Bestselling Authors' Guide to Writing a Book Synopsis
A synopsis is one of the trickiest parts of the landing-an-agent process. After sitting down to write your own synopsis, you may find yourself staring endlessly at the blank screen—especially if you’re anything like us—pondering how in the world you’re going to manage conveying your plot, character arcs, and themes within just a few pages. And to be honest, these musings are more than valid. Writing a synopsis is a challenging endeavor, but we’ve written several (and we mean several) synopses over the course of our careers and have managed to gather some wisdom along the way. Without further ado, here’s our top 10 tips on how to write a book synopsis.
1. Keep it brief.
This is the most important piece of advice we can provide for a synopsis. Your synopsis should be no longer than 5 double-spaced pages. Ever. You read that right; even if you have a 900-page tome, your synopsis should be kept to 3-5 pages.
2. Cut out the fluff.
Remember that small, inconsequential details should be entirely absent from your synopsis. For example, agents don’t need to know that “3 days later, she woke up, brushed her teeth, ate some toast for breakfast, and then decided to go kill the man.” Rather, they’ll need to know that your character “woke up and suddenly decided to go kill the man.”
3. Make every paragraph carry a punch.
Does each paragraph make you automatically want to read the next? Does it provide a memorable fact about your characters or plot? Ask yourself these questions while writing, and you’ll avoid telling versus showing (Yep, this sentiment even applies to synopses.).
4. Keep it easy to understand.
This is especially important if your manuscript is a Science-Fiction/Fantasy novel. SFF plots can be twisty, character lists can be enormous, and magic lists can feel overwhelming to explain. Do your best to make it clear, as if you were trying to teach a child something in school. Clarity and concision make for a compelling book synopsis, never forget that.
5. Introduce your characters in a unique fashion.
If you find yourself using words like “warrior,” “sorceress,” or “high schooler,” take a step back. These nouns are fine so long as they are paired with intriguing identifiers, such as “octopus-obsessed,” “yard sign thief,” or “reluctant snow globe collector.” Don’t let your character be defined only by their title, enemy, and quest. What makes your character—as a human being—unique?
6. Utilize your writing voice.
This is tough, but a synopsis should be fun to read. Keep your synopsis as concise as possible, but keep it entertaining as well. The best way to do this is to apply the same writing style you employ in your manuscript to your synopsis.
7. Write your synopsis like an extended back-of-the-book summary.
Be sure to divulge what happens in your entire plot. Use active voice, keep it interesting, and reveal only the major beats. An agent or editor should never be bored reading the synopsis; rather, they should be excited.
8. Give away the ending.
This pertinent aspect of the synopsis is often missed because in query letters and back-of-the-book blurbs, the opposite is advised. The purpose of a synopsis, however, is to give an agent/editor a full overlook on how your story starts, carries through, and ends. They’ll want to know exactly where your story is leading, and how you’re going to pull it off.
9. Read it aloud, over and over again.
First read it aloud to yourself to catch grammatical errors. Then read it aloud to others and ask which parts they specifically enjoyed or didn’t think needed to be there. Any parts that don’t carry their weight need to be cut ruthlessly. Why? Because agents are pressed for time. The shorter the synopsis, the better the chance they’ll actually read every word.
10. Keep going.
The truth is that writing a synopsis is far from fun. But whatever you do, keep writing and know that you’ve got this. Once you land that agent, the synopsis writing will have been well worth it.
Have a synopsis written but want some feedback? We offer Synopsis Critiques from our top-notch editorial team with a 3-day turnaround!
Victoria Scott started Scribbler in 2017 after traditionally publishing an impressive number of books with companies like HarperCollins Harlequin Scholastic and Macmillan. Victoria is an Uber-hailing city girl who is passionate about writing and helping other writers find their voice.