Hard won lessons in the trade by Robert W. Walker
Synopsis. What the devil is it? Some call it your platform these days, others refer to it as the pitch or the logline. I submit that it is what you want to see on the back of your novel or on the flap in hardcover—the COPY.
Let’s take a hard look at what I had proposed as my Flap-Jacket Copy for my next novel, DEAD ON due out in 2009. Read it and note the dissection after each paragraph.
Atlanta PI Marcus Rydell is out to reclaim his hold on life. Dr. Kat Holley seeks a fiery revenge on a maniac who has destroyed both their lives. Together, hero and heroine, hunters, come to respect and understand one another, and to share a bond that colors this suspenseful thriller filled as it is with bright touches of romance, light banter, and laugh-out-loud humor alongside terror. And as in any good noir mystery-thriller, there figures a black dog; this one’s named Paco.
At once, in sentence one, I name the two principal characters and set the location, and in same sentence I touch on the major thrust of the book—that it is a revenge tale. Not to mention that both characters are flawed—their lives destroyed. Sentence two, I tell you they are hunters who come to respect, understand, and care about each other on this journey of vengeance. Finally, you learn that there is humor and romance interspersed with the serious mayhem, along with a dog named Paco. Now let’s have at paragraph two written to entice an editor to read the book and love it!
Just when disgraced Atlanta cop-turned-PI Marcus Rydell prepares to eat his gun, a kid in trouble, a call to duty, and a dirty blonde named Kat Holley stop him cold. Kat Holley pulls Marcus from a suicidal depression, and his soon-to-be demolished apartment building—only to make him face a past he cannot come to terms with on his own. But not before she leads him on a deadly hunt deep into the blackest forests of the Red Earth State. Near the Georgia-Tennessee border in the breathtaking Blue Ridge Lake countryside, the pair witness a safe paradise become their death trap, as their prey is no ordinary man. They seek to destroy a local legend, a cave-dwelling ex-marine who happens to be a multiple murderer. In fact, their prey is a monster whose instincts and military training have allowed him to survive in the wilderness for four years, eluding the Feds as well as the Atlanta PD.
You are wooing an editor, so a little judicious repeating of the facts and going into more detail here is a good thing. The setting is brought more into focus along with the fact that it does not remain static and nor do the characters. Here to the villain is introduced and given some shape. Let’s see what paragraph three of the synopsis as sales tool brings us:
However, the hunt for the evil torturer and executioner, Iden Cantu, pivots. And now Cantu comes for them, leaving the dead in his wake. In the end, they must duel with this psychotic deviant, who is equipped with night-vision, a high-powered Bushman, and a cruel intent to kill by means of mental and physical pain.
In this final paragraph the conflict is ratcheted up as our heroes have the tables turned on them in this high stakes game of cat and mouse, and while that may seem a cliché, you want to find a clever and fresh way to say it’s so. This paragraph also brings the killer even more in focus as he represents the threat that Marcus and Kat have to confront. Both the good guys and the bad have to measure up and be large enough and interesting enough to make the conflict of interest.
In all of the synopsis I’ve answered the five questions required of all journalistic writing and sales pitches –Who is it about, What is it about, Where is it about, When is it about, and Why is it of interest? And How is it accomplished? Easy and Simply: PI Marcus and Dr. Kat versus the evil, psychotic marine serial killer Iden in the North Georgia woods in a modern day tale of vengeance and courage strained to the limit—a dark duel that keeps Marcus from spiraling into depression. He learns that hunting humans is cathartic! Kat reminds him of this lost passion. And along the way, they discover one another. The Who, What, Where, Why, and How of it are your synopsis and platform all rolled into one as they are all present in your sales pitch.
Writing the synopsis is writing the most important short story you will ever write. It is best to read twenty or a hundred back flap or back copy descriptions of other books in any and all genres to acquire a knack for doing it yourself, but you, my friend, YOU know your book better than anyone. It is just a matter of taking off your crafty, creative writer’s hat and donning your even craftier salesman’s hat and rely on the old journalistic principles of telling a story within a paragraph or two. Just make sure every ‘i’ is dotted and every ‘t’ is crossed for you are first judged not on your novel but on your synopsis and cover letter.
Happy Marketing Guys and Ladies,
Robert W. Walker