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Welcome to The Literary Pig's blog - a safe haven for all those afflicted with
the unbearable urge to write.

Monday, 14 May 2012

How to write the perfect synopsis

Sarah Palmer (pictured on right) led a lively workshop on writing synopses, blurbs and pitches at West Sussex Writers' monthly meeting (10 May). Her publishing career started with Routledge as an Editiorial Assistant. She then moved to Orion to become an Assistant Editor, proof-reading and copy-editing, and eventually moved into publicity. Sarah is now a freelance editor/copy-editor and ghostwriter, so clearly had the perfect credentials to guide our eager group.

Anyone who's ever attempted to write a synopsis will agree it's a hateful task. One writing friend declared she'd 'rather write a whole novel than a synopsis'. Sarah stressed that firstly you should ALWAYS stick to the agents/publishers guidelines before submitting. Typically they want to see a single page synopsis of <500 words.

Sarah outlined, using her own novel's synopsis as an example, that the synopsis must:

  • tell your story from beginning to end - including the ENDING (and whodunnit)
  • explain your main characters and how they interact
  • illustrate that you understand story arcs
  • show you have taken all of your characters on individual journeys
and achieve this by:
  • using present tense
  • single spacing
  • focus on main plot only
  • stick to the story and don't attempt to recreate your writing voice
  • keep sentences simple
  • use a snappy strap-line if you have one
Sarah talked about the importance of coming up with a strap-line in one or two sentences and asked us all to have a go. This is a fun exercise and shows just how creative you can be. She suggested the strap-line is a great hook to get your reader wanting more, whether they are: reader/buyer, agent. publisher or book reviewer. And a question is often a successful way to write a strap-line. 
Example of a strap-line that does the job: Everyone hates the perfect family. So you'll love the Battles. (A Tiny Bit Marvellous, Dawn French).

She then explained the importance of having a prepared 'Elevator Pitch'. Imagine you're in a lift with the Publishing Director of a major house and only have several floors to make them fall in love with your novel ... what would you pitch? A good elevator pitch can go in a covering letter. It should include:
  • your USP (unique selling point)
  • your main character
  • a reference to the main conflict of your story
Again Sarah ran through several examples including her own novel, recently completed.

She also talked us through writing blurbs and press releases, but more of those in a future post.
And what has Sarah achieved with her own novel to date... She shared that after submitting the usual cover note, synopsis and sample 3 chapters she has already been asked to submit her full manuscript. Not luck, but careful selection of agents and ensuring her first contact with them was perfectly executed. Her success and excellent advice was truly motivating.

Now I'm off to re-write my synopsis...


  1. I think the synopsis is the hardest part of novel writing to get right. We have an idea that fills hundreds of pages and we have to get it down to one!

  2. Totally agree Patsy! I found Sarah's tips the most helpful I've come across and her real life example made a lot of difference. I'm trying to put it all into practice now!

  3. Hi Rachel, glad to know this helped! If you have any success then please let me know.
    I followed the advice and an agent asked to see the whole ms :)