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Why You Need to Write a $*#(%@-ing Synopsis

Ah, Twitter: the place where one goes to complain and tell others what to do. But for editors, it can be an informative hub. I remember the day(s) when writers raged about the sweet, innocent synopsis and told it where to go. Why did I need to write one? They are pointless. We don’t even use them. Seriously, I’ve written a gazillion books. I’ve got better things to do.

Don’t we all?

It is a seasonal rant, and often goes up into the ether unchecked. I vowed after the last one to take it seriously and list all the ways a synopsis helps the writer. Since it is a New Year, and I have told myself to Be Awesome every single day of 2019, here is my reasoning for why a synopsis is sacred:

A synopsis can be like the literary version of showing your work. If you can tell your story in short form, you really know your story. It’s a different kind of writing but valuable nonetheless. To write one effortlessly (agents/editors will love you for them), follow my plan and write a synopsis in a day. It is not the stomach flu.

An agent/editor uses the synopsis to see if the book could sell or work for a specific imprint. We may love your writing, but to know for sure if the story has all the bells and whistles, we need an idea of the plot, even the spoilers.

On the editor side, I use the synopsis (sometimes cutting and pasting) to explain to others why we need to buy this book or as rationale for why I bought the book. It is the ultimate butt-covering device.

Five months later, after reading a hundred other books after yours, I reread your synopsis to jog my memory so that we don’t put the wrong characters on your cover or mess up the back cover copy.

On some occasions when the book isn’t quite finished, a talented copywriter will piece together a gem of a blurb from your synopsis.

Overseas markets may become interested in your stories. To tantalize, say, Germany or Spain or France, we give them snippets of information, some of which comes from your synopsis, which we have to reread again.

There’s also that time when I have to edit a book and I’m not certain if it’s the one I think it is (you’ve written three more books since). So I read the synopsis for the fifth time. I give thanks to the synopsis gods for clarifying and saving me from embarrassment.

Ten years go by. I might be assigned to conjure a list of twenty of your past books to reissue in four box sets, but I don’t know which ones I’d put where. My brain isn’t as sharp as it used to be. Perhaps, organize by theme? This involves reading your synopsis or some version of a summary (which would be a distilled version of your synopsis) pronto. Another lamb sacrifice to the synopsis gods for showing me the way.

You may ask via Twitter, Why can’t the editors just write the synopsis for me? Because we don’t know the story as well as you do. Maybe we haven’t read it yet. Maybe we just don’t wanna. And writing a synopsis for the 20-30 authors (20 x at least 2 books per year) we work with means asking the FDA (AMA, FCC, ADA, ABA?) to approve human cloning. While synopses are not the most thrilling things for us to read, they are necessary and help ensure the sanity of your editor and the immortality of your books.

Thank you in advance for writing them.

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2 thoughts on “Why You Need to Write a $*#(%@-ing Synopsis”

  1. They’re not fun, but I think they are more intimidating than they are difficult. Doesn’t mean I like to write them, mind you, but still. If you can write a whole damned novel, you can write a synopsis.

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