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How To Write A Book Synopsis For Success

Updated on July 22, 2014

Why Do You Need a Synopsis?

If you wrote a book just for your own enjoyment, or just for the enjoyment of family and friends, then stop right here; you don’t need a synopsis and you have no reason to read any further.

If, however, you have visions of enticing an agent or a publisher with your literary genius, then a synopsis just might be the deal-breaker.

A synopsis is a condensed outline, or summary, of your book. That is the definition you will find, but that definition is woefully lacking in truth. Taken literally, imagine how interesting an outline of any book might be. Reading an outline is like eating toast without butter: it will fill your stomach but it really won’t move you to eat anymore of it.

Agents and publishers, if smitten with your query letter, will often ask for a synopsis as well as a couple sample chapters. This is called “dipping their toes in the water,” and your future in the traditional publishing game depends on how good your synopsis is. If your synopsis is dry and boring then you can count on the agents or publishers tossing it into the junk pile.

To make your synopsis shine…to make it stand out….to make it so good it will shout “READ THIS BOOK” you must incorporate not only the sequence of events, but also the emotional elements that make your book worth reading.

Let’s take it step by step and walk you through the synopsis process.

Source

Plot Basics

Most novels follow a pretty basic sequence of events. The story begins with an incident that moves the main character along a path towards a goal. During the novel there are events that oppose the main character in achieving his goal. Finally the obstacles are overcome (or not) and there is a climax to the novel. And finally there is a resolution or an aftermath of the climax which lets the reader know whether the goals have been attained.

The Main Character and His Growth

This is where the emotional side of your synopsis comes in. Who is your main character? What kind of person is he? How does he view life?

Describe how the main character handles the situation he finds himself in. How does it affect him? How does he react to pressure? This is about a human being; how would a real human being react to being shot at, or losing loved ones, or facing a midlife crisis?

Does your main character change during the novel? How do his principles and philosophy of life help him to survive? How does his attitude change?

By the end of the novel, is the main character a better person because of the changes and conflicts? Has their life changed drastically and how will that change affect him the rest of his life?

The Antagonist

Who is the antagonist? How does he/she enter the story and how does he/she affect the main character?

What kind of pressure does the antagonist bring upon the main character?

Does the antagonist change at the end of the story, or does he remain the same but force change in the main character?

And how have you illustrated this change in your novel?

Describe the relationship between the main characters
Describe the relationship between the main characters | Source

The Main Relationship

Usually in a novel there is a major relationship between two characters. In a love story obviously, but also in mysteries, crime dramas, science fiction….I dare say all novels have some sort of relationship at the center of the story. Answer these questions in your synopsis:

  • How is their relationship as the story begins?
  • How is their relationship tested during the story?
  • What changes occur to their relationship because of the major change?
  • How is their relationship at the end of the story?

Major Themes

What would a novel be without themes? What themes are prominent in your book? Love conquers all? Crime does not pay? Does money corrupt?

What messages or morals are addressed in your book? Where in your book do you address these issues? What is the outcome of these issues when the book is finished?

Now Put It All Together

Still confused? Well here is a synopsis written by Lucinda Betts for her book “The Bet.”

THE BET—SYNOPSIS

The corporate Ice Queen, Zoe Lauterborn, has complete control of her life.
In funds management, she consistently outshines her colleagues. Phillip
Kingdom is fascinated with her—her skills impress him, and so do her
looks. He'd love to make their relationship more personal—much more
personal.

But he's watched her turn down date after date, and he understands she's
drawn a line in her mind. Phillip wants her to cross it—badly. He knows he
needs to offer more than a mere rendezvous to get her attention.

Phillip sees his chance one happy hour. The firm is buzzing with talk of
an upcoming promotion. Who will get it? Seeing Zoe high on her job and a
little tipsy, he proposes a bet. If she gets the promotion, she gets his
bonus. If she loses, she's his sex slave.

Even after too many martinis, Zoe knows she should walk away—or maybe slap
his gorgeous face—but she has a secret. A new client with a lot of money
is about to sign on her dotted line. She'll break all company records. She
knows the promotion is in her pocket. Besides… Zoe just watched Phillip
dance.

She shakes on it.

Zoe should have won. But the bosses didn't think an Ice Queen would make a
good team leader.
She's his for 17 hours.

Ignoring her horror, he leads a sizzling seduction, taking all choices—and
her underclothes—away from her. Dancing nearly naked at a nightclub gives
her an unexpected sense of power, and her first orgasm leaves her craving
more in Washington Square Park. The remote-controlled vibrator purchased
together at the Pink Pussy Cat does little to alleviate her growing
desire. He opens doors for her that she'd thought had no keys.
And he does it without bruising her spirit.

That night—and the culmination the following morning—change something for
her. Phillip has shown her how to embrace her feminine side. She finds
that it doesn't limit her—it expands her perspective. Her bosses and
employees respect her. And, when she lands the next promotion, her team
heads the highest-producing division in the firm. She likes who she sees
in the mirror.

When Phillip proposes, she hears 'happily ever after' in his voice.

A well-crafted synopsis is a beautiful thing
A well-crafted synopsis is a beautiful thing | Source

Some Final Tips

Is your head spinning yet? Well, I only have a couple more things for you to consider.

Remember, the synopsis might be your one shot to win over an agent or publisher. Make it dynamic. Show them early on that you have an original idea, something they have not seen nine million times before. Show them that your main character is worth their time.

Show them that you are capable of building a solid plot, that events flow from one to the other.

And finally, show them that your tone and voice is something a reader would be captured by.

If you do all of that you just might…you just might….win them over and have yourself an agent or publisher…and wouldn’t that be cool?

Dedicated to my buddy Mel Carriere as per his request.

2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)

“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

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    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      S T Alvyn, good luck wit your synopsis, and thank you for the visit.

    • S T Alvyn profile image

      S T Alvyn 3 years ago from New England

      Condensing 100,000 words into one page is a challenge and so hard when you are so close to your characters! I will focus on a few points you outlined and hope it doesn't go over!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      My pleasure, Deb, and thank you!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      As always, words of wisdom. Thanks again, Billy, for the free education in the literary world.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Dianna, I am very flattered by your words. Thank you so much, and have a grande day.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 3 years ago

      This is the most detailed example of a Synopsis I have ever had, and the best. Thanks of the education.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Brian, you are a good man and a better friend. Thank you for sharing this. I appreciate you greatly.

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 3 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      In this article, billybuc teaches how to write the synopsis of a novel manuscript being submitted to an agent or publisher.

      Helped by included video lectures, he says what to include and to not include and why.

      He emphasizes that doing everything right as to form and content is not enough. The synopsis must also evoke the core emotion of the novel, so that the agent or publisher is not only convinced to read the novel but is excited to read it.

      I'll be returning to this lesson every time I'm submitting a novel manuscript.

      Up, Useful, Interesting, and shared with followers.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Anna, you just gave me a bonus...a compliment followed by a beautiful explanation of the compliment. Thank you so much!

    • Anna Haven profile image

      Anna Haven 3 years ago from Scotland

      I mean you deliver the knowledge in a professional manner every time and simmering underneath there always a renegade with a flag for the real people, which infuses your writing with passion, due to the conviction of your beliefs. Basically you write with your heart and soul as well, not just your mind. :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Anna, a spicy kick of attitude? LOL The nuns who taught me might say more than a spicy kick. :) Thank you and good luck with that novel. I am excited that you have begun.

    • Anna Haven profile image

      Anna Haven 3 years ago from Scotland

      I am in the process of creating my fictional world ( in between everything else!) so I have bookmarked this, as your advice was really clear and helpful.

      You really are a great source of knowledge and you also manage to make it interesting with a spicy little kick of attitude. A feat indeed. :)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      You betcha, vkwok! Thank you!

    • vkwok profile image

      Victor W. Kwok 3 years ago from Hawaii

      Thanks for all the great advice, Bill!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      You are very welcome, Ann! Have a great evening.

      bill

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      Thanks, bill. Will do! Ann

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you for clarifying all that, Nadine. I still have to work on my blurb and I'm not looking forward to it. LOL Why can't it all be easier?

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 3 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      Another great hub Billy. All your informative articles on novel writing have inspired me to do a re-edit on my first chapter of The Self Employed Housewife, and I've written a 'blurb' for it and included that in my first chapter hub. What you read on the back cover of a paperback novel, we call a blurb (100 words). This blurb is also added to the description of an ebook when its uploaded on an ebook site . A synopsis is written to be sent to prospective publishers. That must be far more detailed but preferably max 500 words. I will share it.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      John, my grandma told me if we aren't learning we aren't living.....I'm happy to report I'm still learning. :) Thank you my friend.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 3 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Bill, know that every time I read one of your hubs I will learn something new. Even if t isn't always relevant to me at the time it may well be in the future, and we can never learn too much can we? Great info, voted up.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sandra, I'm so happy I was able to help you. Good luck on that article. Love those paying gigs.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      And Alicia, I greatly appreciate you reading these articles even though you aren't writing a book. Thank you!

    • Sandra Harriette profile image

      Sandra 3 years ago from Maryland

      Too too TOOOO ironic because I was coming to HubPages to see if anyone had written on the publishing process. I need to investigate some unfamiliar territory for my own purposes and for the sake of this article I'm being paid to write. Lo and behold, your article was right there, first thing on the front page. I'll bookmark/pin this, give it a good read. Your writing is always so helpful!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is very interesting, Bill. I enjoy reading your helpful advice, even though I don't plan on writing a book any time soon.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Mel, it really was my pleasure. I hope it helps and good luck with selling that novel.

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Faith, this is one of those things that is vitally important and yet writers skim over it and barely give it the time it deserves. Thank you for the visit and comment; you are so good about always being here.

      blessings always

      bill

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Bill for the dedication and for this very informative hub that will be put to good use by those of us who can write a novel but can't get over the hump selling one. I'm going to bookmark this hub and reference it often as I get to work! Thank you again my friend and my mentor.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

      Whew, this is one important hub on one important topic, writing a synopsis to one' book! There is a lot weighing in on your synopsis for sure. Thank you for spelling it out so clearly here. You are so helpful as always.

      Enjoy your evening,

      Faith Reaper

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      It is my pleasure, Dora. That's what I love about this community of writers...we are here to help each other.

      Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ann, to heck with this article...Congratulations on the new grandson. How very exciting! I am very happy for you my friend. Give that boy a hug for me.

      bill

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      TotalHealth, there is nothing easy about this. I have a very tough time condensing my novels into 250 words...but it is necessary, and we practice, and hopefully we manage to get it right. Thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      grand old lady, you are very welcome. Let's get over that freeze and let the world see what you are capable of.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Sheila, it is not easy for any of us. You are not alone. I know for me it takes many re-writes to finally get it just right. Good luck in the future and thank you.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 3 years ago from The Caribbean

      Bill, this was another great lesson today. I would have to pay attention to the emotional side of the synopsis. There's so much to this. Thank God and thank you that I can always reference your articles.

    • annart profile image

      Ann Carr 3 years ago from SW England

      Superb advice, bill! If someone can write a book, I would presume they can write a good synopsis to go with it but maybe it's not that simple! All the energy goes into the book and then some might think it's just a matter of giving an idea of what it's about, rather than using the power of the writing to 'sell' that as well.

      New grandson is now a day and a half old and I'm very busy! Hope you enjoy the evening, bill. Ann

    • TotalHealth profile image

      TotalHealth 3 years ago from Hermosa Beach, CA

      Your hub reminds me of writing abstracts for college essays, although the framing and general content requirements are a bit different. Though you made the process sound simple, to condense several thousand words into a well-defined synopsis of a few hundred words is quite challenging. Thanks for including the pyramid reference and book recommendation.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 3 years ago from Philippines

      I wrote a book but because of my writer's freeze, I didn't bother to have it copywrited. Now I know why. I had to read this hub first so that I could write a synopsis. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Billybuc.

    • profile image

      sheilamyers 3 years ago

      Thank you for writing this hub. Writing a synopsis is my weakest part of writing. With your advice and the sample you provided, I should be able to practice what you taught and improve. I'll also have to practice writing ones of varying lengths because I do know an agent usually asks for a page or so, but as an independent author, I'm often limited to even shorter descriptions on the book covers.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Jo, thank you! The book is with an editor now. Once she finishes then I will make corrections and then be ready to publish....so gosh, the end of April is what I'm hoping for. Thanks for asking about it and have a great week.

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      Jo Alexis-Hagues 3 years ago from Bedfordshire, U.K

      One more for my collection. But I must say, at this rate, you won't be selling too many copies of that e-book, will you!! About the synopsis, it must be difficult trying to sum up the essence of the book in a few words. But I suppose once the book is written, the hard work begins. How are you coming along with your latest?

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      LOL....Ann...I love the line from your son.

      Thank you for your kind words and have a great week.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Glad I could, tipoague...thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Liz, I have said that often. Writing a book is easy for me compared to all the stuff that comes afterwards.

      Hopefully it will be easier for both of us as the years continue.

      Thank you Liz!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Flourish.....no! LOL How's that for succinct? I have no experience writing them so I would hesitate in telling you anything. Good luck my friend.

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      Tammy 3 years ago from USA

      I was wondering what the best was to write a synopsis. You have answered all my questions here. Thanks!

    • Ann1Az2 profile image

      Ann1Az2 3 years ago from Orange, Texas

      Thanks, Bill. I guess that would make sense - there are always people who read the end of the book first just to see how it ends. I never could figure them out! So of course, a jacket cover would not want to reveal the ending. I am reminded of the response I got from my son when I asked him if he was going to go see the new Titanic movie (then, the one with Leonard DiCaprio). He asked me why, Mother - let me tell you what happens - the ship sinks. Off the subject, but I couldn't resist. By the way - it is nice to be appreciated and so are you, my friend. If I do decide to write a book, I have your hubs to guide me not to mention your counseling that you are always more than willing to share.

    • epbooks profile image

      Elizabeth Parker 3 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      This is the one thing I have trouble with- writing a synopsis. Writing a book? No problem. The synopsis is where I'll spend days looking at a blank screen! Thanks for posting!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      This was very helpful, and it's cool that you wrote it on request for Mel. You wouldn't perhaps have any advice on how to write a book forward, would you? I have been asked to write one. It's quite an unusual situation, and I usually don't even read forwards. Any help?

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Ann....not usually. The book covers rarely tell how the book will end....a synopsis does. A book cover builds suspense and then leaves you hanging; a synopsis tells you what will happen. Agents and publishers want a summary of the entire book from beginning to end. :)

      Thank you as always for the visit. You are appreciated.

    • Ann1Az2 profile image

      Ann1Az2 3 years ago from Orange, Texas

      I wonder - are the synopsis' that the writers send in used on the jacket covers of the books? Some of those are pretty enticing.

      Well done. I still might get an urge to write a book!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Eddy, the lessons never end for us writers. Thank you dear friend.

      billy

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Rafiq, a wonderful summation by you. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. Thank you Sir!

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      Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

      Another great hub and as always added to my course. Thanks for sharing and keep them coming.

      Eddy.

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      Muhammad Rafiq 3 years ago from Pakistan

      Synopsis is just like a Plot in a drama or a novel. It is an enigma, which the writer wants to solve through the depiction of various events throughout the novel. Synopsis shows you how to take the story further to Climax and then Resolution. Thanks Bill for the information! Informative and useful hub!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Leave it to you, Heidi, to add informative remarks that go beyond the article. Thank you my friend. Is it spring yet? :)

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      Heidi Thorne 3 years ago from Chicago Area

      The synopsis is so important for both fiction and nonfiction, probably even more for nonfiction. Not only does it help with potential readers, agents, etc., it helps in online search on both Amazon and standard search engines. Voted up and shared, of course!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      My pleasure, Ruby. I am forever grateful to you for taking the time to read this stuff even though you will not use it. Thank you and blessings to you my friend.

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      Ruby Jean Fuller 3 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I read through this even though i'm not writing a book. It never hurts to learn all you can about writing. Thank you Bill. You are so helpful to all we hopeful writers...Blessings..

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you DDE! I am happy that you found this useful.

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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Nell!

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      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      A well-advised hub. I learned more here about a Book Synopsis this is a helpful hub to all thinking of writing a book.

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Mark, not kind of like it...exactly like it. :) Leave it to a writer to come up with a description like yours. :) Thanks buddy.

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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Thank you Vellur. I'm glad you found this helpful.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 3 years ago from England

      Thanks bill, you too!

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      Mark G Weller 3 years ago from Lake Charles, LA.

      Kinda like the old "Mini-skirt-Short Story" joke. Both should be short enough to be interesting but long enough to cover the subject :)

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 3 years ago from Dubai

      Great hub and a great way to get a book published. Writing a synopsis , very well explained.

    • billybuc profile image
      Author

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      LOL....it is recommended that the synopsis be around 250 words.

      No, the synopsis is not the same thing as the inside flap of the book. In the synopsis you tell the entire story to the agent, including the ending. You don't want to do that on the flap...why spoil the ending for the reader? :)

      The course I teach will be about the basics of writing; not as detailed as this. If the course goes well, I'll expand to include things like this.

      Did I answer them all? :)

      Thanks Sha!

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      Shauna L Bowling 3 years ago from Central Florida

      Bill, is the synopsis also used for the inside flap of a novel? Can the synopsis provided for the agent be the same as ends up on the book jacket? Is there a minimum/maximum recommended word count?

      I'm really soaking up your how-to series with regard to book writing. Are these some of the topics you'll be teaching your students in May? Shall I ask you one more question? :-)

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Nell, think of a synopsis as a story summary with some kick-ass in it. :) Have a great week and thank you!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      You are very welcome, Cecileportilla. Thank you!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 3 years ago from England

      Hi Billy, this is really helpful because to be honest I sort of knew what a Synopsis should be like, but wasn't quite sure of the beginning middle and ending of it, in other words do you write the whole story in a few lines? or just explain the whole thing, great advice as usual! nell

    • cecileportilla profile image

      Cecile Portilla 3 years ago from West Orange, New Jersey

      Thanks for your useful advice and the step by step walk through the synopsis process. The videos are good. As always I appreciate your thoughtful writing tips!

    • billybuc profile image
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      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Janine, I am honored that you nave a pinning board just for my work. Thank you so much. That is a great compliment.

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      Janine Huldie 3 years ago from New York, New York

      Bill, I love how you summed this up here and telling you I really do appreciate how you share the components to writing a novel and the synopsis is so very important indeed and have pinned (I have a whole pin board dedicated to your book writing tips) to use this one in the future for sure now. Thanks and have a wonderful Monday now!