How to Write a Synopsis for Your Novel
Your manuscript is ready to query, you have a list of agents to contact, and you’re ready to draft the all-important query letter. As you prepare to send your letter to agents, there’s another piece of writing you’ll want to have ready: the synopsis.
What is the synopsis of a novel, and how do you write one effectively? Read on to learn how to write a synopsis that will land you your dream agent.
What is a book synopsis?
At its most basic, a synopsis is a summary of your story’s plot. There are two types of synopses writers should be familiar with. The “short synopsis,” also known as “jacket flap copy” or “jacket flap summary,” is used to draw in readers and make them want to buy your book. Think of what you read on the back of a book while browsing in a bookstore.
A “full synopsis” is one you create as part of your one-page letter to literary agents and publishers. It’s an overview of your story from beginning to end and includes three important components: characters, conflict, and a strong narrative arc. For this post, we’ll focus on how to write a full synopsis.
Tips for writing a synopsis
Reveal everything… or almost everything
Be sure to include:
Characters: Your synopsis should identify your hero(es), antagonists, and all the major characters in your story. Tell us what makes them unique or important and how they grow/develop throughout the course of the novel.
Conflict: Your synopsis should include the primary conflict in your story. You can’t have a story without conflict. It’s what drives your story and keeps readers reading.
Narrative Arc: These are the story beats of your arc, from the inciting incident to the resolution.
Having a full synopsis of your story helps agents and publishers to determine if a writer has a good grasp on the story structure and whether it’s worth their time to request a full or partial manuscript. Give them the major plot points, but stick to the essential details only. Don’t worry about the subplots; this will just add more details than necessary and make your synopsis too long. Share the unique elements of your story. What makes it different from other books in your genre?
Write a good hook
Literary agents get thousands of query letters each week. If you want your manuscript to stand out in the crowd and keep the agent reading, you need to draw them in with an interesting hook. If you’ve already created a killer logline or brainstormed the high-concept idea for your story before starting, consider using that as your opening hook.
Here are a few examples of killer loglines that would make a great hook.
“Two queer teen bloodsuckers at an elite vampire-only boarding school must go up against all of Vampiredom when they uncover a frightening conspiracy on campus.” —Youngblood by Sasha Laurens
“A group of teen ghost hunters spends the night in a haunted LA hotel.”—Horror Hotel by Victoria Fulton and Faith McClaren
“A young boy and his friends must survive a deadly game of hide and seek when they’re pulled into a world where their greatest fears come to life.”—Hide and Seeker by Daka Hermon
Each of these loglines summarizes the main plot of the story in one sentence while creating intrigue for the reader. What conspiracy was uncovered, and who’s the vampire they have to go up against? Will they encounter “real” ghosts at the hotel? What happens if they do? Who is behind this deadly game of hide and seek? How did they end up in a world where their greatest fears come to life, and will they escape? When you write your synopsis, you want to make an agent eager to read the full manuscript!
Follow the format guidelines for your synopsis
One common mistake writers make when submitting their synopsis along with their query letter is not paying close attention to or following the submission guidelines the agent or publisher requests. Every agent and editor is different and will have different submission guidelines for word counts for the synopsis and formatting (font size, style, double or single space, etc.). Be sure to follow these!
Some general guidelines for formatting your synopsis are:
- Always write the synopsis in the third person, present tense (regardless of the POV and tense of your manuscript)
- Write your character names in ALL CAPS when they’re first introduced
- Aim for 3-7 pages in length (unless specified otherwise by the agent or publisher)
Infuse your synopsis with your voice and writing style. If your manuscript is funny, make the synopsis funny as well. If it’s mysterious, use a mysterious tone/voice. You can also add key quotes or pieces of dialogue from the book to help tell the story and break up the narrative.
Practice, practice, practice
For many writers, the synopsis can be a daunting task to get done, even more so than writing a 100k-word novel! However, if you want to go the traditional publishing route, there’s no escaping the synopsis. The only way to get better at writing them is to… well, actually practice writing them–and, of course, reading full synopses of other books helps as well. You can search for book synopses online, or if you’re part of the Writing Mastery Academy, get more examples of some synopses in the Sell Your Novel to a Major Publisher course.
Ready to write a great synopsis for your novel?
Now that you know what a full synopsis is, the difference between a full and short synopsis, what it entails, and tips for crafting one effectively, it’s time to put all knowledge into practice. So grab your keyboard and start typing!