Writer Tools: The Synopsis and Cover Blurb
Writing a book, no matter the genre or subject matter, is a huge task. Getting the manuscript just right can take years of work and dozens of drafts. After all this, some aspiring authors feel a bit cheated when they’re asked to do the apparently simple, yet horribly daunting, task of writing the various summary copy including synopses and book jacket blurbs.
Thankfully there are hordes of wonderful guides, both step-by-step and do-and-don’t style, which have been put out by some of our favorite writer blogs and websites. (See the resources links at the end of the post.) Doing a how-to post seems like a waste with such thorough instruction already available. Instead, we hope to ease some fears and encourage you to seize these projects as writing tools meant to help (not hurt) your confidence in your story.
First, a few definitions are in order. A synopsis, in the publishing world, is a 1-3 page summary used to quickly and clearly communicate the content of the book to an agent/editor/publisher. With this, and sometimes a sample of a few chapters, they decide whether to take on the project for production and sale. Understand you’re not trying to hook the professional; you’re showing them exactly what you have for sale and confidently standing by the bare-bones quality of your product. You’re also selling your skills. A synopsis shows, in a condensed version, your ability to tell a coherent story. No holes, full of emotion, and high in interest.
A blurb can be two things. When you say “blurb” to publishers, they think of a catchy line of praise to plaster on the back cover of a book jacket. (“A riot to read!” “Couldn’t put it down!” “Best romance of the year!” etc.) When talking to the author, however, “blurb” as also come to stand for the brief summary on the back cover for readers to sample. We’re more concerned with the second definition, though both types are intended to hook a reader into purchasing the book to read. It describes your story at its most attractive, including just enough detail to make the conflict and characters compelling while not giving away any spoilers.
Writing these may sound like a beast and a pain. Fair enough. After spending so long with a manuscript, summing up at all can feel like cheapening the whole thing. Know that there’s no law that says these have to be written at the end of the process. Actually, writing summaries is an excellent tool for editing and revision, and the different audiences of the synopsis and the blurb create two clear measures for the major audiences of a book.
Consider tackling a rough draft of the synopsis and blurb after the draft is finished, after you’ve let that monstrosity sit for a while, then tackle this after you reread it. A popular quote by Terry Pratchett says, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” Writing a draft of the synopsis now, of the book that rough puked-out story can be, will help frame up the guiding plot, characters, and themes from start to finish. Revise, obviously, as needed, but treat the synopsis as the overall (or zoomed out) view of the book.
While a synopsis, geared toward members of the writing industry, gives away the ending and takes a sky-view of the project, a blurb serves a completely different audience. As a tool, it has a more motivational purpose. A blurb is meant to make someone want to read the book so much they’ll spend for it. Well, drafting that out will give you something not only to make the project exciting to others but exciting to you too. The extra bonus can be you’ll have a few lines to feed people who ask what you’re working on. Your blurb is the promise to readers, crafting the emotion and engagement of the story within the body of the book. With a blurb, obviously just a rough draft this early on, you can make that image attractive and work towards that goal.
Blurb (Jacket Copy):