Writing a book synopsis is an unavoidable part of the publishing process. First, you send publishers your query letter—whether you write it yourself or hire professionals to write a top-notch query letter for you. Then, if the letter piques the publisher’s interest, they’ll ask you to send a book synopsis. Many writers dread this part, but writing a book synopsis doesn’t have to be difficult if you stick to the basic format. In this article, we explain the synopsis format that publishers expect to receive.
What’s the purpose of a synopsis?
While the query letter introduces you and your book to the agent, the book synopsis invites the agent to read your entire manuscript. The book synopsis should describe the main plot of the book, outlining the story arc and revealing the ending.
When you’re formatting your synopsis, keep in mind that it’s not sales copy. You’re not trying to intrigue readers and convince them to buy the book; you’re trying to persuade agents and publishers that they’ll be able to sell your book. That’s why in the proper synopsis format you have to reveal the ending—because weak endings won’t sell.
The basic synopsis format achieves the following objectives:
Explains the main plot of the story
Describes the premise of the manuscript
Convinces the publisher of the story’s appeal and the strength of the plot
Reveals a satisfying ending that suits the story
How should you format your synopsis?
There are many aspects to a synopsis, and you should take care to format each one appropriately.
Length: Agencies usually specify length requirements, so take care to follow their preferences. However, if they don’t offer any guidelines, a good rule of thumb is 500 words or two pages.
Writing style: Write clearly and avoid flowery, poetic prose and wordiness. At the same time, avoid mechanical writing. Be succinct yet engaging when you describe the events.
Formatting: Use a standard font like Times New Roman, apply normal margins (usually one inch), and set the line spacing to at least 1.5 (and no narrower).
Editing: Avoid typos and grammatical mistakes at all costs. After all, you’re not only showing off your writing skills but demonstrating your commitment to your craft. A good investment is to hire a professional editor to proofread and edit your synopsis.
How should you write your synopsis?
Once you’ve mastered the synopsis format, the next step is to write the content. It’s not easy condensing your 80,000-word manuscript into a 500-word summary, but it must be done. Try these two tricks to facilitate the process.
Work up from the basics.
Don’t try to stuff your entire manuscript into a brief summary; instead, break the manuscript down into its basic structural elements. Identify the status quo at the very beginning of the story, the event that triggers the main conflict, the developments of the main conflict, the climax, and finally, the resolution.
With this basic structure in place, you can then add appropriate details to draft a succinct synopsis that includes only the essential information. Even though the development of the main conflict takes up most of your manuscript, it should account for only 50% of your synopsis, as the other structural elements are crucial to understanding the overall plot.
Don’t worry about skimping on detail—that’s exactly what you should be doing. If you format your synopsis properly, the publisher will learn all the details anyway when they request your full manuscript.
A good story is engaging and makes the reader feel something. Your synopsis should also bring the story to life. Don’t simply describe the plot events mechanically as if writing a formal report. You need to include what the events mean to the characters.
Don’t delve into backstories or unnecessary character details, but do briefly introduce the pivotal characters and their role in the story. Make sure their feelings about the story events are evident.
Need inspiration? Here’s an example of a well-written and properly formatted synopsis that tells the literary publisher exactly what they want to know.
Now that you know how to properly format and compose a book synopsis, it’s time to get to work. Take the time to reflect and write the best synopsis you can—your manuscript is worth the effort. And if you’re still sending out query letters and waiting to hear back from agents, consider getting the professionals to write a custom query letter.