I’m lucky enough now to have the incredible comfort of an agent, publisher, and contract already in my corner, so in recent times, synopses have become more of a nuisance than a source of terror for me, but I remember well staring at that single digital page, mortified by the idea that this ridiculous Dick and Jane parody of my work could be one of the only glimpses a prospective agent or publisher would get of it, and I know most other authors have felt exactly the same way.
Since my synopsis of Confessions of the Very First Zombie Slayer (That I Know of) was evidently adequate, I’ve already been asked a couple times for tips on writing a good one. Someday I fully intend to post the original Zombie Slayer synopsis I used for fellow authors to analyze to their hearts’ content, but since that would require a major spoiler alert, it would be silly to do before anyone’s even had the chance to read the book.
Besides, any advice I ever give on synopsis writing will be couched in the simplest, truest answer I have to that question about how to write a good one: You can’t.
So today, I’m just going to take that truth about synopses and have some fun. I’m taking five fantastic and successful books and making my earnest best guess, as an author who’s written a successful synopsis in the past, at what the best possible opening setup paragraphs of their synopses might have looked like.
What, no characters worth mentioning by name yet? If Brooks hadn’t already proven himself as a successful author of a zombie book in an unheard of format, this would have taken one hell of a leap of faith.
I see you’ve been studying your Twilight Zone, Mr. Westerfeld. Good for you. Going to be able to fit any story in between your social commentary there?
Can already see where this is going. A zombie is cured by love? And you’re selling this as a serious, adult, award-bait piece? Really?
Wait. Stop right there. I already suffered through Battle Royale. And this version’s YA? Doesn’t that mean it’ll be even more suffocatingly formulaic than the original?
Ugh. Most generic Low Fantasy premise ever, even in a world before all the knockoffs that followed it. Total wish-fulfillment, and we’ve all already read The Chronicles of Narnia.
My point is, the barest basics of any book, especially a genre book, no matter how awesome, will sound at least a little ridiculous, and anyone who routinely reads synopses will know that.
A synopsis isn’t a work of art; it’s a business tool. It just needs to do its job of proving that you can construct a sentence and format a document and that your book has a plot, and letting industry professionals know what that plot is at a glance if they so desire. So long as you've done your best to that effect, all I can say is don’t beat yourself up because it’s not “good” in the artistic way your book is.
It can’t be.
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