How To Write A Book Synopsis: Tips & Techniques

How To Write A Book Synopsis: Tips & Techniques“The synopsis is your sales pitch. Think of it as the jacket blurb of your novel (the synopsis is often used in writing this, and by the publisher’s art and advertising departments, if the novel is purchased), and write it as though you’re trying to entice a casual bookstore browser to buy the novel and read it,” says Marg Gilks

The synopsis of a book is a tool for pitching and selling the book. It is a narrative summary of your book written in the same style and voice that makes your novel interesting and gripping. In a way, it’s like a miniature version of your book because it should include all the important aspects of the story in sequence and maintains the urgency and emotion of the story.

You want to give the person reading your synopsis (an editor or agent perhaps) a sense of the setting, tone, and pace of your novel as well as a clear sense of the book’s genre and theme. When someone has read your book synopsis they should understand what the story is about, who the main characters are and why we care about them, what those characters want and why they want it, what is at stake if they don’t get what they want, what or who is in the way of those desires, and how it all turns out.

When you write the synopsis of a book remember that it should tell the entire story, even how the story ends. It does not include cliffhangers or teasers. Instead, it reveals the significant events and motivations that drive the story forward.

You should write the synopsis in present tense and third person. The first time you introduce your main characters, type the name in capital letters. Do this only the first time and thereafter refer to the character in the same way by the same name to avoid confusion. Define the conflicts these face and develop a sense of sympathy for your characters that allows the reader to relate to your characters and invokes compassion. Follow the course of the story through logical transitions and connected paragraphs. Be aware of any themes or symbolism you’ve focused on in your book and pinpoint the important plot points, the significant events, and the way these affect your characters.

There are two ways to write a book synopsis. Some writers begin with the synopsis, detailing their plot points and writing out their projection in the planning stages of their novel. This gives you a firm foundation and outline for your book that can help guide your progress. When the book is finished the original synopsis can then be adjusted to accommodate any changes that may have occurred through the writing process.

The other involves reading through the finished manuscript and making notes to fill out a synopsis as one of the final stages before submitting your manuscript to agents and editors.

Finally, before you send your synopsis to an agent or editor be aware of any specific instructions or guidelines they may have. Some editors prefer short, single-spaced synopses while others prefer longer synopses that are double-spaced. The length of a book synopsis can range from one to twenty pages with many agents preferring approximately five pages. Marg Gilks says, “I personally consider two pages ideal, and have distilled synopses down to a single tight page.”

Take the time to edit your synopsis for grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Your synopsis should be as carefully edited as your manuscript and contain as few errors as possible. Do not rush the process. Your book’s synopsis will stand in for your manuscript and represents you as a writer to the editor.

The synopsis of your book will become a great tool for you after your book is finished. Especially if you are writing a sequel or series of books that will focus on the same characters or similar situations.

The real test of your synopsis is how it hooks the reader. Just as you carefully craft the first sentence, paragraph, page, and chapter of your novel you need to bring the same passion and conviction when you write your book’s synopsis.

Writing a synopsis can feel harder than writing the book. But if you remember the tips and techniques we’ve talked about and put it into practice writing synopses of your own books, stories, or even the books other authors have written, you’ll gain experience and confidence in condensing a novel-length manuscript into a few pages.

Do you have any other synopsis writing tips? Share your own techniques in the comments below and if you’d like to learn more check out Jane Friedman’s Webinar at Writer’s Digest and these two great books:
The Dreaded Synopsis: A writing and plotting guide by Elizabeth Sinclair Your Novel Proposal: From Creation to Contract: The Complete Guide to Writing Query Letters, Synopses and Proposals for Agents and Editors by Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook

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Rebecca Laffar-Smith

Rebecca Laffar-Smith is a publisher, children's writer, and novelist. In 2010 she gave up a successful 12-year freelance career to focus on her three loves; family, community, and fiction. She self-published her debut novel The Flight of Torque in June 2014 and the first three titles in the P.I. Penguin series in from Aulexic in May 2015. At The Craft of Writing Fiction, Rebecca shares her journey of creation and learning with readers. She loves getting to know her fellow readers and writers and can be contacted through Twitter and Facebook, or Email.

12 thoughts on “How To Write A Book Synopsis: Tips & Techniques”

  1. Very informative post! Thank you so much for answering my questions. I just have one last problem. My book starts out normally, but after the first seven chapters or so, there’s a pretty significant flashback, and I’m wondering how best to put this in my synopsis. Should I actually state in the synopsis that it’s a flashback, or would it be better to do something else entirely? What would be the best way to portray a flashback when writing a synopsis?

    1. I have the same doubt as Corinne, Rebecca. My novel starts out normally in the present time, but after 15 chapters, from 16 onwards, it goes back to the story set about 14 years ago. That’s a flashback. How do I do it in the synopsis? I started writing the synopsis normally as the characters are now, presenting the present conflict. Is that how it’s done? Please help me. 🙂

      1. Dear Corine and Sana,

        The synopsis for an editor/agent should follow the same time stream as your story. So you would start by telling the story from the beginning of your story and then include the flashback when you reach that point in the story.

        One thing to consider is, how necessary is the flashback? What purpose does it serve? Unless it is vital to your story you might want to reconsider how you deliver that information to the reader.

        Hope this helps.

  2. This article is very helpful. I took note of the guidelines and am now working on my synopsis. Thank you so much!

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