The Synopsis – Sell your Story


Let’s talk today about the Synopsis. While your Cover letter and Marketing Plan sells the story concept, the Synopsis sells the story itself.


What is the synopsis?  This is your story, in a nutshell.  It’s a wide angle look, highlighting the big moments, and telling in a way that engages your editor’s imagination.  The last thing they want to read is a dry retelling of your story. 


Let’s start with an overview of a great synopsis:   


Step One:  A good synopsis starts out with outlining the character’s goals, their fears (as a set up for the black moment) and their deepest desires – with a hint at why.  You’re trying to show what they are they after, and why? What their conflict is, and what God is going to teach them?


That’s a lot for the first section – and I call it the Big Bang.  It’s sort of a one-glance look at your book for your editor. 


Step Two: Then the synopsis moves the story through the obstacles. I’ll be giving you a synopsis roadmap in a moment, but in the body of your synopsis, you going to highlight the pivotal points in your story – your character motivations, the conflicts, the road that leads them to their black moment and finally the epiphany. You’re going to write it in the POV of your main characters – concentrating on the MAIN Characters, not the subplots. 


Note:   A synopsis is supposed to be an OVERVIEW of the story. One mistake I see in young writers is the tendency to narrow in on the details. You want to step back from the story and squint a little and tell us the big events you see, and how they affect the spiritual and emotional threads. For example, Don’t tell us how he stops and caresses her hand as he declares his love. Just say, “he declares his love.” Details slow the pace and will make the editor put the synopsis down. You don’t want this to happen.


So, you’re going to start with a hook, then bring your editor holding her breath with each step, until you end with…


The Happy Ending/Thematic wrap up.  Usually this is a theme verse or phrase pasted on the top of your computer, and you’re going to use it to neatly package your synopsis. 


Step Three:  Make it engaging – you’ll want to craft a synopsis that woos your editor with the story.  I’m going give to give you some tricks on how to do this. 


Step Four:  You make sure it’s all woven together in a tight weave.


What about those Chapter by Chapter summaries? Yes, there are a few publishers that want a chapter break-down.  Don’t Panic.  It is similar to a synopsis in that it has Desires, Obstacles and Conflicts, but simply breaks them apart for each chapter.


(Here’s a secret:  Often I write both – even if my publisher only asks for a synopsis. I find the Ch by Ch summary serves as a roadmap for my book, and when I sit down to write it, I have a jump start on my creativity for that chapter. A synopsis is more entertaining, I think, and a good way to introduce your writing style to your editor. But a Chapter by Chapter Summary is more detailed, and proves you have your plot figured out. My suggestion: try writing both!)


If you’d like a Sample Synopsis and a more detailed explanation, check out the MBT Archives.

Or, if you need proposal help, head over to the discussion at MBT Club Voices –

The final thing you need in your proposal are the Sample Chapters. Tomorrow I’ll post a checklist for your sample chapters, something to make sure they are polished and ready to go!

Susie May


Cover Letters and Marketing Plans…sell your novel CONCEPT

So….you’ve polished your story, the agent is breathlessly waiting for it…time to send it in, right? 


Nope. First you need to write a proposal.


A post-conference, request proposal consists of a Cover Letter, a Marketing Plan, a Synopsis, and the first three chapters. 


I like to write my Cover or Query letter last because, well, by then I know what I’m trying to say. 


And, you should already have those first three chapters written and polished, right?


If this is your first book you should have your manuscript already written.  And you should know your physical, emotional and spiritual plots, including the black moment and the epiphany.  You should know who your character is, what his values are, what motivates him and what his greatest dream is.  Now, it’s time to tell the world.


The Parts of the Proposal:


The Cover Letter

            The Hook


            Market Analysis

            Marketing Plan

            Author Creds



The Marketing Plan


The Synopsis


The Sample Chapters


Recently on an agent’s blog, I read this:

“As an agent, what are you looking for in a query?”

Answer:  “Every time I open a query letter, I’m hoping to see something I fall in love with. I want to see a great idea, supported by great writing, from an author with a great platform. I want to read an idea that makes me go, “Fabulous! Why didn’t I think of that?!” An author platform that shrieks, “I can help support this book!” Writing that hooks me from the first line. It’s rare, but it happens. On the flip side, the thing that makes me immediately plop the query into my “reject” pile is seeing a variation on a theme — something that’s trying to ride the coattails of a project that’s already been done in a big way. (Examples include, “I was thinking we could turn the Book of Revelation into a novel” and “What about a book on making your life more purpose driven?” I’ve seen them both. Recently.)

I always tell people I’m looking to be changed by a book. Nonfiction is basically written to solve a problem or answer a question, so it should share information that will change us — help us to live more effectively. And novels are written to entertain and enlighten us, so the best novels change us by helping us see the world in a new way. All great books change us — and that’s what I’m looking for. Books that will CHANGE me.”

How do we do that? Let’s start with the big picture: 


The Query/Cover Letter sells the agent/editor on the story concept.


Even if you have pitched your story at a conference, and the agent/editor has asked for it you need to remind them why they liked it.  See, they’ve seen roughly 834,567proposals since talking to you and they may (probably not, of course) have forgotten your brilliance. 


Remind them.  A Query/Cover letter reiterates your pitch…the what, why, and how’s of your story.


What makes a good Query Letter?

1.. A compelling, succinct first paragraph hook (aka, premise/big bang)

2.. A summary of your book in 2-3 sentences

3.. Where it fits into the publishing world

4.. Who you are and why you can successfully pull off this book

5.. The mechanics of the ms – where you’re at in production.


The Hook:

In my opinion, the most important part of the Q letter is the beginning hook. This is

where you get the editors attention, the part that will make her stop from tossing all your

hard work into the circular file. Consider how many proposals channel through an editors

desk in one month and this thought alone should impress you on the importance of the



1. What is a hook?

It’s the who, what, and why of the story. It’s the juiciest tidbit, the selling aspect that

makes YOUR story different from the rest. This is where you take your 3-4 big bang

paragraph, boil it down to the MOST important aspect, and highlight it. You want to

create questions, interest. And, you should do it in less than 70 words.


2. Summary of your book:

What is the theme and the take-away message of your book? You must get very creative,

descriptive and frugal in this section of your query letter. The key is to say as much as

possible about the book, in terms of its content, in 2-4 sentences. Query

Letters should be one page only. The editor just doesn’t have time to read more than that.


3. Where does it fit in the market?

Is your book a stand alone? The first in a series? Why is it unique? This is the paragraph

where you really sell your book. Go ahead, tell the editor why it is great, and tell him/her

where it will fit in their lineup. Definitely do some research and know what the publisher

offers. DON’T try and sell a romance to a publisher who doesn’t publish romance.

However, pump up those traits your book does have.


4. Who are you and why can you write this book?

In one or two sentences, highlight your publishing credits. If you don’t have any, list the

reasons why you are an authority to write this story. Obviously, I could pull off Russian

stories with some degree of authenticity because of my missionary experience. My

first book with Tyndale was a “found my true love in Russia” story.  Lots of street cred there. J


5.The mechanics.

This paragraph simply explains how long the book is, how much you have written,

whether your proposal is out to other publishers as well, and tells them the items you’ve

included in your package. And, of course, thank the editor for his or her time in reading

the proposal.


That’s the cover letter.  Keep it to one page. 


Then, you can move onto the Marketing page.  Your marketing page should be short and sweet, but cover the following elements:


1. A short overview including:

(a) an identification of its uniqueness (the distinguishing “hook” that will draw your reader in: What will motivate a person to pick up your book?) 

(b) what you hope to accomplish in the way of transformation in the life of the reader.


2.   Potential marketing channels to which you have access (e.g., contacts you have in key organizations, groups you speak to regularly, key people you know who might endorse your book, etc.) Add in anything unique that relates to the promotion of this book.


3. Why does the world needs this novel? In a single sentence, state your purpose for writing this novel. Ask:  Why did you write (are you writing) this story? What are you trying to prove about life with this story?


You are simply trying to help the agent understand the story, and how they might sell it.


The last elements are the Synopsis and Sample Chapters.  And…since this blog is getting a little long, we’ll cover a great synopsis in tomorrow’s blog!  So stop back. BUT if you need help on your Cover Letter or your Marketing Page, stop by (Club Voices!) and join in on the Proposal Prep Discussion!


Susie May

Oh! by the way – Agent Chip MacGregor is teaching a one-day workshop in Richmond, VA, on Saturday, Nov 6. It’s called “The Perfect Book Proposal,” and is sponsored by the local ACFW group and the Virginia RWA. This is a excellent seminar from the #1 agent in the industry. You can get more details from Tiffany Colter at




Now What? Post ACFW Conference Chalk Talk

Are you home from the ACFW conference?  Finally unpacked?  I took a terrible head cold home with me from the plane (thank you coughing guy sitting next to me).  But, what a great weekend we spent together at the annual ACFW Conference! I hope you came home filled with encouragement and new ideas on how to make your writing breathtaking. 


Now what? 


Conferences can be overwhelming –  between the requests for proposals or full manuscripts, new story ideas, craft lessons, marketing epiphanies and loads of new friends.  Where and how do you start to process all this information?


First, sit down a make a list of everyone you met, from editors to fellow authors, to newbies. Then, start reaching out.  If they are editors or agents who gave you their time, even in an elevator to listen to your proposal, thank them.  If they asked you for a submission, thank them and tell them that you’ll be sending it.  If you have more work to do on it, give them an estimated time of delivery.  (more on that in a moment).  If they were fellow authors whom you enjoyed meeting – tell them that!  ACFW is great place to make new friends.  And, if you’ve met someone just beginning their journey, someone who feels overwhelmed, perhaps reaching out  to encourage them is a way to remind yourself of where you’ve been.  We learn by helping others. 


After you’ve spent a day or two writing letters, take stock of where you are in your proposal submissions.  No doubt you’ll have come home with something you’d like to work on in your story.  If it is something you are going to weave into the plot or the first three chapters, knuckle down and do this immediately.  Sometimes if I have a list of revisions – I go ahead and apply them, easiest to hardest, to the synopsis and first three chapters.  I can fix the rest of the book while the agent is reading over my proposal.  (however: if it is a full book rewrite, you may want to hold off submitting until it is finished.  You don’t want an agent to read your proposal, be excited about it, only to have you say…sorry, it’ll be six months before I get the rest to you.). 


Let’s just talk about the “I must submit immediately” panic that most authors experience after a conference. 


Here’s what reality looks like. An agent arrives home a few days after the conference (some of them have taken other trips to visit publishers while they are on the road and are only just getting back into their office this week) to a slew of mail.  They’ll take a few days just to sort through their mail.  Then, proposals will begin to arrive. They will stack them like cordwood on their desk (or on the floor next to their desk), maybe read a few query letters, synopsis and first few pages.  Those they like, they’ll send out to their readers.  They’ll do this in between taking care of their regular clients who will also have proposals and perhaps even contracts to negotiate after conference.  Maybe they’ll get to your proposal in a month.  Maybe not…but guess what – here comes Thanksgiving.  Then December – and nothing gets done in December.  So, suddenly it’s January and they’re still looking at the pile of proposals they received in October.  Or, they’ve read them through and haven’t found anything fabulous….


And, that’s when you’re rewritten proposal arrives. 


My point?  Don’t rush into this.  You get one chance to impress them with your writing.  Take the time to give them a polished proposal, even if it takes until January.  (ironically, Amanda Luedeke, Chip’s new agent posted a blog yesterday about just this topic.)


The key is to keep communicating.  If it takes you until mid-November to rewrite, then simply send your agent/editor a Christmas note giving them an update on the story.  I promise they’re not waiting by the computer for your submission, but it’s courtesy to let them know what’s going on. 


Stop back tomorrow and I’ll outline what goes into a great proposal.  In the meantime – stop by the Clubhouse at and shout out all the great stuff that happened at conference in the Shout it Out Discussion!


My shout out?  I’ll bet you can guess. J

Susie May


Running out of words



The truth is, I don’t run out of words very often.  Usually, I have something to say, and frankly, should probably keep my mouth shut more often.  In fact, I can count the moments when my world stopped and words swept from my mind.


~Seeing my handsome groom at the end of the aisle, waiting to marry me. 


~The birth of my children.


~The day, in Russia, when God spared us from attackers who would have killed us.


~Watching my eldest son take the stage, head shaved, as Daddy Warbucks and realizing he’d grown up.


~Listening to my daughter sing the national anthem.


~Watching my middle son plow through the defense the first time he ran for a touchdown.


~The day my youngest son sat down on the sofa, unbidden, put his arm around me and said, you’re a great mom.


~And…when Danica Favorite read my name as the ACFW Mentor of the Year.


No words. 


Brilliant moments that spoke to my heart in the voice of Grace and took away anything I could have said in response. 


I am still speechless.  But I’m going to try to find some words, the ones trapped in my heart.  


I live in one of the most beautiful places on the planet – in a carved out section of woods in northern Minnesota on a hilltop that overlooks Lake Superior.  It’s quiet, only the rush of the wind in the trees.  At night, the sky is so dark the stars seem just an arm’s length away.  Right now, jeweled leaves in orange, gold and ruby red blanket my dirt driveway, and the air smells of wood smoke and the loamy bouquet of autumn.  I wish you could all come and visit. 

            My favorite part about living here are the sunrises and midnights viewed from my deck.  In the early morning, I take a cup of coffee and watch the dawn syrup through the trees and across the cedar planks to kiss my toes.  It’s where I have my devotions and it awakens my day to the Source of joy.  At night, after the house is quiet, I wander outside again and sit in an Adirondack chair to watch the stars and listen to the wind.  They remind me that while God grants us each day, they all lead one by one into eternity. 

            The thought of eternity takes my words away again. 

            I sit there and I think about the fact that this life is just the beginning.  That there is more, and what I do in this life matters for the next.  That the choices I make here affect me forever.  It makes me grateful for amazing grace and the gift of salvation.

            Then I begin to feel it…the panic for those who won’t have eternity with their loved ones, with their Savior.  The ones who don’t know about grace, or who don’t understand it.  The people I love who say…this is all there is.  No! It’s not!

            But what can I do about it?  

Well, I guess I can tell stories.  And maybe help other people tell stories.  Those are the tools God has given me.  See, it’s in that moment when the Voice of Grace takes my words away that I realize He’s already prepared me, poured back into me the words I need to tell the truth.  His words, I hope.

See, I love to write.  I love to teach.  And in my heart, I believe that fiction changes lives.  More than that, I believe there is no reason why a story written by a Christian, a person filled with the Spirit of God, shouldn’t be the most well written story on the shelves.  As an author, I must strive to throw down roadblocks – poor writing, poor characterization, a shallow faith journey – so that nothing stands in the way of someone reading my book.  I don’t believe in agenda fiction – I believe in a great story, with a character who is on a journey to find truth.  I point them – and hopefully the reader – in the right direction.  And I try to help others do the same.  See, the world is getting darker and I believe we believers have to figure out how to shine.

I love Galatians 6:7-8.  Do not be deceived:  God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially those who belong to the family of believers.

All I have in my “missionary” toolbox is a desire to tell a great story and a desire to help others do the same.  I’m not unaware that it’s God’s grace yet again that allows me to do both.

It’s another wordless moment.


Thank you again for choosing me as the ACFW Mentor of the Year. 

Susie May