How to Write a Gripping Book Synopsis
If you’re writing a synopsis for your book, that must mean you’re querying literary agents, so congratulations! We know how much work has already gone into your book, but you’re not quite done yet. Unfortunately, writing the manuscript is only half the battle—landing a publishing deal is an entirely different job, and spreading the word about your book is yet another.
Even if you’ve signed with a traditional publisher, you still have to do most of the marketing yourself. Marketing and selling your book can be tough, especially for self-published or emerging authors who have to build their own freelance team of editors, proofreaders, designers, and agents. Still, it’s definitely possible to succeed if you work with professionals.
If you’re not sure where to start, check out our services for authors—we can help no matter what stage of the writing or publishing process you’re at. Ready to pitch your book to agents and publishers? Then take a look at our query letter packages to get started on your publishing journey or request a targeted list of agents and publishers.
When pitching your manuscript to an agent, you’ll need a compelling synopsis, so let’s start with the basics of what that is and what it should (and shouldn’t) include.
What is a synopsis?
The purpose of a query package, which usually includes a query letter and a synopsis, is to sell your book to an agent. Most larger publishers won’t even consider authors who aren’t represented by agents since having one means there is a professional willing to invest in your work. Therefore, in many cases, you can’t forgo an agent.
The synopsis is your chance to show off your writing skills through a comprehensive summary of your story. It should be written in a narrative form over one or two pages (unless the agent has requested a specific page count) and be engaging, descriptive, and concise.
What should (and shouldn’t) a synopsis include?
Your synopsis should give the reader a good idea of your book’s arc, themes, major plot points, and the main character’s motivations, all without giving every detail away—don’t forget you want to provide the agent with enough information while creating suspense so they’ll want to read your full manuscript. Including every single detail will also reflect poorly on your storytelling skills since it indicates that you can’t discern what information is important; also, it will occupy precious space that would be better used for explaining major aspects of your manuscript.
Don’t include any subplots unless they’re essential to understanding the overall story. You want your synopsis to be immersive yet direct, so focus on the main story, characters, and ideas, not on you as a writer—that’s what your query letter is for. You can also outline the main conflict or obstacle and how your protagonist will deal with it, but avoid any backstories or flashbacks that aren’t absolutely essential to understanding the ending. The synopsis offers a naked outline of the story, so if something is not very important, don’t add it.
If you’re writing sci-fi or fantasy or about a specific non-fiction person, era, or event that might benefit from some background information, you can include essential world-building details in your synopsis. Failure to do so could result in a confusing and incoherent synopsis that the agent won’t be interested in going any further with. Don’t bog it down, but do mention anything that is key to understanding the plot.
Describe, don’t interpret, the main events
Don’t use your synopsis to explain what the main events mean. Instead, focus on describing those events as they happen in the book and let the themes and interpretations shine through on their own. Basically, if your intent and perspective aren’t clear from your synopsis, you might want to go back to your manuscript and rethink how you’re presenting your ideas there. In your manuscript, you’d never break away from the narrative to start explaining the symbolism, so don’t do that in the synopsis, either.
You should also avoid explaining the structure in your synopsis—that should be implicit in the description of events—as it can take the reader out of the story. As a general rule, think of your synopsis as an abridged version of your manuscript and maintain consistency with elements like style, voice, and language.
Agents are busy and expect to be hooked with the first couple of sentences, so make your synopsis as strong as it can be. Keep it succinct, intriguing, and authentic to your style and genre, and don’t forget that this is essentially a marketing tool to sell your book. It’s an ultra-condensed version of your work, so put the same amount of care into it. If you want to work with a professional on your personalized synopsis, reach out to our team of experts.