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Clear the Dread from the Dreaded Synopsis

July 15, 2012 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified July 15, 2012

I’ve been asked more than once to lay out the setup for a synopsis. Since the synopsis is so important for fiction writers, I will do just that. Before we get to the format specifics, however, let’s look at the purpose of a synopsis. And let me point out that there are very different recommendations regarding the style and purposes of a synopsis, differences so striking that the two camps might as well be discussing different pieces of writing.

On one side is the idea that the synopsis is a tease, a draw to get the proper persons (agents, editors, contest judges) to want to read the full story. Adherents of this viewpoint counsel you to write the synopsis in the style of your story and to write to entertain. If you’ve ever judged a writing contest or entered one that makes use of a synopsis, you’re probably used to this style. You might have even noted on a particularly engrossing synopsis—I can’t wait to read this story!

Those who recommend this style tell writers that everything sent to an agent or editor or publisher is a sample of the writer’s style, so each item needs to be creative and entertaining.

They direct the writer to include the story arc as well as major character arcs. They say to make use of pacing and the fiction elements so that as they near the end of the synopsis, readers feel they’re approaching the end of the story. They say to include the same highs and lows and buildup that you’d include in your novel.

What this turns into is a mini-version of your story with the same feel and word choices and emotional impact.

On the other side is the viewpoint that says the synopsis isn’t a tease to entice but a report of what happens in your story. Those who advocate this style are looking for only the facts—what happens? why? how? how is the story resolved? Agents or editors familiar with your work may expect a synopsis in this style. The emphasis here is not on how you write but truly on what happens in the story. One popular agent who offers online tips to writers is a proponent of this style.

Those looking for this style in a synopsis aren’t looking to read a mini-version of the novel; while they want to know what happens, they don’t need to see your writing style. Think of this group as wanting to cut to the chase.

With these true differences between the approaches, is it any wonder that writers feel confused about what to include, what to leave out, and how to word the synopsis when one recommendation is to write in the style of the novel and another is to simply convey, in the style of a police report, what happens? Is it any wonder writers look on writing one with dread?

Isn’t it bad enough that writers have to condense 350 pages to 3 without having to worry whether or not they’ve gotten the style exactly right when there’s little agreement about that style to begin with?

It is tough. But you can do it. Writers do it every day.

Even with the disagreements among professionals who deal with manuscripts and synopses every day, keep in mind that there are some absolutes.

Start with the commonalities and write your synopsis. Once you’ve got the basics, you can shade the synopsis toward either of the approaches. If you’re including a synopsis for a contest, you’ll need one that’s well written and appealing, that reads like your story, that engages the reader. If you’re writing one for your long-time editor, give her the facts.

Ah, but what if you’re somewhere in between, approaching an agent or editor at a publisher for the first time?

~  Check the agent’s or editor’s website and/or blog for recommendations.

~  Write an appealing synopsis that answers the question what is this story about?

~  Write two synopses, one for each style.

~  Understand that you may send the wrong style to an agent or editor and that doing so is okay. Don’t let indecision about the style of your synopsis keep you from submitting to your agent or editor of choice. Make a decision and send the submission.

Simple, right? Or maybe not. But I mean it. Write your synopsis. Make it the best you can. Have others read it. And then start submitting.

Keep in mind that proponents of neither style are looking for a laundry list of common actions or setting details. No one is looking for a play-by-play.

One way to keep from writing a synopsis filled with unimportant details is to practice with a book you didn’t write or to write a summary of a movie.

If you were to write a single-page summary about Gone with the Wind, you wouldn’t begin it with Scarlett entertaining the young men at the picnic at Twelve Oaks—you don’t have time to cover individual actions. Think in terms of meaningful events rather than common actions. Teach yourself how to look at the big picture of your own stories.

What’s important? Who’s important? What happens? This is what the reader of a synopsis, of either style, wants to know.

__________________________

Particulars of a synopsis

These items are the general items you’ll want to cover in a synopsis of either style, though with a leaning toward the story rather than the report style. I’m not going to include recommendations for every possibility—include the theme, include a scene or dialogue snippet—because there isn’t agreement on some items.

What’s important is that you cover the relevant plot points. But don’t merely list story events; connect them into sentences and a flow. For both styles, make your summary engaging.

A synopsis, at its most basic, is a summary of your story.

~  You need to cover major characters, major events, goals, motivation, conflict, and the ending.

Yes, you have to spell out what happens at the end. No, you can’t tease by promising to reveal all later if the agent, editor, or publisher contacts you.

Agents and publishers need to know that you can end the story. They need to know what the end is. Is your story the same as two others they’re publishing? They need to know that.

You can point out character growth or character insights; both can be more important for character-driven stories than for plot-driven ones.

For the synopsis that flows in the story style, consider the synopsis as your bait. Make it appealing, especially if you are unknown to the agents and publishers you’re approaching. Infuse your synopsis with life. Create images to be seen and emotions to be felt.

~  For both styles, identify the time (era) and place of the story.

~  Do not write a plodding synopsis that reports every move a character makes

This has too many unimportant details—

TOM SWIFT enters his local bank. Then Tom robs the bank. BRENDA COLLINS, head teller, notes the unusual tattoo on his wrist and quickly sketches it on a pad of paper, certain she can use it to identify the robber later. Tom drives away. When he gets home, he closes the blinds so he can count the money. He’s shocked to find more than a million dollars, much more money than he’d expected. He’s an undercover DEA agent, but something’s gone wrong with the joint plan of the FBI and DEA to catch a thief at the bank.

Still befuddled, Tom treats his buddies to dinner, acting out the script his boss has written for him. Brenda, meanwhile, spends the night at the police station, working with a sketch artist and answering questions about the robbery. The detectives offer her dinner and she orders a veggie burger since she’s a vegetarian. Tom goes to bed that night after counting the money for a third time. He sets his clock to get up early . . .

You don’t want to put the reader of your synopsis to sleep. Instead, engage your audience. Keep away from the tedious.

This is better—

Undercover agent TOM SWIFT successfully robs the bank the FBI set up for him. But when he escapes with the money, he finds five times the amount he’d been expecting.

BRENDA COLLINS, head teller at the bank, figures out the heist was a setup. Armed with clues to the robber’s identity, she goes after him as well as the man she suspects is his inside contact.


~   You have options. Start with an attention-getting line or with an event or with the revelation of a character. Begin with a specific moment or the general picture. Think specifics, but not step-by-step actions. At the same time, think general, but not vague.

Does that sound difficult? It needn’t be. Keep the word summary in mind. Convey flavor and emotion and the high points.

~  Name major characters but not minor or secondary ones unless it’s vital to do so. No one needs to know the protagonist’s dog’s name is Fluffy.

~  Don’t include full scenes or long sections of dialogue. The synopsis is not about a moment but all the moments. Think overview and big picture. You can, of course, refer to emotional or important scene moments. Just don’t dwell on them. You don’t have time for scenes; you do have time for images and feelings.

So you wouldn’t write—

At the annual dinner to celebrate the family’s business successes, Hans faces Marta with a frown and says, “You failed me. You are no longer family. Get out.”

Marta meets the embarrassed gazes of friends and family before, tears streaming, she runs from the restaurant.

But you might write—

When Hans cuts Marta publicly, she turns her back on her family and disappears into the Bolivian rainforest, determined to restore her credibility and reputation by finding the lost treasure of la loca.


~  Write the synopsis in the same style as your story—humorous, wry, fluid, suspense-filled. Keep genre in mind. (Keep in mind, also, the differences between the synopsis styles that we’ve already talked about.)

~  Don’t refer to yourself in the body of the synopsis. It’s all about the story.

Don’t refer to other stories in a series. It’s all about this story.

~  Cover the full story. Give your synopsis an opening, a middle, and a conclusion.

~  Use the proper presentation. No matter what your story’s point of view and narrative tense, a synopsis is written in third person, present tense.

THOMAS GALE is a genius safe-cracker, a competent second baseman, but a dud with women. When ANGELICA PETERS cuts into his business, both his thieving instincts and his libido take notice.

_____________

Fear enters Liberty City with the arrival of the West’s final passenger train. And with the presence of BEAUMONT TRASK, new owner of the town’s only saloon.

Trask’s first move is to take on the sheriff; when he’s dead, only MARK BALLYTON stands between Trask and a takeover of the town.


Options—

A synopsis, especially for a long novel, can be as long as 10 pages. But a typical synopsis is three pages (sometimes two, sometimes four or five), and you should write yourself one of a single page as well. You may be asked for the one-pager; have it ready before you need it.

In addition to the synopsis, create a blurb for your story, similar to the back cover copy of the book. This can be fairly easy to write—pull out a dozen books in the same genre, read the covers, and then write your own. Have a writer friend or colleague or critique partner read your blurb and give you feedback. Read another dozen cover blurbs and try again.

The blurb is not the story in full—it’s the excited ad that gets you pumped for the full novel. It’s the excited description you share with your best friend about the movie you saw last night.

You should also have a single sentence description of your story. Think appealing overview for this one. It can sound like a movie promo if you want it to.

Female detective chases down he-man fugitive

Determined teenage boy chases his dream into space

Lovers separated by war and 25 years reunite to try romance again

You may never be asked for a summary in any of these other formats, but if you are, you should be ready. You should always be able to explain your story in only one or two sentences.

  __________________________

Format (body of synopsis)

A standard format helps agents and editors as they wade through hundreds of submissions. Follow the rules.

Check with agent or publisher before sending your submission packet—many post their guidelines on their websites or their personal preferences in blog articles. In the absence of a specified format, use the following—

~  double space any synopsis longer than one page; single space for a one-page synopsis if submission guidelines allow it

There is both disagreement and leeway on spacing, with some saying to never single-space anything other than a business letter. Yet many contests allow for single-spaced synopses.

~  align left (do not justify)

~  one-inch margins on all 4 sides (1 1/4 is sometimes acceptable or preferred)

~  indent the first line of paragraphs 1/2 inch, just as you do the manuscript

~  no line spaces between paragraphs if double-spaced, but one line space between paragraphs if single-spaced

There is disagreement on this point, with some saying to never use a line space between paragraphs except in business correspondence. But if you’re going to single-space the text, show courtesy to your readers and give them a line break between paragraphs.

~  Times New Roman, black, 12-point font

~  use all CAPS for the first mention of major characters

~  include a slug line in the header (on the left, starting at the margin, include author last name/title or key words from the title/the word synopsis (for pages beyond the first)/and page number)

There are options here. Some recommend separating the page number and putting it on the right side of the header.

Some don’t bother with the word synopsis.

Page One Format

You’ve got some options here, depending on what your synopsis is for. If you’re submitting to a contest, you typically won’t include contact information on your synopsis (check your header to be sure you didn’t include it there by mistake).

If you don’t need contact information on your synopsis (perhaps you’ve already included it with your submission), page one will include—

~  the slug line in the header

~  the title, a line or two below the header, centered (horizontally, not vertically)

~  the word Synopsis, two lines below the title

~  the synopsis, beginning three or four lines below the word Synopsis

If you need to attach contact information, page one will include—

~  the slug line in the header

~  contact info in the top left corner, a line space or two under the header, with each item on its own line—name, address, phone number, e-mail address (whatever you intend to include)

~  the title, a line or two below the contact information, centered (horizontally, not vertically)

~  the word Synopsis, two lines below the title

~  the synopsis, beginning three or four lines below the word Synopsis

Options for the first page include adding either or both genre and word count. This information is typically found opposite the contact info, on the upper right. If you include both, list them under one another, genre first.

__________________________

If you’re asked for a synopsis, provide only what’s requested. If a page length isn’t specified, submit no more than three pages. Always check the agent or publisher’s website to see if they have specific format requirements.

A brief synopsis means brief, a paragraph or two or one page at the most. An agent or editor who wants a brief synopsis just wants the basics—what is this story about? This is definitely a time to cut to the chase.

Bottom Line

Tell what the story is about without putting the reader to sleep.

Don’t stress over the format. Agents and editors and publishers aren’t picky obsessives who’ll mark you down for failing to skip a line. They are professionals, however, and they expect you to be professional. Show them the courtesy of making the effort to learn and follow the basic guidelines. Those guidelines are there to help agents and editors give your submissions and stories the attention they deserve. Following the guidelines is to your benefit. And it’s a way for those who read synopses and manuscripts to get through the many they receive every day.

Any quick check of the Internet will show you that there are standards for the novel synopsis but there are also true differences among professionals. If you keep in mind your audience, the purpose of your synopsis (and thus its direction and emphasis) should be clear—

For a contest, you want to entice the judge into wishing she could read the full story.

For an editor (at a publishing house), you want to show what the story is about so he’ll know if they want to buy it.

For an agent, you may be highlighting your writing style and/or giving her an idea of the kind of story you write so she can decide if you fit the type (not necessarily the genre) of book she represents.

Different audience, different needs. Know your audience and write your synopsis accordingly.

*******

While I detailed the format of the synopsis and touched on some of the elements to include, there are areas I could expand on. I’ll do that in a future article.

Take what you know and write an engaging synopsis. Show agents and editors and contest judges that you’ve conquered the synopsis and have no reason to dread it.

Prove to yourself that you can write a ten-, five-, three-, or even a one-page synopsis that attracts attention, lays out the story, and gets you and your story noticed, noticed for all the right reasons.

Write a great synopsis to complement your outstanding novel manuscript.

***

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41 Responses to “Clear the Dread from the Dreaded Synopsis”

  1. Jeff Kent says:

    You know, I wrote a synopsis for my unpublished novel, and I hated every paragraph of it :) It’ll do, I just hated writing it. Writing a synopsis is like telling your friend about the movie you saw last night, in exhaustive detail. Because I like my friends, I never do this.

    Great article (the link).

    Jeff

  2. Jeff, it can be an ordeal—both the writing of and the listening to. Short and sweet with high points highlighted and incidentals left out ought to work for both situations.

    We all know people who can’t tell us only about the good stuff in a movie. They follow side trails into digressions into dialogue into . . . Well, into places we don’t want to go. You are wise to save your friends that trauma.

    Thanks for letting us know you were here.

  3. Thanks for the great article on writing a synopsis. I have a question though about query letters. Can they ever be more than one page long? I have a good hook and great first paragraph but the total letter is one and a half pages. My contemporary erotic romance is over 300 pages and I am having trouble condensing it into something that makes sense. Thank you for any suggestions you may have. (I hope this letter is not duplicated- my former comment didn’t show up.)

  4. Cindy, keep the query to a single page. It’s the accepted format and it’s a courtesy to agents and publishers and they expect you to be able to do it. The query is the perfect place to use only the one- or two-paragaph description of the story. Make it appealing, but don’t try to tell everything. This is your chance to make others want more. Tell what happens without trying to tell how everything happens.

    If you write two or three pages and everyone else has sent a single page, when an agent or editor gets to yours, you’ve already got strikes against you. And this is even if you get the agent or editor on a good day and they don’t want to think negatively about you just because you didn’t follow the proper guidelines.

    A great suggestion for creating a strong query letter is to have a writer colleague go through it after you’ve done your best with it. Others can often see what can be cut from our queries when we can’t. And our friends aren’t as shy about talking up a project as writers sometimes are.

    I might have to tackle the query next . . .

    I hope this helped. (Your comments were flagged as Spam; that’s why they didn’t post right away. I’ll delete the other one.)

    Good luck with your query and your writing.

  5. Brian says:

    Hi Beth. Is there a specific definition for the term “full synopsis”? Pages, word count? There’s a lit agency I’d like to submit to, I asked them what “full synopsis” meant, no answer. Thanks.

  6. Brian, they want more than just a blurb, so go with the three-page version.

    The full synopsis should include major characters, inciting incident, major events, protagonist’s and antagonist’s goals and motivations, fallout from major events, climax, and resolution.

    In other words, include what happens and how/why and how events lead from one to the next. Show the major story problems and how they are resolved or made worse. Reveal what happens with the plots twists and show how the major story problem is resolved—who, how, where, consequences.

    Include also what the characters lose as they race to solve the story problem.

    Whatever you do, don’t simply tease. Show your story’s setup, show how it plays out through events, and then show how the story problem is resolved and what that resolution means to the major characters.

    Those who ask to read your synopsis want to know what happens and how and why.

    I wish you success with your submission.

  7. Hi Beth,

    Great information and I appreciate your time in putting it out there for everyone.

    A quick question: In writing my synopsis, my main character belongs to an organization called the “Celestia Venatoria”. This is important to the story and I feel the name should be in the synopsis. However, I fear that the agent reviewing my submission will erroneously suspect that I misspelled “Celestial” by leaving off the “L”, when in reality there is no L in the name.

    How would I allude to that without breaking the “style” of the synopsis? Should I use a parenthetical aside explaining that it is spelled correctly, leave it alone and hope they don’t think my spell check is broken, or leave the name out of the synopsis completely? I could also maybe put it in italics.

    Thank you for your support of my efforts.

    Best,
    Patrick Koepke

  8. Patrick, you don’t need to include the name in your synopsis. At this point, without the story behind it, it will mean nothing to anyone reading the synopsis. Use a more general reference instead—a shadowy organization, the group hiding behind a local charity, a global think tank—whatever kind of reference fits your story.

    The name itself is not important for the synopsis. If it was a well-known organization—FBI, Google, even a country—then that would be different and you could name it.

    If you do include the name, however, don’t refer to the spelling; resist the urge to explain. Agents and publishers have seen thousands of unusual words and spellings—they wouldn’t think anything of the spelling. Your instinct is right on—you don’t want to interfere with the feel and flow of the synopsis.

    A great question. Thanks for bringing it up. And just in case you’re still not convinced to forgo including the organization name, I’ll say it again: it’s not needed and the synopsis would be better without it. Give the synopsis reader words that they can identify with. A name, rather than a description of the organization, gives them nothing to latch on to.

  9. Natalie Lang says:

    I do not have any friends who are writers, editors, literary agents, or publishers and I can’t find the answer to my question. So thanks for your help!

    I have been working on an idea for a rather long time and will finally write my novel over the course of the next 6 months. However, I’m a numbers gal and already I can tell after writing my outline the novel will be well over 100,000 words. Should I break up the novel into several books or should I wait until I have an offer and have the editor make that call? Meaning, do I write the entire novel and synopsis as if it’s one book?

    Thanks.

  10. Natalie, I have no one best answer for you.

    Do you envision the story as one book? If so, write it that way. But if you can easily see where you could break it into two or three parts, you may want to try that first. There will be differences in the approaches, so consider which you’d like to try before you begin. You can always change your mind, but starting with one plan in mind is best. The rhythms will be different, the pacing, and the buildup to events will be different between one long book and two or three shorter books. The best choice is what works for the story. Selling the work is a consideration, but you’ve got to be able to see a large project in smaller pieces, complete in themselves, in order to write them that way.

    How far over 100,000 will you go and what’s the genre? Some genres can handle more words. An epic or sci-fi adventure may allow you up to 130,000 words. That’s still tough for an unpublished writer, but not an impossibility. If you’re imagining 110,000 words, I’ll suggest you go for one book and then be prepared to trim.

    Even if you end up writing three stories, you’ll only approach an agent with the first one. You’ll want to sell that one before you try to sell a series.

    As for the synopsis, wait until you’re done to write it. You won’t know what you’ve got until you’ve finished your final draft. Work from an outline if that’s how you work, but don’t worry about a synopsis just yet.

    I hope that helps.

  11. Sheene says:

    Thank you! ..for acknowledging the two different styles! I thought I was taking crazy pills lol. Great info and as a result i am closer to sending out another synopsis than i thought.
    I am also dropping a coined name from my synopsis.. you’re right; unexplained, it means nothing to an agent or publisher, in my case anyway..

    I will now be following your blog after unsubscribing to various websites and blogs and cleaning up my bookmarks this summer…
    And finally! ..thanks for not making me jump through hoops to make a comment :)

    • Sheene, I’m happy to have you here. I hope you’ll find a lot of useful information.

      I laughed when I did a bit of study on the synopsis types. No wonder writers hate them so much—they are a thing unto themselves, with little in common with novels. And definitely of two types, which makes sense for their purposes but can be confusing.

      As for the comments, my comment filter does a good job, so I don’t have to resort to those annoying measures to keep wacky comments out.

      Thanks for letting me know you’re here.

  12. Rebecca says:

    Hi Beth,

    I have a question about my synopsis which I have been unable to find an answer to.

    I am writing my synopsis in the third person present tense as everyone says is a must, and am also writing in the style that my book is written. But my question is whether you can write from two points of view in the synopsis? My book has two protagonists and so two points of view. Would it be acceptable to switch between the two in my synopsis?

    Thanks in advance!
    Rebecca

    • Rebecca, the details of a synopsis are shared not by a character but by an omniscient reporter. You won’t be presenting the events through the words or viewpoint of one (or more) of the characters but through the words of an observer from outside the story. The synopsis should sound like a seamless whole, so you definitely don’t want to make it sound as though multiple people are reporting the details.

      This is a great question—I should probably update the article to include this information. Thanks for bringing it up.

  13. Brandon says:

    Hey Beth,

    Thanks for this article. I’ve recently finished a soft sci-fi/drama novel as of last year and have been struggling with how to condense 125,000 words into ten double spaced pages. HA!
    A question for you… is there a certain page length that is more enticing than others? For example, 10 pages it the max. Should I make it 10 pages or should I try to make it 5? Does it matter?

    Cheers

    • Brandon, different people will want a different length—it’s what matters to them that’s important. I suggest that you prepare a single-page, a three-page, and a ten-page synopsis. It’s likely you’ll need at least two of the three as you try to interest agents and publishers in your novel. If someone asks for a five-pager, you can adapt the three-pager.

      It definitely does matter because you’ll want to send exactly what the agent or publisher asks for.

      • Brandon says:

        Hey Beth, thanks so much for the quick reply. For a further example, Tor Books submissions page says: “The synopsis should run between three and ten pages in standard manuscript format.”

        I take it they won’t it against you if you use the entire 10 pages? I could probably easily tell the entire story in a page or two, but in order to include all the important plot points, the main characters, their development, and the ending I’ve had to use up the entire 10 pages.

        • Brandon, if they say between three and ten, then you’d be safe to use any number of pages from three to ten. There is no magic number because each reader at the publisher’s may have a preference, some liking shorter versions and some liking longer. Yet you don’t want to look like you’ve tried to stuff the synopsis, so maybe don’t try to force the text to the bottom of page ten. Can you cover everything in eight pages and have them wanting more? If so, that’s a good choice. Don’t leave anything out, but don’t overdo either. They don’t need everything, just the good stuff.

  14. Ron says:

    Hi Beth,
    When including bits of dialogue or lines from the story in a synopsis to quickly ‘convey flavor and emotion’ – how do you distinguish those lines from those you are writing as the observing third person? Is italics acceptable?

    Thank you.

  15. Ron says:

    Hi Beth,
    When including bits of dialogue or lines from the story in a synopsis to quickly ‘convey flavor and emotion’ – how do you distinguish those lines from those you are writing as the observing third person? Is italics acceptable?

    Thank you.

    • Ron, if you do include dialogue, you could use quotation marks since it’s spoken words. Yet if you can weave the dialogue into your synopsis in a way that it doesn’t stand out as dialogue, that may work better. And you wouldn’t have to use quotation marks or italics. (Both quotation marks and italics might be a distraction.)

      So if some great line of dialogue is the key to your story, you could just work it into the flow of your synopsis. That is, you don’t need to set up the entire scene and try to show how that line of dialogue works into the story.

      You could do the same with any line from your story—narrative or dialogue—and just weave it into the synopsis as part of what’s happening.

      You don’t really have time or space to set up a single moment, to show what happens before, during, and after that moment. The synopsis is summary, not a spotlight on a single scene, so it usually deals with the general and not the particular. But you can lift a line or two straight from your text—a character’s actions, words, or thoughts—and use it as part of your summary. You don’t need to draw attention to it in a way that shows who said or thought it, just let it flavor your synopsis.

      I’d suggest no italics and no quotation marks.

      So if your line is “Traitors deserve to die,” you simply include that in your synopsis.

      —–

      Gary races to the apartment to find the building in flames. Watching it collapse, watching ambulances rush away, he is finally convinced that traitors deserve to die.

      —–
      If you do use dialogue, use a line that speaks to the heart of the story. And simply insert it in a way that allows it to make sense out of context.

  16. Jill Taylor says:

    What a pleasure to find your site. I am in a state of tooth grinding misery induced by reducing a 93,000 word thriller into three or less double spaced pages for a tough agent. I want her to read it. I want her to like it. It’s my lovechild. I was consuming bags of potato chips and getting very grumpy; all alone with Strunk and White until I surfed around for inspiration/procrastination and found your very sensible advice. I’m still miserable, but now I don’t feel so lonely.

  17. Lavada Price says:

    Thanks for the advice; I was a little unsure of how to format and put my synopsis together. Your advice has been very helpful!!
    Lavada Price

  18. Hi Beth,
    Great service! I’ve just finished my 1st novel and I can certainly use your advice writing the synopsis.
    Michael

  19. Thank you for acknowledging the conflicting advice! I have been reading so many different articles, all purporting to be addressing the same piece of writing yet describing completely different results. It has been frustrating beyond belief trying to figure out which advice to follow. To have you acknowledge and clarify the two different approaches has been immensely helpful. Ironically, I only found your post after suffering through an initial attempt at writing my synopsis and looking for advice on formatting the conglomerate result. Now I know better how to go back and edit it. Thank you!

  20. Imani says:

    This article is very helpful for me, but I’ve been looking around so many places to an answer to my question, and found nothing!

    If you are submitting the first in a series, do you include:

    – synopses of the first and all subsequent books
    – a synopsis of the first book and a mention in the cover letter of it being a series
    – a synopsis of the first book and a synopsis for the series as a whole
    – something else???

    I’d really appreciate the advice.
    Many thanks
    Imani

    • Imani, submit only the synopsis of the first book and don’t mention it’s part of a series in your query letter unless you know beyond doubt that the agent or publisher is looking for a series. The time for talking about a book possibly being part of a series is sometime after that first contact. Until then, let the book stand on its own. Sell the book, not the series.

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  1. […] Feb 14, 2012 … Use these elements to advance your plot and story. … Be sure to read more about writing and their favorite products from the WD Editors. How to Format a Synopsis | The Editor's Blog […]

  2. […] “Learn How to Write a Synopsis, Quick & Easy Tips & Examples” by Writers Digest “How to Format a Synopsis” by The Editor’s […]

  3. […] How to Format a Synopsis (The Editors Blog): http://theeditorsblog.net/2012/07/15/clear-the-dread-from-the-dreaded-synopsis/ […]

  4. […] 6. Clear the Dread From the Dreaded Synopsis […]

  5. […] For anyone trying to write a synopsis, I found a really cool link to how to un-demonize the process by fiction editor Beth Hill here: http://theeditorsblog.net/2012/07/15/clear-the-dread-from-the-dreaded-synopsis/ […]

  6. […] “Learn How to Write a Synopsis, Quick & Easy Tips & Examples” by Writers Digest “How to Format a Synopsis” by The Editor’s […]

  7. […] Clear the Dread from the Dreaded Synopsis […]

  8. […] “Learn How to Write a Synopsis, Quick & Easy Tips & Examples” by Writers Digest “How to Format a Synopsis” by The Editor’s […]