The Book Synopsis, or, Kill Me Now

CGmemes-synopsisAlong my journey into the pitch wars of book #1, I came upon a publisher who wanted a three-page summary of my story. This naive writer thought, “No problem. I wrote the book, I know what’s in it. I surely can summarize it.”

I’m cute when I’m stoopid.

Let’s all shout it together, shall we? One, two, three: OH THE FREAKIN’ HUMANITY, NOT A SYNOPSIS!!!

Thanks. I feel better when I know we’re all in this together. But tell me, what sort of sadistic psychopath came up with the idea of authors writing their own synopses? No, really, I’m asking. It was easier to write my entire novel than it was to condense it into two or three pages.

Where we tend to go wrong

I know authors often make these mistakes when trying to bang out the thing:

  1. Write too much detail—you have to focus on the main plot lines.
  2. Add too many character names—leave it to three at most. (Man, what I would give to make George R.R. Martin write one.)
  3. Forget the ending of the book—check with your publisher requirements. Many want to know how the story ends. It’s all a part of them seeing if your work fits in with their brand.
  4. Ignore the word count—your synopsis will get thrown out the moment publishers see it’s too long. It’s super important to respect their rules. If they say 1500 words, then do that.

Where I went wrong

Oh sure, I did the first two mistakes listed above, but then I drove a Ferrari to the other end of the spectrum. I actually made me hate my book and not want to read it. Yup. I paid so much attention to the word count that I removed all the character out of my synopsis.

You see, I write comic science fiction. What’s the main thing about that genre? Oh yeah, it’s funny. My synopsis? Not so much with the funny. My husband, a former editor, told me that my synopsis was so sterile you couldn’t tell it went with the humorous story I’d written.


Where I got a wee bit better

Honestly, I cannot say I got writer’s block through the entire process of writing my first book. It went swimmingly, like having a first child who only cries when she wants to be fed or changed. The synopsis? That was like having a second child who you are convinced is some sort of alien spawn.

My writer’s block was horrific. I walked away from my desk so many times, and hated sitting back down at it again.

Finally, I thought about the characters in my book, and the zany things they say. Next thing I knew, I started borrowing from their dialogue as I described my story. Ohhhh, that’s much better. I can’t say I’ve written the best synopsis in town, but when I handed it to husband-editor, he said, “Now that sounds like your book.”

OK, so I have an idea where to start for next time. NEXT TIME?! AAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!!!

The funny thing is…

I found writing the one-paragraph “back matter” summary-synopsis way easier. Maybe it’s because I knew it had to be sort of a trailer, without the ending mentioned. I also imagined a guy with a deep movie-trailer voice reading it. (What? It worked for me.)

Anyway, if you hate synopses, I get you, baby

To this day I scout for publishers who don’t ask for one. Even though I sorta got through the exercise, me no wanna do eet no mores. Sigh, I know, I know, sometimes you have to suck it up and go synsopsising. Especially if you want to be traditionally published.

But it doesn’t mean I hafta like it!

What are your synopsis-composing trials or victories? I’d love to hear about them. Post a comment!



Cait Gordon has been a senior technical writer for high tech and government organizations. Her first novel is being sent to the universe. She hopes the universe likes it. (The second book has begun and a third will happen, too!)

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