Most publishing houses and agents specify that a synopsis should accompany any manuscript submission. What exactly a synopsis consists of is much less clear. Here is some guidance on how to prepare one.
This should be an outline of what kind of book you are writing; it is not your chance to give a detailed listing of what is in each chapter. The synopsis should start by ensuring that the recipient can grasp immediately and precisely what kind of book/writer is on offer. Specify what kind of writing genre it sits within (e.g. saga, literary, science fiction, romance, etc.).
The synopsis should be no more than one side of
A4 and should tell me the narrative arc of the whole book so that I know what
happens after the first 10,000 words. Simple as that.
In her excellent book about selling commercial fiction, From Pitch to Publication, agent Carole Blake says that the synopsis should answer the following key questions:
Describe the action, and lay out the plot in the order the reader will encounter it, without doing it chapter number by chapter number.
Describe the characters in brief and compelling detail, without a full ‘back story’. Give a word count if the book is finished; estimated extent if not.
Publishers are trying to fill gaps in non-fiction publishing, so it’s essential that what you send shows how your book fits with existing material – what fresh information do you have; what new insight can you bring?
If you can, quote which section of the bookshop your title would be stocked in (don’t just say the table at the front!) and list subjects/well-known examples of books already existing in this category. Booksellers are loathe to stock titles if they don’t know where to put them, and agents may be unwilling to back a title that has no natural home. A friend of a friend wanted to write a book on the menopause and to call it How Long Before I Can Hang-glide? A bookseller persuaded her that whilst this would make a very good subtitle, people looking for books on the subject would be in danger of not finding it – unless they were by chance looking in the sports section too.
The importance of the title
Whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction, it’s tempting to think that writing the book is the really important thing, and that the book title can grow out of the writing later. Wrong. The title is hugely important: it should catch the agent’s attention and stick in the memory. Think how the same thing works for you with films and plays: a good title can pull people in. Literary novelist Joanna Briscoe received a whole new level of attention when her third book was entitled Sleep With Me and given an enticing cover. (Previous titles, Skin and Mothers And Other Lovers, although well reviewed, had not sold as well.)
'The title matters hugely. I want something that
excites me, something that will draw a similarly instant reaction from any
publisher I mention it to. So go for something that is topical, intriguing or
witty and to the point.'
Heather Holden-Brown, hhb agency Ltd
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