Traditional Publishing — Step 2: Write a Synopsis

If there’s anything writers hate more than writing a query, it’s writing a synopsis. A synopsis is a telling of your novel’s plot and character arcs, including plot twists and the ending.

A synopsis is NOT a marketing doc, per se. It’s job is not to persuade. Its purpose is to show an agent or publisher that you know how to plot, organize, and pace a novel. If your book is sold, the synopsis may be given to the publisher’s marketing group to help them understand the book when they design the cover and plan the marketing.

The most common length for a synopsis is 1000 words or two pages, single spaced. It’s not uncommon to be asked for other lengths, however. I’ve seen everything from one double-spaced page to ten double-spaced pages. Remember, whatever the publisher or agent requests is what you send.

Synopsis tips

  • Imagine how you would tell the story to a friend. A synopsis is similar.
  • Writing counts. Like the query, write the synopsis in third-person even if the novel is in first-person. Make sure the synopsis reflects the style and voice of the novel, but again like the query, don’t write it from the point of view or voice of a specific character.
  • Focus on the main plot line and the character arcs of the main characters. Simplify if you need to.
  • Do not include every subplot or every character. Mention as few names as possible. For secondary characters that need to be mentioned, use relationship descriptions instead like JIM’S MOTHER as much as possible. Rule of thumb, only 5 or fewer names, CAPPED on first use.
  • Do not write your synopsis as a series of unconnected events. Think about cause and effect. “This happens, and AS A RESULT this happens.”

NOT:

Harry gets letters he’s not allowed to read. Mr. Dursley takes them to an island. Hagrid reveals Harry is a wizard.

INSTEAD:

Harry gets letters he’s not allowed to read. Trying to prevent Harry from receiving the constant barrage of letters, Mr. Dursley takes the family to an island. However, the first night, Hagrid arrives. He gives Harry the letter and reveals that Harry is a wizard.

Get feedback

Have people who are unfamiliar with your book read your synopsis and give you feedback. Note where they got confused and what they had questions about. You don’t want to leave an agent confused.

Answer ALL of the reviewers questions to their satisfaction, and rewrite until reviewers are satisfied. If you are unable to answer their questions or they are confused by or dissatisfied with the answers, you may well have discovered a problem in the manuscript. This is a GOOD thing, even though it’s painful at the time.

One of the differences between a newbie amateur and a professional writer is a desire to get better, even when that requires rewriting that novel for the third, fourth, or tenth time. Painful feedback SUCKS, but it makes you better.

It’s also a necessity if you’re going to successfully traditionally publish. If your reviewers are identifying holes in your story, it’s a given that an agent or publisher will. Listen to that niggle in your gut: fix the problems before you submit and blow your chance with an agent.

TIP FOR SUCCESS

Write your synopsis as soon as you finish your first draft (or earlier, if you’re a plotter). Let it help you identify issues related to structure and pacing.

Write a synopsis