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Writing Books/Synopsis vs. Outline?


What's the difference between a synopsis and an outline?  

Hi Zita!
There was a time I would have said they're the same.  However, as I've become educated I know that there's a huge difference.

Both are major components of a book proposal.  The overview is used in the nonfiction book proposal and the synopsis is used in the fiction book proposal.  They're written substantially different as well.

The Overview is not the place to describe, chronologically or otherwise, what happens in your nonfiction book.  You'll write an Annotated Table of Contents (or, a chapter by chapter summary) for that.  The overview is the place to really sell the idea of the book, how the sub-topics are organized, how you'll get the information for the book and how each chapter will be structured.  It always starts with your book jacket blurb.  This is about six sentences long with very active verbs, very specific nouns and the core topic of your book.  Then, the Overview can take a few paragraphs or a page or two to expand on the topic of the book.  Explain why the topic is important and get some statistics on how many people it might affect.  Then describe the structure of the book to show that you haven't started with the most important sub-topic and gone down hill from there.  Editors want to know that you can 'pace' a nonfiction book.  That is, that the most important sub-topics are at the end.  Then describe the structure of each chapter.  Will you quote three experts in every chapter?  Will you have charts, graphs, photos?  Will you footnote or append a bibliography?  Will you start quoting a celebrity or a poet?  The editors will want to know how your chapter is structured.  Next, explain how you plan on getting your information.  For my book Private Lives of Ministers' Wives I explained that I had already sent out 100 surveys to wives all across the country and that I would continue sending them out until I had 200 replies.  I also explained that I would be quoting experts on the topic as well.  Finally, let them know if you are already an expert on the topic or if you have connections to experts that make you more qualified than someone else to write the book.

Now, the synopsis.  The synopsis is a compelling telling (thank you Alice Orr!) of the plot line of your novel.  It should also start with your book jacket blurb and the first character introduced should be the protagonist.  Briefly describe her/him and not just physically!  Describe personality traits, education, employment but only if they are important to the conflict in the story.  Next, introduce your antagonist again describing what makes them tick at their core.  Then, introduce the conflict.  What is it the protagonist wants, needs, or lacks that she/he is willing to do almost anything for to get?  Obviously, you can't have conflict without a strong antagonist and he/she should be in direct competition with the protagonist to achieve the same goal.  Make sure the goal is one only one or the other can have.  Finally, tell the story of your novel.  Include the major plot points and the more important sub-plots and secondary characters.  Here is where you need to make the telling compelling.  Use strong, active verbs and specific nouns.  Tell the plot in the order you've written the book but try to not make it sound like a shopping list, such as "First this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened, and then this . ."  ad nauseum.

I hope I've been helpful, Zita.  If I have, and only if I have, please consider filling out the review below.  And feel free to ask any more questions this answer might have raised.

Good luck

Liz Aleshire
House of Collectibles Guide to Antique Quilts

Writing Books

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Liz Aleshire


What is a book proposal and why do I need one? Do I need a book proposal for both nonfiction and fiction books? How do I write a book proposal? What are the required components of a book proposal? What is an overview? What is a synopsis? How do I find out what other books are available on my topic so I can make my book different? How do I pitch to an agent/publisher? What's a query letter? What's a 30-second commercial?


I am the author of four nonfiction books: Private Lives of Ministers' Wives (with Rev. Sherry Taylor,New Horizon Press, New Jersey, 1991)and currently working on a second edition; Bugs: Stingers, Suckers, Sweeties, Swingers (a FRanklin Watts Frist Book, Chicago, 1993); The Confident Collector Identification and Price Guid to Quilts (with Kathleen Barach, Avon Books, NY, 1992); and, Official Price Guide to Quilts 2nd edition(with Kathleen Barach, Random House, NY, 2003.) I've taught How to Write the Book Proposal for the past ten years at the week long International Women's Writing Guild annual summer conference, and, at the Manchester Community College Continuing Education program. I've taught in many local continuing education programs in central Connecticut. Five authors have sold books using my methods for writing the book proposal. I have spoken at the Big Apple Conference, an IWWG event held in NYC; both Connecticut chapters of the Romance Writer's of America other writing conferences

Internation Women's Writing Guild, past associate member American Society of Journalists and Authors

Books for New Horizon Press. NJ; Franklin Watts (Now Scolastic)Danbury, CT; Avon Books, NYC; and, Random House, NYC

B.A in Economics from the University of Connecticut

Past/Present clients
Carren Strock, author Married Women Who Love Women; Doris Larson, travel writer, Ohio; MaryLou Streznewsi author Gifted Grownups.

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