The Short and Sweet on Writing a Synopsis

by Evan Yeong

Let me get right to the point: if you want to submit a manuscript to Harlequin it has to be accompanied by a synopsis. This brief summary will help give the editors a better sense of your ability to craft a narrative, create and resolve tension, and pace out emotional beats. At least, it will if properly written.

For today’s (short) blog post I wanted to take the fantastic advice provided by Harlequin Special Edition editor Susan Litman in two previous posts and boil it down for your easy consumption, like a concentrated nutritious soup.

To start things off with something she didn’t share, remember that each Harlequin Submittable page includes the expected synopsis length. At the time of this writing there are thirteen different series to submit to, and twelve of them ask for a 3-5 page synopsis. (Heartwarming extends the maximum to seven pages.)

To return to the succinct spirit of this post, here’s Susan’s advice in bullet form:

  • We’re looking for an outline – Susan compared a long synopsis to a detailed portrait, but that’s not an option. With your shorter page count it’s up to you to create a quick sketch of your work, just enough broad strokes to create a decent picture.
  • When in doubt, leave it out – When adding details, ask yourself how important they are to the story. It’s easy to leave out the colour of a car, but consider characters as well. If a kindly shopkeeper doesn’t affect the romance they’re probably not worth mentioning.
  • Your book is where you flesh everything out – Writing a synopsis is an exercise in moderation. Your story means a great deal to you, and every little piece feels essential, but you need to remember that if your synopsis fails to grab the editor they won’t take a chance on the full manuscript.
  • This is a road map – Consider a road trip, or even your own commute. When relaying that to someone you would never start with “leave home” and then immediately end at “then I arrived.” Any time the plot impacts the romance at its core should be mentioned, like a rest stop or a transferring rides on public transit.

And at just shy of 400 words, that is that! Do you have any tips on penning the perfect synopsis? It’s a difficult skill to master, but if you’ve nailed it please share it in the comments! (No word limit required)