Once you finish writing your potentially best-selling book you realise that you now face the intimidating task of peddling it to literary agents and publishing houses. It’s judgement day; well, almost.
If you look at the Submissions page (perhaps the most visited page) of most literary agents and publishing houses you will notice that you are being asked to submit a few chapters from your novel and (almost always) a Synopsis of your book.
What is a Novel Synopsis?
The synopsis for a novel is really a tricky piece of writing. Personally for me, it was easier writing the entire book than writing an ‘effective’ novel synopsis. (I did make some rookie errors! Refer the, “What NOT to” section below)
One (especially first time writers) would think that the synopsis is a summary of your writing; what it really is a creative attention-grabber. It is less about writing a 200 word summary for 200 pages of writing and more of a marketing tool.
Why? Simply because this is one of the first pieces of writing your to-be agent or publisher will encounter. It serves as a tool to create and sustain interest for your work
Why is a novel synopsis so important?
Agents and publishers have a lot of reading on their plate. Their attention spans are limited. They are not going to spend days reading your work. The harsh truth is that they are going to skim through and your “pitch” needs to be exciting enough.
An interesting aside: There are short contests on Twitter for exactly this reason – dwindling attention spans
How do you make your novel synopsis effective?
There is no “right” way given the subjective nature of writing. But, here are some points to consider:
1. Keep the synopsis short
If there is a specified length in the submission guidelines for the novel synopsis, then go by that. Else, remember to keep it at a page at the most.
2. Use a hook
It is important to create a sense of “awe.” The aim is to get the agent or publisher to pick up the phone and call you. Think of this as creating a lasting first impression.
A good hook sentence arouses curiosity. For instance, “my eleven year old brother carries a suicide letter in his pocket.” Wouldn’t you want to read on? Notice that the language is simple yet hard-hitting
3. Write about key dramatic events
Dramatic events are those that shape the story.
It is important to spend enough time to think through all the events that you have created and write about only those that affect the story. Look at blurbs of multiple books – that’s how your Synopsis should look like.
Example of a key dramatic event? How about this?
“One solitary life-boat remains bobbing on the wild blue Pacific. In it are five survivors: Pi, a hyena, a zebra (with a broken leg), a female orang-utan, and a 450 pound Royal Bengal Tiger. ” (Life of Pi, Yann Martel)
4. Pitch the synopsis ‘differently’
My novel is set in pre-partition India. And, when I was sending my ‘ineffective’ synopsis out, I was using exactly the same terminology until a mentor told me to change the whole pre-partition pitch. So I rewrote that sentence to read, “set at a time when there was Bombay and Lahore but no India and Pakistan.”
Remember that your story is unique. So pick up those nuances that make your story different. So if your story is about a promiscuous man (or woman; we’re all equal here) don’t pitch cliches like a “coming-of-age story” or a “romantic comedy that will take you back to your college days.”
Instead say something like, “what happens when A breaks-up with 3 of his super-model girlfriends to marry a priest’s daughter?”
(I am going to get me one of these books!)
5. Don’t forget to include genre
Is it literary or commercial fiction, non-fiction – self-help, biography etc? Mention about the intended audience for your book (young adults, adults, pregnant women) and the word count
What NOT to do with the synopsis of your novel
1. Be verbose. Be stingy with words but use the right words.
2. Reveal the end. End it with a, “so what happens or will he complete the task?” When your manuscript is called for (yay!) you will anyway reveal the end.
3. Write about the fifty characters you’ve created along with the family tree. Keep the synopsis about the main character and one or two important ancillary characters.
4. Mention every single pitfall or tribulation your main character goes through. Write only about the most important conflict.
Final tips on the synopsis
– Look at submission guidelines for the synopsis
– Format your novel synopsis as per guidelines and this includes spacing, font type an font size
Have a stellar synopsis that cracked it for you? Or noticed the back-cover of a book and you thought, “wow!”
Please share it with us. We’d be happy to hear from you.