Summarizing in three to five pages

Maud Newton continues the discussion of the problems with synopsis-based publishing. Her starting point is Robert McCrum’s article, “The Curse of the Synopsis,” which is both insightful and depressing.

Yesterday in my writing group, we worked on the synopsis of one member’s nonfiction book. This member (J) has read at least a half-dozen books on how to write a “winning” synopsis, and has attended workshops, conferences, etc. Her conclusion: No one agrees on the way to do it. J’s case is slightly different from the authors mentioned in McCrumb’s article in that she has the book drafted — she can create a complete synopsis now without fear that the book will take a radically different direction by the time she has finished it. All the same, she wants to write a synopsis that will sell her book, and she’s looking for a best way to do that.

My advice to her is to write the most compelling summary she can, in whatever style she prefers, and stop worrying about the “right” way to do it. It’s clear that there’s more than a little luck required to publish a book today, at least if one hopes to work with a major publisher.