In the publishing game, odds are that at some point, you will need a synopsis of your novel.
Many agents require a synopsis to accompany your query letter. However, most will only request one if your letter piques their interest. Often, an agent who already represents your novel will need a synopsis to pass on to an interested publisher. The publishing house’s marketing department will use your synopsis to write the cover “blurb” for your novel, press releases, and letters to reviewers.
You should have your synopsis ready before you send out your first query letter. Ideally, you should have a 1-2 page version, a 4-5 page version, and a 10-15 page version ready to fulfill any request.
A synopsis is a professional business document. Print it on standard 8.5 x 11 white paper using black ink. Include no graphics or decorations. Double-space your text and surround it with 1-inch margins. Use a standard font like Times New Roman.
In the upper left of every page, put your name, short book title, and page number (e.g., Doe / SHORT BOOK TITLE / page 2).
As always, proofread until you can not conceive of a single error remaining in the document. Then, proofread again.
A synopsis is a 1- to 15-page double-spaced document that captures not only the story and plot, but also the mood, feel, tone, pace, and style of your novel. A short-form synopsis (usually 1-5 pages) is the most common and preferred format. However, agents and publishers may request a long-form synopsis (10-15 pages).
Unlike the query letter, the synopsis is not primarily concerned with conveying your persuasive writing ability. While it must be grammatically correct and clearly structured, its main purpose is to provide a roadmap to the plot and characters of your novel, not to impress with descriptive flourishes and clever turns of phrase.
This means you should omit descriptions of setting, characters, and actions that do not directly serve the plot. Agents and editors do not need to know about your character’s passionate evening affair, the style of the corset ripped from your heroine’s heaving bosom, or the colors of the fading sunset that washed over your characters’ naked bodies. Instead, simply state that your characters make love. Then, move on to the next plot point.
Your synopsis is not the place to recount every minor character, subplot, or intricacy of the storyline. Instead, it should focus on vividly describing the main characters and the main plot arc. You need to show the action. Thus, do not begin the synopsis with: “In this fast-paced thriller, readers will clutch the edges of their seats.” Instead, show it through the plot you describe. Do not ask empty rhetorical questions, such as, “Will our hero be able to overcome X obstacle?” Instead, simply show how he does or does not overcome that obstacle through the plot you describe.
Write the synopsis in present tense, third-person omniscient and show how your book opens, how it climaxes, and how it resolves. In doing that, introduce your reader to the main characters, their main goals, and the primary obstacles that stand in their way (a.k.a. conflict).
Look at the copy on the inside flap jacket of most hardbacks and you will see examples of how a synopsis should feel in terms of tone and level of detail. Like those “blurbs,” your synopsis needs to highlight the most interesting aspects of your novel and should gloss over anything that only serves to confuse the reader.
Remember, unlike the “blurb” inside a book jacket, your synopsis must reveal the final outcome as well as any mysteries raised on the way to that outcome. Do not try to hold back any significant surprises from the reader. Do not disguise the “who and what” of any major action or character.
Where synopsis writing can get tricky is balancing the need for clear, concise, and unambiguous language against the need to entice the agent or publisher to actually read your synopsis. Our advice is to work a subtle hook into the beginning to grab the reader’s interest. A powerful opening line can help so long as you keep it simple and concise.
For instance, “Jack Smith raised the rock high and brought it down on the deer’s skull. It was the worst first date ever. That evening he couldn’t apologize enough for...,” is an intriguing beginning. As long as you quickly turn to a summary of the major characters and begin to set up the major conflict in the next few paragraphs there is no reason to avoid a subtle touch of flair.
In short, your synopsis should be written in a simple, straightforward, and concise manner. Especially for a short-form synopsis, ignore subplots and minor characters to focus your effort on showing the reader how the book begins (the inciting incident), what the major characters desire (their goals and objectives), how those desires are thwarted or opposed (the conflict), and how the conflict comes to a head (climax) and then resolves (denouement).