Updated: Jun 2, 2021
Many writers think the words blurb and synopsis are interchangeable. They may seem to have a similar purpose: to give a summary of the manuscript. However, they are used for different reasons.
The main difference is they are used for entirely different audiences; the blurb is for your potential customers while the synopsis is for your agent, editor and publisher.
The blurb is what will intrigue a reader to buy the book. This is what is found in the online bookstores and on the backs of the books. When a potential customer is browsing through a bookstore, the blurb has to be written in such a way that the person should think, “Oh, this looks interesting. I would like to read it.”
On the other hand, the synopsis is what will impress a professional to buy theconcept. Literary agents, for instance, don’t have time to read hundreds of pages because they have other things to do, so they require a summary of the story from beginning to end. This is what you send along with your enquiry/cover letter.
Let us take a more detailed look into the difference between a blurb and synopsis.
A blurb can be likened to the trailer of a movie. The audience will know the main characters and a few events, but they can’t know the ending. To know the full story, they have to buy the book.
What do they need to know? The main characters, the plot and genre of the book.
How long should it be? Not more than 200 words. There isn’t much space on the back of the book because other elements are sometimes included, such as the author’s picture, biography, and can even include reviews/praises by other industry professionals. Writing the blurb shows the author’s ability to summarise the story in a few short paragraphs to advertise and sell it.
Below is an example of a blurb from IT by Stephen King (adapted from Stephen King’s official website):
A promise made twenty-eight years ago calls seven adults to reunite in Derry, Maine, where as teenagers they battled an evil creature that preyed on the city's children. Unsure that their Losers Club had vanquished the creature all those years ago, the seven had vowed to return to Derry if IT should ever reappear. Now, children are being murdered again and their repressed memories of that summer return as they prepare to do battle with the monster lurking in Derry's sewers once more.
The synopsis can be compared to the screenplay of a movie. It is a complete outline of the story, including spoilers. This is for the professionals in the writing industry such as agents and publishers. The synopsis should be written in a straight forward language so that they will be impressed enough to publish your manuscript.
What do they need to know? You have to write down all the key points in the story, including any spoiler alerts. They aren’t interested in reading for entertainment. They will want to know if you have interesting characters, a solid plot, a lot of surprises, and a satisfying wrap up of the story. They only need to know if your story is marketable or not.
How long should it be? The synopsis should be 800 – 1,000 words, or a maximum of two pages. Also, do check if the agent or publisher you are submitting to has some particular requirements. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. Otherwise your synopsis can end up in an agent’s bin and all your effort will be wasted.
Here’s an example of a synopsis from IT by Stephen King (adapted from Wikipedia):
In July 1984, three youths brutally attack a young gay man named Adrian Mellon and throw him off a bridge, where both a bully and Adrian's boyfriend see a clown then appear. Adrian is found mutilated, and the teenagers are arrested and charged with his murder.
When a string of violent child killings begins in Derry again, an adult Mike Hanlon, now the town's librarian, calls up the six former members of the Losers Club and reminds them of their childhood promise to return should the killings start again. Bill is now a successful horror writer living with his actress wife, Audra; Beverly is a fashion designer, married to an abusive man named Tom Rogan; Eddie runs a limousine rental company and has married a hysterical codependent woman similar to his hypochondriac mother; Richie Tozier is a disc jockey; Ben Hanscom is now thin and a successful but lonely architect; and Stan Uris is a wealthy accountant. Prior to Mike's phone calls, all of the Losers had completely forgotten each other and the trauma of their childhood, burying the horror of their encounters with It. All of the Losers agree to return to Derry, except for Stan, who kills himself in terror of facing It again.
The Losers meet for lunch, where Mike reminds them that It awakens once roughly every 27 years for 12–16 months at a time, feeding on children before going into slumber again. The group decides to kill It once and for all. At Mike's suggestion, each person explores different parts of Derry to help restore their memories. While exploring, Eddie, Richie, Beverly, and Ben are faced with manifestations of It (Eddie as Belch Huggins and childhood friends in leper and zombified forms, Richie as a Paul Bunyan statue, Beverly as the witch from Hansel & Gretel in her childhood home, and Ben as Dracula in the Derry Library). Bill finds his childhood bicycle, "Silver," and brings it to Mike's. In the meantime, Audra, who is worried about Bill, travels to Derry; Tom arrives as well, intending to kill Beverly; and Henry Bowers escapes from the mental asylum with help from It.
Henry confronts Mike at the library, but Mike escapes alive. It instructs Henry to kill the rest of the Losers, but Henry is killed when attacking Eddie. It then appears to Tom and orders him to capture Audra, bringing Audra to It's lair, where Audra becomes catatonic, and Tom drops dead in shock. Bill, Ben, Beverly, Richie, and Eddie learn that Mike is near death and realize they are being forced into another confrontation with It. They descend into the sewers and use their strength as a group to "send energy" to a hospitalized Mike, who fights off a nurse that is under the control of It. They reach It's lair and find that It has taken the form of a giant spider. Bill and Richie enter It's mind through the Ritual of Chüd, but they get lost in It. Eddie injures It by spraying his asthma medication down It's throat, but It bites off Eddie's arm, killing him. It runs away to tend to its injuries, but Bill, Richie, and Ben chase after and find that It has laid eggs. Ben stays behind to destroy the eggs, while Bill and Richie head toward their final confrontation with It. Bill fights his way inside It's body, locates It's heart, and destroys it. The group meets up to head out of It's lair, and although they try to bring Audra and Eddie's bodies with them, they are forced to leave Eddie behind. They realize that the scars on their hands from their blood pact have disappeared, indicating that their ordeal is finally over.
At the same time, the worst storm in Maine's history sweeps through Derry, and the downtown area collapses. Mike concludes that Derry is finally dying. The Losers return home and gradually begin to forget about It, Derry, and each other. Mike's memory of the events of that summer also begins to fade, as well as any of the records he had written down previously, much to his relief, and he considers starting a new life elsewhere. Ben and Beverly leave together and become a couple, and Richie returns to California. Bill is the last to leave Derry. Before he goes, he takes Audra, still catatonic, for a ride on Silver, which awakens her from her catatonia, and they share a kiss.
Note the difference in the length of the blurb and the synopsis. A customer only needs to read the blurb to decide whether to buy the book or not. The blurb has to be written using the right words to ignite the reader’s curiosity so they’ll want to purchase the book. But the synopsis is a couple of paragraphs longer. It contains the main characters, key events and the conclusion. This is what will sell the story to the agent and publisher.
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Garima has written articles on a wide variety of subjects, such as lifestyle and culture, and she’s also written many book reviews. Recently, she’s decided to devote her energy to writing full time. Garima is open to learning new skills and gaining more opportunities. Currently she’s writing fantasy and contemporary romance novels and has her own writers’ group on Facebook called Beta Readers and Critique Partners; it was awarded one of the top seven finalists under the category Book Communities: Shaping the Future for the Global Book Community Awards 2020.
To read more content by Garima Nabh, please visit her blog.