Synopses:  The Necessary Evil

Copyright Judy Bagshaw - All Rights Reserved


Of all the things one has to do on the road to getting published, writing a synopsis is my least favourite. I struggle with each one, and am never really satisfied when it’s done. But they are a necessary evil for those of us serious about getting our romances published, and it never hurts to refresh our memories on what makes a good synopsis. 

It’s important to understand that for a publisher considering your manuscript, after your query letter, the synopsis can be a deal maker or breaker. The same skill and care you put into writing your romance novel has to go into the synopsis, for it is this that the publisher sees long before seeing your manuscript. 

Synopses are always written in the present tense, third person. (Jane, a librarian in her early thirties, is facing the prospect of being alone after the sudden death of her parents…) As for length, that varies but generally I’ve found 1 page for each 10,000 words is a standard formula unless otherwise specified in a publisher’s submission guidelines. But synopses can be as short as a couple of pages. They do not contain dialogue or quotes from the manuscript. And they do not contain much description of character or settings. 

You may want to kick off with a single sentence that sums up what your book is about, what makes it unusual. As well, you’ll want to establish the theme, time period and setting of your manuscript. For one of my books it was, Love By the Pound is a contemporary coming of age romance following the eighteen-year-old heroine as she begins college. 

Your opening paragraph(s) should be short and snappy, introducing the main characters and their goals, motivations and conflicts, and showing what triggers the events of the story. (Jane, a librarian in her early thirties, is facing the prospect of being alone after the sudden death of her parents (the trigger). She must choose between quitting a job she loves to take over the running of the family store, or sell what it took her parent’s a lifetime to build. 

Walter, a shy man also in his early thirties, who works in the store, has long nursed romantic feelings for Jane but never acted on them since she was the boss’s daughter. He has an idea that might help Jane keep the family business and still follow her career path, but he doesn’t know how to approach her.) 

Throughout the synopsis keep the focus on the main characters. It is not necessary to name all the supporting players unless they play a pivotal role in the plot. 

The next paragraphs should cover the main plot points. The structure for these paragraphs might follow this pattern; event (something happens to the character), reaction (the character reacts to the event), conflict (something stands in the character’s way), result leading to next event (what the character does to solve the conflict leads to the next event) 

Since it is a romance you’re pitching, be sure to include the "emotional" story arcs as well as the action story arcs. The potential publisher will want to see how the main character’s attraction grows and how they are brought together for the happy ever after ending. You’ll want to touch on the first kiss, the growth of the attraction, the first lovemaking, the conflict (or conflicts) that almost drives them apart, the climax, and the resolution. Show the main characters’ commitment to one another at the end of the story. Do not leave any unanswered questions. 

Your synopsis is a tool that works toward the sale of your precious manuscript. Written well, it can go a long way to convincing an editor or publisher that you’re the next writer they want to sign. 


About the Author: Judy Bagshaw has been published since 2000. Writing romance featuring full-figured heroines, her publishing credits include 4 novels, 1 collection of short stories, and short stories in three anthologies. She was also part of the writing team for the Ginn Reading Series, and Reaching Readers Series, used in many elementary schools. Retired from teaching, she writes full-time from her home in Ontario, Canada. Visit Judy's website:



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