If you’re struggling to “sell” your synopsis, it’s probably because you’re trying to “sell” your synopsis. As an editor, I LIVE for writing that stands on its own. You shouldn't have to sell yourself, but rather lay it all out on the table and see what happens. Confidence is key. I can remember one synopsis that left my eyes wide open in shock. It was my last submission for the day, my kids went to bed and I was ready for a long night of Drama Fever (because I'm obsessed with Korean Dramas!I you don't know where to start, try this one on for size! Goblin, the Great and Lonely God) but I'd realized I'd missed half the episode because I was thinking about the potential behind that dang submission. I’ve read synopses that provoke this kind of passion, but I’ve also read synopses that were truly cringe-worthy. So to promote the re-watching of episodes for myself and fellow editors, here is how to make your synopsis stand on its own.
Stick to MAJOR Plot Development
There is a fine line between interesting moments, and key moments. I want to know which plot points give your story momentum. Imagine this as your “elevator pitch”. If you’ve just written Cinderella, and you find yourself in an elevator with a publisher, you don’t want to try to explain that Cinderella is friends with mice, and that the mice are chased around by a cat named Lucifer. By the time you explain she’s met her fairy godmother, the door has opened and the publisher is yawning.
You may have a really unique subplot, in fact, most stories do. But, dont overwhelm your editor.
Make the General Character Arch Obvious
You should already have character arch in your story, but be sure to include this in the synopsis. Don’t assume the editor knows how the character has changed, based on the plot development. Character change is not always obvious, and if you expect the editor to pin their own attributes to the character in order to understand them, you’ve set yourself up for a HUGE misunderstanding later on.
Also, focus only on the main character(s). I can’t keep track of all the mice and the horse and the cat and the sisters and the Duke, and if I try, then I’m going to be too distracted to focus on what’s necessary.
Generate a Clear Goal, Motivation and Conflict
Again, don’t assume anything. Why does Cinderella want to go to the ball? I never liked high school dances, so maybe I don’t understand what the big deal is. Make the motivation clear. Help me connect to the piece, and don’t leave me wondering what the point is.
DON’T WITHHOLD ANY NECESSARY DETAILS. This happens so often. I know authors are excited about the ending, and want to unveil it in a bigger way than just within the pages of a synopsis, but that’s risky territory. Asking me to trust that your ending will be good without allowing me to read it, is like asking me to fall off a building and trust that you really do have a good pillow to fall on. I wish I could, but it’s probably not good for my health.
Don’t List It, Describe It
This is also a really common mistake when writing a synopsis. So many authors write in a way that sounds like they’re listing events and details. It’s overwhelming for me to keep track of everything if it doesn’t flow comfortably like the story does. And when you list, you become uninteresting, which isn't creative. I love my job because I get to read creative fiction pieces. If it doesn't feel creative, It's a pass for me.
I’ve written another article on this already, How to Write a Killer Query, but make sure you’re not reiterating what you’ve already stated before. Repeating a concept wont make it more noticeable or important. I don’t want to reread what I already know, so I’m more likely start skimming, even if I don’t mean to.
I realize some things have to be repeated, but if that’s the case, show me a different angle. If you already told me that the stepmother was horrible to Cinderella, but the you have to bring it up again, maybe explain that the stepmother is so evil because she is jealous of Cinderella’s beauty, compared to her daughters.
Don’t Be Lengthy
Pay attention to the guidelines. Each publishing house has it’s own preference on synopsis lengths, and if you’re too far over or under that preference, you’ve just put a negative spin on your work. Writing too much tells the editor that you’re not confident in your work, that you feel the need to explain yourself, and that you’re not going to be easy to work with. Writing not enough tells the editor that you're either rushing or lazy. And either way, you haven't followed directions, which is a bigger deal than you may think.
Use Your Tone to Your Advantage
Get me excited about your story! Your synopsis should be just as creative as your query. It’s more “nuts and bolts” but should reflect the tone of your story. I know I’ve put a lot of emphasis on the conceptual aspect of the synopsis, but sometimes the tone is enough to assure me that a piece has potential. Enthusiasm is SO critical because it leaves a lasting impression, and separates you from the crowd. If you follow the above, I'll be ready to read the sample with a good impression of you and your work. If you add this component to your synopsis, you'll leave me pondering your work in the middle of Boys Over Flowers, which is very good for you.
Shy away from rhetorical questions, and self promotion. As I mentioned in the beginning, let your work stand on its own. Use your tone to show how interesting your book is, but try not to add too much fluff to the synopsis.
As always, Happy writing! May your synopsis be strong enough to make an editor re-watch at least one episode of their favorite show.
Be sure to comment with any questions you have. Talking about books and publishing makes me happy :) And thanks for reading!