What Goes into a Great Synopsis (That Will Help Get You Published)?

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As a kid, how often would you watch or read the coolest thing ever and be so psyched to talk about it that your giddy little heart was ready to burst? Some well-intentioned adult might have inquired what it was about and gotten swamped with names, places, and storylines, immediately wishing they’d kept their mouth shut. Chances are that your delirious joy was about as comprehensible as a David Lynch marathon, and it probably didn’t make that adult want to dive into the story.  

When you were a kid, you probably didn’t meticulously plan the perfect way to get that electrifying excitement across. Now, as an adult and a writer, you have to present your story coherently and concisely if you want your work to populate bookshelves across the country and beyond. Learning how to write an impressive book synopsis can get you published. It has to be succinct, intriguing, and come together as a fully formed story that a publisher would like to invest in. For a strong synopsis, you can collaborate with a query package creator. In the meantime, check out our tips on getting it right.

Get busy planning

A standard synopsis is between 500 and 1,000 words, single-spaced, in a regular serif font. Yes, it’s not easy to condense the entire world you’ve created into such a short text, but you don’t have a choice. All your favorite authors have had to do this as well. Within these parameters, you are composing a book summary that gets across vital information about: 

  • Your awesome protagonist 

What’s their motivation? This isn’t the place for details such as their intense aura or cat-like agility. Boil the character down to someone interesting and relatable. Their inciting incident must be clear. Communicate the core of their personality and why they’re undertaking the journey they are.

Since you have so little room, not every character needs a mention. However, characters that are essential to the protagonist’s arc and plot development shouldn’t be neglected. They’ll also need to be interesting and complete. Make them feel like real people, not one-dimensional cardboard cut-outs.

  • Major plot points

What are the key points in your book? Be sure they connect because agents have a sixth sense for plotlines that make illogical leaps. Obviously, you shouldn’t mention minor details that have little impact on the overall plot, but make sure to include everything necessary for the core plot to make sense. What decisions and stakes drive it forward? You want to summarize not just what happens but how it happens. 

  • Emotional tones and beats

If an agent can’t get the feel of your story and characters—darkly humorous, poetic, sassy and real-world, grim fantasy, or high adventure—you need to explain it better. Pet Sematary deals with pets and death, but so does Marley and Me. A murderer with mommy issues haunts both Psycho and Red Dragon, but no one would confuse Norman Bates for Francis Dolarhyde. Your characters also have emotional beats that accompany the plot, and an agent wants to know they work. If the synopsis doesn’t make the genre and themes of your story clear, you have to revise it.

  • A grand ending

Yes, spoil away! You aim to show that your story comes together in a credible, compelling package. You don’t want to catalog every detail en route, but your major points need to lead to a fitting end. A bad ending can entirely ruin an otherwise great book, so an agent has to know that your ending is worth the time invested into reading the whole book.

Craft your page

Since your synopsis is short, there isn’t much variety in the format. Unless you’re pitching a nonfiction memoir, stick to writing it in the third person. You don’t need subheadings as in a book report. A synopsis should read like a comprehensive summary of your story: Introduce your main characters with their most significant characteristics and get to your plot. Write in chronological order to allow the agent to follow the developments as easily as if they were reading the actual manuscript.

If you have a setting that requires some context, you can briefly introduce it; just avoid a Tolkein-style appendix. You’re providing key information to make the rest of your summary easier to understand. Omitting this information will make it confusing and fail to entice the agent to take you on as a client. However, going overboard with the details will also put them off.

Agents want to see distinct characters, consistent motivations, and a logical plot progression. Thus, how powerfully and clearly you convey those elements will testify to your writing skills. You shouldn’t stress over demonstrating your lyrical prose or labeling the technicals, such as rising action or climax: Your goal is to honestly and masterfully describe your story in its entirety.

Short but fierce, your synopsis can go a long way to attracting the right person’s attention. If you want assistance, contact a specialist in query packages for help. When your synopsis is exciting and captivating, you know you have distilled a solid story to its best parts. 

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