How to Write a Manuscript Synopsis

Querying a publisher or agent is never an easy task and it’s important to get all the essential bits right, including the synopsis. Your synopsis is your chance to sell your novel as a complete story, and when most publishers only request the first few chapters with unsolicited submissions, a great synopsis can convince a publisher to request the rest of your manuscript.

Of course, writing a synopsis is a totally different mindset to writing a novel. It’s strategic rather than creative, and you need to include certain pieces of information so that the reader has a clear idea of your manuscript.

What’s it for?

The first thing to consider when crafting a synopsis is the purpose of the thing. Most of the time, you’ll be trying to sell your work to a publisher that may or may not have read your query letter or sample chapters. You want to convince the editor that you can carry the story through to the end, and that you have a clear sense of the manuscript as a whole.

Usually when submitting you send in a query letter and sample chapters as well as the synopsis. The purpose of the query letter is to sell your manuscript to the publisher, and include the details including target audience, genre, wordcount, your bio, etc. Your sample chapters give the publisher an idea of your writing style and the pacing of the novel. Your synopsis is there to do the rest—convince the publisher that you can do this thing all the way through.

Now, it’s a totally different thing if an editor or manuscript assessor has requested a synopsis. Here, describe your vision for the novel, so that they can understand what you’re going for when reading your work. It’s important to spend some time on this—if they misunderstand what you want, they may make suggestions that aren’t relevant or helpful.

The Structure

A synopsis is a 1-2 page (500-800 words is a good guide) description of the major events in your novel. It’s designed for a publisher to be able to see the structure of your manuscript as a whole, so that they can determine whether it is appropriate for them to asking to read the full manuscript.

This should be easy and fun to read (i.e. not a laundry list). Make it as legible as possible. Use paragraph breaks, and if it makes it easier to read, capitalise the names of each character as you mention them for the first time.

Unlike your query letter, this doesn’t need to change from publisher to publisher—a good synopsis gives a clear idea of the manuscript, and as long as you’re submitting the same manuscript, you shouldn’t need to personalise it too much.

The Basics

  • The plot: Your primary job is to list the major plot points and events, including the ending, to give the editor a sense of the structure of the book. If you have a defined structure (such as a three-act structure), your synopsis should reflect that.
  • The characters: Mention each character by name as they appear in the plot. For major characters, include their goals and motivations.
  • The setting: Explain the parts about your setting that are important to the plot. The reader should have some idea of where the book is set, but you don’t need to include all the details.
  • The writing: Make the synopsis easy to read, and match the tone to the tone of the manuscript.

Dos and Don’ts

  • Do finish the book before writing your synopsis. Especially if you’re writing fiction, you’ll generally need to finish the book before submitting. Besides, you don’t know if major plot points or structural bits will change if you don’t have a polished manuscript.
  • Do take time to write your synopsis, and to edit it. Great synopses are very rarely written in the first go, and you really want to get this part of your submission right. If you can, get writing buddies or other networks to read over your synopsis before using it.
  • Do search for example synopses online to get a feel for the structure.
  • Don’t include a cast list, or every character in the book. If a character is central to the story, they should make it here—and if they don’t, you should consider their relevance to your novel.
  • Don’t include all of the details of your worldbuilding or setting. If there are key plot elements related to your setting, mention them, but don’t waste room describing your world and forget to tell your story.
  • Don’t be ambiguous. Clearly outline all of the major events in the novel, including the ending—and if the ending is intended to be ambiguous, say so!

Free Tools to Improve Your Writing

There’s no shortage of apps and programs on the internet to run every aspect of your writing career, from social media to productivity to organising research to cataloguing the books you’ve read. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in all these sparkly tools, and totally forget that your writing needs attention too.

So we scavenged for the best tools to improve what actually matters: your writing. All of the below tools are free or have a free version, because we don’t think writing should be restricted to those who can afford fancy tools.

Way of Life

While this app won’t touch your words or sentences, it will get you to write every day! Writing is a craft and a skill, and you can’t get better at it if you don’t do it. This app focuses on building habits so you can live the life that you want to.

Set yourself a goal and then check off each day as you meet it to build pretty graphs. It’s up to you whether you want to set goals in time-specific (e.g. write for 30 minutes every day) or task-specific (e.g. write two pages a day) formats. Before long, writing every day will be so natural that the graphs won’t matter so much any more.

This app is super flexible as well. If you’ve got the writing-every-day thing down, but you struggle to do other tasks, this can help you keep track. Other writing-related tasks you could track would include working on a specific project, editing your work, reading or studying.

Freemind

One of the most exciting things about writing is coming up with lots of ideas, and starting to link them together to form a story. Good mindmapping software can really help you get your ideas out of your head, and fit them together in a way that makes sense.

There are countless mindmapping tools out there, but this is an old open-source favourite. It’s easy to use, scalable for bigger projects, and of course, it’s totally free to download.

It’s also a good idea to go back and re-mindmap your plot and characters during the editing process. This can be a great way to check continuity, and making sure that no characters or plot points disappear.

The Writers Bloc / The Pen Factor

If you’re looking for feedback on your writing and connect with other writers, online writing and feedback communities like The Writers Bloc and The Pen Factor work to provide just that. By reviewing the work of other writers, you earn feedback on yours. These resources are great, especially if you’re just starting out and experimenting with your writing.

Of course, there are other sites where you can share your writing like Wattpad or on a blog, but these sites are specifically engineered to get you feedback and connect you with other writers. On other sites, you may receive opinions from readers, but not measured critique. You can also report reviews that aren’t helpful to the site.

Do be careful, though—some publishers and publications may not want work that’s already been posted online for free. If you’re working on something you’d like to submit, it might be best to keep that specific piece offline.

Hemingway Editor

Once you’ve written a thing, this tool is great for editing your work—especially if your chosen style is clear and concise, like Hemingway himself. Hemingway is an app that highlights all the bits you might want to eliminate, including adverbs, lengthy sentences, passive voice, and complicated words.

Of course, this might not be the style you’re going for. Plenty of authors write wonderful books with lyrical prose and long sentences galore; this app makes sure that all of those choices are deliberate. We also wouldn’t recommend writing inside of this app, especially if you struggle to turn off your inner editor.

PDF Escape

Another great tool for the editing process, this is a free online PDF editor that will let you annotate, highlight, white-out, and add images and links to your manuscript. All you need to do is save your writing as a PDF, and upload it to the site.

The key here is to look at the manuscript in a different way—consider changing the font or colour of the text, or read it in a different order. Making the writing look different will help you to see it in a fresh way, and pick up on mistakes you may have otherwise missed.

Of course, some writers may prefer editing via pen and paper, but this is a good option for those that like to keep it digital. Whether you’re going through your own work, or adding notes to a critique partner’s writing, this is a great tool for working “on top” of your document.

10 More Magazines That Pay Writers & Accept Submissions

Submitting to magazines can be a great career move for any writer—you can get paid for your work, build a publication history, and it’s just a great confidence boost to see your name in print. Earlier, we posted a list of 10 Australian magazines you can submit to for pay, and today we’re following up with 10 more.

Going Down Swinging

going down swinging

Since 1979, Going Down Swinging has been fostering a community of writers and artists around stories worth sharing. They host live events, publish print and audio anthologies, and regularly publish content both online and in their journal. Their recent issues have been published in app form, which has allowed them to be open to more experimental content, including animation, interactive text and short films.

Feminartsy

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Forms: Fiction, nonfiction, essays, poetry, photo essays, art spreads.
Frequency: Ongoing

An online feminist literature and arts journal, this publication has a bit of everything. From live events to fellowships to a podcast in the works, it’s been upping its game since it started in 2014. This publication was built purely on passion, and as such, the amount they pay their contributors may fluctuate—but they always pay something.

Australian Book Review

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Forms: Book reviews, poetry.
Frequency: Bimonthly

Australian Book Review is an independent nonprofit and a bimonthly magazine, and while they are selective, they are totally open to new reviewers. They pay every writer they publish—whether that’s in print or online—and they also publish poetry.

Peril

peril

Forms: Art works, prose, poetry, non-fiction, essays, blog posts.
Frequency: Ongoing

Peril publishes diverse art from diverse people, as long as it has a relationship with issues of Asian-Australian interest. They prioritise submissions from Asian-Australians and other diverse backgrounds, but they’re open to art from all people. This is an online publication which has been around for 10 years—and thanks to generous funding bodies, they pay all contributors.

Southerly

southerly

Forms: Essays, creative nonfiction, short stories, reviews, poetry.

This is one of Australia’s oldest literary journals, and it’s highly respected. Each issue has a theme, and submissions are open for several themes at a time. Southerly accepts many different types of submissions, which makes it a great suggestion for almost any kind of writer, but read a back issue or two to grasp the tone of the journal before submitting.

Tincture

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Forms: Poetry, short fiction, creative nonfiction.
Frequency: Quarterly.

If you like your journals a little less structured, take a look at this one. There is no thematic focus, and it’s published as an ebook rather than a physical magazine. This journal commits to publish a diverse range of voices, and pays everyone they publish.

Antic

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Forms: Nonfiction, fiction, poetry, reviews, criticism.
Frequency: TBC

It’s always lovely to see exciting, new publications, and Antic is one of these. Its first issue isn’t even out yet, but it’s a literary journal dedicated to supporting Australian (and international) writers. Keep an eye on this one.

Quadrant

quadrant

Forms: Articles, poetry, book reviews, short fiction.
Frequency: 10 times a year.

Ideas and debate are the heart of Quadrant, which is a publication based on essays, literature, poetry, and political and historical discussion. They’ve got both an online section and a print magazine, and both are full of intellectual and interesting content.

Peppermint

Peppermint

Forms: Nonfiction articles on fashion and lifestyle.
Frequency: Quarterly

Peppermint‘s tagline is ‘Style, sustainability, substance’. They’re eco friendly, and cover fashion, lifestyle and creativity. Many of their articles are commissioned, but they still readily accept submissions in the forms of pitches and complete articles.

Griffith Review

griffith review

Forms: Essays, memoir, reportage, short fiction, poetry, visual essays.
Frequency: Quarterly.

Published by Griffith University, Griffith Review prides itself on being the first publication for many successful writers, and encourages writers at all levels to submit. The journal itself likes to intelligently analyse current events, anticipate upcoming trends, and deliver insight into what matters most.

Scum Mag

scum mag

Forms: Fiction, poetry, column, culture, memoir, review, art.
Frequency: Ongoing

Feminist friendly and weird in the best way, Scum Mag publishes new writing several times a week. With alumni including Oliver Mol, Patrick Lenton, Krissy Kneen and Zoya Patel (founder of the aforementioned Feminartsy), this is a favourite of many in the writing industry.

How to Get the Most Out of a Writing Workshop

Writing workshops are the easiest place to find likeminded writers, to get catered feedback in the areas of writing you love, and to meet industry professionals. They’re a great opportunity to dig deeper in your craft, your career and your passion, and they’re almost always a great source of encouragement and joy.

As someone who works in an organisation that runs tons of these, I’ve been to a bunch. Perhaps I’ve been lucky, but I’ve had a specific take-away from each one, and I’ve always felt that they were worth the cost.

If you’d like to join a workshop but aren’t sure where to start, contact your state writers centre to see if they have any that you might be interested in. If you let them know what you love writing, they might even have some other opportunities to share with you as well.

Take Notes—But Not Too Many

Part of going to a workshop is being inundated with loads of information, and to get your money’s worth, you really do need to take notes that you can go over later. But there is the danger of taking too many notes, retreating into your laptop or notebook, and missing the things the tutor and the people around you are saying.

When you get into the workshop, take a look at any handouts you’re given. How detailed are they? If the tutor has a presentation, is what they’re saying on the presentation in the notes? How much of what the tutor is saying do you need to write down, and how much is common sense or anecdotal?

A strategy I like to use is writing short, snappy notes while the tutor is talking, and then spending 5 or 10 minutes on my break writing a short summary. That way I can be fully engaged with what the tutor is saying, and writing the summary helps me to retain the memories for longer.

Ask Questions & NETWORK WITH THE TUTOR

When going to a workshop, remember that the tutor is an industry professional, and they very well could give you the piece of information that takes your writing or your career to the next level. Of course, this won’t necessarily happen at every workshop, but it is a possibility as long as you’re generous, open and willing to seize the opportunity.

Writing workshops are a rare chance to dissect an industry professional’s brain, so you should! Ask questions and engage with the content. Don’t handicap yourself by being too afraid to ask questions or talk to the tutor. Workshop tutors teach because they love sharing their knowledge and resources with other writers.

Some questions, of course, might be more appropriate to ask the tutor during a break or shortly after the course. It’s never great for the other participants if one person takes up a workshop with personalised questions about their career. Don’t make it awkward for the tutor to leave, but feel free to give them some personal details about what you’re working on and ask for advice. You’ll get bonus points (and better advice) if it’s clear you’ve done some research beforehand.

Talk to Other Writers &  Share Your Work

You’re in a room bursting with other writers and creatives—talk to them! It is totally fine to ask for someone’s email address, or suggest that everyone in the group join an email list. People go to writing courses to meet people who love writing the same stuff that they do, so put yourself out there.

Sharing your work is always terrifying, but it’s the best way to get immediate feedback on your work. The tutor is likely to give you some encouragement or suggestion, and you’re way more likely to actually improve your skills if you’re willing to take that on. And the other people in the room likely have some great feedback for you too!

If you’re not sure how to find writing friends, this might be it. Remember that everyone else in the room is serious enough about their writing to pay to attend the course, and they’re probably writing in the same genre or style that you’re interested in. If you don’t quite find what you’re looking for, contact the organisation running the course to see if they know of any local writing groups that might suit you.

Set a Goal & Action it Within 24 Hours

Before you leave the workshop, set yourself a quantifiable goal to practice what you have learned. Make it measurable, realistic and tangible, and write down exactly what you want to do. You might have an idea of this goal going into the workshop, but the content of the workshop may influence what it ends up being.

Your mission is then to take the first step towards this goal within the next 24 hours. The motivation is always the strongest closest to the workshop, when the knowledge is still fresh. Workshops are some of the most encouraging things you can do as a writer, and the most empowering, but they’re not worth the money if you don’t use what you’ve learned to improve your skills and habits as a writer.

6 Myths About the Australian Publishing Industry

To the average writer, the publishing industry may as well be fairyland. It’s easy to imagine that publishers are faceless gatekeepers that only care about what sells. But that’s totally not true. Most of the time, publishers are truly passionate about writing and writers, and they’d love to give your manuscript a chance—as long as you approach them in the right way.

Because most writers don’t know a lot about the industry, it’s easy to believe things that aren’t necessarily true. Here are six myths that people commonly believe about the publishing industry that could actually damage your chances of getting published.

It’s impossible to get published without an agent.

In Australia, agents totally aren’t compulsory, and whether you get one is up to you. Many successful writers don’t have agents, or didn’t get them until later in their careers. Having an agent does have its benefits, but several of them (such as contract negotiation) can actually be done on a consulting basis for a set fee if the author does not find the right match or only plans to publish one book.

Agents are essentially career partners. When they take on a new writer, generally they have the view that it will be a long-term relationship. Other than pitching to publishers and negotiating contracts, agents will search for other money-making opportunities for the writer, such as speaking engagements, be a sounding board for the author when thinking strategically about their writing and their career, and some may even assist with the development of the manuscript.

That being said, it’s totally possible to get published without an agent, and even without hiring a consultant! Australia has several organisations that act as advocates for writers, which you can go to for support or for a contract assessment, and most of our publishing industry accepts unsolicited submissions. 

Breaking submission guidelines will make my manuscript stand out.

This is almost always a no! Publishers set their submission guidelines for a reason. Many receive hundreds of manuscripts a year, so if you’d like them to truly consider your work, it’s best to respect their requests. If you can’t take the time to double space your manuscript, why should they strain their eyes trying to read it?

The best writing shouldn’t have to rely on gimmicks, like scented paper (looking at you, Elle Woods) or strange fonts. If you’re confident in your writing, let it stand on its own merits. This will also show the publisher that you’re courteous, pay attention to detail, and have actually looked at their website, which can only be a good thing.

Another thing is to be careful that the publisher actually publishers manuscripts like yours. Sending a sci-fi manuscript to a literary fiction editor isn’t a good idea—if they don’t publish your genre, they don’t have expertise in publishing your genre. They may be missing important contacts, or be unfamiliar with tropes, or not understand the market you’re trying to reach. For your sake (and theirs), only submit your work to publishers who work in your genre.

Agents and publishers don’t read unsolicited submissions.

Again, wrong! As long as you submit within their guidelines (noting that some publishers only accept unsolicited submissions on certain dates), most publishers in Australia do read unsolicited submissions, and do encourage writers to submit. Penguin Random House actually has a monthly meeting where everyone in the organisation goes through the manuscripts in the slush pile. It can be a little bit harder to get published, but if your writing is truly great and it is right for the editor reading it, it will stand out.

Writing an excellent query letter and synopsis is essential here, as well as making sure that your manuscript is truly developed. If you’re unsure whether you’re ready to submit, contact your state writers centre to see if there are any development programs you can apply for or if you can get a manuscript assessment. Look at joining a writer’s group, or go to workshops. There are lots of ways of getting feedback on your writing, which will either show you what you need to work on, or give you the confidence to move forward.

Self-publishing is the easier option.

Self-publishing is a huge investment, and you should be really sure that it’s the right step for you before getting started. It is really like starting a small business, and there’s a lot of work involved. All the stuff that a publisher would normally do falls to you, including editing, designing, printing, distributing, marketing and selling. You need to be sure that you can do all of these things sufficiently, and that you won’t be losing money in the process.

Particularly important here is the distribution: you should have a plan of where your book will be sold and how it will get there before you invest any money. Especially when self-publishing a print book, this is the area where many authors struggle. Even Hugh Howey made a deal with a publisher for the print edition of his books. That’s not to say it isn’t possible – many independent bookstores stock local self-published authors, and some distributors may be willing to work with you.

But, before you spend any money, beware of vanity presses and publishing scams! Always be very sure of what you’re spending money on, and what you will receive in return. If you’re paying someone to do a service for you, such as editing your work or marketing your book, take a look at the projects they’ve worked on previously beforehand.

Agents and publishers are terrifying beasts that cannot be approached.

Publishers are more accessible than ever, and most love talking to writers—especially if they’re at a writing event, like a festival or workshop. Having the courage to chat to a publishing professional at an event could get you a business card, some sage advice, or the chance to submit.

They’re just people who love books. Nowadays, it’s ridiculously easy to connect with publishers. Between Twitter, easily guessable email addresses, writing events and conferences, it’s easy to reach out to professionals from all over the industry.

As always, it’s important to be professional and polite. Make sure to respect their time. If they’re on the phone or eating their lunch, it’s probably better to wait. Don’t demand they read your manuscript or tell them that you’re the next J. K. Rowling. Perfect your elevator pitch, chat to them about their work and the kinds of things they publish, and ask them any questions you have about the publishing industry.

If an editor doesn’t publish my work, that means that it wasn’t good enough.

There are many reasons that writing gets rejected, even good writing. Editors don’t usually get the final say on what they publish—often they have to pitch the manuscript to representatives from every department in the publisher. They have to convince their colleagues that each manuscript is the most viable for the current market, and that’s not always possible.

Keep in mind that publishers aren’t gods of taste. Every publisher has passed on something fantastic, whether it be because they weren’t in the right mood when they read it, there wasn’t room in their list, they weren’t sure how to sell it, or it just wasn’t right for them. And many bestselling writers weren’t accepted at the first place they submitted to.

Don’t take rejection personally. Do take a step back to look at your manuscript with fresh eyes, and do what you can to get feedback on your writing to make sure it is the best it can be, but don’t let it fester. Often the best thing to do is just to send it out again to someone new.