The Power of Multiple Synopses

by Katrina Shawver in Book launch, Book promotion

When I wrote my first book, I did everything backwards and the hard way, because I didn’t know the easy way or the right way. Getting the synopsis right was one of the last–and hardest–writing tasks of my historical nonfiction book project. That may have been because I had so much information to coalesce into a cohesive narrative that my focus kept changing. Still, I learned my lesson. For my current work-in-progress, I have already drafted a working pitch, the back cover description, and a synopsis. In other words, I’m beginning with a task that I previously had left until the end.

I know many authors who don’t even think about writing a synopsis until their book is already written. That’s a mistake. Even before your book is published, you need to be able to talk about it. Building enthusiasm before a book is released is an important step in marketing your book.

How Long Should You Make Your Synopsis?

Writing a good synopsis is hard work. Every. Word. Counts. From a good synopsis, or summary of my book, I can pull out the ideas for a great logline, elevator pitch, hook, back cover copy, speaking introduction, press release, and advertising copy.

Each collection of words answers the two core questions that any author must be able to answer instantaneously:

  • “What is your book about?”
  • “Why should I read it?”

You should be able answer those two questions in a single sentence, a single paragraph, or a one-page book description. If you tailor each synopsis to your purpose and your audience, you will be ahead of the game. Now, what do I mean when I say “tailor” your synopses?

As an indie author, I didn’t have work experience as a copy writer, nor did I have a publisher’s marketing or public relations department behind me. As indie authors we are responsible for everything. Thus, the onus for all these collections of words falls on our shoulders. As is the case with all writing, the more I worked the descriptions, the better I got.

Tailoring the Synopsis to the Audience

After I got the first synopsis down, I learned, over the course of publishing and marketing my book, that I need multiple synopses, in multiple lengths, tailored to different audiences. A synopsis is a lot like a professional resume. The applicant’s work history, education, and experience remain the same. Yet, in my former professional life, when I sent out a resume, I tweaked it each time. The cover letter was always specific to the job I applied for, but I adjusted the details of the resume to fit the job description.

The author equivalent is a query or pitch. A great query and pitch ties into two other key questions for every author:

  • “Who is my audience?”
  • “What are their expectations?”

The more I edited and tweaked, I found out what resonated with readers.

How You Can Write Effective Synopses

Here’s how you can come up with multiple effective synopses. Start by drafting a one-page synopsis. (If you’ve queried agents or attended pitch sessions with a local writing group, you may even have a longish synopsis in the drawer.)

In your next step, you’ll shorten the long version to 250 words (approximately two paragraphs).

  • Next, shorten it to 100 words.
  • Then shorten it to fifty words.
  • Now, tighten this to 150 characters.
  • Cut it down to fifty characters.
  • Then shorten it to ten words or less.

Examples of Short Versions

I keep all these versions in a Word document. I date each synopsis and make a note about where I used each one. To keep all of the various iterations of this text organized, I created a folder for synopses and a subfolder for important text documents, such as ad copy. (You’ll need ad copy if you run Amazon or Facebook ads.) I have needed every variation listed above as well as those shown below.

Book catalog #1: – (Seven words, 50 characters)

A Polish Catholic survives Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

I used the ten-word logline as the subtitle for my book.

A Polish Swimmer’s True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to America

2019 IBPA Frankfurt Book Fair Catalog – 15 words, 108 characters (Click here for catalog examples.)

A Polish Catholic survives Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Original. Poignant. Inspiring. Well researched w/photos and documents.

For Book Viral Review’s website, I boiled the story down to thirty-nine words (248 characters)

This incredible true story is both a witness to the Holocaust through Polish eyes and the story of how Henry Zguda, a Polish (Catholic) competitive swimmer, survives Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps by his wits, humor, luck, and friends.

The ad copy for an Amazon ad is limited to 150 characters, including spaces. One variation I’ve used is this:

Poland, 1942. Henry Zguda was at home in the water. But one night in May, the celebrated competitive swimmer was arrested in Kraków.

Ingram-Spark – Short description (fifty-five words, 337 characters with spaces)

A top “must-have” for any reader of Holocaust and World War II survival accounts. At times humorous, always gut-honest, this true account reveals a unique perspective of both Polish and Jewish suffering in Nazi-occupied Poland. Henry Zguda’s path of resiliency and power of connection are as relevant today, as they were in World War II.

Henry – One Sheet, a document used for live presentations – February 2020 (seventy-two words, 450 characters)

A top “must-have” for any reader of Holocaust and World War II survival accounts. At times humorous, always gut-honest, this true account reveals a unique perspective of both Polish and Jewish suffering in Nazi-occupied Poland. Henry Zguda’s path of resiliency and power of connection are as relevant today as they were in World War II. Backed by meticulous research, it includes Topics for discussion and more than 80 original photos and documents.

Examples of Medium-Length Copy

Audio Book – Phoenix Greater Digital Library

A top “must-have” for any reader of Holocaust and World War II survival accounts. This incredible true story is both a witness to the Holocaust through Polish eyes and the story of how Henry Zguda, a Polish Catholic swimmer, survives Nazi concentration camps Auschwitz and Buchenwald. At times humorous, always gut-honest, this account fills a huge gap in historical accounts of Poles during World War II.

Winner of 2018 Arizona Authors Association Literary Contest — First Place for Published Nonfiction, 2018 IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award — Silver for Biography, and other recognitions.

Phoenix Public Library – Hardback – (119 words)

When Katrina Shawver met the eighty-five-year-old Henry Zguda, he possessed an exceptional memory, a surprising cache of original documents and photos, and a knack for meeting the right people at the right time. Couched in the interview style of Tuesdays with Morrie, Henry relates in his own voice a life as a champion swimmer and swimming coach, interrupted by three years imprisoned in Auschwitz and Buchenwald as a Polish political prisoner. Told with a pragmatic gallows humor, and sense of hope, this bridge to history is supported by extensive research, original documents, and rare photos. Ultimately, Henry is the story a resilient young man who survives by his wits, humor, friends, and a healthy dose of luck”–Page [4] of cover.

Chandler Public Library

“When Katrina Shawver met the eighty-five year old Henry Zguda, he possessed an exceptional memory, a surprising cache of original documents and photos, and a knack for meeting the right people at the right time. Couched in the interview style of Tuesdays with Morrie, Henry relates in his own voice a life as a champion swimmer and swimming coach, interrupted by three years imprisoned in Auschwitz and Buchenwald as a Polish political prisoner. Told with a pragmatic gallows humor, and sense of hope, this bridge to history is supported by extensive research, original documents, and rare photos. Ultimately, Henry is the story a resilient young man who survives by his wits, humor, friends, and a healthy dose of luck”–Page [4] of cover.

Synopsis for Rubery Book Award

When journalist Katrina Shawver met the eighty-five-year-old Henry Zguda, he possessed an exceptional memory, original documents and photos, and a knack for meeting the right people at the right time. Told in an interview format, Henry relates a life as a champion swimmer and coach, interrupted by three years imprisoned in Auschwitz and Buchenwald as a Catholic Polish political prisoner. This bridge to history is told with a pragmatic gallows humor and is supported by extensive research, original documents, and rare photos. Ultimately, HENRY is the story a resilient young man who survives by his wits, humor, friends, and luck. If you are a discerning adult looking for an intelligent read, this book is for you.

Examples of Longer Versions

synopses for HENRY helped the book find readers

Amazon paperback– eff 2.19.2020 (original)

When Katrina Shawver met the eighty-five-year-old Henry Zguda, he possessed an exceptional memory, a surprising cache of original documents and photos, and a knack for meeting the right people at the right time. Couched in the interview style of Tuesdays with Morrie, Henry relates in his own voice a life as a champion swimmer, interrupted by three years imprisoned in Auschwitz and Buchenwald as a Polish political prisoner. With a pragmatic gallows humor and sense of hope, he showed the author how to truly live for today, preferably with a shot of good Polish vodka. Henry’s path of resiliency and power of connection are as relevant today as they were in World War II.

Henry reminds us that no single class of people was safe from Hitler’s reach or imprisonment, and no country suffered more under Hitler and Stalin than Poland. This bridge to history and view of the Holocaust through Polish eyes is supported by extensive research, and features over 70 original photos and rare German documents. Ultimately, Henry is the story a strong young man who survives by his wits, humor, friends, and a healthy dose of luck. This book is for the discerning adult looking for an intelligent read that examines World War II, the Holocaust, and the true meaning of friendship then and now.

Ingram Spark – eff 2.19.2020 – Long

In the longer versions, particularly those in online bookstores, I put some of the text in bold. My hope is that this catches the reader’s eye.

“Everyone who reads Henry becomes a witness.”––Jack Mayer, author of Life in a Jar: The Irena Sendler Project and Before the Court of Heaven

This incredible true story is both a witness to the Holocaust through Polish eyes and the story of how Henry Zguda, a Polish Catholic swimmer, survives Nazi concentration camps Auschwitz and Buchenwald by his wits, humor, luck, and friends. At times humorous, always gut-honest, this account fills a huge gap in historical accounts of Poles during World War II.

May 30, 1942, Kraków Poland. German SS guards arrest Henry Zguda on a dark narrow street for one reason only: he was Polish at a time Germany swore to destroy all of Poland. Two weeks later he arrives at Auschwitz and is now Prisoner #39551. In March 1943 he is transferred to Buchenwald near Weimar Germany.  There he is labeled Prisoner #10948

May 3, 1945, Dachau Germany. Near death, Henry writes home for the first time in three years: “Beloved mother, I am alive.”

Katrina Shawver met Henry in 2002 when she wrote for the Arizona Republic, and after one meeting offered to write his story. They soon became close friends and friendship remains a theme throughout.

Relevant history is woven throughout the account, resulting in a unique perspective of both Jewish and Polish suffering in Nazi-occupied Poland. Henry’s story is backed by meticulous research and original documents and photos, many in print for the first time. If you are a discerning adult looking for an intelligent read, this book is for you.

“…a top ‘must have’ acquisition for any collection strong in Holocaust survival accounts.”–– D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

“Highly recommended.”–James Conroyd Martin, author of The Poland Trilogy and The Boy Who Wanted Wings

EBook – Phoenix Greater Digital Library

When Katrina Shawver met the eighty-five year old Henry Zguda, he possessed an exceptional memory, a surprising cache of original documents and photos, and a knack for meeting the right people at the right time. Couched in the interview style of Tuesdays with Morrie, Henry relates in his own voice a life as a champion swimmer, interrupted by three years imprisoned in Auschwitz and Buchenwald as a Polish political prisoner. With a pragmatic gallows humor, and sense of hope, he showed the author how to truly live for today, preferably with a shot of good Polish vodka. Henry’s path of resiliency and power of connection are as relevant today, as they were in World War II. Henry reminds us that no single class of people was safe from Hitler’s reach or imprisonment, and no country suffered more under Hitler and Stalin than Poland. This bridge to history and view of the Holocaust through Polish eyes is supported by extensive research, and features over 70 original photos and rare German documents. Ultimately, Henry is the story a strong young man, who survives by his wits, humor, friends, and a healthy dose of luck. This book is for the discerning adult looking for an intelligent read that examines World War II, the Holocaust, and the true meaning of friendship then and now.

AskDavid

HENRY: A Polish Swimmer’s True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to America is a view of the Holocaust as seen through the eyes of a Polish (Catholic) political prisoner imprisoned in German concentration camps for three years during WWII. I met Henry Zguda in 2002 on a random phone tip when I wrote for the newspaper. I still can’t explain why I impulsively called him up and suggested we work together to write his story. He was already eighty-five years old, so I knew the stories had to be captured right away. Indeed, Henry only lived for one year after I met him. Fortunately, I met Henry at the right time before his tale and artifacts were lost to history.

HENRY is an important contribution to WWII history, and a reminder that no group of people was safe from Hitler’s wrath and targeting. The account follows an interview format, told with a pragmatic gallows humor, which closely mirrors our talks and friendship. History is woven throughout, to establish the context and setting of a time and place few people alive experienced. This account also honors millions of other Poles, Christian and Jewish, who lost their lives during over six years of war and occupation by Hitler and Stalin. The book also contains more than eighty rare original documents and photos, verified stories not written elsewhere, and even a secret murder plot that almost worked. Ever heard of a puffhaus? Prisoner mail? Stehebunker? Deposit accounts for prisoners? Read HENRY to find out.

I spent fifteen years writing and researching HENRY: A Polish Swimmer’s True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to America, a story I was inexplicably entrusted with. I hope you enjoy the end result and have some ‘aha’ moments. If you are a discerning adult looking for an intelligent read, this book is for you.

Amazon UK

When Katrina Shawver met the eighty-five-year-old Henry Zguda, he possessed an exceptional memory, a surprising cache of original documents and photos, and a knack for meeting the right people at the right time. Couched in the interview style of Tuesdays with Morrie, Henry relates in his own voice a life as a champion swimmer, interrupted by three years imprisoned in Auschwitz and Buchenwald as a Polish political prisoner. With a pragmatic gallows humor and sense of hope, he showed the author how to truly live for today, preferably with a shot of good Polish vodka. Henry’s path of resiliency and power of connection are as relevant today, as they were in World War II.

Henry reminds us that no single class of people was safe from Hitler’s reach or imprisonment, and no country suffered more under Hitler and Stalin than Poland. This bridge to history and view of the Holocaust through Polish eyes is supported by extensive research, and features more than 70 original photos and rare German documents. Ultimately, Henry is the story a strong young man, who survives by his wits, humor, friends, and a healthy dose of luck. This book is for the discerning adult looking for an intelligent read that examines World War II, the Holocaust, and the true meaning of friendship then and now.

How to Keep These Synopses Organized

The same story can be told in many different ways. From the very short “elevator pitch” to the expanded version that gives readers a sense of Henry’s history and the author’s experience in trying to craft that history into a cohesive story, readers know what kind of book they’ll be reading.

When I realized that varying the synopses would help me connect with different audiences, I created a Word document so that I could quickly tweak or create new copy. As you see from the above, I’ve included dates on many of these versions. The dates are a big help when I want to update the files or freshen up the text on a particular website.

For the same reason, I also adjust my bio according to the audience and the website’s length requirements. The various versions of my bio are in a separate Word file.

Why is all this necessary? I have submitted my book for various book awards. Some specify they don’t want repeated text. They want a new twist.

Staying organized has definitely been a plus in terms of book awards. Each award has its own length requirements and audience. Because I took the time to craft appropriate synopses, HENRY has found appreciative American and international readers.

For me, taking the time to work out the right words that have zing has been invaluable and a definite timesaver when up against a deadline. Why use the same text over and over? By rewriting the synopsis of the book to fit the needs of the audience, I ensure that the text is always fresh and written to market.

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Author

  • Katrina Shawver is an experienced writer, blogger, speaker, library geek and the author of HENRY – A Polish Swimmer’s True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to America, an award-winning nonfiction biography released in 2017 to high praise. It is currently available in English, Polish, and Czech. For more information visit katrinashawver.com.


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