What is a synopsis…
… and how do I write one?
As part of the Kelpies Prize for Writing, we ask entrants to send us a synopsis for a book they have written or could write. It’s a term that pops up a lot in publishing, but what does it actually mean?
Put simply, a synopsis is a brief overview of a book. It should give the reader a good summary of what your novel, picture book or non-fiction project is about and who it’s for.
Structure of a synopsis
Many writers find them tricky to write (“How can I condense my whole book into just one page?!”), but it can helpful to think about a synopsis as having just three main parts.
For fiction (novels and picture books), these include:
- 1. A pitch line or hook: A single introductory sentence or question that summarises the main thrust of your story. If you can think of a pithy, attention-grabbing one-line pitch, even better!
- 2. Readership and genre: This should include information about who the book is for and what genre it fits into. This is especially important when writing for children. Is your book for 6-9’s or 9-12’s? Is it fantasy, historical, sci-fi, humour, realist? All of the above?
- 3. What the book is about: This should make up the bulk of your synopsis. Tell us about your book’s plot!
- Who are the main characters?
- Where and when is the story set?
- What happens? (In other words, what’s driving the story forwards? What does your main character want, and what’s getting in their way?)
- Why is this important? (Why should readers care? What’s at stake? And how does the action unfold?)
- How does the story end? (How is it all resolved? What has changed by the end of the book? What kind of journey have your characters been on?)
A synopsis for a non-fiction book might differ a little, but should still have the same three central parts:
- 1. A pitch line or hook: A single introductory sentence that summarises your book.
- 2. Readership: Information about who the book is for and what age group it is aimed at. Is it for general readers or those interested in a specific subject area?
- 3. What the book about is about: Like with a fiction synopsis, this part should make up the bulk of your book summary. We’d like to know:
- The subject matter or concept
- What your book will include (e.g. If your book is about the history of Scotland, what periods will it cover? Which notable people or important events?)
- What sets your book apart (It is likely there will already be books on the market covering your subject, so think about what makes your book stand out. Perhaps it’s funny, or offers a unique take on an established subject. Tell us what makes it special!)
- Your expertise/interest (Why are you particularly qualified to write this book? Perhaps you have expert knowledge about this area, or maybe you’re just really enthusiastic about this subject. Either way, we’d really like to know!)
A few final pointers
Keeping the structure outlined above in mind when writing your synopsis will ensure it’s as reader-friendly as possible, but here’s a few final pointers you may also find useful:
- Keep it short!: A good synopsis should be engaging and lively, so it’s best to keep it brief if you can. Try not to over-describe – just give a simple, broad overview of the plot or contents. One page is ideal. If you’re really struggling to keep your summary short it’s a sign that you’re either giving us too much information or that you need to look at simplifying your plot/concept.
- Synopsis, not blurb: Blurbs (both the copy on the back of a book and descriptions of a book online) and synopses have very different purposes. A blurb is like an advertisement – it entices a reader in but usually doesn’t give a huge amount of detail about the contents. A synopsis, on the other hand, is all about content – editors and agents need to be able to read it and instantly know what your book is about. Think information, not intrigue!
- Comparison titles: All books are unique, but it’s really useful if you can include a couple of comparative titles in your synopsis. If you had to list similar books in terms of tone, voice, subject matter etc., what would those books be? This not only tells us that you have a good knowledge of the current book market, but also acts as a helpful kind of shorthand – it instantly communicates what your book is about and who its potential readers are.
- Tell us the ending!: It’s tempting to try and leave your reader wanting more, but we’d really like to know how your story ends! This can be tricky if you haven’t written a full first draft yet, but at this stage it’s still helpful to know where you imagine your story going (even if that changes once you actually get there).
Best of luck to everyone entering this year’s Kelpies Prize. We look forward to reading your entries (and brilliantly written synopses!).
Guest Post: Hannah Foley on life as a writer and a nurse
We are immensely proud to be working with Hannah Foley, who is not only an author and illustrator, but is also a district nurse. Her Kelpies Prize-winning debut novel The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle is finally published this month, after a year’s delay due to Covid-19. Below, Hannah talks about her life as a writer and a nurse during the pandemic, and explains how stories have been another form of life support for so many people.
At the beginning of 2020 I was looking forward to the publication of my Kelpies Prize-winning debut children’s novel, The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle. As the early months of the year passed, it quickly became clear that I’d be waiting longer than anticipated. The world was being turned upside down by a vicious virus called Covid-19. The UK went into the first lockdown and bookshops, libraries and schools everywhere closed their doors. The decision was taken to delay publication and my day job went into overdrive…
When I’m not writing children’s novels I work as a district nurse. This involves providing healthcare for housebound patients and care home residents in the community, ranging from dressing wounds, management of long-term conditions, to care of the dying. Every one of my patients fell into the highest risk category for Covid-19. Armed with layers of PPE, even the smallest of tasks now became a major operation. And in the warmest year on record, doing my job gowned up almost head-to-toe in plastic, I sweated more than I’d ever done in my life! But it has been odd too, because, although I have been incredibly proud to be able to use my healthcare skills during the pandemic, my storytelling skills suddenly didn’t seem to matter all that much.
I think a lot of people working in the creative sectors can relate to that feeling. While the nation clapped for carers, the creative sectors were being decimated, and artists were being asked to re-train in the areas of work deemed ‘essential’. For a while it was easy to feel that the only parts of my identity that counted were being a nurse and being a homeschooling mum.
But one of the unexpected things about that first lockdown was that the children’s book market remained buoyant. Just as our ancestors have done for thousands of years, in the darkest of times, we turned to stories to help us through. And while I wasn’t (yet!) celebrating the publication of my first book, stories were keeping my patients and me going too.
It might surprise you to learn that stories are at the core of nursing. It is often through listening to how people got to where they are and what they imagine the future holds that enable nurses to help people.
But, of course, it’s no use sitting down with someone, pen and paper in hand expecting it to all pour out. The most complex and profound stories unfold over time, visit after visit, as a nurse bathes a person’s weeping leg sores, or supports them in the last days of their life.
During the pandemic, as people’s social support dwindle due to the restrictions on mixing households, district nursing teams are often the only other souls a person sees for days. It’s not the same as cranking up a ventilator in an intensive care unit, but taking the time to listen to my patients’ stories – and sometimes sharing my own – has been another form of life support for so many.
So, although my focus changed last year, from launching my debut novel to nursing in my community, stories are still at the heart of what I’m doing.
I hope you enjoy discovering the magical world of Avery Buckle; I certainly could do with borrowing her enchanted tandem bicycle to help me with my rounds!
The Spellbinding Secret of Avery Buckle
Avery Buckle has always been different: part girl, part cat, and entirely confused about where she really belongs. But it turns out her tail isn’t her biggest secret
Plunged into an extraordinary world of witches, enchanted libraries and fantastical creatures, Avery discovers only she can stop a dark force from being unleashed.
But with a powerful enemy on her tail, can Avery save the magical world and find out who she really is?
#AskAKidsEditor – Meet the editors!
On Wednesday 16 November, our editors will take to Twitter (@DiscoverKelpies) to answer your questions about writing for children. From weird submissions to writing encouragement to how children’s books might better reflect our culture, ask our editorial superheroes anything! What’s your burning question? Use #AskAKidsEditor to join in the discussion!
Don’t forget that the Kelpies Prize 2017 is now open for entries – our #AskAKidsEditor event is the perfect opportunity to find out what the judges are looking for! We’ve also updated our submission guidelines recently – we hope that the books we publish continue to reflect children’s experiences of a varied and diverse Scotland.
So, who are our editors and what makes them tick? We ventured deep into the editorial department to find out…
Eleanor, Senior Commissioning Editor
My favourite picture book is Azzi in Between by Sarah Garland who brings such honesty to everything she does. For 6-8 year olds, I have always loved The Bullerby Children by Astrid Lindgren (in the old Puffin translation, not the new versions that try to un-Swedish the book). My favourite novel when I was 8-12 was Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson.
Best bit of the editorial process: Taking in an author’s editorial changes – the book gains a stronger shape before your eyes.
Fun fact: I have citizenship of three countries.
Sally, Senior Commissioning Editor
Favourite children’s book: My favourite picture book is The Tiger Who Came to Tea. As a child I puzzled long and hard over whether a tiger could really drink all the water in the tap! For children’s novels, Roald Dahl is still the master of comedy for me, with his wildly imaginative use of language, dark humour and mesmerising characters. My favourite children’s books to read as an adult would definitely be Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy – just brilliant.
Best bit of the editorial process: The commissioning stage. Reading a great manuscript for the first time and imagining what kind of book it will become, then sharing my excitement with the Floris team.
Fun fact: I’ve walked from Glasgow to Inverness, weighed down by a large rucksack.
Favourite children’s book: My favourite picture book is After the Storm by Nick Butterworth (‘Even the squirrels were sniffy’). For middle-grade it’s Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman – it was probably the first book that made me think deeply about the world.
Best bit of the editorial process: Depends on the day of the week, but nothing beats the satisfaction of unpicking and resolving a nice juicy tangled plotline. The tanglier the better!
Fun fact: I have a cat called Augustus, who plays fetch like a dog.
Jen, Editorial Assistant
Favourite children’s book: My favourite children’s book is A Necklace of Raindrops by Joan Aiken. Jan Pienkowski’s illustrations are stunning and so colourful. Each of the tales is magical and takes you to a far away land where anything is possible.
Best bit of the editorial process: My favourite part of the editing process is right at the very beginning when a new manuscript comes in. It’s exciting to sit down and read something that has massive potential and could, in future, be published by Floris. I always find it encouraging to see how imaginative writers can be in producing a really original story.
Fun Fact: I play the flugelhorn – it’s fun to say and fun to play!
#AskAKidsEditor – Twitter chat!
Calling all aspiring children’s authors! Join us on Twitter (@DiscoverKelpies) on Wednesday 16 November between 12pm and 2pm for your chance to ask our editors your questions about writing for children. Follow #AskAKidsEditor and join in the conversation.
What’s the weirdest submission you’ve ever received?
How important is setting in children’s writing?
Any tips for creating realistic characters from diverse backgrounds?
How long does it take to edit a children’s book?
Are children’s books doing enough to reflect our culture today?
Our team of editorial superheros will be taking over our Twitter account to answer questions like these, all in 140 characters or less!
So if you are in need of advice or inspiration, RSVP at KelpiesChat.eventbrite.co.uk, and send us your comments and questions on 16 November using #AskAKidsEditor
Updated Submission Guidelines
Here at Kelpies HQ, it’s really important to us that our books are culturally relevant to readers, and that the characters, themes and issues reflect the diverse culture of Scotland today. We hope that our newly updated submission guidelines reflect our desire to ensure greater diversity in our publishing.
The Kelpies Prize
Our annual Kelpies Prize is a great way for new children’s authors to get their voice heard, and the Kelpies Prize 2017 is now open for entries! Our #AskAKidsEditor event is a great opportunity to get some hints and tips to make sure your submission stands out.
Kelpies Prize 2016 – Shortlist Announced!
Thank you to all the authors who submitted their titles for consideration for this year’s Kelpies Prize! We are thrilled to announce this year’s shortlisted books are:
- Ruby McCracken: Tragic Without Magic by Elizabeth Ezra
- The Secret of the Tammy Norrie by Christine Laurenson
- The Day My School Exploded (But It Wasn’t My Fault!) by Alan McClure
The winner of the Kelpies Prize 2016 will be announced on 25th August at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. For more information on the books and authors you can read our shortlist information sheet.
Kelpies Prize 2017 – Now Open
Have you got a brilliant idea for a children’s novel set in Scotland? If you missed out on entering the Kelpies Prize this year, don’t worry because you still have plenty of time to submit your entry for next year’s prize.
We are now accepting submissions in three categories: Young Kelpies (6-8 years), Kelpies (8-11 years) and KelpiesTeen (11-14 years). You can read more about our submission categories here. The deadline for the 2017 prize is not until 28 Februrary 2017, so get writing and you could see your novel in print in autumn 2018. Good luck!
Kelpies Prize – Previous Winners