The SCBWI monthly meeting was last night. And what a terrific meeting it was. Sydney Salter Husseman helped to de-mystify the elements of a synopsis. Using examples from her work and personal experience, she took us through the step-by-step process. She showed us what had been successful for her and what hadn't. There were also many in the class who were helpful, shedding light on their own successes as well. The whole evening was very enlightening. I'm so glad I was able to attend.
Besides the query letter, there is nothing more daunting than the synopsis, because one has to write so many different kinds. Some agents and editors want only a paragraph, maybe two; some want a full page. Then there are those who want five or six pages, and still others, who want to see thirty to sixty pages depending on how large your manuscript. But Sydney made it very clear that in order to be a successful writer, one has to master the synopsis. Hundreds and hundreds of books have been sold on the synopsis alone. And because of this, she also told us how valuable it is to write a synopsis before even attempting to write a book--- a type of outline, if you will--- to help the story stay on course without interfering with creativity.
If the agent, editor, and or publisher does not like what he, or she, sees in the synopsis your manuscript may never be read. But before you despair her are a few tips that I gleaned from the instruction last night.
1. The synopsis is a sales pitch.
2. It should make your book come alive.
3. It must have a strong hook---make the first sentence grab the reader.
4. Make it clear who the main character is and why she is so important.
5. What is the main conflict? Make it clear.
6. What is the main character's motivation and goals to over come the main conflict?
7. There must be internal, as well as external conflict. Show the main character's growth so that he or she isn't a flat character.
8. Show voice, give the reader a sense of your voice as a writer.
9. Show the protagonist's voice and also the villain's. Why should the reader care about your main character? Why should he dislike the villain?
10. Make sure to put in key scenes from the book.
11. Be sure to tell how the book ends.
12. Leave the reader with an emotional feeling that draws him in at the end. One he cannot forget, one that haunts him, so that he is dying to read more. The last paragraph is what stays with a reader, good or bad.
13. Pay attention to language. Make every word count. Don't use adverbs or adjectives. Use the right kind of details, but not too many. Don't get off on tangents that are not key to the story.
14. Don't be gimmicky.
15. Don't give the reader any reason to dislike your book.
15. The following are the basic mechanics:
a. Write in third person, present.
b. Use a 12 count, Times New Roman font, something that is easy to read. The agents, editors, and publishers won't take the time to read your synopsis if the font is too hard to decipher.
c. Double space. Don't cheat, it will only tick-off the agent or editor and he or she might just toss it away on principle alone.
d. Set your margins as you would your manuscript, 1 1/4 inch margins on both sides. Again don't cheat, the agent, or editor has read hundreds of synopses. He/she will know where you have set your margins.
e. In the top left corner, state your real name, mailing address, telephone number, and e-mail address. (All single-space)
f. At the top right, type your novel's genre, the book's word count, and the word, Synopsis. (All single-space)
g. Then double-space twice and type your novel's title, centered, all in capital letters.
17. Above all: FOLLOW the submission guidelines stated on the literary agent and editor websites!
I hope you find this information as helpful as I have. I wish you good luck!