Planning to write a non-fiction book in 2013? Do you have a work-in-progress memoir? And your goal is to publish? Then start the New Year with a timeline and plan to write a book proposal. Now that you’ve updated your biographical profile, write a synopsis of your book concept before the end of this month.

In less than 1,000 words, write an essay in third person about your book manuscript. Not easy, I know. If you are writing a memoir, this exercise helps you focus on the narrative arc, themes, characters, and direction of your work-in-progress. If you are preparing a non-fiction manuscript, I recommend you begin with a synopsis and invest your time in writing proposal before you spend years belaboring a book without commercial feasibility. Authors don’t get rich and famous from writing books in today’s economy (although the rich and famous have an easier time getting their manuscripts published than debut authors from Dubuque).

When you prepare a book proposal, one of the most important documents is the synopsis. Distilling 200 plus pages into a précis of essential points is a serious challenge to any author.

In order to write the synopsis of your book, you may need to take several steps back from your manuscript and take some time and perspective. This is your Elevator speech, your 30 second Hollywood pitch, your big chance to convince an agent or acquisition editor to read more. Unless you hook ’em with a powerful synopsis, they won’t bother to read a word of your manuscript.

This 1-2 page document must be more than an abstract or executive summary of the editorial content. You want to provide a condensed view of the whole manuscript. For non-fiction and memoir, this goes beyond an abridgement of the story or argument. It needs to include the marketing features of your manuscript. Are there photos or illustrations? Does it have a CD-ROM included? Is there a bibliography? Endorsements, reviews, blurbs?

To write an effective synopsis you need to put on a different hat than you’re used to wearing when you write. Time to think business. Your synopsis will eventually appear on Amazon as the Product Description, on Barnes & Noble as the Overview, etc. So ask yourself: How will my book be seen among so many other books? Think of your book as a widget. Your job is to introduce this product into a very cluttered and competitive niche and you are approaching investors to back your product launch. The more you think like a publisher who takes financial risks on investing in book productions, the easier the synopsis will be to write. This document will be used to produce book jacket copy, press releases, and appear on your website page, About the Book(s).

Bottom line: your synopsis must convert a potential reader into a book buyer and plunk down some hard cold cash. What about your book will make a reader do that? Who needs this book and why? What are the marketing features to your book concept? What subjects, themes, perspectives, and issues are addressed in your manuscript? What does your book contribute to the marketplace of ideas?

The synopsis in a book proposal is more than a summary of plot points or an outline of subjects to be covered. It’s a convincing argument that the reader  (editor, agent) needs and wants the story or argument you have to share in your memoir or non-fiction book manuscript. Write tight.

There is one strategy for writing a synopsis I suggest to authors that involves first preparing the expanded Table of Contents (TOC)  for inclusion in a book proposal. If you first complete a TOC, you’ll have an abridged version of your book. From this document you may find it easier to further condense your book’s description into this key 1-2 page document.

Next time, the expanded Table of Contents is our topic.

January is the time to get busy like a bee (Photo courtesy of Mary Bouchard, Trumansburg, NY)

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