What Makes an Effective Book Synopsis? A Quick Guide for Emerging Writers

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Most literary agents will only ask for a book synopsis once they’ve read your query letter, so congratulations on reaching this stage of the publishing process! It’s difficult to get this far, and your story is good enough to make a literary agent think it has potential. Now onto the next stage: Your synopsis is your chance to prove that your story deserves to be published and to prompt an agent to request the full manuscript, which is why it must be engaging, original, and flawlessly written. 

Your synopsis can make or break your book deal, so take extreme care when writing it. If condensing your entire book into a page or two sounds overwhelming, check out our query packages for traditional publishing, which will improve your chances of impressing a seasoned agent. 

So, what makes a good book synopsis? 

Keep it simple

Much like your query letter, your synopsis needs to hook the reader (in this case, a prospective agent) by outlining the most important plot points in your book in an engaging narrative style. It also serves as a type of sample of your writing skills, but that doesn’t mean you should send a flowery or complicated synopsis: It should be simple, straightforward, and to the point. Aim for engaging and interesting despite the brevity—make the agent enjoy reading these two brief pages. If going through your synopsis feels like a chore, the agent isn’t likely to request the full manuscript. 

You want to maximize the limited amount of space you have and use it to your advantage by employing clear, effective language that focuses on your story arc, themes, major plot points, and the main character’s motivations without resorting to ornate prose. 

Keep it short

Your synopsis shouldn’t be any longer than two pages, which means cutting down your story to the bare essentials. However, don’t think of it as squeezing your entire novel into a short description—that can be absolutely overwhelming. Instead, consider your synopsis an extended blurb, an informative account of what your book is about that only includes the details crucial to understanding the plot. That will make an agent want to know more and request your full manuscript. Don’t spill the beans about side plots or minor characters—focus on the crux of the story, and only tell the agent what’s necessary to understand the flow and pique their interest.

The basic information you need to include is an introduction to your protagonist and their motivations, how the conflicts in the book develop and get resolved (or not), and any plot twists that affect the ending. Themes, other key characters, and relevant information about the setting and era should also be mentioned, but keep it all as brief as possible. Try to remove yourself from your role as the author and think about what you’d be looking for as a reader. When you ask what a book is about, you aren’t looking for minor details—you’re asking about the essence of the story.

Keep the emotion

Emotionality is one of the main drivers of storytelling, so don’t shy away from including the fundamental emotions that advance your plot. Don’t delve into details or backstories, but do inject conscious storytelling into your synopsis rather than writing it as a plain report. That means only including the supporting characters or subplots that have a direct impact on the protagonist or main storyline and conveying their roles with sentiment and purpose. 

It can be hard to balance this emotionality without complicating the writing style, but that’s your goal: to pull the reader into the story and make them care about your main character without being sappy, corny, or extravagant. This is the trick to explaining your story nicely and succinctly while intriguing the agent enough to want to read the whole thing.

Disclose the ending

You want to engage the reader and maintain a certain sense of mystery so that they’ll want to read the entire book, but an essential aspect of your synopsis is revealing the ending of your story. Agents need to understand the full narrative arc and assess the book’s marketability, which means they need to know how it ends and that the overall story is solid and carefully thought-out. A bad ending can ruin an otherwise good story, so a busy literary agent needs to make sure the ending is satisfactory before they invest time in reading your full manuscript.

Querying literary agents and convincing them to take you on as a client is no easy task, which is why you should consider hiring a professional team to craft your query package for traditional publishing. Our experts will use their years of industry experience to put together a personalized query package, which will include an enticing synopsis you can send to any prospective agents and significantly increase your chances of getting published. 

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