In Search of Synopsis Advice

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

December 28, 2014

MOD Mock Up Cover

MOD Mock Up Cover

Calling all writers who have crafted query letters, book blurbs and synopses.

As I prepare to ship off my first manuscript, I’m trying my hand at distilling what the novel is about. I’ve read numerous posts that have been useful, own more craft-books on writing than the local library and I’ve even read a few.

I’m asking for feedback on my first attempt at a synopsis, and requesting any tips you’ve learned through experience. Thank you in advanced for any and all advice!

Synopsis for Miracle of Ducks by Charli Mills (152 words):

Archeologist Dr. Danni Gordon hides in her research to avoid the tourist bustle of Bayfield, Wisconsin. Despite their differences, Danni has a comfortable marriage to Ike Gordon, former U.S. Army Ranger. She believes in science; he believes in miracles. She likes solitude; he’s loud. She wears high heels to cook at home; he swills coffee at the local cafe.

Although past his Ranger prime, Ike answers a personal call of duty and leaves for Iraq. Danni suddenly becomes a soldier’s wife in charge of Ike’s exuberant hunting dogs, which leads to trouble with neighbors and the law. Chaos also brings new friends, including an unlikely pup. He socializes Danni and becomes a celebrity to local schoolchildren as Bubbie the Archaeology Dog.

Just when Danni begins to connect with her community and anticipate Ike’s homecoming, she receives devastating news from Iraq. In a hopeless situation, Danni is about to experience the biggest miracle of her life.



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  1. Sarah Brentyn

    I know you will have help from actual authors (Anne, Geoff, Georgia, et al.) but I’m not terrible at these. Let me know. I’m very excited for you to be at this stage!

    • Charli Mills

      The challenge is having something short (like a flash synopsis) and something longer (for publishers requesting 1-2 pages). This is my short version. I’m excited to be at the cliff, ready to dive. I’ll find out if my manuscript has wings! 🙂

  2. Norah

    I don’t have the required qualifications to give the advice requested, and I am usually reluctant to offer advice in any situation, but I’ll throw my comment into the ring anyway!
    Congratulations on progressing your novel to this stage. Woohoo! What an achievement! Your story sounds a great read and I’m intrigued to find out what news is received from Iraq, and what the subsequent miracle is. My mind is already wildly predicting, but I’d like to read to find out.
    Does that tell you that your blurb has worked for this reader at least!!!!

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Norah! Your insights are helpful. 🙂

  3. TanGental

    I love the title. So intriguing. As for some thoughts, and I hope these make sense…
    The one lesson I learned is that any synopsis aimed at publishers needs to tell the whole story, including the denouement. Since we don’t know what happens this reads more like a blurb than a synopsis.
    I would also wonder at so much space given over to the dogs. Do they feature so significantly in the core of the story?
    The other thought Is the only drama revealed is around the homecoming. Otherwise it appears to be something of a personal journey of someone who is a bit shy and who, left in charge of the dogs, begins to socialise, with some humorous incidents on the way. Is that the core story? If not then I’d suggest you give us a bit more of the dilemmas involved.
    Hope this helps. Others will comment I’m sure

    • Charli Mills

      I think I’m confused on what a synopsis is and your comment clarifies my confusion. 🙂 The “formula” I’m following (150 words) must be the back cover blurb, but it’s called a synopsis. And then I’ve read guidelines from various agents or publishers who request a 1-2 page synopsis. So, I’m thinking there are variations? A short and a long? That’s where I’m feeling confused. Would this draft above work as a book blurb, then?

      And on to the synopsis for the publishers. In this longer description I’d tell the whole story, spoilers and all, so that it reads like a miniature version of all three acts?

      Good question about the dogs. They aren’t core, but they do serve as the catalyst to Danni’s building crisis. When she reluctantly becomes responsible for dogs, it’s every day. There’s no escaping dog care. And dogs cause trouble: One result is a lawsuit and the other is a litter of puppies. Danni gets attached to one of the pups, which makes her more vulnerable to the reality that her husband may be missing in action indefinitely. So, dogs play a vital role and ultimately Bubbie becomes the sacrifice that Danni has to make to become who she is.

      So, yes, this blurb doesn’t reveal any of the drama or tensions or the possibility that there will be no homecoming. Yet, it is a personal journey peppered with dogs. I’ll rethink how to make this sound more exciting at the blurb level. Would you be willing to privately read a more revealing and longer book synopsis? Certainly don’t want to publicize my own spoilers! 🙂

      • TanGental

        Of course, I’d be delighted. The agent/publisher synopsis is a dire thing. It must tell the core story, spoilers and all, inc the denouement, otherwise it us straight in the reject pile. And you need to grip the reader, they need to sense some anxiety. Y
        This might be through a question. Will Dani survive/cope? It just seemed a bit dog centric when you have so few have my mail, don’t you?

      • Charli Mills

        I will work on my dire thing and send you something to review. Thank you, Geoff!

  4. Annecdotist

    Yay, Charli, congratulations on getting this far and it certainly sounds an interesting read.
    You start by succinctly introducing the two main characters, the early crisis and its impact. This works well, although I’d cut “she wears high heels to cook at home” – not so clear what you getting at (other than the rule of three) and you’ve already established the differences in their characters.
    Also, in the phrase “Danny hides in her research” – I imagined her physically crouching down behind the desk, although it was clear what you meant I didn’t see this immediately and you don’t want ANY confusion at this stage.
    I’m with Geoff on “the synopsis has to tell it all” – it doesn’t require every twist and turn of the narrative but agents and publishers do want to know the ending. Also, I agree with him that it’s somewhat dog-heavy, although I suspect that’s consistent with your plot.
    Regarding your reply to Sarah about needing a long and short version, in my experience (mostly from the UK although I did have some successful initial queries to agents from the US) it’s best to limit the long version to one side of A4, but the short would go in the covering letter where it needs to be even shorter than this – one paragraph at most, just giving the flavour of the kind of novel it is (and you don’t need to give away the ending here) – including genre and overall word count.
    Wishing you the very best of luck with your submissions.

    • Charli Mills

      This, along with Geoff’s comment is giving me a better understanding. I’m now thinking that some of these articles and posts I’ve read on writing a synopsis would be helpful if they included why and for whom one is writing the synopsis. I see how it differs between a book cover blurb and a query to an agent or publisher. And useful to understand about the shorter paragraph included in the cover letter. How did you sum up your genre? I feel this is commercial fiction but that seems so vague compared to the more definitive romance or crime thriller. Very helpful. thank you!

  5. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    I agree with Geoff and Anne. A synopsis to the publisher has to tell the entire story and it has to tell them so they are hooked from the beginning. What you have written sounds more back cover blurb which you also need to send. From someone who has been unsuccessful (meaning you can discount any or all of this ) you need for submission a cover letter which tells the publisher the genre of book written with your proposed title, its length and whether it is completed. In the body of the letter put your pitch of approximately three lines. Also tell them why you are qualified to write this (perhaps only important for non fiction) or why it is unique and where you think it would fit on the bookshelf (preferably between successful books that the targetted publisher has published.)
    Tell them what info you have enclosed and this should include author credentials, synopsis, market potential, ?chapter outline (more important for non fiction I would think), three sample chapters and a self addressed envelope.
    You should have prepared three pitches. One short and punchy of around 3 – 5 words. The second (which you use in your letter ) of around three lines and one of approx 150 words which you can include as an addition if you want to.
    Good luck. This is where the hard part starts.

    • Charli Mills

      You, Geoff and Ann have fully clarified this for me! Each comment, I felt as if greater understanding were dawning. Okay, yes, the hard parts are about to begin. Thank you for the details!

  6. Jeanne Lombardo

    Geoff, Anne and Irene have pretty much hit on the differences between a synopsis and a blurb or abstract, the latter of which seems to fit this short description. The synopsis I eventually sent out for my client’s story was two full pages long and lent a short paragraph to all the major events and developments. Where a query letter can intimate at plot turns, a synopsis, as I understand it, should spell out each one. It should also let us know how the story resolves itself. In addition, consider “bolding” the names of any significant characters. Having said all that, this “flash synopsis” gives enough information for me to want to know more. I’d like to see a synopsis that details the trouble the dogs bring and reveals the “devastating news” and the “miracle” at the end.

    • Charli Mills

      Thank you for adding to my understanding, Jeanne. This is all so very helpful and I feel better equipped as to what to craft next. thanks!

  7. Gina Stoneheart

    Congratulations, Charli! I wish you all the best when sending your manuscript out.
    Sorry I don’t have much experience within this department. I self published my children’s book so I didn’t have to query agents or publishing companies much. I will be in your shoes once my WIP reaches this stage.
    Your story sounds touching and I look forward to reading it once it is published!

    • Charli Mills

      The process reminds me of education: Just as you master one level, you feel like a beginner all over again! It’s good to have writers willing to share their notes from class. 🙂

  8. ruchira

    Hi Charli,
    super excited to know that you are at the final stages of your book.

    My 2 cents towards your synopsis. It’s too long and giving out too much…if you could shun out a few details for the reader to stay curious…would be great.
    Archeologist Dr. Danni Gordon hides in her research to avoid the tourist bustle of Bayfield, Wisconsin. Danni has a comfortable marriage to Ike Gordon, former U.S. Army Ranger. They both are poles apart and still enjoy each other’s company.

    Although past his Ranger prime, Ike answers a personal call of duty and leaves for Iraq. Danni suddenly becomes a soldier’s wife in charge of Ike’s exuberant hunting dogs, which leads to trouble with neighbors and the law. Chaos also brings new friends, including an unlikely pup.

    Just when Danni begins to connect with her community and anticipate Ike’s homecoming, she receives devastating news from Iraq. In a hopeless situation, Danni is about to experience the biggest miracle of her life.

    Will she be able to cope with the new change? This book will take you on a path of revelation and courage that an introvert can sustain and cope.

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks, Ruchira! As a book blurb, build curiosity then? That makes sense. Thanks for your suggestions!

  9. lorilschafer

    I’m repeating what others have said to a certain extent, but when I was querying my first novel, my original synopsis was about the length of yours, I had no credits, and I got no positive responses. For the second round, I cut the synopsis to about five sentences and spent the rest of my query detailing my recent story publications, contests in which I was a finalist, etc., and got about a thirty percent positive response rate – requests for synopses, partials or fulls. You will probably want to emphasize your freelance work, your ability to manage writing as a business, and your Carrot Ranch community, which forms a very large part of your platform.

    The other thing I discovered that’s really annoying is that you don’t just need long and short synopses, but that different publishers have different length requirements – I think I ended up with 2, 3, 5, and 7-page versions! I would recommend researching your intended target agents and/or publishers before you start submitting, so that you know what you’ll need. Synopses are hard to write, and if you do get a request for one, you don’t want to be scrambling to put together something of the proper length at the last minute.

    • Charli Mills

      What you are saying is in part why I’ve felt uncertain. I’ve been researching, and between some agents or presses their requests are as different as can be. Then different articles or posts cite different strategies. Publishers want all, readers want curiosity. Everybody wants excitement and clarity. So no such thing as one synopsis fits all. 🙂 What you’ve experienced is helpful. Freelancing was always about using my byline to get more and bigger assignments and it always worked. Hopeful that previous writing matters. Thanks!

  10. Sherri

    Found this a fascinating read, your questions and also all the comments here. I’ve learned an awful lot myself! I can’t really give you any advice Charli, as you know, I’m learning all this and absorbing what needs to be done re query letter, blurb and synopsis when the time comes. But I do want to send you the warmest of congratulations on getting this far and I’m so excited for you 🙂 I really do wish you only the very best success and with all this great advice here from everyone I’m sure you will soon be able to gain the clarification you seek, on the individual basis you need for this particular book. It’s just that part of getting it absolutely right so that you feel 100 percent ready to send it all off…but once you’ve done it, then you can do just that! Hooray 🙂

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