Writers struggling to write a synopsis for their novel are not short of advice. There is almost too much of it, and most of it repeats the same things. Yet we still turn to it, always hoping for that vital crutch which will somehow give us the magic touch and get the beastly time-consuming thing done.
Writing a synopsis is especially annoying because it’s not for the author – it’s for the agent, publisher or the competition judge. It’s all made worse by them each wanting something different: one page or five, single-spaced or double-spaced, the ending specified or not. And we are always going to feel that somehow our synopsis does not do justice to the novel we have written.
But the agony – if that is what it is – may have its uses. Having to give a clear, short account of the premise, story and principal characters could help us spot weaknesses which we were previously blissfully unaware of – such as unnecessary characters, lack of tension, a flat ending. Uncomfortable moments for any author. Time for a bit of tweaking to the manuscript.
One of the joys of self-publishing is escaping the slog of writing a synopsis. But it’s only trading one thing for another. A traditional publishing firm will have experts in-house to write that vital marketing tool, the blurb. The self-published author is on her own.
There is only room for a few pungent sentences on the back of a novel. The blurb must give an instant and unequivocal explanation to the person who has picked up the book and turned it over. What kind of novel is this, what’s it about, and what’s in it for me?
This is when a blurb seems even more daunting to write than a synopsis. It’s the permanent, public face of the novel, not something that’ll happily disappear into a publishing firm’s recycling bin. Go into any bookshop and scan the blurbs of new novels, super-charged with superlatives and best-seller promise. They are sometimes rather alike but they do sound as though they have been written by an extremely talented marketing person. It’s very tempting to wish that person would do the job for us.
But perhaps the blurb we write for ourselves will be more true to our own novel, because it will convey the unique flavour of our voice, the individual way we use language. This may not dazzle the casual reader, and it may even repel some, but it will capture something that can be lost in professional blurb writing and marketing expertise, what can best be described as tone. Something that makes our book different from the rest.