7 Book Synopsis Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

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Once you finish writing a book, it’s time to get it published. If you’re aiming for the traditional publishing route, that will entail reaching out to literary agents, so you’ll need a query letter and an excellent book synopsis. 

Writing a synopsis of your own book may sound easy—after all, you know your story. Unfortunately, this is where many authors make serious mistakes. It’s not as easy as you might think to condense the essence of your 80,000-word novel into a couple of pages that succinctly outline the plot while piquing the agent’s interest sufficiently for them to request your full manuscript.

We’ve put together some of the most common mistakes authors make when writing a synopsis for an agent or an editor so you can avoid them. Alternatively, you can get us to create a query letter and book synopsis for you.

There are several common pitfalls that authors hit during this stage of the publication process. Here is where your book synopsis can go wrong.

1. It’s too long

Agents and editors are inundated with query letters, synopses, and manuscripts, so if they see a long synopsis, they are less likely to even look at it. Ideally, a synopsis should be one to two pages—anything longer than that reeks of inexperience and inability to communicate succinctly. Given the deluge of queries that literary agents receive, it’s not hard for them to automatically reject some simply because of the length of the synopsis. If yours is too long, you run the risk of it being skipped over. 

2. It’s written in the first person

Even if you use the first person in your book, you should write your synopsis in the third person. This is to keep it as clear as possible so the agent can get a sense of the characters and understand what happens in the story. While the synopsis is indeed a tool to market your book to the agent, it’s more of an objective outline than a trailer. Remember: You’re not just trying to convince the agent to read your work—you’re trying to persuade them to invest in it, and for that, they need a clear idea of what it is about.

(A memoir is an exception to this rule.)

3. It’s overly detailed

A literary agent is more concerned with the intrigue and the emotional pull of your story than with its finer details. They look for the overall plot arc and what’s at stake for the characters rather than a scene-by-scene rundown or a list of every character. Make sure that everything in your synopsis truly deserves to be there—it should be essential information that helps drive the plot forward or ensures that the agent can understand your story, characters, or world.

4. It outlines scenes

Your synopsis should not include any phrases that lay out the structure of the book, like “After a thrilling action scene” or “During a dream sequence.” You should be summarizing the story, not describing the book’s composition. Present the events in such a way that it’s evident where there’s a thrilling action scene or a dream sequence. The events should speak for themselves—don’t tell the agent how they should feel about a particular scene.

Besides, as mentioned above, a literary agent isn’t concerned with every detail of the story’s structure.

5. It excludes the ending

This point is a bit controversial, and some will argue for leaving the ending out to build intrigue. While you don’t have to include the ending in the synopsis, we think you probably should. Remember that pitching your book to a literary agent is not the same thing as selling it to a reader. While you wouldn’t want to spoil the ending for a reader, an agent may view it as a major ingredient of the book’s quality, making it something they’ll want to know. 

Indeed, a poor ending can ruin an otherwise brilliant book, so many agents want to know up front whether your story has a good one. They won’t be pleased if they invest time in reading your full manuscript only to find a less-than-stellar ending.

6. It’s elaborately written

Avoid lyrical, flowery, or otherwise elaborate writing in the synopsis. It should be clear and succinct. Your specific writing style and tone will be on display in any book excerpts, so keep the synopsis straightforward. You won’t impress the agent with your fancy vocabulary, so don’t bother—they’ll be much more impressed if you can communicate the events in your story concisely and effectively.

7. It sounds generic

You don’t want your work to get lost in the sea of synopses that agents and editors wade through. A good synopsis should set your book apart. Avoid phrases that sound trite, clichéd, or in any way generic. Look for ways to highlight the unique characteristics in your book without stating outright that they’re unique. The same story can sound much different depending on how you describe it.

Often, an author is simply too close to their own story to see whether the synopsis works. Once you are done writing your synopsis, try it out on some people who are not familiar with your manuscript. Did they understand what the book was about? Did it intrigue them and make them want to read it? This feedback can highlight potential problems with your synopsis.

If you want professional help, have us write your synopsis—a service that is included in our query letter package. 

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