Synopsis Made Simple - Q&A with Nicola Morgan

Are you the kind of writer who could quite happily knock out a 70,000 word manuscript, create a fully fleshed out fantasy world, populate it with a cast of carefully crafted characters but then shrivel at the thought of distilling it into a one page synopsis? Yeah, me too…

How can I tell you about all the wonderful things in my story in just one page?  

But I know that if I want to get my story into the hands of an agent, or ask an agent to press my story into the hands of a publisher it’s what I’ve got to do. So, why can it feel so difficult?

Some people relish it – if that’s you, you can look away now – but for many of us it’s a challenge. For me, all of the elements of the story have been playing like an orchestra in my head for so long, that I can’t bear to pare them back to just one melody.

"Writing a book is hard but writing a synopsis is a walk in the park. In the sunshine."

Luckily for me, there are experts like Nicola Morgan to guide us through the task, and luckily for you, if you’re within striking distance of Edinburgh, SCBWI South East Scotland are hosting a workshop run by Nicola on how to tackle just these issues. In anticipation of the workshop I asked Nicola about her feelings about writing her own synopses.

Nicola Morgan

Q: For you, is it pleasure or pain?

A: Can’t see the problem. Love it. Writing a book is hard but writing a synopsis is a walk in the park. In the sunshine.

Nicola promises to try and infect us with her enthusiasm for the task on the day! Her positive attitude made me wonder if part of the trick might be in the timing of when you write it.

Every time I’ve written a synopsis, I’ve wished the story I’d written was slightly different – because I can suddenly see that it would be much more satisfying to describe.

I’m not sure if it’s cheating, but instead of changing the synopsis, I’ve gone back and changed the story. (Does anybody else do that?)

I wondered what Nicola’s thoughts were:

Q: Is there a best time in the writing of a book to write the synopsis? 

A: Different times for different reasons. Some people like (and are able!) to write it in advance; others (me) find this nearly impossible – or rather, find it very easy to make up a synopsis, but nearly impossible to stick to it. I like writing a synopsis when I’m halfway through. But the easiest time is when the book is finished. Sometimes a publisher wants the synopsis before the book is written – in this case, make up something that sounds fabulous. And sort out all the changes later! 

So, maybe it is okay for the manuscript and the synopsis to interact a bit!

Perhaps writing the synopsis can help you find the essence of the story. 

That’s certainly how it’s starting to feel to me. It’s like clearing away all the decoration so you can see if the structure is solid enough to stand up!

And what about those authors who are lucky enough to have an agent, is there anything they could get from Nicola’s advice on distilling your manuscript to its essence?

Q: Once you’ve bagged an agent, are synopses still important? 

A: Usually*. Most editors will want one. But sometimes if you're very lucky and spectacularly sellable you will get away with it. But I think they’re useful for writers, even when publishers don't want them. (*Having said that, I don't believe they’re particularly important anyway. Certainly the least important part of the submission. Relax!) 

With that in mind, the workshop isn’t solely focused on crafting a synopsis, but something much more flexible.

Nicola will guide us through the process of creating the all important pitch paragraph which you can then use to craft the covering letter and expand into your synopsis. 

If you follow Nicola’s instructions, you’ll also come away with the material you’ll need for the synopsis of the synopsis: the two line elevator pitch! It’s hands on, so come along prepared to have a go at knocking out a working pitch paragraph for the manuscript you’re concerned with right now. What’s not to like?

Nicola Morgan’s ‘Perfecting your Agent or Publisher Submission’ workshop is in Edinburgh on 14th March 2015

Nicola’s e-books Dear Agent and Write a Great Synopsis are available here They’re perfect companions to the workshop – or great guides if you really can’t make it to the event!

M Louise Kelly is the co-organiser of the SCWBI South East Scotland. She is represented by Lindsey Fraser of Fraser Ross Associates. @mllouisekelly


  1. I love that Nicola enjoys writing a synopsis! I heard another writer online say that most writers, asked to provide a synopsis, prefer to offer a kidney instead. The first time I tried to write a synopsis, and had that awful realization that my book wasn't about anything in particular...yup, that was the start, for me, of learning to do this thing properly. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to this workshop!

  2. We wish you were here too, Jan! We'll try and bottle some of Nicola's synopsis enthusiasm and send it to you!

  3. I wish I was in Edinburgh too! This is a great article Louise and Nicola. Sheila, I think I would consider a medical procedure preferable to writing a synopsis - and as for that all important letter and elevator pitch - urgh! I read Nicola's books and found them so, so helpful, but the event with the practical advice and focus on your own pitch sounds like it takes the pain out of submission writing. Hey, maybe everyone will come away feeling like writing a synopsis is a walk in the park - 'in the sunshine'!

  4. it doesn't have to be very long, it just has to heat up interest to your article a bit, not just reveal the most interesting points.
    But at the same time it has to be not very short, so people can't understand anything about your book.
    As you see, you have t o find a golden middle.
    Browse this page for examples


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