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.

The Devil’s in the Debut: Guest Post by Nicola Morgan

I am very excited this Wednesday morning and it’s not just because December, my favorite month of the year, starts tomorrow, or because I’ve ingested a not insignificant amount of caffeine this morning. It’s because the wonderful Nicola Morgan, the woman behind the most useful writing blog on the web, Help! I Need a Publisher, and two books that should be added to every writer’s library, Write to be Published and Tweet Right: The Sensible Person’s Guide to Twitter, is here as part of her blog tour for her YA novel, Mondays are Red. She’s here to tell us why debut novels have to have that extra special something for the author to succeed, to break out. Welcome to Catherine, Caffeinated, Nicola! 

Hello Catherine and thanks so much for letting me hang out on your esteemed blog today! I have brought coffee. 🙂

Since Mondays are Red was my debut, back in the dim and distant days of 2002 when I was young and unwrinkly, you’ve asked me to talk about debuts, and whether they have to be different from other novels.

Interesting question and one I wouldn’t have had a clue how to answer back then. I knew what I was doing, not what I was supposed to be doing! Since then, I’ve learnt a lot, not just about writing but about the industry and what agents and publishers need. And it boils down to selling. (And preferably, as far as most publishers are concerned, easy selling. Gah.)

So, a debut needs to stand out. It needs to mark the writer as “one to watch” because that writer has got to produce other books. It needs to showcase the writer’s skill and imagination – or whatever it is that this writer shines at. You have to wear a sparkly dress and really high heels.

Interesting Point 1: This is all new. Not so long ago, a writer was allowed to build a career – Ian Rankin and Jacqueline Wilson are examples of writers whose huge success came with later books. Writers now are not allowed that luxury: you have to leap onto the world with a big shout. If you haven’t made your mark with book two, that may be it. Marketing budgets suddenly vanish.

On the other hand, if you’re writing to fit into a clear genre with specific demands, the debut does not need to stand out, just to fit in. So, I guess what I’m saying is that your debut needs to be extreme: either extremely noticeable or extremely fitting in.

So, what elements in a novel give it debut quality? An unusual voice, an unusual anything, a shocking or otherwise remarkable theme, a high concept premise. That’s about it. Basically, a good debut has sit-up-and-take-notice factor.

Mondays are Red was my debut and it worked very well as one – though, as I say, I didn’t know that at the time. My second novel, Fleshmarket, would also have worked. Deathwatch wouldn’t. Wasted would. The one I’m writing now, Brutal Eyes, wouldn’t. The two novels I failed to get published before Mondays are Red were not debut material. I know that now. They were too safe. They weren’t original enough, though I thought they were. The plots were criticised as being traditional. But they also weren’t genre fiction so they would not fit there either.

Interesting Point 2: Not all first books are debuts. I’d had at least umpteen books published before Mondays are Red – home learning books, for example, and a Greek history book. I didn’t call them debuts because they weren’t. They were preparation.

Interesting Point 3: You might need to write another debut one day. I’m trying to write one now. When you move publishers or you want to take a new trajectory, be noticed again and perhaps for different reasons, you may have to write another book which will have the same sit-up-and-notice-me factor as a debut. You just don’t call it a debut. That would be weird; people would look at you and not in a good way.

So, remember: not all first books are debuts and not all debuts are first books. But a debut needs to pack a special punch.  It needs a special debutness about it. And an agent will know it when she sees it. That’s what they mean when they say (infuriatingly) that they “didn’t love it enough.” Gah. The devil’s in the debut.

Btw, I’m talking about Debut Ups and Downs on The View From My Garrett on 2nd Dec – and I’ll even mention the removal of clothes…

Thanks Nicola!

Mondays are Red was Nicola Morgan’s debut YA novel, published in 2002. Nicola is now delighted to be producing the ebook, with brand new extra material, including creative writing by school pupils inspired by the book. For details about how to buy (price c.£2.25 until the end of January), see here.

Mondays are Red is the story of Luke who, having awoken from a coma, discovers that his world is altered. Synaesthesia confuses his senses and a sinister creature called Dreeg inhabits his mind. Dreeg offers him limitless power – even the power to fly – and the temptations are huge, but the price is high. Who will pay? His mysteriously perfect girlfriend, with hair as long as the sound of honey? His detested sister, Laura, with the wasps in her hair? When Laura goes missing, Luke realizes the terrible truth about himself and his power. His decision is a matter of life and death, and he will have to run faster than fire.