Once you've finished writing your first book for children and identified prospective publishers for it, you're probably excited to make multiple copies and go hit the post office. The reality of the publishing business, however, is that the majority of editors prefer to see a one-page synopsis first in order to determine if a project is a good match. This not only saves them time reviewing unsolicited submissions but saves you money in terms of printing and postage. Additionally, a synopsis serves as a writing sample and a demonstration of your ability to present a tightly focused pitch.
Identify the book's title, your name as the author, the genre, number of pages, and target demographic. If your book has illustrations, note this as well. This introductory content appears at the beginning of the synopsis and is typically in a list format versus narrative so the editor can see at a glance whether it meets current needs. Example:
Title: Mrs. Plucklilly's Dilemma Author: Susan Murdoch Genre: Mystery Length: 150 pages Target Demographic: 9-12 year olds Illustrated
Establish the setting and time period of your book to set the stage for the reader. It's important that whatever tone prevails throughout the story should be evident in the synopsis. A scary tale, for instance, should be described in dark, mysterious ways that hint of danger. In contrast, a comedic caper would take a light, humorous approach in its summary. Consider opening with a hook similar to your book's first chapter.
Introduce the main characters along with their relationships to one another. Explain the core conflict that drives the story and forces the characters to take actions in order to resolve it. Synopses often address two levels of conflict depending on the plot's complexity. The "A" level is whatever external crisis is affecting the status quo. The "B" level is whatever internal demons the characters must overcome in order to grow. Example: The "A" level conflict is that flood waters threaten to destroy the village. The "B" level conflict is that Ben has always been afraid of heights. In order to escape imminent danger--or rescue someone he loves--he needs to conquer that fear.
Structure your synopsis just as would a book with definitive first, second and third act content. Include key plot points, character reversals and twists occurring in each act. Conclude your synopsis by telling the reader how the conflict is ultimately resolved. Always show the first draft of your synopsis to someone who isn't familiar with your book to determine whether they can follow the plot straight through.
- "Writer's Guide to Queries, Pitches & Proposals"; Moira Anderson Allen; 2001
- "The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit"; Elizabeth Lyon; 2002
- "21 Fresh Ideas for Writing a Synopsis"; Val Timms; 2010
- As a general formula, a 100-page manuscript merits a one-page synopsis, 200 pages merit two pages, and so forth.
- Book synopses are always written in third person and present tense and are typed single-spaced on one side of a piece of paper.
- Character dialogue is not contained in a synopsis unless it's a significant catchphrase.
- Synopses are rarely written for children's picture books unless there's a unique educational element. The reason is that they're short enough to be pitched to an editor in only a few sentences.
- Publishers strictly categorise the age breakdowns for children's books as 5 to 8 and 9 to 12. To simply say you've written a children's book is too vague and will arouse suspicion that you haven't actually researched this market or done any study of vocabulary, cognition and age-appropriate themes.
- Never end your synopsis with a cliffhanger. Example: "If you want to find out whether Paul survives his fall, read this book." Editors want proof you actually know how to finish whatever adventurous plot you've set up.
- Omit information about your background, publishing credits or why you wrote this book. These elements belong in your cover letter, not the synopsis itself.