What is a book synopsis?
How to Write a Great Book Synopsis
The book synopsis is a mighty tool in your agent submission packet.
And yet, I know exactly zero writers who look forward to writing their synopsis. If you’re a first-time novelist, you may be especially resistant to the task.
After all, you spent months—or more likely years — crafting this masterpiece . You have workshopped your book within an inch of its life so you can offer agents a spellbinding tale they’ll be proud to shop to publishers.
But they want a book synopsis ? A mere shadow of the literary voyage you wrenched loose from the depths of your soul?
Yep! That’s exactly what they want. And the better you understand the purpose of the synopsis, the more you realize that it’s actually a pretty fair request. You also come to appreciate that this summary isn’t just a way to earn the trust of an agent. It’s a form of storytelling unto itself. If you’ve been sweating your summary, tearing through book synopsis examples looking for the secret formula, I can help. Let’s start with the basics. What is a book synopsis, anyway?
What is a Book Synopsis?
A book synopsis is a 1-3 page telling of your story. Or, in the case of non-narrative nonfiction, it’s a short description of what you cover in your book.
This is different from a blurb , the short description on the back of the book that lures the reader in. Your goal with a book synopsis is not to leave the reader desperate to learn what happens next. Rather, a synopsis shows an agent or publisher that you have crafted (or will craft) a compelling, marketable book.
If your book is fiction or narrative nonfiction (like a memoir or biography), your book synopsis tells an agent or publisher:
- Who your protagonist is.
- The time and place of your story.
- Major beats and twists.
- How the story ends.
If your book is non-narrative nonfiction (like a self-help book or a how-to), your synopsis explains:
- What problem your book solves.
- Who your readers are.
- Why you are qualified to write this book.
- A chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the topics covered.
Why do you need a whole new document to share this information? Why can’t your book just speak for itself?
Why Do You Need a Book Synopsis?
For one thing, nonfiction writers who plan to publish traditionally don’t typically submit a completed manuscript to agents. Instead, they pitch their idea and only write the full manuscript after they’ve gotten an agent and that agent has sold the book.
If you write nonfiction, the document you use to pitch your book (and yourself), is called a book proposal . Your book proposal must include— ta-da! —a book synopsis.
If you write fiction , you’re trying to sell a completed manuscript. That manuscript is probably 70,000+ words long. And while you know those are 70,000+ words of pure genius, the agent considering you doesn’t know that.
This agent gets 100 queries a day, and the quality of those queries varies dramatically. You have to convince them that your manuscript is worth their time. You do this by sending:
- a query that promises a strong premise,
- opening pages that demonstrate a clear voice and engaging storytelling, and
- a book synopsis that proves you know how to craft a character and story.
Once the agent (and eventually publisher) sees that you know what you’re doing, then they’ll invest the time to read the full manuscript.
How to Structure a Good Book Synopsis
Your book synopsis structure depends on the type of book. For fiction and narrative nonfiction , present the following information in this order:
- State your genre and subgenre.
- Write the pitch line —a one-sentence summary of your overall concept and hook.
- Note: These first two ingredients often go together. (“Frankenstein is a gothic science fiction novel about an ambitious young scientist who reanimates a human corpse, only to create a vengeful monster he must now destroy.”)
- Introduce your protagonist and setting as they are when your book opens. Keep it simple. (“A curious and defiant orphan, Jane Eyre (10) struggles through life at her late uncle’s dreary estate, where she is unwanted, abused, and neglected.”)
- Continue telling your story through to the end. If your story jumps back and forth between timelines, present story beats in the order they appear in your book.
As for nonfiction :
- Introduce the problem your book solves. Make sure the benefit to the readers is super clear.
- Introduce yourself. Why are you the person to fix this problem?
- Provide a short description of each chapter. This should give the reader a clear understanding of how this book follows through on its promise to guide readers.
How to Format a Good Book Synopsis
Now to make this thing look professional.
Typically , your book synopsis format should include:
- The title + “Synopsis” at the top. (Ex: “LORD OF THE FLIES Synopsis”)
- “By” + your name beneath the title. (“By William Golding”)
- Double spacing.
- Times new roman font, 12 pt.
- 1-inch margins.
- Indented paragraphs.
- Character names in either bold or all caps when first introduced.
- Protagonist’s age in parentheses behind their name upon introduction.
- Page numbers in the top right-hand corner (unless it’s a one-page synopsis).
- Correct grammar and punctuation .
Finally: check the agent or publisher’s requirements for formatting and length. At the very least, they will ask for a specific word or page count. Give the people what they want.
What to Include when Writing Your Book Synopsis
How are you supposed to boil this great masterpiece of yours down to one or two pages? What do you keep and what do you discard? For fiction and narrative nonfiction , your reader wants to know:
- The category and genre of your book.
- What motivates your protagonist.
- The world of your story.
- Who the major side characters are. (Try to keep the number of side characters you introduce to a minimum. Major players only.)
- The central conflict.
- The narrative arc.
- Major twists or reveals.
- How the story ends and how your character has changed through their journey.
Nonfiction authors, you want to include:
- The problem you are solving or knowledge gap your book fills.
- Why this information is life-changing, relevant, or timely.
- Who this book is for.
- Why you are the best person to write this book.
- A broad overview of each chapter.
Ideally, your book synopsis also provides a sense of tone and narrative voice.
What to Avoid When Writing a Book Synopsis
Heads-up: any of the following missteps could make an agent think you’re not a serious candidate:
- You write your novel synopsis in first person. Even if your novel is written in first person point of view , the novel synopsis is always in third.
- You write in past tense. A book synopsis should be written in present tense. The only exception is for memoir.
- You talk about your book instead of telling the story. (Don’t do this: “The book then transitions to act three where Burt storms the castle.” Do this: “Newly motivated, Burt storms the castle.” )
- You add too much —a dozen side characters, a lot of details about the trees wavering the breeze, an in-depth psychological profile of your protagonist, etc.
- You disregard the preferred word count. Keep two or three synopses of varying lengths on file to meet differing guidelines.
- You leave them with unanswered questions. Agents and publishers need to know the surprise twist, the powerful resolution, or your secret to making seven figures on Etsy.
- You give your file a vague name, like synopsis.doc . Slap a title on there. Maybe your last name. Don’t let it get lost in their download file.
- You praise your own book. Don’t call your book a “tour de force.” Don’t promise a bestseller, envision film options, or claim to be the next JK Rowling. It’s the agent’s job to imagine those possibilities. Your job is to tell a great story with the potential to fulfill their professional fantasies.
How to Write a Book Synopsis for a Fiction Book or a Narrative Nonfiction Book
Now you know all the do’s and all the don’t-you-dares. How do you actually make it happen? Like all things writing, time and practice will reveal the best methods for you. In the meantime, I recommend tackling your novel or narrative nonfiction book synopsis by shifting your perspective.
Stop thinking about your book synopsis as an abbreviated version of your book. Instead, start from the core concept and build out.
This is what I mean:
Write your pitch line
Example: “(Title) is a (genre/subgenre) about a (protagonist) in a (setting) who has a (motivation) to achieve a (goal) despite an (obstacle.)”
Write an outline of your major beats
Flesh that outline into a synopsis that meets your reader’s word count requirements.
The trick is to add details that make the major beats more vivid. Help the reader understand how the protagonist evolves through each twist and reveal. Pro tip: Dabble’s plot grid is a great tool for nailing down those major beats . If you used Dabble to write your novel, return to your original plot grid, identify the big plot points, and use your notes to create a synopsis. If you haven’t created a plot grid for your story, make one now!
How to Write a Book Synopsis for a Nonfiction Book
The nice thing about writing a nonfiction book synopsis is that you haven’t written the book itself yet. You’re still planning; you don’t have the novelist’s struggle of getting hung up on minor details that now feel essential to the telling of the story.The challenge you do have as a non-narrative nonfiction writer is that you have to make an argument for the book’s marketability. This means you need to do a lot of research on your readership, your topic, your field, competing books, or anything else that helps you answer the questions:
- Why this topic?
- And why me?
Once you can answer those questions, you want to pack them neatly into one paragraph. Remember to avoid gushing about your own genius. Don’t tell the agent or publisher this book will be a bestseller. Do tell them about your 500,000 newsletter subscribers.
Then, spill your secrets using the same structure you plan to use in your book. Will each chapter explain the next step in the reader’s roadmap to financial independence? Will your daily meditations be categorized into subtopics like gratitude and forgiveness?
If it helps, start with an outline, then add the most essential details, clarifying the contents of each chapter in a short paragraph.
Once you have it all down, read over your nonfiction book synopsis. Ask yourself: Am I convinced? Does this sound like a book that will stand out in its market? If not, workshop and revise. Lean on your writer friends to help you out.
Above All, Write Well
Your book synopsis is not just a summary of your book.
It is the tool that helps you turn a file on your computer into a book on your local bookstore’s New Releases table. So take your time and write well. Consult great book synopsis examples and turn to your writing community for feedback. Even though you have to lose a lot of the details that make your book magical, you can still create a sense of narrative voice in your synopsis.
You can find ways to stir emotion, inject humor, or inspire connection. Easier said than done? For sure. But you pulled it off when you were writing your manuscript, and though the process is different, the purpose is the same.
You’re telling a story… a story only you can tell.
Give it all you’ve got.
Need a little help structuring your story , writing your book, or keeping track of all seventeen versions of your synopsis? Dabble has all the features you need to simplify the authoring process. Click here to start your 14-day free trial.
Abi Wurdeman is the author of Cross-Section of a Human Heart: A Memoir of Early Adulthood, as well as the novella, Holiday Gifts for Insufferable People. She also writes for film and television with her brother and writing partner, Phil Wurdeman. On occasion, Abi pretends to be a poet. One of her poems is (legally) stamped into a sidewalk in Santa Clarita, California. When she’s not writing, Abi is most likely hiking, reading, or texting her mother pictures of her houseplants to ask why they look like that.
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Book marketing. Those two innocuous words instill fear and loathing into the hearts of so many writers. You just want to write your books and have them sell themselves. Why do you have to tell people about it? Well, Susan, because you do. I know you want to write, but if your goal is to write, publish, and make money from your books, then you’re going to have to find a way to make them visible. Thousands of new titles are uploaded to Amazon every single day. Millions of books are being published every year, and no matter how good your story is, without marketing, there’s not much chance very many people will find it.
What kind of writer are you? Are you the sort who writes a meticulous outline that tips into the five digits or the type who sits down in front of a blank sheet of paper and lets the words pour out of you like a runaway train? Did you know there are specific terms for this kind of writing? Writers will come up with words for anything, I swear. Plotters are the first type of writer. They like to have detailed outlines that tell them exactly where their story is going. Pantsers are the other type of writer, which is kind of a weird name, but the term was coined by Stephen King (a famous pantser) to describe writing by the seat of your pants. Cute, eh? There is no right or wrong way to write your book, and I’m going to repeat this so many times. The right way is the way that works for you.
Dystopian fiction is one of the darker subgenres of science fiction and fantasy. It takes us into dark, foreboding worlds, where oppression and bleak landscapes are the norm. Books like 1984 by George Orwell, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley have become classics that shine a light on political corruption, environmental disaster, and societal collapse.Why do we love these stories? Maybe it's because dystopian fiction allows us to explore worst-case scenarios, to grapple with the idea that the world we know and love could be lost forever. It's a way for us to confront our fears and anxieties about the future, to see what could happen if we continue down a certain path.
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Posted on Sep 12, 2018
How to Write an Incredible Synopsis in 4 Simple Steps
Your novel is fully written, edited, and polished to perfection — you’re ready to pitch it to agents! But you’re missing a critical piece of persuasion: the synopsis. Even after putting together your entire book, you may have no idea how to write one, or even how to approach it.
Luckily, we’ve got answers for you. Read on for our best tips on writing a synopsis that’s clear, concise, captivating… and may even lead to an all-out agent battle over your novel!
What is a synopsis?
A synopsis is a summary of a book that familiarizes the reader with the plot and how it unfolds. Although these kinds of summaries also appear on the pages of school book reports and Wikipedia, this guide will focus on constructing one that you can send out to agents (and eventually publishers).
Your novel synopsis should achieve two things: firstly, it should convey the contents of your book, and secondly, it should be intriguing!
While you don’t need to pull out all the marketing stops at this stage, you should have a brief hook at the beginning and a sense of urgency underlying the text that will keep your reader going. It should make potential agents want to devour your whole manuscript — even though they’ll already know what happens.
While writing your synopsis, make sure that it includes:
- A complete narrative arc
- Your own voice and unique elements of your story
- The ending or resolution ( unlike in a blurb )
As for the ideal length for this piece, it varies from project to project. Some authors recommend keeping it to 500 words, while others might write thousands. However, the standard range is about one to two single-spaced pages (or two to five double-spaced pages). And if you're interested in knowing how to format the whole of your manuscript for submission, we recommend downloading this manuscript format template.
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You may also want to have an additional “brief” summary prepared for agents who specifically request a single page or less. Remember: as hard as it will be to distill all your hard work into that minimal space, it’s crucial to keep your synopsis digestible and agent-friendly.
How to write a novel synopsis in 4 steps
1. Get the basics down first
When it comes to writing a synopsis, substance is the name of the game. No matter how nicely you dress it up, an agent will disregard any piece that doesn’t demonstrate a fully fleshed out plot and strong narrative arc. So it stands to reason that as you begin writing, you should focus on the fundamentals.
Start with major plot points
Naturally, you want agents to be aware of your story's major plot points . So the best way to start summarizing your story is to create a list of those plot points, including:
- The inciting incident — what sparks the central conflict of your story?
- The events of the rising action — what happens in the interlude between the inciting incident and the climax, and how does this build tension?
- The height of the action, or climax , of your story — this one is the most important, as it should be the most exciting part of your book!
- The resolution or ending — again, unlike a blurb, a synopsis doesn’t need to dangle the carrot of an unknown ending to the reader; you can and should reveal your story’s ending here, as this brings the plot and narrative arc to a close.
Listing these points effectively maps out the action and arc of your story, which will enable the reader to easily follow it from beginning to end.
Include character motivations
The key here is not to get too deep into characterization, since you don’t have much room to elaborate. Instead, simply emphasize character motivations at the beginning and end of your synopsis — first as justification for the inciting incident, then again to bring home the resolution. For example:
Beginning: “Sally has spent the past twenty years wondering who her birth parents are [motivation]. When a mysterious man offers her the chance to find them, she spontaneously buys a ticket to Florence to begin her journey [inciting action].”
Ending: “She returns to the US with the man who was her father all along [resolution], safe in the knowledge that she’ll never have to wonder about him again [restated motivation].”
Also note how the text here is written in third person, present tense, as it should be regardless of the tense or POV of your actual book. Writing a synopsis in first or second person doesn’t really work because it’s not meant to be narrated — just summarized. Basically, the present tense works to engage the reader while the third person allows the story to be told smoothly.
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2. Highlight what’s unique
Now it’s time to spice up your synopsis by highlighting the elements that make it unique. Agents need to know what’s so special about your book in particular — and moreover, is it special enough to get readers to pick it up? Below are some features you might employ to grab an agent’s attention and assure them of your book’s appeal.
Your writing voice is an essential tool here: it conveys your novel’s tone and is one of the most important factors in making your work stand out. However, it’s also one of the most difficult elements to evoke in such a small amount of space.
The best way to capture voice in a synopsis is through extremely deliberate word choice and sentence structure. So if you were Jane Austen, you’d use clever words to magnify your wit: “When Darcy proposes to her apropos of nothing, Elizabeth has the quite understandable reaction of rejecting him.” You may not be able to use all the elaborate prose of your novel, but your synopsis should still reflect its overall feeling.
Even though they’re one of the oldest tricks in the book, readers will never tire of juicy plot twists. If your novel contains one or more of these twists, especially at the climax, make sure your synopsis accentuates it. But don’t hint too much at the twist, as this will make it seem more dramatic when it comes; a couple of words in the intro will suffice as foreshadowing.
For instance, if you were writing a summary of Gone Girl , you might open with “Nick Dunne wakes up one morning to find that his wife, Amy, has apparently disappeared. ” This implies that she may not be as “gone” as we think she is, setting the stage for the later reveal.
Point of view
Another aspect that might set your book apart is a distinctive point of view . Since you’ll be giving your synopsis in third person, you can limit this inclusion to an introductory sentence: “This book is narrated from the point of view of a mouse.”
Although this strategy works best for books with a highly unusual point of view (such as The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, in which the story is told by Death), it can also be very helpful to remember for seemingly bog-standard narrators. If one of your characters narrates in first person, make sure to address their individual narrative quirks as well as any biases or limitations; highlighting an unreliable narrator can really add to your novel’s intrigue!
3. Edit for clarity and excess
Don’t shroud your synopsis in mystery; this is very frustrating to agents who just want to know what happens in your book! With that in mind, after you’ve written the bulk of your summary, it’s time to edit for clarity. You also may have to delete some text, so you can get it right in that couple-page sweet spot.
Editing for clarity
The paramount rule of synopses is a real doozy: tell, don’t show. It’s the opposite of that classic adage that writers have heard their whole lives, and it’s exactly what you need to write a successful synopsis.
As you return to what you’ve written, scan for sentences that are vague or unclear, especially toward the beginning. Many writers fall into the trap of trying to hook agents by opening with a sentence akin to the first murky line of a literary novel. Again, though you do want your intro to be intriguing, it has to cut to the chase pretty quickly.
When it comes to opening a synopsis, you need to think like Tolkien, not Tolstoy. “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Crisp, clear, and to the point: one of the very few times you should tell, rather than show .
Editing excess words
If your synopsis is longer than a couple of pages at this point, you need make some serious cutbacks. Read through what you have, scrutinizing every sentence and word, even if you think you’ve chosen them carefully. Reduce any run-on sentences or subordinate clauses that unnecessarily lengthen your piece.
Finally, eliminate irrelevant details — anything that doesn’t lead to the next plot point or directly contribute to your voice or other distinctive elements. It’s unlikely you’ll have included any of these in the first place, but just in case they’ve slipped through, cut them. Save the frills for your book; remember, your synopsis is all about substance .
4. Make sure it flows
By the time it’s finished, your synopsis should read like a summary from an excellent book review — or at the very least SparkNotes or Shmoop. This means not only clearly and concisely hitting every important point, but also reading in a smooth manner, placing just the right amount of emphasis on the critical moments and unique aspects we’ve discussed.
Get test readers
A great way to ensure that your synopsis is paced precisely and flows well is to give it to test readers, either someone you know or a professional editor . You’ve spent way too much time with these words to be objective about them, so pay attention to what other people suggest: possible word substitutions, transitions, and which details to emphasize versus delete.
Use professional synopses as models
You don’t want to look at examples of other synopses too soon, otherwise yours will come out sounding formulaic and stale. That said, professional synopses can be a very valuable tool for refining toward the end of the process! Compare and contrast them to the synopsis you’ve written, and adapt any techniques or turns of phrase you feel would enhance it.
Here’s an example of a strong (albeit brief) synopsis of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens , courtesy of the Oxford Companion to English Literature:
Phillip Pirrip, more commonly known as “Pip,” has been brought up by his tyrannical sister, wife of the gentle Joe Gargery. He is introduced to the house of Miss Havisham who, half-crazed by the desertion of her lover on her bridal night, has brought up the girl Estella to use her beauty as a means of torturing men. Pip falls in love with Estella and aspires to become a gentleman.
Money and expectations of more wealth come to him from a mysterious source, which he believes to be Miss Havisham. He goes to London, and in his new mode of life meanly abandons the devoted Joe Gargery, a humble connection of whom he is now ashamed.
Misfortunes come upon him. His benefactor proves to be an escaped convict, Abel Magwich, whom he as a boy had helped. Pip’s great expectations fade away and he is penniless. Estella meanwhile marries his sulky enemy Bentley Drummle, by whom she is cruelly ill treated.
In the end, taught by adversity, Pip returns to Joe Gargery and honest labor. He and Estella, who has also learnt her lesson, are finally reunited.
This synopsis works well because it includes:
- The inciting incident (Pip moving in with Miss Havisham), the rising action (him being in London), the climax (returning to Joe Gargery), and the resolution (reuniting with Estella)
- Character motivations (Miss Havisham wants to punish all men because her fiancé betrayed her; Pip wants to become a gentleman so Estella will fall in love with him)
- A plot twist (Pip’s benefactor being a criminal — whom he knows from his childhood!)
- Distinctive voice (formal yet engaging, doesn’t detract from the plot) and smoothly written style (events are chronological and progress quickly)
Your synopsis is one of the biggest deciding factors in whether an agent wants to see more from you or not. No matter how chipper your query letter , the bottom line is that this summary tells agents (and later publishers) what they really need to know: what your book is about, what makes it unique, and most importantly, if they can sell it.
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That’s why it’s vital that you make your synopsis airtight. Fortunately, if you’ve followed these steps, yours will be chock full of plot details with a touch of your own special writing sauce: a synopsis that any agent (hopefully) won’t be able to resist.
Many thanks to Reedsy editors (and former agents) Sam Brody and Rachel Stout for consulting on this piece!
Do you have any tips for writing an irresistible synopsis? Leave them in the comments below!
Elizabeth Westra says:
12/09/2018 – 22:10
This looks interesting, and I will read every word, but this would be different for a picture book. You only get one page to query for many children's books.
Dorothy Potter Snyder says:
14/10/2018 – 20:11
I am curious if anyone has ideas on how translators can write a synopsis for agents / publishers of works in translation? Might there be something about why this author is important in his/her country of origin and literary tradition? Which authors more known to English language readers might relate to this author (they've never heard of before)?
Comments are currently closed.
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How to write a great book synopsis
1. What is a book synopsis?
2. What is the purpose of a synopsis?
3. What’s the difference between a plot summary and a synopsis?
4. How long should a book synopsis be?
5. What should a book synopsis include?
6. What tense should a book synopsis be written in?
7. What is the format of a synopsis?
8. How to write a book synopsis
9. Submitting your synopsis
10. Advice from a published writer
➡️ A synopsis is important even if you’re self-publishing. Your synopsis allows you to see problems with your plot and characters - so you can fix them in your novel before it hits the market.
➡️ A book synopsis should be between 500 and 800 words. This works out at approximately 1 single-spaced page in a standard 12pt font.
➡️ Your synopsis should include 5 key elements. This includes the premise, a main plot and subplot overview, your main characters, and an implicit outline of the appeal of your book.
Writing a book synopsis is notoriously tricky for authors. Synopsis writing is generally much drier and less creative than novel writing - and it’s never going to be easy to condense a 90,000 word novel into 500 words. That’s why it’s important to understand how to write a book synopsis that’s concise, compelling, and follows convention.
Nearly all editors, agents, and publishers request a synopsis for your book when you submit your work to them. Self-published authors can also benefit from writing a novel synopsis - it helps you spot plot holes, structural issues, and undeveloped characters, and will also help you identify the key selling points of your book for your marketing campaign.
Use this guide to writing a book synopsis to help you plan, structure, and write a great book summary.
What is a book synopsis?
A book synopsis is essentially a summary of your novel from start to finish. It includes an outline of the main plot, your primary characters, any subplots and plot twists, and what happens at the end.
Many new authors balk at giving away their carefully crafted ending, but there’s no need to worry - your book synopsis isn’t going to be published. After all, it’s not exactly in agents’ or publishers’ interests to spoil the ending of a book for readers. Instead, they’ll read your synopsis to help decide whether they think your book will sell - and whether to represent you as an author.
What is the purpose of a synopsis?
For authors pursuing traditional publishing, the purpose of your book synopsis is to sell your novel to an agent or publisher. Before they request your full manuscript, they want to know exactly what happens in your book - which is where your novel synopsis comes in.
If you’re planning on self-publishing your book , your synopsis is a tool for laying out the saleability and structure of your novel. By writing a synopsis, you can see which plot points are unwieldy, and which characters are underdeveloped - meaning you can fix these things in your novel before it hits the market. Attending writer's conferences could also be another way to improve your skills and learn how to write a compelling synopsis.
What’s the difference between a plot summary and a synopsis?
There’s a lot of literary jargon around book summaries, which can make it difficult to pinpoint exactly what you need to write in your synopsis. Here’s a rundown of the different types of book summary, and what each one should include:
- Synopsis - Your synopsis is a summary of all the major plot points, including the ending. This is used to sell your book to agents or publishers, or to cast a critical eye over your book content.
- Blurb - A blurb is typically found on the back page or dust jacket of your book. The blurb should sell the book to potential readers, offering teasers and plot potential, without giving too much away.
- Elevator pitch - Your elevator pitch is a sharp one-liner that captures the essence of your book in a compelling way. It should make the reader want to find out more.
Each of these is a different type of plot summary, with a different function in the publication of your book.
How long should a book synopsis be?
It’s generally agreed that a book synopsis should be between 500 and 800 words. This works out at approximately 1 single-spaced page in a standard 12pt font.
Many agents will have specific guidelines that you need to follow in terms of synopsis word count, so make sure you tailor your submission for each agent. This could mean you need a synopsis that’s 500 words, and one that’s 700 words. The extra work will pay off - you’re way more likely to get a response from an agent if you’ve read and met their submission requirements.
What should a book synopsis include?
There are 5 key elements that every book synopsis should include:
1. The premise of your book
Your book’s premise often comprises your overarching theme, setting, and conflict, forming a great hook that’s sure to keep readers engaged.
2. A direct overview of the main plot
Go back to basics here. Ensure you’ve shown that your plot has all the key story elements in your novel synopsis, including an inciting incident, a climax, and a satisfying ending.
3. An introduction to your main characters
Make the reader care about the characters they’ll follow through your book by offering compelling character motivations.
4. An outline of your major subplots
Your subplots probably converge with the main plot at some point, so it makes sense to include them in your book synopsis.
5. An implicit understanding of the appeal of your book
Synopses are notoriously dry - but if you care about your story, this should shine through in your book summary. Show the reader why others will care about your book, too.
What tense should a book synopsis be written in?
Your book synopsis should be written in the present tense and the third person - even if your book isn’t. This automatically helps you write your synopsis in an appropriate, professional tone, without hyperbole or bias.
What is the format of a synopsis?
As well as using a standard tense and perspective, most synopses follow a similar format. Here’s how you should structure your novel synopsis.
1. The premise
The premise is similar to your elevator pitch - the key piece of intrigue that makes the reader want to find out more. This opening line from the synopsis of Michelle Zink’s Prophecy Of The Sisters includes a fascinating hook:
Sixteen-year-old Lia Milthorpe’s life is in danger from the person she loves most – her twin sister.
Zink manages to introduce the main characters, a sense of peril, and a key area of conflict in a single line. It’s a great way to open the synopsis.
2. The plot
Don’t dilly-dally - when you’ve set the premise, follow it up by diving straight into the plot of your book. This will form the bulk of your word count. You can find out how to write an expert plot summary below. In the meantime, take a look at this extract from J.K. Rowling’s synopsis for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone .
Harry Potter lives with his aunt, uncle and cousin because his parents died in a car-crash - or so he has always been told. The Dursleys don’t like Harry asking questions; in fact, they don’t seem to like anything about him, especially the very odd things that keep happening around him (which Harry himself can’t explain).
The Dursleys’ greatest fear is that Harry will discover the truth about himself, so when letters start arriving for him near his eleventh birthday, he isn’t allowed to read them. However, the Dursleys aren’t dealing with an ordinary postman, and at midnight on Harry’s birthday the gigantic Rubeus Hagrid breaks down the door to make sure Harry gets to read his post at last.
Rowling splits her paragraphs into plot points. The first paragraph outlines the status quo - Harry’s unhappy home life - while the second goes on to state the inciting incident: Harry’s invitation to attend Hogwarts. Structuring your synopsis in this way is a great tactic for ensuring you don’t stray too far from the main arc of your story.
3. The ending
Spell out exactly what happens at the end of your book - your synopsis is no place for a cliffhanger. If you’ve chosen to leave your book open-ended, make sure this is reflected in your synopsis.
Here’s an example of a synopsis ending for Cinderella , written by literary agent Janet Reid.
The heartbroken prince travels the kingdom to determine which lady fits the glass slipper. Her stepmother locks Cinderella in the attic but her mouse friends help her escape. The glass slipper fits her, and Cinderella and the prince live happily ever after.
Reid largely removes the sense of anguish, fear, and ultimate relief that comes with the climax and resolution of Cinderella . Synopses are often deadpan and unemotive, so don’t be afraid to be forthright about the ending of your story.
How to write a book synopsis
It’s time to get writing. Follow these steps on how to write a book synopsis to write a succinct, professional summary of your novel.
1. Write a single sentence for each major plot point
If you started your book with an outline, this will come in handy here. Using the following prompts, write one sentence for each of these points in your book:
- Inciting incident
- Plot action
Some writers swear by marking the timeline of the story or mapping out the events to help them stay on track. Try to keep your word count below 300 words. This gives you leeway to fill in any extra detail later.
2. Check on your characters
You’ve probably introduced all the characters you need to include in your synopsis in the 5 sentences you just wrote. That said, you may not have given enough detail about their motives or personalities to make your story sing.
Note down any crucial character points you need to include in your synopsis, but be frugal with the detail. Extraneous backstories are a waste of words in your synopsis, so be careful not to let your personal connection with your characters get the better of you here. You should only include information that’s relevant to the plot.
3. Join the dots
Now you have a strong idea of the key plot points and character motivations you need to include, it’s time to craft the synopsis.
Build up your outline into a synopsis by filling in the gaps that will help the reader make the leap from one plot point to the next. If your story is solid, it will more or less tell itself at this stage - your job is to make it sound compelling. Don’t worry if your first draft is too long or a little messy.
4. Come back to it later
You wouldn’t submit your first draft of your novel to an agent - so you shouldn’t submit your synopsis first draft, either. Let it sit for a few days so you can get some distance from your work. When you come back to it, read it with a critical eye. Check it explores each of the elements in the section on what to include in your synopsis above. Perhaps most importantly, check it meets the word count and formatting requirements set by the agent.
Submitting your synopsis
Now you know how to write a book synopsis, you can start submitting your synopsis and query letter to agents. Before you hit send, double check the requirements from each agent to check you’re sending them what they want to see. You’re sure to increase your response rates - and maybe even receive a couple of manuscript requests. While you're at it, you should also start thinking about your author bio too!
Alternatively, if you’re thinking of self-publishing, check out our advice for self-published authors . You’ll find tons of useful guides for writing and marketing your new novel.
Advice from a published writer
Alex Fisher , "Seadogs and Criminals"
Like the author bio, keep it short and sweet. It’s basically an invitation into your book. Describe the essential points and direction of the story without giving too much away. Introduce the main character, the plot, the motive/goal and finish with a question (if that works) and that’s all you need.
Dangle the story in front of the potential reader with enough information to grip them and ignite their curiosity, hook them in and make them want to know what this is all about, make them want to read on, without waffling. Too much information and you’ve lost them; the reader is smart and wants to discover the story for themselves in their own way. Keep it snappy, between 100 to 200 words. Be lethal.
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What Is a Synopsis and How Do You Write One?
What to Put In and What to Leave Out
- An Introduction to Punctuation
- Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia
- M.A., Modern English and American Literature, University of Leicester
- B.A., English, State University of New York
In the 19th century, a synopsis was a classroom exercise used for teaching traditional grammar but today, the accepted definition of a synopsis is a general overview of an article, essay, story, book, or other written work. In the field of publishing, a synopsis may serve as a proposal for an article or book. In feature writing and other forms of nonfiction, a synopsis may also refer to a concise summary of a polemic argument or event. You might also find a synopsis included in a review or report.
Fast Facts: Synopsis
Etymology From the Greek, "general view"
Plural : synopses
Adjective : synoptic
Synopsis vs. Outline
Some people use the terms outline and synopsis synonymously and they really are very similar. When it comes to fiction, however, the distinction is more clearcut. While each may contain similar information, a synopsis is an overview that summarizes the main plot points of the work, whereas an outline functions as a structural tool that breaks the plot down into its component parts.
If you think of it in terms of a novel, the synopsis would be similar to the book jacket copy that tells you who the characters are and what happens to them. It usually also gives readers a feeling for the tone, genre, and theme of the work. An outline would be more akin to a page of chapter listings (provided the author has titled the chapters rather than just numbering them) which functions as a map that leads the reader from the beginning of a literary journey to its final destination or denouement.
In addition to crucial information, a synopsis often includes a thematic statement. Again, thinking in terms of fiction, it would identify the genre and even subgenre, for example, a romance Western, a murder mystery, or a dystopic fantasy and would also reveal something of the tone of the work—whether dark or humorous, erotic or terrifying.
What to Include and What to Leave Out
Since a synopsis is a condensation of the original material, a writer must be sure to include the most important details so that the reader will be able to fully comprehend what the work is about. Sometimes, it's hard to know what to put in and what to leave out. Writing a summary requires critical thinking . You're going to have to analyze the original material and decide what the most important information is.
A synopsis isn't about style or details, it's about supplying enough information for your audience to easily understand and categorize the work. A few brief examples might be permissible, but numerous examples, dialogues, or extensive quotations have no place in a synopsis. Do, however, keep your synopsis true to the plot and timeline of the original story.
Synopses for Non-Fiction Stories
The purpose of a synopsis for a work of nonfiction is to serve as a condensed version of an event, a controversy, a point of view, or background report. Your job as a writer is to include enough basic information so that a reader can easily identify what the story is about and understand its tone. While detailed information is important when telling the larger story, only the information crucial to comprehending the "who, what, when, where, and why" of an event, proposal, or argument is necessary for the synopsis.
Again, as with fiction, the tone and the eventual outcome of your story will also likely come into play in your summary. Choose your phrasing judiciously. Your goal is to use as a few words as possible to achieve maximum impact without leaving out so much information that your reader ends up confused.
- Fernando, Jovita N., Habana, Pacita I., and Cinco, Alicia L. "New Perspectives in English One." Rex, 2006
- Kennedy, X.J., Kennedy, Dorothy M., and Muth, Marcia F. "The Bedford Guide for College Writers." Ninth Edition. Bedford/St. Martin's, 2011
- Brooks, Terri. " Words' Worth: A Handbook on Writing and Selling Nonfiction ." St. Martin's Press, 1989
- How to Write a Great Book Report
- Genres in Literature
- How to Write an Abstract
- How to Write a Narrative Essay or Speech
- Interior Monologues
- Defining Nonfiction Writing
- A Guide to All Types of Narration, With Examples
- Book Report: Definition, Guidelines, and Advice
- Creative Nonfiction
- How to Find the Theme of a Book or Short Story
- How to Write Feature Stories
- What Is a Graphic Memoir?
- The Difference Between an Article and an Essay
- The Basic Characteristics of Effective Writing
- What Is Expository Writing?
- AP English Exam: 101 Key Terms
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What is a synopsis? Writing intriguing book summaries
What is a synopsis? It’s a summary which provides, in one quick read, the unique and compelling aspects of a story. How do you write a synopsis that you can submit with confidence to publishers? Read on for summary-writing tips and examples.
- Post author By Jordan
- 11 Comments on What is a synopsis? Writing intriguing book summaries
First: Beyond defining a synopsis – what should a synopsis include?
Yes, a synopsis is a summary and yes, the word means ‘seeing together’, but what does the typical synopsis for (for example) a typical mystery-thriller or fantasy epic include?
On their submissions page , Bloomsbury (who published J.K. Rowling’s mega-hit Harry Potter series), specify what they require in a synopsis. It should include:
- ‘The story’s subject matter’ – what it’s about
- ‘Your intended market’ – for example, teenage fantasy genre lovers
- ‘How your submission compares with the current competition’
This third item may seem confusing. Bloomsbury isn’t asking you to say ‘My novel is much better than the work of that George R. R. Martin guy’. Instead, the publishers want to know you understand your audience and genre. For example, you might say in a submission:
The Lost Throne , in the vein of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire Series , unpacks the feuds and allegiances between powerful families in a struggle for succession. Yet it is closer to Le Guin’s Earthsea novels, as the protagonist’s development demonstrates the relationship between power and responsibility.
This could be worded more succinctly – the main thing is it shows an awareness of both recent and older writing that has a similar target audience.
Why should I write a synopsis?
What is a synopsis used for? As described above, a synopsis is a crucial component of submitting your manuscript to most traditional publishers.
Publishers, before they even consider leafing through the first page of your manuscript, will want an overarching sense of the story. Synopses help publishers:
- Tell apart submissions that explore fresh, exciting subject matter from cliched tropes (e.g. sparkly vampires)
- Decide which manuscripts to prioritize (according to the quality and interest of the synopsis and what subject matter they’re presently most interested in producing)
- Set expectations for your submission: If a synopsis is worded badly, clunky, uninteresting or disjointed, the odds are high the submission itself will have similar faults
Because of the above, it’s crucial to weed out inessential words and find ways to summarize the subject matter of your story (and your knowledge of your market) in a commanding, professional way.
Writing synopses is also a useful exercise for outlining a story idea , before you reach the publishing stage. Expanding your one-sentence idea into a trio of more detailed synopses is a key step in Week 2 of our 6-week Kickstart your Novel course , designed to help you complete all that you need to pitch your best ideas to publishers.
So how do you write a book synopsis that will captivate professional and casual readers alike? Here are our top 9 tips:
1. When writing a book synopsis, make the opening good
Just as a first chapter should make the reader want to know more , a good synopsis opening makes the reader want to know more about the characters, events and potential conflict of your novel.
Published author Marissa Meyer provides the following advice on her blog :
The first paragraph of the synopsis should give the same basic information you convey through the book’s first chapter: where and when does this story take place, who is the protagonist, and what problem are they facing right off the bat?
2. Stick to compelling essentials
Does your character wake up in one scene and have a full English breakfast? You might have a great way with describing food mouth-wateringly. Even so, leave out everything that doesn’t give the reader an idea of character development, key plot twists and turns, and any conflicts and resolutions. This will communicate that your book has a strong underlying creative purpose.
Purposeless waffle has no place in a synopsis or a strong final draft. For every line you write in your synopsis, ask, ‘What valuable information does this give the reader about my book? Why would it motivate a person to read more?’
3. Don’t give a dry account of the core plot events
Jane Friedman who’s had a successful career in the publishing industry makes this her number one ‘don’t’. Says Jane, ‘A synopsis includes the characters’ FEELINGS and EMOTIONS. That means it should not read like a mechanic’s manual to your novel’s plot. You must include both story advancement and color.’
Here’s a book synopsis example that does exactly this. It’s the summary for An American Marriage (2018) by Tayari Jones, an NYT bestseller and Oprah’s Book Club pick:
‘Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit. Though fiercely independent, Celestial finds herself bereft and unmoored, taking comfort in Andre, her childhood friend, and best man at their wedding.’
The synopsis is full and detailed without giving away the core, pleasurable surprises of the story. We get the general gist, but not too much detail. We see the starting scenario – a couple’s marital bliss – as well as glimpsing the trouble ahead. This emotional and dramatic element – the promise of a changing situation – compels.
4. Give situation and complication alike
As writers, we do sometimes like to waffle. But the only good waffle is a Belgian one. In your synopsis, you need to be concise. It’s important to give both the initial situation and a glimpse of complications that make your main plot line exciting. Instead of saying:
‘Robert Bluthe is a tough detective who has eggs Benedict for breakfast every day and is investigating a double homicide at the start of the book’, say:
‘Robert Bluthe, a tough detective and man of unswerving habit, investigates a double homicide that forces him to question everything he knows about investigative procedures.’
The second example gives not only the situation (the double homicide) but also the complication and stake for the character (a novel aspect to the crime that makes traditional problem-solving methods ineffective).
5. Stick to using active voice compellingly
Courtney Carpenter shares this tip in a useful post for Writer’s Digest, ‘ Learn How to Write a Synopsis like a Pro’. Rather than say ‘The protagonist is married by…’ say ‘The protagonist marries’. Make each action described in the summary of your story’s events seem a decisive event that drives the plot forward.
Carpenter also suggests sticking to the third person (‘he’, ‘she’, ‘they’) since your synopsis should read as an author standing apart describing her character’s lives and developments as an observer.
6. Make every single word count
This follows on from point three. Besides keeping your synopsis concise, make sure that the words you do use carry emotive and imaginative weight. Don’t say ‘after the wedding there is some trouble during the honeymoon’ but ‘the honeymoon is disastrous. After the newlyweds miss their flight, they must [describe challenge action] and this tests their [positive state they wish to maintain]’.
Make sure each word creates a vivid emotional or descriptive pull. Make the reader curious to know more and expand their knowledge of how your story unfolds.
7. Read your book synopsis aloud
This is common advice for writing better narrative prose . It’s also equally good advice for writing a compelling book synopsis. While reading aloud, ask yourself:
- Does each sentence communicate something that improves the reader’s overall grasp of what the story is about and what makes it interesting?
- Does each sentence flow smoothly with no unnecessary words or awkward constructions?
- Is there any part that feels boring or irrelevant to the overall story development?
8. Use the synopsis format your intended reader prefers
What is a synopsis that doesn’t stick to publishers’ preferred guidelines? Usually, an ignored synopsis. Formatting a book synopsis in a simple, elegant way is important.
Fiction Writer’s Connection provides this format:
- In the upper left hand corner, writes ‘Synopsis of “[Title of your novel]”
- This should be followed by a space and a description of your novel’s genre: ‘Genre: [Genre of your novel]’
- This should be followed by ‘Word count: [Word count of your novel]
- Finally, in the right-hand upper corner, you should put your name: ‘By: [Your pen name]’
The heading of a synopsis for J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book might look something like this:
If your synopsis only spans a single page, single space your lines. Ideally, it shouldn’t be longer than one page. If it is, double-space it.
See if you can find publishers’ preferred synopsis format on their website (or simply ask in an email or on social media). If they have a preferred format, they’ll share it.
9. Don’t include irrelevant cover material
Do you have a degree in linguistics? A favourite Abba song? Don’t include any personal or quirky information as an addendum to your synopsis – keep it professional.
Biographical information should be kept for author bio material if it is requested. A synopsis doesn’t need a cover page. Ideally it’s a single page that the eagle-eyed editor can wave at colleagues frantically while shouting, ‘You won’t believe how great this novel sounds!’
Get guidance creating your story’s synopsis (and detailed feedback on this and your first three chapters) when you complete Kickstart your Novel . Learn more about Now Novel’s online writing courses here.
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- Tags how to format a book synopsis , how to write a book synopsis , querying
Jordan is a writer, editor, community manager and product developer. He received his BA Honours in English Literature and his undergraduate in English Literature and Music from the University of Cape Town.
11 replies on “What is a synopsis? Writing intriguing book summaries”
What are your top tips for writing a synopsis?
While it is important to be able to write a good review about a book you’ve read, it’s not germane to the above article. In my opinion, the more you read, the better you’ll write. The author of the article is asking readers to inform said writer if anything important was overlooked, nothing more.
Thank you, Dennis. The prior comment was actually spam it appears, it somehow slipped through the net. I’ve deleted it.
Excellent reference! Bookmarked it! One thought: perhaps bullet 9 should be the first bullet?
Thanks, Egan. Good suggestion. I’ll add it to my list of blog updates to do. Thank you for reading!
Wow! What a great site you have here with such useful information, I am just about to start the synopsis for my very first book and it is giving me angst, the info you have provided is extremely helpful. A huge thank you.
Hi Victoria, I’m so glad to hear that. I hope it’s all coming together well. Good luck with submission!
Thank you Bridget. ?
It’s difficult and Thanks! I just wrote one!! https://universeofmysecrets.blogspot.com/2018/09/secrets-synopsis.html
I’ve found it helpful to review the 5-W’s and add a “How”; (the) Who, What, Where, When, Why, & How. At a paragraph apiece, easily grants the 300/500-word format.
Good addition, the ‘how’. Thanks for sharing that, Jake.
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6 steps for writing a book synopsis.
Confession: I enjoy writing query letters. I know that most writers loathe them, but I always thought the query letter was kind of a fun challenge. The challenge of trying to distill your novel down to its essence, giving just enough information to draw the agent or editor in to the story, but without giving away so much that the manuscript loses all sense of mystery.
However, I feel quite differently about the second-most dreaded item of many submission packages: the Synopsis .
The book synopsis is that three- or four-page snapshot of the book, that essentially tells your story from beginning to end, while seemingly stripping it of any intrigue, humor, or emotional resonance. To me, writing a synopsis that could leave a reader still wanting to read the actual manuscript always seemed like a much bigger challenge than the query letter.
Unfortunately, it turns out that getting published does not necessarily mean we don’t ever have to write a synopsis again.
Last January, when it came time for my agent and I to start talking with my publisher about My Next Book (which was the Super Secret Project I wrote during NaNoWriMo last November), the submission package we pulled together was remarkably similar to the package we’d used to sell the Lunar Chronicles:
– A pitch letter (similar to a query), illustrating the concept and major conflict of the book.
– The first 50 pages, edited and polished to a glowy sheen.
– The synopsis of the book (although some plot points are subject to change).
So rather than whine and complain about how much I hate writing synopses, I decided to take the opportunity to embrace the synopsis writing challenge, and figure out a process for writing the synopsis that didn’t seem quite so painful and intimidating and, in the end, left me with something I was pleased to show my editor.
I’m not allowed to really talk about my new project,* so I’m going to use examples from the synopsis I wrote for CINDER way back when.
Step 0: Write the book!
If the book isn’t written yet, I feel like you’re writing an outline, not a synopsis, and I’ve talked about outline writing at length in previous blog posts. For the purpose of this synopsis-specific guide, let’s assume you have the book drafted out, or even completed.
Step 1: Skim through the manuscript, noting the important events of each chapter.
Try to boil every chapter down to just one or two sentences. What is the point of this chapter? What is the most important thing that happens?
Some chapters will be significantly longer than a sentence or two, particularly the opening chapters (as they tend to introduce a lot of information about the world and the main characters) and the climax (which could revolve around lots of complicated reveals and twists).
And yes, include the ending! From who wins the final battle to whether or not the protagonist hooks up with the love interest in the end. One of the main purposes of a synopsis is to show the full arcs of your plot and subplots, so don’t leave out those all-important resolutions.
Step 2. Embellish the beginning.
Just because you can’t use pages and pages to set up the world and protagonist’s character in the synopsis doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give the reader a little bit of foundation to stand on. The first paragraph of the synopsis should give the same basic information you convey through the book’s first chapter: where and when does this story take place, who is the protagonist, and what problem are they facing right off the bat?
Example: LINH CINDER is a cyborg, considered little more than a technological mistake by most of society and a burden by her stepmother, ADRI. But her brain-machine interface has given her a unique skill with mechanics, making her, at sixteen, the best mechanic in New Beijing.
Step 3: String your short chapter summaries together, using standard synopsis formatting.
Here, it will begin to look like a story, but an incredibly sparse and drab one. Don’t worry about that. Just focus on getting all the technical formatting stuff figured out so you don’t have to re-write it all at the end.
Standard Synopsis Formatting
– Written in third person, present tense, regardless of what POV or tense the book is written in.
– The first mention of each character’s name is put in all-caps (so that they can be easily spotted).
Example: When she arrives home, she discovers her two stepsisters—arrogant PEARL and vivacious PEONY—being fitted in ball gowns.
Step 4: Read through, with a focus on plot.
Distilling each chapter down into just a sentence or two can lead to lots of apparent plot holes and lost information. Read through what you’ve written and check that every event in the story naturally leads into the next. Imagine beginning each sentence with a Because / Then structure, and insert further explanation or character motivations as necessary.
Example: Cinder is worried that if she doesn’t fix the hover, Adri will sell off IKO in order to pay for the repairs herself. That night, Cinder goes to the junkyard to find replacement parts…
(Could be read as: Because Cinder is worried . . . then she goes to the junkyard…)
Step 5. Read through, with a focus on character arc.
Now that the plot makes sense from beginning to end, check that you’re adequately showing how your protagonist evolves as a result of the events in the story. Do readers get a sense of who they are at the beginning and how they’ve changed by the end? Look for those Big Moments in the story that change your protagonist’s attitudes and goals. Indicate how those moments effect the protagonist emotionally, and show how their goals and motivations change as a result.
Example: Without Iko and Peony keeping her tied to Adri, Cinder vows to fix up the abandoned car she saw in the junkyard and run away.
Step 6. Trim and edit.
Now that you have all the necessary information, read through a few more times and trim it up as much as you can. Be ruthless when it comes to removing excess words and phrases that don’t help you tell the story. Choose your descriptive words carefully, ensuring that you’re using words that carry a lot of weight. My book synopses for CINDER and New Secret Project both came in around the 1,500-2,000 word range, and that’s not a lot of room to work with! So edit, edit, edit.
Happy synopsisizing, everyone!
* Okay, what I CAN tell you about my Super Secret NaNo 2012 Project is that YES, Macmillan did buy it, woot! That must have been one heck of a synopsis, right? 😉 More information to come… someday.
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How to Write a Novel Synopsis
Note from Jane: The following post was published years ago, but I regularly revisit, revise, and expand it. I’ve also written a comprehensive post on writing query letters.
It’s probably the single most despised document you might be asked to prepare: the synopsis .
The synopsis is sometimes necessary because an agent or publisher wants to see, from beginning to end, what happens in your story. Thus, the synopsis must convey a book’s entire narrative arc. It shows what happens and who changes, and it has to reveal the ending. Synopses may be required when you first query your work, or you may be asked for it later.
Don’t confuse the synopsis with sales copy, or the kind of marketing description that might appear on your back cover or in an Amazon description. You’re not writing a punchy piece for readers that builds excitement. It’s not an editorial about your book . Instead, it’s an industry document that helps an agent or editor quickly assess your story’s appeal and if it’s worth them reading the entire manuscript.
How long should a synopsis be?
You’ll find conflicting advice on this. However, I recommend keeping it short, or at least starting short. Write a one- or two-page synopsis—about 500-1000 words, single spaced—and use that as your default, unless the submission guidelines ask for something longer. If your synopsis runs longer, anything up to two pages (again, single spaced) is usually acceptable. Most agents/editors will not be interested in a synopsis longer than a few pages.
While this post is geared toward writers of fiction, the same principles can be applied to memoir and other narrative nonfiction works.
Why the synopsis is important to agents and editors
The synopsis ensures character actions and motivations are realistic and make sense. A synopsis will reveal any big problems in your story—e.g., “it was just a dream” endings, ridiculous acts of god, a category romance ending in divorce. It can reveal plot flaws, serious gaps in character motivation, or a lack of structure. Or it can reveal how fresh your story is; if there’s nothing surprising or the plot is hackneyed, your manuscript may not get read.
The good news: Some agents hate synopses and never read them; this is more typical for agents who represent literary work. Either way, agents aren’t expecting a work of art. You can impress with lean, clean, powerful language. An agent I admire, Janet Reid, has said that energy and vitality are key.
Synopses should usually be written in third person, present tense (even if your novel is written in first person). For memoirists, I recommend first person, but first or third is acceptable.
What the synopsis must accomplish
In most cases, you’ll start the synopsis with your protagonist. You’ll describe her mindset and motivations at the opening of the story, then explain what happens to change her situation (often known as the inciting incident ). Motivation is fairly critical here: we need to understand what drives this character to act.
Once the protagonist is established, each paragraph ideally moves the story forward (with events unfolding in exactly the same order as in the manuscript), with strong cause-effect storytelling, including the key scenes of your novel. We need to see how the story conflict plays out, who or what is driving that conflict, and how the protagonist succeeds or fails in dealing with it.
By the end, we should understand how that conflict is resolved and how the protagonist’s situation, both internally and externally, has changed. Think about your genre’s “formula,” if there is one, and be sure to include all major turning points associated with that formula.
If you cover all these things, that won’t leave you much time for detail if you keep the synopsis to a single page. You won’t be able to mention every character or event or include every scene—only those that materially affect the protagonist’s decisions or our understanding of the story’s events. You may have to exclude some subplots, and you definitely have to stay out of the plotting weeds. If there’s a shootout at the story’s climax, for instance, or a big fight scene, it’s fairly useless to get into the details of the choreography and how many punches are thrown. Instead, you say there’s a big fight and make it clear who wins and who loses.
To decide what characters deserve space in the synopsis, you need to look at their role in influencing the protagonist or changing the direction of the story. We need to see how they enter the story, the quality of their relationship to the protagonist, and how their story resolves. Any character that merits placement in a synopsis should have at least two to three mentions. If you can get away with only mentioning them once, they probably don’t belong at all.
A good rule of thumb for determining what stays and what goes: If the ending wouldn’t make sense without the character or plot point being mentioned, then it belongs in the synopsis.
A synopsis should get to the point—fast
Here’s an example of what I mean.
Very Wordy : At work, Elizabeth searches for Peter all over the office and finally finds him in the supply room, where she tells him she resents the remarks he made about her in the staff meeting.
Tight : At work, Elizabeth confronts Peter about his remarks at the staff meeting.
The most common synopsis mistake
Don’t make the mistake of thinking the synopsis just details the plot. That will end up reading like a mechanical account of your story (or the dreaded “synopsis speak”), without depth or texture.
Consider what it would sound like if you summarized a football game by saying. “Well, the Patriots scored. And then the Giants scored. Then the Patriots scored twice in a row.” That’s sterile and doesn’t give us the meaning behind how events are unfolding.
Instead, you would say something like, “The Patriots scored a touchdown after more than one hour of a no-score game, and the underdog of the team led the play. The crowd went wild.”
The secret to a great synopsis
A synopsis includes the characters’ emotions and reactions to what’s happening. That will help you avoid something that reads like a mechanic’s manual. Include both story advancement (plot stuff) and color (character stuff).
Incident (Story Advancement) + Reaction (Color) = Decision (Story Advancement)
For stories with considerable world building or extensive historical settings
Some writers may need to open their synopsis with a paragraph or so that helps establish the world we’re entering and the rules of that world. This helps us better understand the characters and their motivations once introduced. For example, a synopsis of Harry Potter might clarify upfront that the world is divided into Muggles and wizards, and that the Muggles have no idea that a magical world exists. Or, this fact could be relayed in the synopsis once Harry Potter learns about it himself.
In a historical novel, a writer might have to establish cultural attitudes or facts that might not be known to contemporary readers, so that the characters’ actions make sense and the weight of the conflict is clear.
In science fiction and fantasy, try to avoid proper terms or nouns that have to be defined or explained unless such terms are central to your story (like “Muggles” above). Instead, try to get the point across in language that anyone can understand but still gets the point across. The goal here is to focus on telling the story rather than increasing the mental workload of the agent/editor, who has to decipher and remember the unfamiliar vocabulary.
Avoid splitting the synopsis into sections
In most cases, the synopsis should start and end without any breaks, sections, or other subheadings. However, on occasion, there might be a reason to add “sign posts” to the synopsis, due to your book’s unique narrative structure. For example, if your novel has intertwining timelines, or if it jumps around in time and place, you may want to begin each paragraph with a bold lead-in (“Paris, 1893”), to establish where we are. Other than that, avoid sectioning out the story in any way, or listing a cast of characters upfront, as if you were writing a play. Characters should be introduced at the moment they enter the story or when they specifically contribute to the story moving forward.
Common novel synopsis pitfalls
- Don’t get weighed down with the specifics of character names, places, and other proper names or terms. Stick to the basics. Use the name of your main characters, but if a waitress enters the story for just one scene, call her “the waitress.” Don’t say “Bonnie, the boisterous waitress who calls everyone hon and works seven days a week.” When you do mention specific names, it’s common to put the name in all caps in the first instance, so it’s easy for agents or editors to see at a glance who the key figures are.
- Don’t spend time explaining or deconstructing your story’s meaning or themes. This can be a particularly persistent problem with memoir. A synopsis tells the story, but it doesn’t try to offer an interpretatio n, e.g., saying something like, “This is the story of how many ordinary people like me tried to make a difference.”
- Avoid talking about the story construction. This is where you add things that describe the book’s structure, such as “in the climax of the novel,” or “in a series of tense scenes.”
- Avoid character backstory unless it’s tied to the character’s motivations and desires throughout the book. A phrase or two is plenty to indicate a character’s background; ideally, you should reference it when it affects how events unfold. If you’ve written a story with flashbacks, you probably won’t include much, if any, of that in the synopsis.
- Avoid including dialogue, and if you do, be sparing . Make sure the dialogue you include is absolutely iconic of the character or represents a linchpin moment in the book.
- Don’t ask rhetorical or unanswered questions. Remember, your goal here isn’t to entice a reader.
- While your synopsis will reflect your ability to write, it’s not the place to get pretty with your prose. That means you should leave out any attempts to impress through poetic description. You can’t take the time to show everything in your synopsis. Often you have to tell, and sometimes this is confusing to writers who’ve been told for years to “show don’t tell.” For example, it’s OK to just come out and say your main character is a “hopeless romantic” rather than trying to show it.
- How to Write a Synopsis of Your Novel (one of the best advice articles I’ve seen)
- How to Write a 1-Page Synopsis
- The Anatomy of a Short Synopsis
- The Synopsis: What It Is, What It Isn’t, and How to Write It
If you’re looking for in-depth guidance, I offer a query letter master class that includes a 90-minute lecture on synopsis writing.
Jane Friedman ( @JaneFriedman ) has 25 years of experience in the media & publishing industry. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet , the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a professor with The Great Courses ( How to Publish Your Book ), she is the author of The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), which received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as Digital Book World and Frankfurt Book Fair, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.
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Thanks for the excellent tips! I can write the NOVEL itself no problem (well, not exactly that simple – go thru many drafts and late nights along the way) but the synopsis stops me cold. Wordiness, that’s me! Will definitely be referring to this blog posting when I have to write my next synopsis.
Excellent! Thanks for stopping by.
Fantastic. Loved the tip about adding the protagonists feelings.
Yes! A lot of people skip that part, but that really gives things texture, makes us care.
Sounds like I should start with my synopsis first and use it as a roadmap to write the novel.
That is, in fact, a fabulous idea.
That’s how I do it. When I have my idea I write a one-paragraph synopsis followed by the longer version. I’ve never had writer’s block and like to believe it’s because I have the biggest parts planned and that causes for less major revisions with the lack of plot holes.
But it doesn’t mean writing the synopsis was easy. Couldn’t have done it, once again, without Jane’s excellent advice!
To me, the most important parts are the inner stakes and outer stakes. I discussed them in my article on synopsis writing found here. http://www.help4writers.com/blog/?p=374 (Bonus: Wizard of Oz was my example synopsis.)
Awesome! Thanks for sharing.
Great article! And thanks so much for including one of my articles on writing a short synopsis in your tips. I really appreciate it
I figure if my 70-year old grandma who hates fantasy can understand a three-minute version of my whole story, I’ve synopsized well.
[…] Friedman returns to an oldie but goodie: How to write a synopsis that works; agent Jennifer Laughran answers word-count questions across most genres; Karen Dionne seeks an […]
[…] Back to Basics: Writing a Novel Synopsis | Jane Friedman The synopsis conveys the narrative arc of your novel; it shows what happens and who changes, from beginning to end. (@saphirablue84 Did you see Jane Friedman's synopsis post? It lists additional resources too. Source: janefriedman.com […]
And I’m late here, but thanks for linking to my list 🙂
[…] it or buy the rights to it, and to give you a nice fat contract for your trouble. Jane Friedman has exceptional how-to tips for writing a synopsis for your book that will make an agent drool. Pay attention to the part where she says you have to give away the […]
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How to Write a Synopsis
Last Updated: September 13, 2022 References Approved
This article was co-authored by Richard Perkins . Richard Perkins is a Writing Coach, Academic English Coordinator, and the Founder of PLC Learning Center. With over 24 years of education experience, he gives teachers tools to teach writing to students and works with elementary to university level students to become proficient, confident writers. Richard is a fellow at the National Writing Project. As a teacher leader and consultant at California State University Long Beach's Global Education Project, Mr. Perkins creates and presents teacher workshops that integrate the U.N.'s 17 Sustainable Development Goals in the K-12 curriculum. He holds a BA in Communications and TV from The University of Southern California and an MEd from California State University Dominguez Hills. There are 12 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. This article has 12 testimonials from our readers, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 346,509 times.
A synopsis is an in-depth summary of a written work that describes the content of that work from beginning to end. Unlike a summary, which just gives a general overview of a story, a synopsis contains all of the plot details, including the end. Typically, synopses are submitted to publishers or agents after you have written a novel, screenplay, or other long work. A good synopsis will cover the main conflict and the resolution of the story while describing the emotional development of the main character. It is important to edit your synopsis carefully, as it will usually be included as part of a larger proposal.
Outlining Your Synopsis
- Established authors who have published before may be able to get away with submitting an incomplete book proposal, but most new authors will need a full manuscript.
- You will need to know how the story ends to write the synopsis, as a synopsis will include the resolution of the story.
- Make sure each of your characters is dynamic, rather than flat. They all need to be well-rounded and capable of change. Additionally, each character should impact the story in a significant way.
- If you wrote a screenplay or play, make a list of what happens in each act. You can write, "Rory enters the warehouse, and a shootout ensues."
- If you have a collection of short stories or poetry, identify the main themes of each work. For example, you might state, "This collection explores memory, childhood, and innocence."
- Does your story have an interesting point of view? If so, be sure to mention it. You can say, “This story centers around the last dwarf in the underground kingdom.”
- Does your story have a unique twist? You can mention the twist while still leaving some mystery. For example, you might say, “Jean Paul soon realizes that the murderer may be closer to him than he thinks.”
- Does your story fulfill a certain niche in the market? You might want to demonstrate who might be interested in this story. For example, you can write, “This memoir explores what it means to be a member of the lost generation.”
- Novel synopses are usually between two and twelve pages long.
- Screenplay synopses are usually one page long. Most are no more than 400 words long.
Drafting the Synopsis
- Most film production companies and some book publishers may ask you to capitalize every letter of a character's name. For example, you would write "JENNA" instead of "Jenna."
- For example, you might start the paragraph by saying, “When her plane crashes in the isolated reaches of the Amazon rainforest, Laura realizes that to survive, she must first overcome her inner demons.”
- As you introduce other characters, you should introduce them in relation to the main character. For example, you might write, “Laura is joined by the only other survivor, a mysterious archaeologist named Terry.”
- Don't go into too much detail about subplots and minor actions. You don't want your synopsis to be confusing, so focus on the main story line.
- For example, you might write, "After James beats the river monster, he continues on to find the magic crystal. When he locates the cave, he finds it blocked. He agrees to trade his sword to a goblin in exchange for help."
- You might say, "Jun discovers that Ginny had stolen the diamond. The movie concludes with the police arresting Ginny."
- Don’t include dialogue in your synopsis. Instead, just summarize what the characters said.
- Refer to minor characters by their role, not by their name. Instead of saying, “Lewis, a saxophonist who Joe encounters one night” you might write, “Joe meets a saxophonist.”
- For example, you might write, “Invigorated by her new discovery, Cecilia rushes to contact Horatio, only to be shocked when she learns that he is already dead.”
- Do not use phrases like “in one tear jerking scene” or “in a stunning flashback.” Simply describe the scenes as they happen. If you want to describe emotions you're hoping to convey in your work, focus on how your characters react to certain events, not how you expect the reader to react. For example, "When Claire realizes the truth, she becomes disillusioned."
- Don’t assume what readers will feel. For example, don't say “Readers will gasp as they discover what Lord Melvin has in store for Lady Betty.” Instead, you might write, “As Lady Betty travels through the castle, she slowly realizes Lord Melvin’s intentions.”
Editing Your Synopsis
- If you don't have guidelines, you should include your name and the title of your work at the top of every page.
- Always use one-inch margins when submitting work for publication.
- Try reading your entire synopsis out loud to catch any mistakes.
- You can hire a copyeditor to proofread it for you.
- For example, one publishing house may require you to cut down your synopsis to one page. In this case, focus on just the main conflict. Another may ask for four pages. In this one, you can go into more detail.
- If you do not tailor your synopsis to a publisher, they may not read your submission.
- A query letter should contain a short summary of your work, a brief paragraph explaining your credentials, and a reason why the agent should accept your submission.
- A sample may include one or two chapters, one act of a screenplay, or one short story out of a collection. In most cases, it will be the first scene or chapter.
You Might Also Like
- ↑ https://www.spreadtheword.org.uk/a-pocket-guide-to-writing-a-synopsis/
- ↑ Richard Perkins. Writing Coach & Academic English Coordinator. Expert Interview. 1 September 2021.
- ↑ https://writingnsw.org.au/support/resources-for-writers/resource-sheets/writing-a-synopsis/
- ↑ https://www.ncl.ac.uk/academic-skills-kit/assessment/assignment-types/writing-a-synopsis/
- ↑ https://examples.yourdictionary.com/synopsis-examples.html
- ↑ https://careertrend.com/how-2079740-format-synopsis.html
- ↑ https://research.ewu.edu/writers_center_revising_paper
- ↑ http://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Less-Obvious-Elements-of/129361
- ↑ https://mitpress.mit.edu/submitting-book-proposal/
About This Article
To write a synopsis, start by creating an outline that includes main characters and plot points so that you can cover the narrative arc of the story. Then, in the first paragraph of your synopsis, introduce your main characters and a general summary of the entire plot, like the conflict the main character must overcome. Next, summarize the main events, like obstacles the character faced and how they overcame them, and be sure to write your synopsis in the third person. Finally, leave the reader with a resolution of the story so they know how it ends. To learn how to edit your synopsis using general guidelines, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No
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Table of Contents
What Is a Synopsis?
How to write a compelling synopsis, great synopsis examples, how to write a perfect synopsis for your book (complete guide).
Unless you’re writing a book proposal , there’s no reason you need a book synopsis.
And the only reason you need a book proposal is if you want to get your book picked up by a traditional publisher .
For most Authors, it’s better to skip traditional publishing and self-publish instead.
There are many good reasons for that:
- You’ll need a literary agent
- It’s nearly impossible to get a deal
- You won’t own the rights to your book or have full creative control
- It’ll take forever to hit the market
- It’ll be a lot less lucrative
- You can’t market your book in the ways that will help you get the best ROI
That said, there are some Authors whose books and goals are a better fit for a traditional publisher. If you’re one of those select few, you’ll need to write a good synopsis in order to sell your book.
This post will teach you how to write the overview section of the proposal, which gives potential agents and acquisitions editors a short synopsis of your book.
A synopsis is a brief summary of the content of your book, its target audience, and its major selling points.
People are more familiar with synopses when it comes to creative writing or movie synopses. Those kinds of summaries introduce you to the main characters, major plot points, subplots, and character motivations of a story.
With a nonfiction book, the overview works differently. It’s not primarily about the content or the “main plot” of the book. Instead, it’s designed to show a potential agent or acquisitions editor at a publishing house what your book will cover, what audience will want to read it, and why it’s appealing to that audience.
Think of the overview of your book proposal as a sales letter. You want to show the reader that there are a lot of people with an urgent problem and that the content of your book is going to help them solve it.
As I said above, not all Authors need a synopsis . But I should clarify: a synopsis is not the same as a book description .
The purpose of a book description is to hook readers’ attention and convince them to keep reading. It’s what goes on the back cover of your book. Every Author needs one of those.
A synopsis is designed to walk an editor through your argument and convince them that your book is worth writing and, ultimately, worth selling.
In other words, a synopsis doesn’t focus on your idea . It’s about your book’s commercial potential.
The biggest mistake Authors make in writing synopses is talking too much about the following:
- how important the idea is
- why they want to write the book
- why they think people should want to read it.
All those things sound logical, right?
But publishers don’t want to know what you—the Author—cares about or wants.
They want to know what readers care about, and more importantly, what will make a reader buy the book.
The synopsis should focus on the content just enough for the editor to understand what your book will say. It’s more important to show how that content relates to the needs, problems, and desires of your target audience.
A book proposal includes many elements, including an Author bio , marketing plan, chapter outline, and writing sample. But out of the entire proposal, the two things that will sell it are the overview (a.k.a., synopsis) and the marketing plan.
It’s critical to get those right.
The goal of a synopsis is to convince an agent (and later, an acquisitions editor) that:
- your audience exists, and they’re just waiting to buy your book
- the reasons why they’re waiting to buy your book
It’s not enough to say, “I’m writing on such-and-such subject” (even if you have data that people are interested in that subject).
For example, just because people like ice cream, it doesn’t mean they will want to buy your book on ice cream.
Your synopsis should make a clear case for why people will buy your specific book .
A compelling synopsis doesn’t only provide information; it convinces. It has to answer all the questions in an editor’s mind, including:
- Why are people going to care about what you have to say?
- Why is anyone going to care about the book?
- What need is it filling?
- What problem does it solve?
- What transformation will it create?
- What hole in people’s lives does it fill?
Acquisitions editors at traditional publishing houses like to think of their job as cultivating and curating the national conversation.
So, synopsis writing is all about persuading editors that your book is going to be the next big thing. It has to make an editor feel like they’re ahead of the curve by discovering you and your idea.
Here’s the ideal situation: an acquisition editor reads your overview and thinks, “Wow, this is really obvious, but no one sees it yet—except for me. I’ll be the one who gets to unveil this book to the world!”
If your overview does that, potential agents will be interested in it because they know that acquisition editors will want it.
Here are 2 examples of great proposals:
- This is the proposal for Author Steve Sims’ bestseller, Bluefishing: The Art of Making Things Happen . Scribe helped with this proposal, and Steve earned a low six-figure advance from an imprint of Simon & Schuster.
- This is the proposal for my book with Geoffrey Miller, which we wrote with Nils Parker. We sold the book for low seven figures to Little, Brown. This book started off as Mate: Become the Man Women Want , but for the paperback, the publisher changed the name to What Women Want .
Those links will take you to the complete proposal, not just the overview. If you’re writing a book proposal, I recommend checking them out in their entirety.
But below, I’m only going to focus on the synopses. I’ll explain how each of them addresses the main questions in an editor’s mind.
1. Why Are People Going to Care About What You Have to Say?
In the proposal for Mate , Geoffrey and I didn’t just outline our credentials. We also explained how Mate would build on our pre-existing professional platforms.
Collectively, we had over 3 million subscribers to our email lists. We also had a clear, statistically supported breakdown of the audience who would benefit from the book: romantically frustrated young men.
We focused briefly on the origins of the idea, but when we talked about ourselves, it was mainly to show why our respective followings would care about this new collaboration.
An editor reading this would immediately know:
- we were Authors with a huge following
- our following had a problem
- we knew how to solve it
2. Why Is Anyone Going to Care About the Book?
Steve’s proposal had an aspirational hook: he helps people make their wildest dreams come true.
As the founder of Bluefish, an exclusive luxury concierge service, Steve’s professional background gave him privileged insight.
He not only had access to the outrageous, impossible adventures of billionaires — he also understood the deeper psychological motivations behind them.
In other words, the book wasn’t just a riveting tell-all about journeys to the bottom of the sea or dining at the feet of Michelangelo’s David .
It was also a guide to happiness for the average person.
Steve explained how his book tapped into people’s desires for fantasy fulfillment and recognized the desire for personal growth and fulfillment.
He addressed this unique perspective with the line, “You don’t have to be a billionaire. All you need is this book.”
That’s what set his book apart and made his audience take notice.
3. What Need Is It Filling?
Geoffrey and I realized something strange was going on when a lot of my fans were looking to my drunk hook-up stories for advice.
Instead of writing these readers off, we wondered why that was happening.
What was the need they were trying to fill by reading my books? And how could we write a book that would fill that need better?
Here’s how we positioned that need in the proposal:
For Tucker, however, it was a revelation: for years he had struggled with the fact that many of his biggest fans were, to be kind, raging douchebags. At book signings, speaking engagements, parties, on the street, they would come up to him to take a picture or shake his hand and invariably their favorite parts of his books would be the parts they should be most ashamed of; the parts Tucker had included to make himself the butt of the joke.
It was no wonder so many of his male fans were such maladjusted idiots–they weren’t using those moments as cautionary tales, they were using them as a guide. But why??
The short answer: that’s all there was.
That was a turning point. It helped us understand what problem we needed to solve and what was at stake in writing Mate .
It was also crystal clear evidence for editors. It showed them how the book would fulfill an audience’s specific needs.
4. What Problem Does It Solve?
Steve’s book proposal started with a bang.
Who doesn’t want to hear about getting married by the Pope or getting chased by spies in a James Bond simulation?
That’s a great hook, but it’s not enough to sell a book. A good synopsis shows how the book will actually solve a problem.
As the proposal continued, readers learned that the real problem at the heart of the book was how to tap into the “pure joy that so many of us bury as we become successful grownups with jobs and families and responsibilities.”
Steve went on to show how those attention-grabbing stories could help solve that problem:
Money can’t buy you happiness. There’s the problem.
And here’s the solution: “Throughout the chapters, he shares his secrets for achieving the impossible and making your own bucket-list dreams come true.”
Steve’s synopsis was successful because he guided the reader through a clear story arc: hook, problem, and solution.
5. What Transformation Will It Create?
The proposal for Mate tackled the question of reader transformation head-on:
This brief passage explained the “who,” “how,” and “why,” while also including the pain point and benefits. In just a few sentences, we showed why readers would be interested in this material.
In another section of the proposal, we also broke the benefits down thematically—scientifically, what will readers learn? Ethically, what insights will they gain? And practically, what will they walk away with?
In the first paragraph, we also compared the book to ground-breaking books that created analogous transformations. That made it immediately evident to editors what kind of market space the book could fill.
6. What Hole in People’s Lives Does It Fill?
Steve took a common, relatable concept—”the bucket list”—and gave it a new cast.
He explained, “The words have a light, frivolous ring to them, but they hint at something deeper.”
That “something deeper” was the hole his book filled.
Steve showed the reader that his book wasn’t just about rich people looking for thrills. It was about tapping into a near-universal longing for childlike joy.
The stories in the book were about the rich and famous, but the psychological drive behind them was something his target audience would relate to.
This showed editors that the book had broader commercial potential. It wasn’t just “inside baseball” for an elite audience.
The Scribe Crew
Read this next.
How to Choose the Best Book Ghostwriting Package for Your Book
How to Choose the Best Ghostwriting Company for Your Nonfiction Book
How to Choose a Ghostwriter for a Finance Book
- Literary Terms
- Definition & Examples
- When & How to Write a Synopsis
I. What is a Synopsis?
A synopsis is a brief summary that gives audiences an idea of what a composition is about. It provides an overview of the storyline or main points and other defining factors of the work, which may include style, genre, persons or characters of note, setting, and so on. We write synopses for all kinds of things—any type of fiction or nonfiction book, academic papers, journal and newspaper articles, films, TV shows, and video games, just to name a few!
The amount of detail and information revealed in a synopsis depends on its purpose. For instance, authors often need to provide a lengthy synopsis when proposing a book, article, or work to potential publishers or editors —in that case, a synopsis will include a full plot overview (which includes revealing the ending), signs of character progression, detailed explanation of theme and tone, and so on. This article will mainly focus on the short synopses you see every day on websites and other media outlets.
II. Example of a Synopsis
Here’s an example of a short synopsis of the story of Jack and Jill:
Jack and Jill is the story of a boy and a girl who went up a hill together. They went to fetch a pail of water, but unfortunately, their plan is disrupted when Jack falls and hits his head, and rolls back down the hill. Then, Jill falls too, and comes tumbling down after Jack.
As you can see, the synopsis outlines what happens in the story. It introduces the main characters and the main plot points without being overly detailed or wordy.
III. Importance of Synopses
Synopses are extremely valuable and necessary pieces of writing for authors, film makers, TV producers, academic writers, and many others.
- On one level, it’s what actually helps a book get published or a film or TV series get made—a successful, well-written synopsis can convince the person in charge of publication or production to bring a work to life
- On the other hand, synopses grab the attention of potential audiences and can convince them to read, watch, or listen
- Also, they help researchers find what they are looking for and decide if a piece is relevant to their field
Without them, audiences and readers would never know what something was about before reading or viewing it! Thus, the importance of synopses is twofold: it both helps works get made and then helps them reach the right audiences.
IV. Examples of Synopses in Literature
Example 1: synopsis of a novel.
When we want to choose a novel, it’s a common practice to read a synopsis of what it’s about. A short synopsis will give us just enough details to draw readers in and hopefully convince them to read the book! Here’s a brief synopsis from Cliff’s Notes of The Hunger Games :
In Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, the Capitol forces each of Panem’s 12 districts to choose two teenagers to participate in the Hunger Games, a gruesome, televised fight to the death. In the 12th district, Katniss Everdeen steps in for her little sister and enters the Games, where she is torn between her feelings for her hunting partner, Gale Hawthorne, and the district’s other tribute, Peeta Mellark, even as she fights to stay alive. The Hunger Games will change Katniss’ life forever, but her acts of humanity and defiance might just change the Games, too.
Example 2: Synopsis of an Academic Paper
Sometimes, teachers, professors, publications, or editors want a synopsis of an academic paper, lecture, or article, which is more formally called an abstract (See Related Terms ). Like with a work of fiction, it gives a summary of the main points of the papers or article and provides a snapshot of what issues will be discussed. Synopses of these types of work are particularly important for scholars and anyone doing research, because when searching, they need to be able to know what an article is about and whether it is relevant to their work.
During his career, J.R.R. Tolkien gave a lecture on the classic Beowulf , which became one of the most respected and most-consulted academic sources on the poem to date. Here is a synopsis:
Before Tolkien, general scholarly opinion held…that while the poem might after all be unified, it was nevertheless unfortunate that the poet had chosen to tell stories about a hero, ogres, and a dragon, instead of detailing the wars in the North to which he often provocatively alludes. Tolkien’s lecture strongly and sometimes ironically defends the poet’s decision and the poem itself. The poet had every right to choose fantasy rather than history as his subject; in doing so he universalized his theme; his many allusions to events not recounted gave his work depth; most of all, the poem offered a kind of negotiation between the poet’s own firmly Christian world and the world of his pagan ancestors, on whom he looked back with admiration and pity.
This synopsis shares the main focus of Tolkien’s famous lecture and outlines its purpose for those who may be interested in it and can benefit from his research.
V. Examples of Synopses in Popular Culture
Example 1: synopsis of a tv series.
Giving the audience a written preview of a subject or storyline is a standard practice for TV producers. Before the series Gotham premiered, Warner Brothers released a detailed synopsis of exactly what the show would be about, which was particularly important because the audience would want to know how it would be placed amongst other Batman storylines. Here is a selection from its official synopsis:
Gotham is the origin story of the great DC Comics Super- Villains and vigilantes, revealing an entirely new chapter that has never been told. From executive producer/writer Bruno Heller (The Mentalist, Rome), this one-hour drama follows one cop’s rise through a dangerously corrupt city teetering on the edge of evil and chronicles the genesis of one of the most popular super heroes of our time. Brave, earnest and eager to prove himself, the newly minted detective Gordon (Ben McKenzie) is partnered with the brash, but shrewd police legend Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), as the two stumble upon the city’s highest-profile case ever: the murder of local billionaires Thomas and Martha Wayne.
This is only one piece of the synopsis provided by Warner Brothers, but it’s a good sample of the bigger picture. It introduces the main theme and major characters, giving us a taste of what the series has in store.
Example 2: Synopsis of a Film
The job of a film synopsis is to build excitement and anticipation in the audience. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a long-awaited addition to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter universe and the release of this synopsis and trailer was big news in the world of popular culture. Here’s the synopsis:
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them opens in 1926 as Newt Scamander has just completed a global excursion to find and document an extraordinary array of magical creatures. Arriving in New York for a brief stopover, he might have come and gone without incident…were it not for a No-Maj (American for Muggle) named Jacob, a misplaced magical case, and the escape of some of Newt’s fantastic beasts, which could spell trouble for both the wizarding and No-Maj worlds.
When a new film is announced, producers usually release a written synopsis like this, as well as an official trailer. Truly, a movie trailer is just a visual form of a synopses. But, a trailer builds even more anticipation in the audience than a written summary, because it gives a true peek at what will unfold on screen.
VI. Related Terms
An abstract is a brief summary of a scholarly work. It does the same things as a synopsis, but goes by a different term—“synopsis” is the preferred term for creative writing, films, and television, “while abstract” is the preferred term for formal or academic works. Overall, they have the same purpose.
An outline is shorter, less defined plan of what you’re going to include in a piece of writing. It’s usually written in the brainstorming phase, and just “outlines” general things that the work will include, and may change as you get farther in your work. An outline comes before a work is written, and a synopsis is written after a work is complete.
In conclusion, synopses are useful summaries that are written for the benefit of a potential reader or audience. It gives an overview and a “sneak peek” at a work, which lets them choose things that are interesting or useful to them personally and/or professionally.
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Home » Blog » How to Write a Book Synopsis?
How to Write a Book Synopsis?
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When approaching literary agents, you’ll want to include a query letter, a short description of your book, and a synopsis. If you’re wondering how you can write an outline, then the first thing you should know is that it should look professional.
A synopsis is essential because it will get an agent interested in your work. It also helps them understand what they are getting into if they decide to represent you. Therefore, a synopsis should convey a book’s plot, characters, setting, tone, and theme.
Don’t confuse the synopsis with a sales pitch or the kind of promotional material that might appear on the back cover or inside the book. An overview is simply a summary of the story.
What is a Book Synopsis?
The word “synopsis” comes from the Greek word syn- (meaning together) and “opsis” (meaning sight). In other words, a synopsis is a condensed version of a larger piece of writing.
In publishing, a synopsis functions as a marketing tool for books. When you submit a manuscript to publishers, you will have to provide a synopsis. It is typically done by having someone else read through the entire book and summarize its contents. The person who reads the book is called a reader. The publisher may hire them, or they may volunteer their time.
If you have written a novel yourself, you probably already know how much work to create a complete-length book. You’ve likely spent months or even years developing a detailed outline, researching topics, gathering information, and writing chapters. However, when it comes to writing a synopsis, all you need to do is condense this process into one paragraph.
If you don’t have a lot of experience writing a synopsis, you may find it challenging to create one that accurately conveys the essence of your book. But there are some things you can do to make sure your synopsis is compelling.
First, you should start by reading sample synopses online. These samples will give you ideas about how to structure yours.
Second, you should remember that a good synopsis doesn’t just tell readers what happens in your book. Instead, it tells them why they should buy your book.
It means that your synopsis should explain the main themes of your book. For example, if your book is about love, your summary should focus on the themes of romance, commitment, and trust.
Your synopsis should also describe the major conflicts within the story. Conflict is the driving force behind every great thriller, mystery, or romance. Conflict drives people to act, so it’s essential to any account.
Finally, your synopsis should clearly state the book’s genre. Most publishers require authors to specify whether their book is fiction or nonfiction.
For example, if your book has is a crime novel, you could say something like:
“An exciting new series featuring a female detective.”
Or, if your book is on ancient Rome, you could write:
“A historical adventure about a young Roman woman who must fight for her life after being falsely accused of treason.”
Generally, a synopsis should be no more than one page long. You may find yourself writing longer than this when you describe the main character’s personality traits, but keep it at one page for now.
The goal here is to give an overview of your book without giving away any spoilers. So don’t go into too much detail about the plot or the ending. Instead, focus on describing your protagonist and their journey.
Writing a Good Synopsis
Now that you know what a synopsis is and how to write one, let’s look at some tips for writing a compelling summary.
1. Keep It Short
When writing a synopsis, you want to get right to the point. Your goal isn’t to tell readers everything about your book. Instead, your job is to help them decide whether they’d enjoy reading it.
The best way to accomplish this is by keeping your synopsis brief. A short synopsis is easier to understand than a long one. Plus, a quick overview makes it easy for potential buyers to skim over your book.
2. Focus On What Readers Will Want To Know
When you read a synopsis, the first thing you’ll notice is that most writers try to include too many details. If you’re going to write an outline, you only need to cover the basics.
It would be best if you didn’t detail plot points, characters, settings, or other elements that aren’t directly related to your book. Instead, stick to the facts.
3. Include Key Themes And Characters
Your synopsis should contain two key components. First, you should highlight the theme(s) of your book. It includes the primary conflict and main character traits.
Second, you need to mention the essential subplots and supporting characters. Subplots are-sided stories that occur during the action. Supporting characters play minor roles but still add depth to the story.
4. Use Action Words
If your synopsis contains lots of words describing events, then you’ve probably written a boring one. Instead, use active verbs whenever possible.
If you can replace “the heroine was kidnapped” with “she was abducted,” you’ll make your synopsis more interesting.
5. Be Specific
Don’t just summarize the plot. It would be best if you also gave specific examples from the story. For instance, if your book involves a murder, don’t simply say that someone dies. Describe exactly how the victim died.
6. Avoid Using Exclamation Points
Exclamation points are essential in emphasizing a particular word or phrase. They’re often used to show excitement or surprise. But they have no place in a synopsis.
Instead, use simple language. If you do need to use an exclamation point, use it sparingly.
7. Don’t Overuse Emojis.
Emojis are small images that appear next to the text on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. These symbols usually represent emotions.
Some people think using emojis is good because they seem less formal than regular punctuation. However, these symbols are distracting.
8. Make Sure Your Summary Is Easy To Understand
Your summary should be clear and concise. If you find yourself struggling to explain your book, you may need to rework your synopsis.
9. Proofread Before Publishing
Once you’ve finished writing your synopsis, proofread it carefully before publishing it online. There’s nothing worse than having a lousy summary out there.
10. Keep It Short
A good rule of thumb is to keep your synopsis under 200 words. That means you won’t have to worry about formatting issues.
Essential Parts of a Synopsis
Ideally, it would be best to consider mentioning your characters somewhere in your synopsis. It helps readers get a feel for them. Keep in mind that both the protagonist and antagonist play an integral role in the story.
The conflict occurs when the main character wants something very badly. For the characters to achieve the goal, the characters must overcome obstacles. Ensure to include a brief description of each block and the central conflict in your synopsis.
3. Narrative arc
The narrative arc is a line connecting all of the significant turning points in the story. The first half of your synopsis should describe this arc’s beginning, middle, and end. Although the layers of your plot should be multiple, the hook itself should only contain two parts.
Steps to Writing a Book Synopsis
Writing a synopsis isn’t tricky. All you need is some time and patience. Here are ten steps to help you write an excellent summary:
1. Choose a genre
Choosing a genre is the most crucial step. Once you know what kind of books you want to write, you can start looking at different genres.
2. Create a list of potential titles
After choosing a genre:
- Brainstorm potential titles for your book.
- Try not to limit yourself by overthinking the title.
- Just let your imagination run wild.
- Find inspiration
You might be surprised at where you find ideas for your synopsis. Look through old novels, magazines, newspapers, and even websites.
3. Start with the plot.
After you have a few ideas, create a basic outline of your plot. Think about how the story begins, ends, and moves between events.
4. Add details
Now that you have an idea of your plot’s overall structure add more detail. Include everything from setting to characters.
5. Outline the plot
Now that you have a rough idea of the plot, you can outline specific scenes. Each scene should follow the same format as the previous ones.
6. Fill in the blanks
As you go along, fill in any gaps in your outline. You don’t necessarily have to use every word in your strategy; however, you should ensure that each sentence flows logically.
If you notice anything missing or confusing, rewrite the section until it makes sense. Remember, you can always edit later on if necessary.
Finally, once you’re satisfied with the quality of your work, publish it online.
Proofreading is vital because typos and grammatical errors could ruin your entire synopsis. If you’re using Microsoft Word, click the Review tab and select Spelling & Grammar. If you’re using Google Docs, click Publish.
Share it with friends and family once you’ve finished writing your synopsis. They may offer feedback that will improve your work.
Regardless of your experience, writing a synopsis can be challenging. However, following these steps will ensure that your overview has a strong foundation.
Published in What is Book Writing?
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How to Write a Compelling Synopsis: Your Simple Guide
You know writing a book is going to be hard, even grueling. But synopsizing it should be easy.
So, why does it feel so intimidating?
It’s not just because you must convince an agent or a publisher (in as few as 500 words) that your novel or nonfiction manuscript will succeed in the marketplace.
It’s because an effective, working synopsis should become your foundational document for the writing itself.
Getting this right can make the writing so much easier. Getting it wrong can expose even the smallest crack in your foundation.
Regardless, synopsis writing is crucial to your success .
You want to craft yours in such a way that it empowers an agent to sell your manuscript to a publisher.
Writing your synopsis can also reveal fatal flaws in your outline , allowing you to make the fix before you invest months in the writing.
Below I detail everything I’ve learned about how to write a synopsis that works for you.
I also give you two synopsis templates — one for fiction and one for nonfiction, with real examples of each.
- How to Write Compelling Synopses
I cover both fiction and nonfiction here, so feel free to jump straight to your genre. Just remember that each contains valuable training that applies to both.
Click here if you’re writing fiction .
Click here if you’re writing nonfiction .
- What Is a Synopsis?
For FICTION SYNOPSES , summarize the main beats of your story , chapter by chapter.
(Don’t worry — agents and publishers know fiction is organic and stories often take on lives of their own. You won’t be held rigidly to your synopsis, and many story beats will wind up in different chapters than you predicted.)
The point of your synopsis is to reveal the entire story in as few as 500 words, allowing an agent or a publisher to determine whether the premise and approach make it worthy of asking to see the eventual manuscript.
Yes, your synopsis should reveal how your story ends .
A common mistake is to confuse your synopsis with back cover or advertising copy—which is full of teasers and questions designed to lure readers.
Your potential agent or publisher is not a buyer who needs to be lured. And they don’t want questions—they want answers. Tell what happens in your story and how it ends.
Your agent or publisher (hopefully both) will become your publishing partner.
Let them in on all the secrets and how you intend to tell the story.
Agents and publishers are deluged with thousands of manuscripts annually. You help them do their jobs and set yourself apart from that sea of competition by giving them every reason to ask to see your manuscript.
A meaningful fiction synopsis briefly tells your story in present tense. You’ll see an example below.
Full disclosure: If you’re a new novelist, few agents or publishers will extend a contract offer based on your synopsis alone (it happens, but it’s rare). Lots of writers can dream up great premises, high enough stakes to justify a novel-length manuscript, and a great ending.
The question is whether they can finish and deliver. Most can’t. Just like employers are cautioned against “hiring a résumé” without a careful screening process, agents and publishers have learned to make sure a writer can deliver an entire manuscript before committing to a contract.
So why not just write the manuscript and submit it whole, if they’re going to insist on seeing it anyway? Admittedly, some require that. But most can tell from your synopsis whether they want to see the manuscript.
For memoirs , biographies, autobiographies, and narrative nonfiction, the fiction synopsis example below also applies. You merely lay out — in a sentence or two (in present tense) — what you plan to cover in each chapter.
For nonfiction, a synopsis should reveal:
- The intended audience
- What you intend to teach readers
- Why you are qualified to write on the subject
Avoid hard-selling language. Of course you’re trying to sell your manuscript, but the approach and word choice must do the work. Agents and editors are not impressed with grandiose promises and predictions.
Regardless whether you’re an Outliner or a Pantser , you need to immerse yourself in your genre of fiction. You may intend to break a lot of rules, but you had better know the conventions.
Read dozens and dozens of books in your genre. Your job in writing a synopsis is to summarize a full-length manuscript in 500 words.
That may seem impossible, but it’s also for your benefit. You’ll be amazed at how your synopsis keeps you focused and on track during the writing.
Start with the main elements of your story and flesh out your synopsis from there.
Step 1: Determine Your Premise
In my post How to Develop a Great Story Idea I walk you through coming up with a bullet-proof story idea.
You’ll know you’ve hit on a potential winner when you can summarize your novel idea in one sentence. Despite that it’s only one sentence, it deserves the time it takes to make it just right.
Moviemakers refer to this as the logline .
In Blake Snyder’s classic book on screenwriting, Save the Cat , he says a good logline must have irony , and then uses this example for the movie Die Hard : “A cop comes to L.A. to visit his estranged wife, and finds her office building taken over by terrorists.”
That may look simple, but it’s not easy.
If someone asked you to tell them, in one sentence, what your novel is about, could you do it? Most can’t, and until they can, they’re not ready to write it.
Step 2: Reveal Your Story Structure
Novels will have some version of the following main beats:
1. An riveting opener
2. An inciting incident that changes everything
3. A series of crises that build tension
4. A climax where everything comes a head and is resolved
5. A satisfying ending
For more detail on the above, read 7 Story Structures Any Writer Can Use .
Step 3: Flesh Out the Details
1. Start your synopsis by hooking your reader — in this case an agent or publisher. Your one-sentence premise is the most important line of all. Would you keep reading if the Die Hard logline was the premise? I would.
What if it was, “A man discovers his own brother is living a double life, teaching junior high biology under a different name”? I wouldn’t. Now maybe if the brother were a terrorist or some other kind of a criminal…
2. Next, map out the story, using your story structure as a base. Write a paragraph or two for each of the above five main story beats (or those of whatever structure you’ve settled on). Keep it brief and clear. Aim for no more than 500 words
3. Reveal your main character’s story arc . Who are they at the end compared to who they were in the beginning — both inwardly and outwardly?
Do this as well for other major characters, like the villain .
- Write in the third person , present tense, and as tightly as possible: “Jason learns his daughter has been kidnapped,” or “At the grocery store, Sally is riveted by the best-looking man she’s ever seen.”
- Boldface or CAPITALIZE first mentions of characters’ names .
- Include a brief character sketch : “ JON NELSON (38 — a retired mercenary and now a bodyguard) takes a call…”
Novel Synopsis Example
In Left Behind, millions of people throughout the world disappear in an instant in what turns out to be the Rapture of the Church at the end of the world.
RAYFORD STEELE, an airline pilot, is flying to London when a third of his passengers disappear right out of their clothes.
Rayford fears his devout Christian wife has been right about the prophesied rapture, and if she was, she and his young son will be gone when he arrives home. His college-age daughter, CHLOE, a skeptic like him, will likely have been left behind.
Passenger CAMERON WILLIAMS (a newswriter of international renown) follows the rise of NICOLAE CARPATHIA, a powerful political figure who is eventually revealed as the antichrist.
[The synopsis continues with what happens in every subsequent chapter, again with no mysteries, teasers, or questions raised. Rather, everything is spelled out and explained so the agent or publisher knows what to expect.]
- 2. Nonfiction
Steven Pressfield, a successful novelist ( The Legend of Bagger Vance ) and nonfiction author ( The War of Art , Turning Pro , and The Artist’s Journey ) advises synopsizing a nonfiction book the same way you would a novel.
According to Pressfield, a nonfiction work also has a hero, a journey, a villain, an inciting incident, a climax, and the tension between wanted and unwanted outcomes typically found in novels.
Below I share a template for a solid nonfiction synopsis.
Step 1: Promise Reader Benefits
A successful nonfiction book should empower readers to either solve a problem or to achieve a goal, e.g., “To learn to better manage their time.”
Such a premise statement answers two questions:
- Who the book is for, and
- What it offers them
Step 2: Establish Yourself as an Authority
Steven Pressfield writes:
“If you’re a woman writing a book about weight loss for women, you’d better be a size two with washboard abs and have photos of yourself displayed throughout the book. Otherwise we readers will have trouble accepting you as an authority.”
But it’s not readers you need to convince in your synopsis—it’s an agent or publisher. It’s up to them whether your book makes it to the marketplace .
So, sell them on why you’re the person to write this book .
Example: “I write a time management blog with a monthly readership of more than 100,000. I’ve sold over 5,000 memberships to a productivity course I created, and I coach Fortune 500 executives on performance.”
Step 3: Share the Recipe
Devote a short paragraph to every chapter in the book, describing in third person, present tense, the content, purpose, and reader takeaway for each.
Aim for up to 800 words .
Nonfiction Synopsis Example
In Writing for the Soul , I impart experience and wisdom gained from a nearly half-century writing career. I reveal the rewards that can come to writers who work hard, commit to lifelong learning, and maintain their family priorities. I’ve written nearly 200 books with sales of more than 71 million copies, including 21 New York Times bestsellers.
I share how to find writing success through lifelong learning and polishing the craft.
I also include practical advice and share behind-the-scenes anecdotes of working with well-known biographical subjects (Billy Graham, Walter Payton, Hank Aaron, Meadowlark Lemon, Nolan Ryan, et al).
In 13 chapters (designed for group study as well), I discuss:
- The requirements to make a career of writing
- Breaking into the industry through reporting and writing for small markets,
- Establishing a professional image
- Lifelong learning
Then I list all 13 chapter titles and synopsize each in a sentence or two.
- Writing a synopsis…
…doesn’t have to be daunting. There’s no need to be paralyzed by the fear of producing this tool so critical to both the writing of your manuscript and pitching it to agents or publishers.
You no longer have to dread the process. My simple, proven approach to writing synopses for both novels and nonfiction books should put you on a path to success.
All the best with yours!
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Book Marketing for Self-Publishing Authors
Home / Book Publishing / How to Write A Synopsis Agents and Publishers Will Love
How to Write A Synopsis Agents and Publishers Will Love
Book marketing isn't just for self-publishers. Traditionally published authors will have to go through their own forms of marketing as well. For instance, do you know how to write a synopsis and when to use one?
A great synopsis can actually be the driving factor in your book being picked up by a traditional publishing house.
In this article, you will learn:
- What a synopsis is and how it's different than a summary
- The 5 key sections of a good synopsis
- What details to include in your synopsis and what to leave out
- Common mistakes to avoid when writing your synopsis
Table of contents
- Introductory Hooks
- Marketing Language
- Create an Outline for Your Synopsis
- Draft Your Synopsis
- Follow the Submission Guidelines for Your Publishing House or Agent
- Use Professional Software to Proofread and Edit
- The Bottom Line on How to Write a Synopsis
And with that, let's learn how to write a synopsis for your manuscript!
What is a synopsis?
Synopsis, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is :
A condensed statement or outline (as of a narrative or treatise).
Basically, a synopsis is broad overview of your work. Literary agents and publishers can use these as a quick go/no-go test on whether your book fits what they're looking to publish. A synopsis should include major plot points, unique story elements, and even your book's ending!
Sounds like a summary or book report right? Many people mistakenly think synopses and summaries are one in the same. But while they're similar, there are some distinct differences.
A great synopsis has a strong opening hook. A “hook” is used to grab hold of the reader and make them want to read the whole text. When done properly, a great hook can make an agent want to read your entire book after reading your synopsis. A summary doesn't necessarily need a solid hook.
A great example of this can be found within JK Rowling's synopsis for The Philosopher's Stone . Her first paragraph is exactly what a synopsis hook should read like.
I'm not saying you need to pull out all the stops when it comes to marketing in your synopsis, but… You shouldn't forget marketing all together. You should write your synopsis with language that will entice whoever is reading it. After all, it is like a mini-pitch for your book. A summary doesn't require that particular motivation.
Summaries are often written in the past tense as you are recapping what has happened. However, synopses should be written in third person present tense. The present tense helps to create a sense of urgency–something every good synopsis should have. Here's an example.
Bob pushed the button that started the whole chain of events.
All of a sudden, Bob smashes the button that leads to their impending doom.
How to Write a Great Synopsis
Writing a great synopsis isn't as difficult as it may seem. By following these simple guidelines, you'll be crafting master synopses in no time.
Let's look at the synopsis for Gladiator as an example of good structure.
Notice the 5 key plot points covered:
- Inciting Incident- This is where the major conflict of your plot begins. What happened to set your entire book's premise in motion.
- Rising Action- These are events that allow your plot to culminate to its climax.
- Climax- Normally, the climax is the most important and exciting part of your plot. Your book's major conflict has come to its peak.
- Falling Action- These are things that take place after your climax–generally as an effect of.
- Resolution- Here your major conflict has been fully resolved, and you are able to conclude the story.
Now that we've looked at the big picture, let's dive deeper into how to outline and draft your synopsis.
You should treat your synopsis as you would any important piece of writing–by following a clear-cut plan for its construction. In James Patterson's MasterClass , he stresses that creating his outline is one of the most important steps he takes in writing a book. And you should do the same with your synopsis.
However, a synopsis outline is different than one for a whole book. A synopsis, when complete, is only 1-5 pages long–even for the most intricate of stories. So, it's really important that you pinpoint exactly what you're going to write about. Being picky is crucial when it comes to writing a great synopsis.
- Character Selection
You need to identify who the major players in your story are. For example, if I were writing a synopsis on The Hobbit , Bilbo and Smaug would need to be mentioned. But Bofur doesn't really need to be addressed by name. (Sorry Bofur.)
- Major Story Arcs
Every good story has a few overlapping story arcs. But you need to decide which ones are actually driving the story along. To continue with The Hobbit , Bilbo finding the One Ring is absolutely critical to the story. However, the tale of his great great-grand uncle Bullroarer Took–although quite interesting–is not.
Don't be a Charlie. Your story should be condensed and easy to follow.
- Setting Description
This is a problem area that many–particularly newer writers–have trouble with. It's not that the setting isn't defined well..but that it's defined too well. And while this can be somewhat overlooked in a full-length novel, this is an absolute no-no for your synopsis.
What not to say:
Bilbo stares up at the Lonely Mountain, counting its seemingly endless crags as if the Earth itself were flashing a jagged toothy grin. Here would begin the final battle against the dragon Smaug whose visage was as terrifying as the mountain itself.
Try this instead:
Bilbo and his entourage arrive at the Lonely Mountain ready to face the dragon Smaug.
Just remember to KISS your way through. Keep It Short and Simple.
Like everything stated above, your synopsis is not the best place to try and show all the themes you have in your story. If they naturally showcase within the synopsis, that's great! If not, don't try to force them. They will become apparent to your agent/publisher after they've decided to accept your book and read it.
Outlining your synopsis makes it easier to see what's really important, and what you should actually include. Another thing to list out would be modifiers unique to your writing. Is your story told from an interesting point of view ? That's definitely worth a mention. Or do you have a particularly clever plot twist? Be sure to add it into your synopsis.
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Write and format professional books with ease. Never before has creating formatted books been easier.
Actually writing your synopsis should be easy as long as you've planned out what you're going to say. But you want to the finished product to be as powerful as possible. So here are some things you need to keep in mind when drafting.
Introduce your main character early into your synopsis.
Be sure to introduce your main characters as early as possible into your synopsis. JK Rowling's example, that I mentioned earlier, demonstrates how to perfectly pull this off. She includes Harry's relevant quirky traits, behaviors, and attributes all the while keeping things interesting and brief.
Add some character development, when appropriate.
Showing how your character develops over the course of your story through your synopsis is a great idea. The characters are what readers fall in love with, more than the plot.
Always write in the third person.
This is not a personal narration, even if the synopsis is for your own autobiography. Avoid using “I” or “me” as pronouns. Instead, use “he”, “she”, “it”, “they”, and “them”.
Keep your unique voice.
Literary Agents and publishers aren't just looking to see if you can write a good story. They're looking to see if you can tell one too. Your voice needs to remain a crucial part of your synopsis.
Editing Your Synopsis to Perfection
Once you written your synopsis, it's time to edit. Thankfully, editing a synopsis isn't anywhere near the feat of editing your book. But there are a few things you should keep in mind.
You're often writing these synopses for a specific audience. And these agents and publishing houses tend to each have different standards. That's why it's especially important to pay close attention to submission guidelines. Don't give them a reason to discard your synopsis without even reading it first.
For example, Penguin Random House has very specific requirements for submitting your work and synopsis. Below are just some of the guidelines for getting a children's book published :
As you can see, with Penguin Random House, your synopsis can be no longer than 400 words.
Now, it's time for you to go through your synopsis with a fine-toothed comb and eliminate all the spelling and grammar errors you can find. This could be your first impression to an agent or publisher. So, don't send them sloppy work. Instead, invest in a top-notch program such as ProWritingAid to put your best foot forward.
Often, we as authors look at our own creations through a set of rose colored glasses. That's why it can be best to have another person edit your synopsis. Consider hiring a professional editor or giving your work to a trusted peer. Many times they'll find things you never would have thought of.
Your synopsis is often one of the biggest reasons publishers accept or reject your book. That's why it's so critical that you pay close attention to how you're writing it.
If you've got a great story to tell, do your best to let it be heard. Take the time to craft the best synopsis you can think of, and you'll be well on your way.
When I’m not sipping tea with princesses or lightsaber dueling with little Jedi, I’m a book marketing nut. Having consulted multiple publishing companies and NYT best-selling authors, I created Kindlepreneur to help authors sell more books. I’ve even been called “The Kindlepreneur” by Amazon publicly, and I’m here to help you with your author journey.
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In Defense of Men? Caitlin Moran’s Answer Will Surprise You.
A prolific feminist turns her sights to the opposite sex.
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WHAT ABOUT MEN? A Feminist Answers the Question, by Caitlin Moran
Caitlin Moran was giving a speech, and she was annoyed. For years, she’d been on this circuit — talking about her books, her columns, feminism and the state of womanhood. Everywhere she went, she seemed to get the same question: What was her advice for men?
Men, of course, are not her area of expertise. She isn’t one, for starters, though she is married to a man. She hasn’t birthed any, though she has daughters. Her successful writing career hasn’t been about men; she’s best known for her books “ How to Be a Woman ” and “ How to Build a Girl .” Anyway, shouldn’t somebody be asking a man these questions?
Moran dismissed these inquiries with a joke: “My advice to men? I guess, a) please, if you can possibly avoid it, don’t rape us, and b) put the bowls in the dishwasher — rather than next to the dishwasher?”
The questions kept coming — eventually, from Moran’s own teenage girls. But it took a conversation with four boys from one daughter’s school — during a Zoom for International Women’s Day, no less — to really shake her.
“Men are just seen as bad, or toxic,” one boys tells her. “We’re blamed for everything. People just automatically presume we’re all rapists.”
When the call was over, the girls pleaded with her to recommend the boys some reading, a TV show, anything that would help close the gap between the sexes. She couldn’t think of anything. At least not anything that was useful and entertaining.
Moran changed course.
The result is “What About Men?,” an irreverent, albeit anecdotal, dig into the claim made in incel chat rooms, on Reddit and in the so-called manosphere that it’s easier to be a woman than it is to be a straight white man today. And, guess what? She believes it.
In part because straight white men are still seen as the “default,” Moran writes, “it’s almost as if the actual details of their lives have become see-through. Invisible.”
That, and they can’t blame the patriarchy for their problems. For women, she writes, “change begins with the delicious moment” when you realize the problem is not your own. “But how can men blame ‘the patriarchy’ when, as a straight white man, you look like the patriarchy? Then you’re just in a ‘Fight Club’ situation, where you’re hitting yourself in the face.”
“What About Men?” is written in Moran’s usual confessional style — except that she’s defending the very people we’ve grown accustomed to her poking fun at.
Moran begins by interviewing men ages 40 to 55 (a hilariously narrow slice of the population), about the messages they received about how to be a man. For instance, many boys learn they “have to hit someone,” and there are apparently rules about this playground violence: Slapping is insulting. Kicking in the groin could be mistaken for “a bit gay.” For those with no physical skills, there’s always humor — “a currency and a power,” Moran learns.
Moran talks to a friend in an eye-opening chapter about being addicted to porn. (This person is not an expert, per se; just someone she happened to chat with. The majority of Moran’s subjects have this vibe.) She takes on unattainable beauty standards for men, who don’t have a “body positivity” movement to flood their Instagram with “rolls, stretch marks, lavish thighs and triumphant wibbly-wobbly bums.” She interviews a friend named Hugo about pickup artists, explores why men don’t go to the doctor (fear of judgment; fear of death; fear of looking weak) and takes on aging.
Moran also dispatches some womanly advice.
About sex: Women don’t really care about size, though “in the weeks, and sometimes months, after a breakup, women will almost always accuse their ex of having a tiny penis.”
About libido: “Women are as horny as men.”
About why women often don’t act on that libido: “The toughest thing about being a heterosexual woman is that the thing that, very often, we love the most — that you are bigger than us; your beautiful strong hands; the solidity of your arms; the weight of your body on top of us … — is also the thing we are most scared of.”
Those hoping for a sociological dig into men and masculinity will be disappointed. Her strength is in writing what she knows, and it is impossible even for the most clever and comprehensive author to sum up an entire sex.
And anyway, “What About Men?” isn’t meant to be comprehensive. It’s meant to be funny . But that at times, without research of any kind to support her clever observations — and no, a stoned conversation with her husband’s balls does not count — she runs the risk of perpetuating the very stereotypes she’s trying to unravel.
Ultimately, Moran seems to approach the world with irreverence. In the case of this book, readers should do the same.
Jessica Bennett is a contributing editor in the Opinion section of The Times.
WHAT ABOUT MEN? A Feminist Answers the Question, by Caitlin Moran | 320 pp. | Harper | $29.99
Jessica Bennett is a contributing editor in the Opinion section of The Times. She teaches journalism at New York University and is the author of “Feminist Fight Club” and “This Is 18.” More about Jessica Bennett
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Walter Isaacson’s biography of the billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk depicts a mercurial “man-child” with grandiose ambitions and an ego to match.
Lauren Groff is unusually productive for a literary writer . She works on several novels at once, composes in longhand, and wrote a draft of her new book, “The Vaster Wilds,” in iambic pentameter “just for fun.”
What do you do when your doppelgänger becomes a conspiracy theorist on the internet? If you’re Naomi Klein, you write a book about it .
Do you want to be a better reader? Here’s some helpful advice to show you how to get the most out of your literary endeavor .
Each week, top authors and critics join the Book Review’s podcast to talk about the latest news in the literary world. Listen here .
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The Abuse of Power by Theresa May review – rewriting history
The former prime minister’s serious study of burning injustices is marred by blindspots about her own conduct
I wish Theresa May hadn’t written this book. I was just getting to like her caustic takedowns of successive Tory prime ministers, but now the old Theresa comes back to haunt us. There’s no doubting that she is dutiful. As a vicar’s daughter and an only child, she writes that even at a young age she felt it was “incumbent on me to consider carefully how my words and actions reflected not just on me, but on others”. That’s quite a burden to bear, and it gives a piquancy to her attacks on Boris Johnson and others who believe the rules don’t apply to them. The implication is that she would have made a better prime minister than Johnson during Covid. (Not a high bar, but anyway.)
It’s also clear that she cares about stuff. She details some of the most egregious issues she has had to deal with and writes movingly about Hillsborough, Grenfell and the Primodos hormone-based pregnancy test scandal . She is deadly serious about modern slavery, people trafficking and child sexual abuse. She is convincingly cross about the police failure to investigate the horrific murder of Daniel Morgan (less so about the Windrush scandal, over which she exonerates herself).
But there are big problems here, too. First, her version of the events of her premiership bears scant resemblance to what I, as an MP, witnessed. There is a brief mea culpa for the snap 2017 election, which she thought would deliver her a compliant Tory-filled Commons but instead deprived her of a majority. Yet nowhere does she accept that her stubborn dutifulness became a terrible stumbling block. She says she wanted to deliver a Brexit that would satisfy both the 48% who voted remain and the 52% who voted leave, but her January 2017 Lancaster House speech closed the door to that. She didn’t have the personality to reach out boldly across the political divide. She navigated choppy waters very poorly. She snippily blames everyone else for the disastrous version of Brexit we ended up with – Johnson, Bercow, Barnier, Corbyn, even Starmer. But she laid its foundations.
There are moments when her exasperation becomes unbearable. She bleats that ministers had to be dragged back from a white-tie dinner because the opposition had resorted to an “esoteric” procedure. When she claims that Bercow “overrode the longstanding convention that the government determine the business of the house”, I wanted to shout: “But you didn’t have a majority!” She is irritated that Labour used “humble addresses” to force the government to publish papers – and apparently forgets that she was the first prime minister in history to be found in contempt of parliament for refusing to publish the full legal opinion on her Brexit deal, as the house demanded. She writes as if she very nearly got her deal over the line, yet the Commons voted it down by 432 to 202 in January 2019 in the worst government defeat on record .
The biggest problem, however, is the book’s title. She accuses Russia (over Ukraine) and the US (over leaving Afghanistan) of “abuse of power” – which is a gross understatement in the former case and a bizarre accusation in the latter. Here, too, her memory fails her. She claims she was always “one of the hawks” on Russia, and now denounces the west’s response to Putin’s invasion of Crimea in 2014 as “sadly lacking to say the least”. But as home secretary she repeatedly turned down requests for an official inquiry into the murder of Alexander Litvinenko until 2014 on the grounds that it might upset UK-Russia relations.
May defines “abuse of power” as acting to protect one’s own position. The words “mote” and “plank” spring to mind. After all, was it not an abuse of power to try to trigger article 50 to commence the two-year Brexit negotiations without a vote in parliament?
Worst of all, she rightly denounces some of the appalling behaviour of MPs who have bullied or sexually harassed staff in recent years and she takes credit – with Andrea Leadsom – for setting up the independent complaints and grievance scheme to tackle this problem in parliament. Yet she ungenerously forgets the role played by opposition MPs, including Jess Phillips, Stella Creasy and Caroline Lucas. And she entirely omits her shameful decision to give the whip back to two MPs with serious outstanding complaints against them, Andrew Griffiths and Charlie Elphicke (Griffiths was subsequently cleared of wrongdoing in that case but Elphicke was convicted of sexual assault charges), supposedly to bolster her numbers in the 1922 Committee vote of no confidence in her in December 2018. Was that not an abuse of power, too?
So, buy it and read it, if only to remember that we’ve now had five duff Tory PMs in a row.
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The dystopian suspense 'land of milk and honey' satisfies all manner of appetites.
The unhinged autocrat is a familiar figure in literature — think King Lear — but the fat cat in C Pam Zhang's dystopian novel, Land of Milk and Honey , has an updated Elon Musk vibe. In a not-too-distant world, where most plant and animal species have been smothered by a smog that blankets the planet, human beings largely subsist on bags of "mung-protein-soy-algal flour distributed by the government."
But not Zhang's unnamed entrepreneur, who's bought himself a mountaintop in Italy where the sun still shines. He's leased shares of this land to wealthy investors and lured top scientists to work on "de-extinction" teams, where they cultivate animals and precious seeds in underground farms and orchards. Like Musk with his SpaceX, this guy also has the ultimate Plan B in the works, should Planet Earth be irredeemably lost.
The narrator of Land of Milk and Honey is also unnamed. She's a young Asian American chef who finds herself stuck in England when America's borders close and also stuck in a profession without a future. The menus of the few restaurants that remain cater to a growing demand for nativist recipes. The chef tells us that:
As they shut borders to refugees, so countries shut their palates to all but those cuisines deemed essential. In England, the shrinking supplies of frozen fish were reserved for kippers, or gray renditions of cod and chips — and, of course, a few atrociously expensive French preparations ...
In 'How Much Of These Hills Is Gold,' This Land Is Not Your Land
In desperation, the chef applies for a job at the so-called "elite research community " presided over by the mogul, or, as she will refer to him, "my employer." Her stated job is to whip up extravagant meals to delight the tastebuds of the rich residents and prospective investors, as well as the mogul's charismatic daughter, Aida.
But the longer the chef toils away in the isolated compound, the more she realizes that she's been hired less for her cooking skills, than for her appearance: specifically, for the fact that she, like Aida's mother who's vanished, is Asian. Never mind that their ethnicities are not exactly the same. As the chef tells us: "It has always been easy to disappear as an Asian woman. ...[To be] mistaken for Japanese or Korean or Lao women decades older or younger, several shades darker or lighter, for my own mother once I hit puberty."
Given that it's a novel about the struggle to fend off deprivation and extinction, Land of Milk and Honey is gloriously lush. Zhang's sensuous style makes us see, smell and, above all, taste the lure of that sun-dappled mountain enclave.
Here, for instance, is the moment where our narrator descends into one of the mogul's vast storerooms for the first time:
Others have estimated the value in those rooms of grains, of nuts, of beans; ... I can only say what happened when I pressed my face to a wheel of ten-year Parmigiano, how in a burst of grass and ripe pineapple I stood in some green meadow. ... And I can tell you of the ferocious crack in my heart when I walked into the deep freezer to see chickens, pigs, rabbits, cows, pheasants, tunas, sturgeon, boars hung two by two. No more boars roamed the world above. ... I knew, then, why the storerooms were guarded as if they held gold, or nuclear armaments. They hid something rarer still: a passage back through time."
As she did in her debut novel, How Much of These Hills Is Gold , which toyed with the expectations of the classic Western, Zhang here helps herself to generous portions of another type of genre: the vintage sci-fi disaster movie. I'm thinking especially of the 1951 classic, When Worlds Collide.
Zhang invests this pop plotline with emotional gravitas and up-to-date relevancy through the character of the chef, a young woman who belongs to what's dubbed "Generation Mayfly," because her cohort's life expectancy is shorter than that of their parents. Our chef tells us that: "So much of what my generation has been promised disintegrated at our touch."
Land of Milk and Honey is an atmospheric and poetically suspenseful novel about all manner of appetites: for power, food, love, life. At its center is one of the most baroque banquet scenes you'll ever be invited to — one that wickedly tests the pluck of even the most ravenous eaters and readers.