How to Write a Synopsis (Properly)

Last night I submitted an entry to the CWA Debut Dagger Competition. It’s for unpublished crime writers, and requires you to submit 3,000 words of a novel (doesn’t have to be completed – whew!) and a 500-1000 word synopsis of the rest of the story. The entry fee is pretty steep at £25, but with the possibility of Peter James reading your scribblings, it’s well worth it in my opinion. Many writers have progressed from Debut Dagger to fully-fledged crime writers: Belinda BauerDavid Jackson and Ruth Dugdall to name just three.

So, this brings me to my entry… first chapter, not a problem. I wrote it a few weeks ago and spent a good few hours this week editing and polishing until I was happy. Then there’s the synopsis. For some reason, writing a synopsis instils fear and dread into many a writer (maybe even all writers?) and I had convinced myself  it was the synopsis that had let me down in my previous unplaced entries, it couldn’t be anything to do with the first chapter, could it? Hmm…

Write a Great Synopsis – An Expert Guide (#WAGS)

This is where Nicola Morgan comes in, and more specifically, her book ‘Write a Great Synopsis – An Expert Guide‘ , which was released on Friday (which would’ve been far too late to be of any use to me, so I am very grateful to Nicola for sending me a coveted ‘review copy’ a few weeks ago). So what does Nicola know about synopses? A lot actually. She’s published around 90 books (including some Thomas the Tank Engine books, which she cites as some of the most difficult writing she ever did) but you may know her best for her YA novel Mondays are Red or maybe because of her excellent blog: Help! I need a publisher or maybe even because of her writing consultancy: Pen2Publication. I know her from Twitter. How could I not follow someone with this as their avatar?

Note: Use ‘crabbit’ in a sentence: ‘Hod yer wheesht ye crabbit auld bag’ = Please be quiet you grumpy old lady

Anyway, I digress… my review is actually quite short, because there were a few key things to be learned that put me at ease straight away.

The function of the synopsis ‘is to show the decision-makers that you do actually have a book that hangs together… and to show what sort of book it is.’

‘The perfect synopsis does not exist.’

and, most importantly:

‘Your book will not be rejected on the basis of your synopsis.’


After these nuggets, Nicola then goes on to explain in her typically forthright and amusing fashion how to write a synopsis (she suggests two ways to do it) and gives several examples of what to include and why, including case studies from ‘real’ fledglings just like me. I used Method Two, by the way, and I have a feeling that my synopsis wasn’t too bad at all. But to be honest, I’m not that scared about it anymore after reading this book, and the quote from Carole Blake, where she explains that if the writing (of the sample chapter) is so good, she ‘might never get around to reading the synopsis… I might just ring the author and ask for the whole manuscript.’ OH…

You can buy ‘Write a Great Synopsis – An Expert Guide’ here for the ridiculous price of £1 until end of Jan. Make sure you do.

P.S. There is also a competition to win a review of your synopsis by Nicola, here.

8 thoughts on “How to Write a Synopsis (Properly)

    1. Thanks Peter. It really is a good book. It’s not very long, but it very much de-mystifies the process. I am far more confident having read it (and I had read loads of posts and articles about the process before, none of which particularly alleviated my fears.)

  1. Hey Susie! I have submitted to the Debut Crime Dagger award – just a couple of years ago. It’s a great award and launched the career of many a writer. Best of luck. And thanks for the book rec. Will have to take a look:)

    1. Hi Jane. I think this is the fourth time I’ve entered, but in hindsight, I don’t think my previous entries were very good. The ideas were ok, but I’m not sure how well they were written and the synopses were definitely garbled! I probably wont’t have any luck this time either but I’m confident that my entry is better than before 🙂

  2. Great recommendation and I shall check out the book. Anything that demystifies the process is helpful!
    By the way, hod yer wheesht… sounds like something my mother in law would say, and she’s from Cumbria. Am I on the right track?


    1. Hi Mark – yes, we need all the help we can get sometimes! As for hod yer wheesht, I’m Scottish and it’s well known to me, but I imagine there might be similar words/phrases in Cumbria… not too far away 🙂

  3. Thanks for the heads-up. I’m sorry I missed the competition – I didn’t know about it but would have entered, oh, well there’s always next time 🙂 I’m going to buy that book too, thanks for the great recommendation. I find Synopsis writing confronting and scary, don’t know why.

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