Pitch or synopsis?

Writing a novel is hard. Imagine writers’ shock when, after finishing their masterpieces, they find the hardest tasks are yet to come: writing the pitch and the synopsis. One of the first challenges is understanding exactly what is being requested.

A pitch is used to entice the reader/listener to want to read the book. Think marketing pitch. Think copy on the back of the book. The pitch generally does not reveal the ending, and it can be a variety of lengths:

  • A logline is 1-2 sentences. Usually <25 words. It’s the “TV Guide” or movie poster hook.
  • The elevator pitch is a sentence or two longer than a logline. It’s a short paragraph — what you could reasonably say to someone in an elevator ride. Reasonably. 3-4 sentences.
  • The standard pitch is what’s used in queries and face-to-face pitches. General guidelines are 1-3 paragraphs and <250 words. Critical information to include in the standard pitch is the protagonist, the antagonist, the motivation or goals of each (which should reveal the conflict), the central obstacle, and the STAKES.

I, personally, find it critical to consider both the external plot and the emotional story when putting together a pitch. The agent or publisher has to know what HAPPENS — plot — but they also have to care — emotion.

A synopsis is a complete summary of the story, including the ending. It is not a pitch like you’d include in a query. However, it’s also NOT just a recitation of plot events: this happens, then this happens, and then that happens. Its job is both to engage the reader AND to describe the story and how it unfolds. Like the pitch, the synopsis can vary in length and complexity.

  • The most commonly requested length of synopsis is 2-3 pages doubles-paced or a single page single-spaced, which is generally just enough space to introduce major characters, setting, the main character arc, and the main plotline. Minor characters and subplots generally aren’t mentioned at all.

My personal rule of thumb is that in a 2-3 page synopsis, I don’t mention more than 3 or (max) 4 character names, because the reader loses track. Other characters, if they’re critical can be mentioned by a more general description such as “Marlie’s mother.”

  • A mid-length synopsis is 5 pages or so and goes into more depth than the more-typically-requested 2-3 page synopsis. It still is not a chapter-by-chapter recounting though.
  • The long synopsis is a chapter-by-chapter breakdown. It can run 15-20 pages, but it’s usually asked for only by publishers and only for proposed books (such as the next two books in a series).
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