As many people have noted Miss Snark is providing commentary on more than a hundred synopses. If you’re at all interested in a career as a writer or the publishing industry you should definitely take a squiz.
As Scott and me’ll be giving a workshop on writing these buggers in March (in Bologna!) I’ve been following Miss Snark’s critques and the resulting discussions closely. I found Diana Peterfreund’s posts particularly useful, especially her reminder to everyone that even when you’re already a published writer you still have to write ’em:
Often, being published means that your synopsis is even more important, for instead of merely trying to get an editor to read the manuscript on the basis of your synopsis, you’re trying to get them to lay down money for a manuscript you haven’t even written because the synopsis makes it sound cool. In some contracts, there’s a whole chunk of money reserved until you turn in your synopsis or outline or what have you. At many houses, it’s the synopsis, and not the manuscript, that is given to the art and marketing departments. It’s the synopsis that tells the PR person what to put in the press release, the flap copy writer what to put in the blurb, etc. etc. It’s the synopsis that helps the marketing department decide how to present your book to the public. It’s kinda important.
I can vouch for that. I sold the Magic or Madness trilogy on the basis of a proposal (including synopsis) and the first three chapters. In the contract I get paid when I turn in the synopsis for each book and then on publication. So, even though I’d already written the synopsis of the whole series I had to write a new one for books 2 and 3.
I nagged and nagged my editors until they let me out of writing a synopsis for the third book. I don’t hate writing them; I’m just lazy. Instead I had a meeting about the book with my editors and we all took lots of notes and gossiped. Much fun. I was feeling very cunning and pleased with myself for having substituted writing a synopsis with a fun gossip session, but then some publishers interested in foreign-language rights for the whole trilogy requested, you guessed it, a synopsis for book 3. Sucked in, Justine.
And because I was three-quarters of the way through writing Magic or Madness 3 when I had to turn around and write the synopsis, I found it very hard going. For me it’s much easier to write the synop first. If I’ve already written the book, or worse, haven’t quite finished it, then I’m all bogged down in the detail and writing a decent synop is agony.
From now on I’ll be writing a synop early on in the writing of each new novel—or, you know, I’ll intend to—because sooner or later someone’s going to want one out of me. And it doesn’t matter if it’s not an exact snapshot of the book—as Diana says quoting one of her teachers: “a synopsis is a sales tool”.
So there you have it: the synopsis is a mostly unavoidable part of selling novels. Live with it!