Susan Spann is back, with another amazing post that will help you create an Author Business Plan. If you missed her first two posts in the series, they are: Overview of an Author Business Plan, and 7 Steps to Writing Your Business Plan.
Welcome back to my WITS series on writing an author business plan. This month we’re taking a closer look at Section 2 of the business plan: Writing the Book Synopsis.
A Synopsis (Part 2 of the author’s business plan) is a 1-2 page summary of the novel or other work. The synopsis is not the same as a query (which doesn’t give away the ending) or a book proposal (which is a tool an author uses to sell a work “on spec”.) Book synopses follow a standard form and structure – for fiction, the synopsis is always written in third person present tense, regardless of the narrative form of the work.
Some authors write the synopsis before the manuscript. Others prefer to wait until the manuscript is complete. (The latter is more common in fiction, though by no means universal.) I write my synopses “after the fact,” so my method requires a finished manuscript, but there are many good resources (online and off) for other methods – find the one that works for you!
Here’s how I write a synopsis for my novels:
The final synopsis begins with a one-paragraph blurb that describes the book as a whole, but I leave that for last. It’s easier once you’ve put the rest together.
Step 1: Open a copy of the manuscript and also create a new word processing document (this will become the synopsis.)
Step 2: Read the first chapter of the manuscript. When you finish, summarize the chapter in one sentence. ONE SENTENCE. (Do not pass go, do not collect semicolons.) Continue this process through the entire manuscript, summarizing each chapter in one sentence. The sentences don’t have to connect or make sense as a whole at this point – this step is about distilling each chapter down to essential components. Many of your bells and whistles - supporting details and super-awesome-decorative-bits won’t make it into the synopsis. That’s okay. Take a deep breath and keep going.
Step 3: Close the original manuscript, and edit the summary you’ve created as if the synopsis was a manuscript in itself. This is the point where all those one-sentence summaries have to learn to play nicely together. Turn the summaries into a unified story. The sentences don’t have to remain in first-draft condition, and the number of sentences can (and will) change. Delete, reorganize, and edit until you have a coherent whole.
Step 4: Write the introductory paragraph. Remember that book-jacket style logline/summary paragraph that opens the synopsis? Write it now. Since you’ve just spent many hours reading and summarizing your manuscript, writing a killer introduction – one that entices a reader – is easier at this stage.
Step 5: Edit for length. After the synopsis reads smoothly (aloud as well as in your head,) it’s time to revise again – this time for length – until the synopsis is no more than two pages long. I typically write a “final” two-page version and then take it through a second round of editing until I have a one-page version as well.
Remember: the synopsis tells the entire story – including the ending. This isn’t a query, and it’s not a document you’ll ever post in public places. The synopsis is used by you – and also by agents, publishers, and even contest judges – to evaluate the work as a whole.
Your business plan homework between now and next month is to try your hand at writing a synopsis. If your work isn’t finished, try distilling a chapter or two from your work in progress into one-sentence summaries. Then tune in next month, when we move to Section 3: Effective Techniques for Author Marketing.
What method do you use to write a synopsis? Do you write it first or after the work is finished? And do you consider it a pleasure or a pain?
I’d love to hear how the process works for you!
Susan Spann is a publishing attorney and author from Sacramento, California. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, July 2013), is the first in the Shinobi Mystery series featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori. Susan blogs about writing, publishing law and seahorses at http://www.SusanSpann.com. Find her on Twitter @SusanSpann or on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SusanSpannAuthor