So you can read my books

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


{"A sin takes on a new and real terror

when there seems a chance that it is going to be found out."

- Mark Twain

("The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg")}

Samuel Clemens, ghost, here. You folks have all been so kind to Roland

that I thought I would help you out in an area that means so much to each of you,

especially to Terry W. Ervin in yesterday's comment

The secret to sin ...

Or should I say ... the secret to a synopsis.

Ain't that the dangedest name?


Sounds like one of them ancient Greek philosophers, don't it? And I know many of you would rather kiss an ancient Greek than have to write one of those dang things.

But I'm going to show you how to do it as smooth as easy as a politician's lie on election day.

Doubt me? Which one of the two of us is the beloved literary genius here?

1) And that above was my first rule in writing a great synopsis :

Sure, there're a lot of you reading this. But I'm only talking to one of you in my mind. Heart to heart. Like we're sitting at the same table in the dark.

No one-size-fits-all with your synopsis.

Tailor your synopsis to the requirements stated by the agent. No guidelines given? Well, that leads me to the next rule :

2) This, too, shall pass ... like a kidney stone.

Short means no short tempers.

Ever have the misfortune to ask a pilgrim how his day's going only to have the fool actually tell you ... in agonizing detail. Be short. One page.

Yeah, I hear you groaning. But the agent doesn't want all your story.

She just wants the gist of it, to know that your story has a start, a middle, and a for-sure ending (not just a hope and a prayer.) You're still groaning.

3) This tape will self-destruct in thirty seconds, Jim.

And so will the agent's interest. You have thirty seconds at most, children, to grab that agent and pull her into your story. That's a half page at most.

Can you squeeze your 400 page novel into three lines?

Can you make them convey why your story is unique and absorbing, detailing background and characters?

Sure, and after that, you'll establish world peace.

But you can squeeze your novel into a half page. How?

4) go to

Type in GONE WITH THE WIND. Look at their short version of it :

A manipulative woman and a roguish man carry on a turbulent love affair in the American south during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Do those words sing? Do they capture the magic, scope, and heartbreak of the movie?

No. They just lie there without life or spark.

Well, put a little spin to them :

My novel is the saga of a selfish woman who doesn't want to admit her feelings about the man she loves, and she finally loses him.

How about tuning up the synopsis in three sentences?

GONE WITH THE WIND is the epic tale of a woman's life during one of the most tumultuous periods in America's history.

From her young, innocent days on a feudalistic plantation to the war-torn streets of Atlanta; from her first love whom she has always desired to three husbands.

She survives going from the utmost luxury to absolute starvation and poverty and from being torn from her innocence to a sad understanding and bitter comprehension of life.

Are you beginning to see how you might be able to pull off the half page synopsis?

5) In my end is my beginning :

I got your attention with the title of this post, didn't I? Well, that is the secret to selling your synopsis.

You have to grab that eye-weary agent by the imagination and shake hard. Start with a one sentence paragraph.

"Samuel Clemens had been dead all of thirty seconds, and he already hated it."

Got your interest, didn't it? How about :

"The situation was hopeless but improving." Another imagination grabber.

6) Last Words :

Is your summary unique and "This is really something!"

Do you include the punch line to your joke? No holding back to tease.

If the agent presents an unfinished turkey to her editors, she gets her hard-earned reputation bruised.

Is your novel in the genre the agent handles?

Her list of agents is genre specific. If she handles techno-thrillers, she doesn't know one editor who would be interested in your Western.

And worse, you've shot your ounce of good will with that agent.

Agents are tired, impatient, and lovers of order.

Agents want your synopsis to be laid out in three orderly paragraphs.

Short ones. Easy on the eye ones.

Any more paragraphs, any longer, chunkier ones scream unprofessional rookie to them.

And they don't have time to be your mentor. They want a partner not a pupil. You are not in the remake of THE KARATE KID.

Here listen to one of my favorite living writers (I sometimes stand over his shoulder and read his pages a'fore they hit the printers!) :


  1. Hi Roland. I adore this. Man, don't we just hate writing synopses? I've only written one which was torn to shreds by an online group. Geek! Lots more work needed, but I need to work on finishing the book first, ha ha.


  2. I hate synopsis about as bad as I do query letters. There are agents who ask for a lengthy synopsis though. I know it's just part of the world of publishing, but I will admit that at times the rules get on my nerves. Still, if I'm to take a step out there I might as well conform. I'll need to check out that site. :)

  3. Denise :
    Pretend you're telling friends of the movie made of your book, trying to convince them to go see it. You know people. They won't stand still for a long, drawn-out telling of it. They want to know why they would be interested in spending time with the story.

    Laila :
    To write a synopsis is a true pain for me, too. Make it interesting. Make it primal. Make your listener step back in surprise somewhere along the way. Have a great day, Roland

  4. Thank you! I'm working on a synopsis for my second book right now and I really needed this! It's no coincidence that it begins with syn! ;)

  5. Heather :
    I wish you luck with that synopsis. You and Mark Twain agree about there being no coincidence. And why the first sound of diet is DIE! LOL. Roland