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Writing A NonFiction Synopsis

  • By Harry Bingham
  • Published 10/25/2011
  • Non-Fiction

The trouble is that there’s also a good chance that your synopsis will also be the last thing a literary agent or editor will read. The things easy to get wrong. It’s hard to know what to write – and hard to know how to write it. If you’re struggling, take some compensation from the knowledge that you aren’t alone. I hate writing the things. So does nearly every other author I know. And we nearly always leave the synopsis until the last minute – not because we don’t think it’s worth writing, but because we hate writing it so much. Some authors can hammer out hundreds of pages without breaking a sweat, but break down in front of the awful task of filling that single sheet of paper. The difficulties are twofold. First, it’s very hard to boil down all those hours of work, research and inspiration to the kind quick frothy summary required to hold the attention of a time-pressed and quite likely bored editor (who has already read dozens of other synopses that morning). Second, selling yourself is awkward. If you’re like me and have rather a shade too much English reserve it’s hard not to feel gauche when you’re blowing your own trumpet. But blow it you must. If you don’t, that carefully crafted first chapter, the exquisite samples of work or the thousand page masterpiece will count for nothing. They simply won’t get read. There’s nothing for it but to grip your teeth, try to think about your work as objectively as you can and set down what you think is important about it and explain why it’s worth reading. I know. I know. It hurts. There are at least a few things you can do – and avoid doing – to make this task a little easier.

The most important thing to remember that your synopsis isn’t just a summary, it’s a summary that sells your book to agents. It’s important to give a clear idea of what’s in the book and what it’s about

, but you don’t have to cram in every detail. If you want to give a detailed overview of the nuts and bolts of your book and the way they all fit together, consider including a separate chapter summary. For now your job is to tell a story about why your book is worth reading and why you are the right person to write it. You have to entertain, interest and (if it’s that kind of book) amuse. You should also try to include a beginning, a middle and an end. That’s to say a paragraph that quickly introduces the book and why it might be interesting, a series of further points that explain it’s value and who is likely to want to read it (and ideally how many millions of these people there are) – and then a clearly defined conclusion that wraps things up or – even better – leaves the reader hungry for more. Book reviews are the best thing to turn to if you’re looking for writing models. A good review doesn’t tell you everything that’s in the book – it does highlight the things that are likely to make you want to read the book. It passes an opinion, but avoids empty adjectives. (Saying your book is “brilliant” doesn’t mean much compared to saying – for instance – that it provides new insights into a subject the public simply has to know about – and here’s why…) Good book reviewers are also very good at cherry-picking the parts of books that give the strongest impression of their value. Try to do a similar thing and include a few of your best facts, best revelations, best jokes and best arguments. And once you’ve done all that, you’ll probably find that you’ve covered that blank sheet of paper. Easy? Well no. Doing a good job will take considerable effort and skill. It will also probably take quite a lot of time and a number of rewrites. But if you’ve got what it takes to write a book, you should also have what it takes to write a synopsis… Eventually…

Oh, and there is one more thing. Be brief. Editors and literary agents are busy. And a crucial rule of writing is knowing how to avoid outstaying your welcome… See?



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