Synopses on the Synapses

Today’s entry is all for me (and my fellow authors in the same circle of Hell): It’s synopsis writing time, and everywhere I look, I get conflicting advice: “Limit adverbs and adjectives” vs. “Use special adjectives”; “Just like a book jacket blurb”  vs. “Don’t  write a book jacket blurb” and so on.

I read through many sources trying to find the answer to two simple questions: how much emotion, humor, and personality am I allowed to let leak into the synopsis? And how long is the darn thing supposed to be?

Shared pain is lessened, so I’m putting it out there and hoping you can derive some usefulness from my exertions:

Nathan Bransford’s Blog:

“A good place to start for a model on how to write a good synopsis is to mimic book cover copy, only also include in the synopsis what happens in the end.”

“I’d shoot for two to three pages, double-spaced. If it’s longer or shorter than that I don’t think anyone is going to be angry, but that should be enough to do what you need to do.”

The Vivian Beck Agency:

“Start With A Hook.   This should be a paragraph or two similar to the blurb on the back of a book.   Mood and tone is important here, use special adjectives.”

No comment about length.

Writer’s Digest:

(Listed under “Things to Avoid”) “Writing back cover copy instead of a synopsis. Don’t go astray and write a hook to intrigue a reader to buy a book or an agent to request a manuscript. Focus on summarizing your novel or book.”

“agents usually favor one to two pages, single-spaced”

Writing World:

“The synopsis is your sales pitch. Think of it as the jacket blurb for your novel (the synopsis is often used in writing this, and by the publisher’s art and advertising departments, if the novel is purchased), and write it as though you’re trying to entice a casual bookstore browser to buy the novel and read it.”

“One guideline is to allow one synopsis page for every twenty-five pages of manuscript, but even that could be longer than most editors and agents want to see. Most editors and agents, busy people that they are, prefer short synopses — two to ten pages. The busier ones like five pages at most. I personally consider two pages ideal, and have distilled synopses down to a single tight page. If you’ve written a thoroughly intriguing synopsis, don’t worry if it’s ten or more pages long — but it had better be gripping.”
(I found this description, with all its ambiguity, to be the most reassuring.)

Marissa Meyer (author of Cinder):

“The book synopsis is that three- or four-page snapshot of the book, that essentially tells your story from beginning to end, while seemingly stripping it of any intrigue, humor, or emotional resonance. To me, writing a synopsis that could leave a reader still wanting to read the actual manuscript always seemed like a much bigger challenge than the query letter.”

“My book synopses for CINDER and New Secret Project both came in around the 1,500-2,000 word range, and that’s not a lot of room to work with! So edit, edit, edit.” (FINALLY a word count! Of note, many of the examples I found online were in the 500-1000 word range, which I determined by copying and pasting them into my word processor for a tally.)


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