Join Jessica Brody for an in-depth discussion in this video The short synopsis, part of Sell Your Novel to a Major Publisher.
- [Instructor] Remember when I told you to start studying the book summaries online and in book stores? Well here's where that research is going to become especially useful. Because the next pitch we're going to create is your short synopsis or what is commonly referred to in the publishing industry as jacket flap copy or jacket flap summary. When writing the short synopsis, think about the following question: if your book was already published, what would it say on the inside jacket flap? Or if it's a paperback, what would it say on the back of the book? How will your summary reel in readers and encourage them to take that book to the register and add it to their online shopping cart as opposed to returning it to the shelf and moving on to something else? And I know what you might be thinking, isn't that the publisher's job? Don't they write that stuff? Don't they have some kind of in-house marketing team trained to write good book summaries that make people want to read the book? And while the answer is yes, at this point in the game, it's your job.
And if you do your job well, a publisher is going to read your summary and say yes, I could totally sell this book to a reader, I better buy it ASAP. If your short synopsis is really good, pieces of it may actually make it onto the back cover or jacket flap of the finished book. There are pieces of the early synopsis that I wrote for The Fidelity Files, my first published novel, that ended up not only in my agent's letter to editors when my agent was trying to sell the book but also in the publisher's summary on the back of the book.
That's how a kickass short synopsis can really help you. So how do you write one? When you were reading the back cover or jacket flap summaries of books in the book store, did you notice any commonalities in them? My guess is you probably did. I'm assuming that one of the commonalities was the fact that regardless of genre, tone, age group, or writing style, every single book summary had some kind of cliffhanger toward the end, something that left you wondering what would happen next. Every good book summary should do one very important thing, leave them wanting more.
Now there's a fine balance between leaving them wanting more and not telling them enough to hook them. You might have to try out a few summaries and ask for feedback from those trustworthy friends and family in order to figure out if you've done your job or not. But in the end, a strong short synopsis should reel them in, hook them, and leave them hanging. And you should be able to do this in approximately two to three standard length paragraphs or three to seven short paragraphs. Just like with the log line, make sure your short synopsis also tells the reader who the hero is, what the hook is, and what the major conflict is.
Of course, now you'll be able to expand a bit on each of these to really flesh out your summary. Plus feel free to give it a voice and a style that reflects the novel. Here's an example of the short synopsis I wrote for The Fidelity Files when I was pitching it to agents. You can also find this synopsis written out in the PDF handout in the resources section of this lecture. Jennifer Hunter used to believe in love. That is, until she practically stumbled into her career as an undercover Fidelity Inspector. Suspicious wives and girlfriends of all ages pay Jennifer good money to conduct her infamous fidelity inspections.
Of course, she never actually has sex with anyone. Under strict rules, Jennifer tests for an intention to cheat only. Meanwhile, Jen is having a tough time juggling her two identities. Her family and friends suspect that the reason she hasn't had a date in years is more complicated than the demands of her investment banking job. But is a fidelity inspector capable of a normal relationship? Then Jennifer meets sexy and sophisticated Jamie Richards and suddenly there's an unexpected light threatening the existence of her dark world.
Is it possible for one man to restore a lost faith in all of mankind? Or will Jamie prove to be just another cheater like the rest of them? Although the book changed somewhat from this synopsis before it was published, this is the synopsis that eventually landed me first agent because it satisfies all the criteria. It tells you who the character is and why she's special or particularly suited to this story. She's an undercover fidelity inspector who doesn't believe in love. It tells you what the hook or concept is, she tests men's fidelity, and has seen a lot of betrayal in her job.
It tells you what the conflict is, she's now met someone who she actually likes but doesn't know if she can trust him. And finally, it leaves you wanting more, it ends with a cliffhanger, will this new love interest restore her faith in love or prove to be just another cheater? Also in the PDF handout in this lecture, you'll find the book summary that was written by me and later used by my agent when we pitched The Karma Club, my first young adult novel to publishers. Let's stop for a moment to talk about voice.
Voice or tone or style is very important in book synopses. The last thing you want to do is make your synopsis sound like a boring fourth grade book report. The tone of your summary should match the tone of your book. If your novel is funny, then by all means, be funny. After all, how can you sell a funny novel if your pitch isn't funny? If your novel is a mystery, be mysterious. You can use your creative writing skills and unique voice to bring your synopsis to life.
Be witty, clever, fun, a book synopsis doesn't have to be boring. In fact, I highly recommend that it not be. If your character has a particularly funny or memorable voice, try writing the synopsis from the perspective of the main character. This can also be a helpful technique for people who are having trouble with the art of synopsis writing. If writing a synopsis feels too daunting or not creative enough, tackle it from your main character's point of view. How would she describe her journey? For example, for my fourth novel, My Life Undecided, another young adult novel, my publisher said they really liked the voice of the main character and asked if I would write the jacket flap copy in her voice.
I thought it was a great idea so I did. You can read that in the PDF handout in the resources section of this lecture. If this style fits your book better than a third person account of the story, by all means use it. It may end up feeling more natural to you and that's fine. Once again, the point of the short synopsis is to reel people in and hook them, not to make their eyes glaze over. So whatever creative way you can think to do that, by all means do it. When you're ready, check out the writing your short synopsis exercise which will guide you through the process of writing this short synopsis for your own novel.
- Comparing traditional publishing and self-publishing
- Writing and revising your novel
- Finding an agent
- Perfecting your pitch
- Writing a query letter
- Researching agents
- Submitting to agents
- Reading your book contract
- Negotiating advances and royalties
- Understanding the publishing process