Category Archives: Becca Allen Blog

Top five tips for writing your synopsis

If you’re submitting your novel to a literary agent or publisher, you will almost certainly be asked to submit a synopsis along with your sample chapters. A well-written synopsis will help the agent decide whether or not to request the full manuscript, so it’s important to get this part of the submission package right. Here are my top tips:

1. Know the difference between a blurb and a synopsis

A blurb, or cover copy, is the text you typically see on the back cover of a book. Blurbs give an idea of what the story is about, but don’t tell you the whole plot – they’re written to entice and intrigue the reader, and the language used reflects this. They will often include evocative language such as ‘Noah is plunged into an exciting world of sorcerers and spies’, intriguing yet spoiler-free statements such as ‘Sarah will discover a secret that changes everything’, or unanswered questions such as ‘Will Nadiya manage to overcome her demons and save the world?

A synopsis has a different function. It’s not meant to tantalise the reader or show off your writing style (your manuscript itself should do that!); it serves to inform the agent, publisher or whoever is reading it, in a clear and straightforward way, what happens in the story. Therefore, you need to tell us exactly what Sarah’s secret is, and whether Nadiya does manage to save the world. You don’t need to use the rhetorical devices you would see in a blurb; plain and simple English is just fine, and will allow your plot to speak for itself.

2. Tell the whole story

A synopsis should cover the plot from start to finish. As mentioned above, don’t leave the ending hanging on an unfinished thread – we need to know what happens! Also, don’t assume that the agent has already read any sample chapters you’ve sent, and therefore it’s OK to start where those left off.

Do include your sub-plot(s), but you don’t need to include every detail – the synopsis should focus on the main plot, and how those subplots feed into it. If you’ve written a fantasy novel, try not to get bogged down in explaining your world-building or how the system of magic you’ve invented works. Give us only the details that are needed for understanding the story – these should (hopefully) be enough to give a flavour of the unique and interesting elements you have created.

If the book is part of a planned series with an ongoing story, it may be helpful to include very brief synopses of these (a couple of lines, maximum) to show that you have plans for where the story is going next.

3. Write in the third person, present tense

For example: ‘On her sixteenth birthday, Sasha meets an old man who tells her that she will die on the same day that she meets her soulmate.’

Not: ‘On her sixteenth birthday, Sasha met an old man who told her she would die on the same day she meets her soulmate.’

 4. How long should it be?

Some agents/publishers will be very specific on their submissions page about the length they require (e.g. ‘no more than 300 words’), so it’s always worth doing your research and adapting your submission package to fit the guidelines.

Generally, though, the consensus seems to be ‘no more than one side of A4’. Of course, it depends on what kind of book you’ve written – the storyline for Winnie-the-Pooh could be easily summarised in a paragraph or two, while A Game of Thrones would understandably fill a whole page (two pages may be acceptable in this case).

5. Finally … does it make sense?

This seems obvious, but often authors are too close to their work to know whether the synopsis would make sense to a someone who hasn’t already read the book. The best way to test this is on people who know nothing about the book, and ask them to be honest.


I hope you find this advice helpful. One of the services I offer is a submission letter and synopsis review, so if you would like me to proofread your letter and / or synopsis for you to correct any spelling or grammar mistakes, and also offer advice on whether what you’ve written is appropriate and engaging, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

What’s on my desk? Top five resources for editors and proofreaders

Hello again. For June’s blog post, here’s a look at some of the tools I use in my day-to-day life as an editor and proofreader. If you’re starting out in this career, these might be worth investing in!

1. Hart’s Rules

New Hart’s Rules: The Handbook of Style for Writers and Editors is an essential book for editors and proofreaders, and most UK publishers use it as the basis of their style guide. It sets out such things as what order the parts of a book go in (a Dedication comes before a Foreword, for example), and rules on capitalisation, hyphenation, italics and quote marks (for example, a song title should be displayed in quotes while an album title is in italics). I refer to my copy a lot!

2. The Penguin Guide to Punctuation

Although Hart’s Rules does have a section on punctuation, this is more comprehensive and is very handy for those situations when you know that a comma shouldn’t go there, but you can’t explain why. (I’ve attended several ‘brush up on your grammar’ courses during my career and would say that my grip on grammar is pretty strong – but it’s always good to have a refresher at hand.)

3. MUJI pens

All proofreaders know the value of good pens – we use red for typesetter errors, blue for editorial errors. There’s nothing worse than a leaky biro smudging all over your proofs, and a proofreader needs to be able to write neatly, sometimes in very limited space. I have decided that MUJI’s 0.38 or 0.5 gel ink pens are the perfect pen, as the nibs are so fine and they don’t smudge at all.

4. Oxford Dictionaries online

OK, this one is slightly cheating as it’s not physically on my desk. But the advantages of the web version of the Oxford Dictionary are many: it doesn’t take up any space; it includes US and UK English (as well as many other languages); it is updated when new words are added, or when new spellings of words are accepted (when e-mail became email, for example). That said, it doesn’t always manage to keep up with modern times, so I like to supplement it with the BuzzFeed Style Guide, which provides guidance on terms such as ‘Disney Princess’ (for the brand/line of characters) and ‘Disney princess’ (when referring to a specific character from a Disney film). Fantastic author Sophie Ranald was actually the one who introduced me to the Buzzfeed guide, so thank you, Sophie!

5. A good planner / calendar / diary

As a freelancer, I need to keep on top of my schedule and know when I’m free to take on new work, so a planner is essential. Luckily I love pretty stationery, and my local Paperchase keeps me well equipped.

Next month: Top five tips for writing your synopsis

Top five things about going freelance

Hello, and welcome to my first blog post!

I’ve been freelancing for a few months now, so thought this post would be a great way to reflect on what the change has meant to me, and also allow you to get to know me a bit better. Without further ado, here are my favourite things about working as a freelance editor and proofreader.

1. Working on a wide range of books

I started my in-house career at a company that publishes adult books, and then moved to the children’s division of another company to work exclusively on children’s and YA books. I had great experiences at both companies, but often wished I could work on children’s and adult books, instead of just one or the other. (In my spare time, I’ve always enjoyed reading a wide range of books, for all ages: That’s Not My Hat by Jon Klassen sits comfortably on my bookshelf next to my Jane Austens and Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give; Sylvia Plath’s poetry flanks Robin Stevens’ Murder Most Unladylike and my collection of Saga comics.) Now, as a freelancer, I get to work on fantastic middle grade and breathtaking YA, beautiful coffee-table tomes of non-fiction, short stories in translation, brilliant women’s commercial fiction, literary fiction and more.

2. Working with a variety of clients, in different areas of the publishing world

While a lot of my work involves structural editing, copyediting and proofreading for a range of publishing companies, I also work directly with authors who have found me via Twitter, my SfEP Directory page or by word of mouth. It’s so rewarding to work with such talented, creative people, whether they’ve been published before or are just starting their writing journey.

I see another aspect of the publishing industry in my role as a children’s submissions inbox reader for the excellent Eve White Literary Agency, and love nothing more than coming across an exciting voice who might just be the Next Big Thing. I’ve also joined the team of freelance editors at Cornerstones Literary Consultancy, who do brilliant work in helping authors prepare for submission and publication. All of these roles feed into one other, and make me a better editor all round.

3. Flexible working hours

I am definitely not a morning person, and getting up early (especially in winter) to commute to the office was not my favourite thing. Now, I manage my own hours so I can wake up at a time that feels more natural, spend the morning doing chores or go for a run while my brain gets into gear, and then start working when I know I’m most productive – and comfortably work into the evening. I can take a day off in the week if I need to, and make up for it at the weekend. Flexible working hours also means…

4. Time for volunteering

Volunteering was something I always intended to do, but didn’t feel able to fit in with a 9-5 office job. Also, many organisations need volunteers who are regularly available on weekdays, when most people are at the office. I’m passionate about both encouraging creativity and boosting literacy in young people, so have invested time with the Ministry of Stories and Love to Learn, both of which I highly recommend supporting if you can.

5. Peace and quiet

I’m an introvert (reading Susan Cain’s Quiet was both eye-opening and affirming), and often found it hard to concentrate in the large, open-plan office where I worked. I’d often have to put my headphones on and listen to quiet music or white noise. Funnily enough, I have to do the same thing at home, as complete silence is too quiet. And although I have the company of my lovely cat, Olive, working alone all day gives me more energy and headspace to socialise in the evenings – I love attending literary events such as launch parties, author talks and interviews, and generally socialising with other bookish people. If you happen to see me at one in the future, please do come and say hi!

Thank you for reading! Next time… What’s on my desk? Top five tools for editors and proofreaders