How To Write a Great Synopsis

I am obsessed with writing the perfect synopsis.

Well, let me rephrase that. I’m obsessed with finding out about methods, tips and/or voodoo that might, potentially, help me write the perfect synopsis. (I’m pretty sure I’ve never even written a good synopsis, let alone a great or even a perfect one.) I’ve bookmarked blog posts online, highlighted pages and pages of “How To” books, and pestered every writer I’ve ever met more than once for an insight into how they write theirs. I’ve used colored pens, Post-Its, rulers, large pieces of paper, small pieces of paper, notice-boards and even computer programs in an attempt to produce something that’s both snappy and comprehensive, all to no avail. I’ve tried condensing the book, ignoring the book, and using the pages of the book to wipe my frustrated, synopsis-induced tears, but still, all I ever get from it is a migraine and/or a hankering for a double espresso. Because:

  • “Synopsis” is a broad term that covers various awful things that are expected of you as a writer. An elevator pitch, a blurb, a one-page synopsis, a two-page synopsis, a five-to-six page detailed synopsis… Repeat until you keel over.
  • There are as many ways of writing synopses as there are types of synopses required, and the poor writer has no way of knowing if Method X is suitable for producing Synopsis Type Y.
  • If you’ve written your book, condensing 100,000+ words down to a page or two feels like The Worst Thing You’ve Ever Had To Do. Making up a page or two about a book that isn’t written yet is only slightly better.

So when I discovered that Nicola Morgan, Wonder (Publishing) Woman of Help! I Need a Publisher fame, was releasing a new e-book called Write a Great Synopsis, I jumped at the chance to take part in her blog tour if only so I could get my grubby mitts on an early copy. Because as luck—or misfortune—would have it, I’m going to need a sparkly synopsis myself pretty soon.

I knew as soon as I read the first line (“Too much sweat is secreted over synopses…”) that Write a Great Synopsis was going to be my new best friend.

Write a Great Synopsis is like the map you need to get through the dense Synopses Woods on a moonless night, and Nicola’s no-nonsense style is the handy reading light attached to it. After calming your worst fears about how writing a bad synopsis will lead to you never being a published writer ever ever, Nicola explains exactly what is required of it before unveiling her patented “crappy memory” tool, among other synopsis-writing methods. Best of all, she then takes the reader through some real-life examples of synopses, bravely submitted by her blog readers, pointing out what works and what doesn’t, and why it’s so.

The book has plenty of quotes from editors, agents and other publisher types that will help you understand exactly what is required of you. One that really struck a chord with me was from an unidentified agent that said, “[T]he synopsis tells me how interested the writer is in a plot … and the opening chapters tell me how interested the writer is in writing.”

(There was another one that said the first three chapters tell the agent if the writer can write the first three chapters, while the synopsis tells them whether or not the writer can write the book. Ouch!)

I genuinely think I’ve come away from reading Write a Great Synopsis with a very different idea of what my synopsis needs to be, and the confidence that I can produce it. I’m definitely much less petrified than I was of synopses before, especially since Nicola has convinced me that they are not the be-all and end-all of your novel submission. Dare I say, I’m practically looking forward to putting her method to the test.

In a nutshell, this small but mighty e-book would be a very worthwhile investment for any author.

Win a synopsis critique and advice from the Crabbit Old Bat herself!

To coincide with the release of Write a Great Synopsis and this blog tour, Nicola is offering you the chance to win copies of her dangerously useful books as well as an expert critique of your synopsis. (I’d be entering this competition myself if it wouldn’t look bad!) Here are the details from Nicola herself:

“Surrounding publication on January 20th of Write a Great Synopsis – An Expert Guide, I will be visiting a number of blogs for a guest post, review or interview. If you’d like the chance of winning help with your synopsis, simply leave a relevant comment on any of the guest posts. (This could be a deep and meaningful comment or a plea to the gods of fortune to pick you!) One comment per post – but comment on each post if you wish. On February 15th, each blog host will send me the names of valid commenters and I will do a random selection, using a random number generator.


1st prize – a critique of your synopsis, at a mutually convenient time; plus a signed book of your choice, if available.
2nd prize – a critique of your synopsis.
3rd prize – a signed book of your choice, if available.

You can leave a comment on this post or any of the others involved in the tour. You can see the full list of blog tour stops on Help! I Need a Publisher.

About Write a Great Synopsis:

Most writers hate writing synopses. They need dread them no more. In Write a Great Synopsis – An Expert Guide, Nicola Morgan takes the stress out of the subject and applies calm, systematic guidance, with her renowned no-nonsense approach. Write a Great Synopsis covers: the function of a synopsis, differences between outlines and synopses, different requirements for different agents and publishers, finding the heart of your book, how to tackle non-linear plots, multiples themes, sub-plots and long novels, and it answers all the questions and confusions that writers have. Nicola also introduces readers to her useful Crappy Memory Tool, explains the art of crafting a 25-word pitch, and demonstrates with real examples. Gold-dust for writers at all stages.

About Nicola:

Nicola is the author of around ninety books for all ages, fiction and non-fiction. To writers she is known for the no-nonsense expert advice in her blog, Help! I Need a Publisher! and her highly acclaimed book for writers, Write to be Published, as well as Tweet Right – The Sensible Person’s Guide to Twitter.

Click here to find Write a Great Synopsis on Amazon’s Kindle store.

23 thoughts on “How To Write a Great Synopsis

  1. Cameron Lawton says:

    Hello Catherine (I may call you Catherine?) One of the best things about this tour is that not only have I got Nicola’s great book WAGS and left a review on (American readers please note) but I get to drop in and have coffee with all these lovely blog-people.

    It will be rather a shame when it ends. Although the subject has always been WAGS, the different styles of each host blogger have been great reading. Thank you for inviting us. Any chance of another tooth-dissolvingly strong black coffee?


  2. Anne Glennie says:

    Hello Catherine,
    Well, I bought WAGS as soon as it came out (having already read the brilliant Write to be Published also by Nicola) however I have yet to crack open the cover. I really need to finish writing my book first, before I start pretending I need a Great Synopsis to send anywhere. Anyway, I need Nicola to write the next book in the series, something along the lines of: How to Stop Tweeting Right All Day and Actually Do Some Writing!
    Eternally procrastinating,
    Anne 😀

  3. Paul FitzSimons says:

    Yes, the synopsis…the very thought gives me a little bit of a shudder, so it does.

    Give me a hundred-thousand-word manuscript any day of the week, no problem. But ask me to write a 4-page-whatsitallaboutinanutshell? Memories of homework spring to mind. Awww do i have to?

    My latest experiment re synopsiseseses (there have been many) is that I’m doing it first. Before I write word-one of chapter-one (of novel two). I’m being militant. If it can’t be summed up in a thousand words, then I’m not writing it. I’ll go and get a proper job instead (yeah right).

    Will it work? You’ll know If it does as I’ll be shouting it from the rooftops (by which I mean virtual rooftops of Facebook, Twitter and blog).

    So do I need the guldance of a synopsis expert? Eh, safe to say.

    Your fellow caffeine-addict, writer and radio-show-presenter-guy

  4. Alison Percival says:

    Great post Catherine. Smiled in recognition at all the ways you’ve tried. Would love to win a critique of my synopsis from the Crabbit Old Bat herself!

  5. astridholm says:

    Hi, bought this great e book yesterday, made my self ‘find the heart’ of my book, write the elevator pitch and two hours later as if by magic there was a Synopsis!! Amazing stuff. Whether it’s any good or not is another thing… But its certainly better than my torturous previous efforts. So thank you Nicola. (Crappy memory tool was inspired…)

  6. Janice says:

    Saw it. Grabbed it straight from Crabbit’s hot little fingers. Read it on my Kindle. Think I saw a glimmer of light. The lights ARE on and someone’s IN. Okay, the memory’s gone but that’s a plus – yay – whodathunkit?! I thought I couldn’t do it and now I suspect I CAN!
    Thank you Nicola – you spelled it all out!

  7. Amanda Saint says:

    Hello Catherine,

    I recently went through the dreaded synopsis writing exercise as I am having a review of one chapter as part of the Get Writing 2012 event. It was pure torture and I had no idea what to do, if only I could have got my little mits on this book before I started. I finally cobbled something together and sent it off but have found that doing it has put me on a bit of a roll. Sorting it all out in my head means the chapters are now pouring out onto the paper! So, I would love to win a critique of the synopsis that set my writing on the road to completion.

    Best wishes,

  8. catdownunder says:

    “Dangerously useful…” oooooh I do like that! Oh hello, I had to purrowl in and find out who you are from the list on Nicola’s blog. (I was much too much a scaredy cat to ask her to come and visit me.)

  9. kirstyes says:

    Hello Catherine – it seems you don’t need voodoo just a bottle of Champagne ;o)

    and Anne Glennie – I definitely need a copy of the title you suggested ‘How to Stop Tweeting Right All Day and Actually Do Some Writing!’ – could it include facebook too?

  10. nicola says:

    Catherine, a humungous thank you to you for hosting this stop of my blog tour! I loved your readers’ comments, though I can tell you that I’m not the right person to write a book called How to Stop Tweeting All Day and Actually Do Some Writing! Trust me.

    Good luck to you all in your writing lives, and in the WAGS competition. I will let Catherine know if any of you are among the winners but I have to say that there were vast numbers of entrants…

    Thanks again. Write well, all, and a special pot of coffee to Catherine. xx

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