Synopsis for memoir – write a great book proposal synopsis

Summarizing your life is hard. Giving a summary of your own book is hard. And book proposals are the most difficult texts an author might be asked to write. And all these come together in the synopsis for memoir, which is why writing a synopsis for your memoir book proposal is such an incredibly complex task.

If you want to get a book deal for your memoir, you’ll need a strong memoir synopsis. The plotters among us, therefore, will have a slightly easier job than those authors whose story follows bursts of inspiration. But even if you fall in the latter category, it should be possible to write a strong synopsis for memoir using the four steps I present in this blog post. 

But first, let’s dive into why it’s so hard to write! 

Quote on background. The quote says: "The synopsis for memoir is one of the cornerstones of any book proposal. It’s especially important when your book is a memoir."

Why authors HATE the synopsis for memoir

In this post, I talk you through the book proposal element that for some authors feel like the most heart-wrenching, frustrating, and soul-destroying of any text you can write.

(Quick sidenote: if you want to start from the beginning and learn a little bit about all the book proposal elements first, go to this post.) 

1. Identify the theme of your memoir

The first thing you should do, even before writing the first word of your synopsis for memoir, is to identify the main theme, message, or journey of your book. And no, “This is the journey of my life” is not going to cut it for your memoir synopsis. 

Ask yourself: what is my memoir actually about? What’s the big message? This main message will be the foundation of your synopsis for memoir.

The reason why this is so important is that it will help you select information to include in your memoir synopsis: if something does not support this main theme, it has no place in your summary. 

How many characters should be mentioned in the synopsis for memoir?

This is especially true for non-main characters. The acquisitions or commissioning editor at the publishing house – who will review your proposal – will not be able to keep 20 names straight in their head. Therefore, even if you need to mention minor characters: don’t name them.

Take the Lord of the Rings trilogy: in a book proposal synopsis, you should not specifically name Gimli and Legolas. However, you might say that Frodo sets out in the company of a dwarf and an elf.

Any character that is not essential to the main theme or storyline should not be named in your memoir synopsis. A good rule of thumb: keep the number of names below 5, and err on the low side.

Why is it so painful?

The painful thing about a book proposal synopsis is precisely the “summarizing” aspect. Having spent weeks, months, or years perfecting the argument, pacing, and narrative of your book, focusing on the details such as minor characters and enticing anecdotes, now, suddenly, your memoir needs to be condensed into a 1-2 page document. 

And it can be even worse when you write your book proposal synopsis for memoir before finishing your manuscript! I know from personal experience that writing a memoir synopsis of a book you haven’t actually written yet can seem an almost impossible task. Sure, you know what happened in your life. But if you are not a plotter, it might be difficult to show the red thread running through your work.

Now what?

All this is to say: even though on the face of things a book proposal synopsis for memoir seems the most straightforward of book proposal elements, anyone who has written a book proposal (including me) will not fault you for needing some help developing yours.

Help’s on the way, though! Keep reading if you want to write your memoir synopsis yourself with my tips, or click the button below to jump straight down to where you can schedule a meeting with me. 

2. Step away from your synopsis for memoir

The next step is something that I have personally found to be extremely useful. (However, it might seem counterintuitive.)

Put your memoir synopsis down and write other elements of your proposal first. This is especially true for the “competitive titles” and “USP” sections. The reason why this strategy can be helpful, is that it helps you identify your own strengths. If you know what other books are about, you can write your book proposal synopsis in such a way that it showcases the aspects that make your book different, unique and useful. 

Let’s take the Lord of the Rings trilogy as an example again. We can summarize these books as follows: Frodo sets off on a quest to destroy the one object that can destroy the world as we know it. That is pretty accurate, I think. But this same summary (with the exception of the character’s name) can be used for a huge amount of books published in the last 2000 years. So it’s really important to figure out what makes your book unique and to build your synopsis on these Unique Selling Points. And you can only know what makes your book unique, if you know what the competition looks like. 

So: write your Competitive Titles and USPs first. If you find yourself struggling with one of these sections, you’ll know where the problem lies when writing your book proposal synopsis. But I can help!

Click the button below to jump to the scheduler and we can discuss your options and challenges. 

3. Start at the end

When you do get back to your synopsis for memoir, think about where you want to end up and then work backward.

In Tolkien’s case: Frodo finally goes back home, but then realizes that he is no longer the same and doesn’t belong in the Shire.

Now, if we know that that is where we end up, what steps do we need to take to get there? We’ll need to introduce who he was, what happens to him to change him… And that helps us map out the entire journey he took from a very narrow point of view. 80% of the story already falls away. His other experiences are not essential for the thread we build our book proposal synopsis on.

Or maybe you find out that it is the global politics that sets your book apart. This makes Aragorn the main character, and the book ends with him finally embracing his heritage and ascending the throne of Gondor. Or war: the synopsis ends with the allied forces defeating Sauron. All of these are completely legitimate interpretations of that one story. But only one can be the topic of your summary.

And that is how deciding on your ending can help you figure out what elements of your story you need to include in your synopsis for memoir.

4. Write the synopsis for your memoir as a stand-alone text

One thing many people forget is that a synopsis for memoir is not simply a description of a book, it’s a text of its own. A memoir synopsis needs to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It needs to be a readable narrative. And all the aspects that make any 2-page text readable are also important in the memoir synopsis. This mini-story needs to have an underlying logic driving it. It’s not a bullet point list of main events: the memoir synopsis is a collection of paragraphs that conveys a message, just like your book.  

Should you avoid spoilers or cliffhangers?

This is something that is much debated online. Should you be mysterious about your ending or put all your cards on the table in your memoir synopsis?

People who support the first view will argue that an acquisitions editor or agent (your target audience for the book proposal) is in essence just another reader. And if you want to entice a reader to keep reading, you need to give them something to wonder about. These people believe that if you don’t give away the ending, if you end your book proposal synopsis on a cliffhanger, this will keep your reader interested enough to ask to see your entire book. (Which is the goal of a book proposal.)

Personally, I see the logic behind it. But my philosophy is different.

I believe that if you want to convince someone to invest in your work, you need to give them compelling reasons to do so. If you have any cards in your hands that might convince them, put them on the table. And put a big spotlight on them. And some neon arrows, if you have them. Anything that might convince a publisher to give you a book deal should be in this proposal.

If your ending is brilliant and surprising, that makes your book special. Why would you want to hide anything that might convince a publisher that your book is amazing?

So: do what you think is best. But I’d advise you to give them everything you’ve got in the memoir synopsis. 

An overview of the pros and cons of giving away the ending in your memoir synopsis for your book proposal

Final thoughts on writing a synopsis for memoir

The memoir synopsis is one of the cornerstones of any book proposal. And it’s especially important when your book is a memoir. No one will commit to publishing your book if they don’t understand or like what it is actually about. So make sure that you know the answer to that question yourself.

  1. Understand what your main theme is before you do anything else.
  2. Find out what similar books are about and how yours is different.
  3. Decide where you want to take your synopsis. And
  4. Write your synopsis as a stand-alone text. 

Once you’ve done all this, you have a pretty solid foundation on which to build other aspects of your proposal. As I wrote in the second blogpost in this series, on the overview: both the short description and the hook can be derived from the synopsis.

Though it can indeed be heart-wrenching and soul-destroying, a strong synopsis will get you that much closer to getting that coveted book deal. 

Next steps

If you enjoyed this blogpost, you might want to look at other posts in this series. You can simply click on the blocks below.

Alternatively, if all the advice on the internet has not made the process of writing your book proposal synopsis any easier, just schedule a free video call with me. In our 30 minute chat, we can figure out how I can help you to write a brilliant synopsis for your memoir. 

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