one thousand to twelve thousand words. Again, don’t be coy about the ending; you are showcasing how you wind up your marvellous story.
Tomorrow we’ll look at polishing up your chapters for submission.