First, we must understand what a synopsis is. According to the dictionary, a synopsis is a brief or condensed statement giving a general view of some subject. In other words, as writers it means a brief summary of the plot for a novel, motion picture, play, etc. Your book’s synopsis is the second most important part of your sales sheet (i.e. cover letter); which we already covered a few weeks back. Editors will skim over your cover letter to get a feel for you as the author, but it is the accompanying synopsis that really sales your book.
Most writers hate writing a synopsis and I have to tell you they are not easy to do. You don’t want to give too much of the plot away and yet you want to capture the editor’s eye. So how do you do this in just a couple of pages? Well, I will be honest, I am still learning this craft myself, but here is what one expert I know had to say about it:
In an article by Marg Gilks, How to Write a Synopsis, she said, “The synopsis is your sales pitch. Think of it as the jacket blurb for your novel (the synopsis is often used in writing this, and by the publisher's art and advertising departments, if the novel is purchased), and write it as though you're trying to entice a casual bookstore browser to buy the novel and read it. Which isn't too far from actuality.” To read the whole article visit http://www.writing-world.com/publish/synopsis.shtml
Marg is right in what she says about the synopsis being used for the book jacket. Many blurbs you find on the inside book jacket or on the backside of a novel is from the author’s synopsis.
I look at writing my own book’s synopsis in the same way I use to look at selling a product to a customer or a concept design to my Marketing Manager when I was buyer. How I did this was by, showing why this is a good product (benefits), overcoming obstacles, stating why this benefits the customer, and closed the sale.
These basic selling steps work on pretty much everything. So let’s talk about the first step.
Why is this a good product? On the other hand, in our case, a good book the editor, publisher, or even reader should consider buying.
In retail selling, as a sales clerk, you would talk about the product’s selling points. For example, if I were selling hand cream, I would want to show the customer how my hand cream absorbs into the skin quickly and does not leave a greasy film on the skin versus other hand creams on the market. By telling the customer this, it will, hopefully, let them allow me to apply some hand cream to their hands to show them what I am saying is indeed true. Another tactic would be to offer a hand massage and use that opportunity to explain the benefits of the product. So how does this work with a book synopsis?
Well, first off, you are going to want to hook the reader, editor, or publisher. For me, I usually start brainstorming all the reasons why this book inspired me to write it. By listing and working those exciting inspirational reasons into the beginning of your synopsis, you will create the energy needed to overcome the obstacles on why the editor, publisher, or reader should buy your book over someone else’s. You want them to want to add it to their already very large list of publications in that genre, or for the reader, another book on their bookshelf at home.
With this in mind, let’s talk about overcoming obstacles. Let us go back to the hand cream for a minute. When I worked for L’Occitane, we did sell a wonderful hand cream at $21 per tube. To many people this was a lot of money for hand cream. Therefore, for us, we had to overcome price points besides why this hand cream instead of one from Bath and Body or from Wal-Mart.
I learned quickly that going back to the benefits of the product to overcome obstacles is the best tool for any sales clerk. When someone made a comment on the price for a 16oz tube of hand cream, I would state our hand cream was the only one with 20% shea butter. Where all the others didn’t have shea butter or had less than 10%. I also knew the product well enough to know who else used it. In France, the hand cream was used in burn hospitals because of the healing properties shea butter has. I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. All these facts also overcame the question, “Why is this hand cream so much better than the one I’m using now?”
So back to writing a book synopsis, what obstacles might you encounter when submitting to a publisher or editor? Well, maybe your book is too much like Harry Potter. For example: the Charlie Bone series, which is very much like the Harry Potter series in regards to the stories MC. The boy, Charlie Bone, is in a boarding school with magical powers just like Harry Potter who goes to Hogwarts. Now granted the author, Jenny Nimmo, of the Charlie Bone series had other books published before writing this series and I’m sure she had the idea before the Harry Potter series ever came out. However, Jenny was pitching a similar book and still had to overcome obstacles. So how would she overcome the editor looking at her book and thinking, “Nope, seen this idea already. Pass.”
Well Jenny Nimmo, I am sure, pointed out that Charlie Bone was not an orphan like Harry Potter and that he lived with his mother, two grandmothers, and his hermit uncle. Jenny Nimmo may have mentioned Charlie’s magical ability had nothing to do with waving a wand and casting spells, but instead, when he looked at a photograph Charlie could hear the people talking at the time the picture was taken. Then later find he was able to enter the photographs and talk with the people inside about other things in regards to their lives. Now that’s interesting and very different from Harry Potter!
This means, when you write your synopsis make sure you know what other books are out there like yours. You want to be able to list what makes yours different and stand out from the rest. It’s very important not only to capture the editor’s eye, but also in helping to sell your book to the reader.
Now that you have shown the customer why this is a good product and have overcome the obstacles, you now need to show how this benefits the customer when they already have a product just like it at home. I do have to be honest . . . this is a lot harder to do depending on the product you are trying to sell. In the case of the hand cream, by having the customers try it and to see for themselves it left no greasy film, I pretty much had it sold. However, some would still hesitate to buy it. In person, you ca n at least ask questions to find out what may be holding up the sale. With a synopsis, you do not have that option. So what do you do?
You will need to put on your editors hat and think of reasons why an editor, publisher, or reader wouldn’t want to buy your book. If you find this hard to do, ask a writing friend to help or family member. Have them give you some reasons why an editor, publisher, or reader might want to pass and then address these in your synopsis. The goal is to do this in a way to get them wanting to buy your book instead of buying someone else’s.
Believe it or not, we are rounding the finish line of writing a synopsis. It is now time to close the sale. The best way to close any sale is to wrap the ending back to the beginning. Sound familiar? It should since we hear it all the time from editors, agents, critique buddies. Knowing how to wrap things up is very important in all things. In every good story and article written, the reader always sees how the beginning, middle, and end come full circle. In a story, it is how the MC grew and in an article, it is tying up all the loose ends, and usually repeating the first sentence in a new way. This is exactly what you will want to do with your synopsis. Make sure to wrap it all up and get the customer wanting to read the whole book.
I would love to tell you that 99% of the time . . . I closed the sale after successfully tackling every obstacle and showing every benefit the customer would gain by buying my product. However, I cannot lie to you. In truth, I properly successfully closed about 78% of the time, but at least I did my best and learned something new each time.
Lastly, back to the article I referenced earlier, How to Write a Synopsis. Marg brings up some key things to think about when writing a synopsis. One is length. I suggest a couple of pages. Some writers have a different opinion. Marg’s best advice from her article, “Edit, edit, edit, if you have to! Always keeping in mind that the synopsis must remain interesting and supply the necessary information. Yes, this is the hardest part. Don't know what to cut? Lose the adjectives and adverbs; keep the motivation and "flavor" of the story.”
Now go write a brief synopsis of your book, post it here if you would like. I will be checking back to make comments through the week on those who do.