Writing your manuscript is the first step. Next, you have to craft a query letter—or get the professionals to write it—and submit it to suitable agents. If your query letter is successful, an agent will ask you for a book synopsis. And if you write a great synopsis, you’re that much closer to achieving your dream of publishing your book.
However, writing a synopsis is not an easy task, and many authors struggle with it. Here are 10 common pitfalls to avoid when writing your book synopsis.
1. Don’t treat it like a sales pitch.
The purpose of the book synopsis is to intrigue the agent and pique their interest in your manuscript. However, selling your book to an agent is different from selling it to readers; in your synopsis, you have to convince the agent that readers will want to buy your book. That means you have to clearly define the structure of the story to show the agent that the narrative is well constructed.
2. Don’t conceal the ending.
No author wants to give away the ending. But in a book synopsis, you have no choice. The quality of the ending is a key influence on a reader’s opinion of a book, so the agent needs confirmation that your ending is solid. You don’t need to include every detail, but you do have to reveal the general ending in your synopsis.
3. Don’t write in the passive voice or first person.
Your book synopsis is your first chance to show off your writing skills to the agent. Do so by writing in the third person and using the active voice. Even if your book is written in the first person, you should employ the third person in your synopsis.
4. Don’t be cliché.
No one wants to read a story that’s already been written a thousand times. Use your book synopsis to show your agent what makes your manuscript unique within your chosen genre or theme. Include in your synopsis what fresh elements set your book apart from the rest.
5. Don’t just relay the plot events mechanically.
Your characters’ emotions help drive your plot, so be sure to mention them in your book synopsis. While you should keep descriptions short and to-the-point, make use of strong adjectives, adverbs, and verbs to paint a vivid picture of your characters’ feelings and motivations. Your synopsis needs to have emotion.
6. Don’t get poetic.
Some authors think the synopsis is their chance to impress the agent with flowery prose. It’s not. Keep everything short, simple, and clear. The job of the book synopsis is to describe the plot and narrative arc, highlight the manuscript’s strengths, and pique the agent’s interest. An overblown writing style will get in the way of these goals. Plus, agents are busy. Don’t waste their time.
7. Don’t make it too long.
If your agent doesn’t specify the desired length of the book synopsis, how long should you make it? A good rule of thumb is one or two pages. Err on the side of “too short” rather than “too long.”
8. Don’t include too many events or characters.
Your synopsis should contain only the characters and events essential to the main plotline. Subplots and secondary characters shouldn’t be mentioned at all unless absolutely necessary. Include only the characters and details without which your storyline wouldn’t make sense.
9. Don’t include too many plot twists.
Again, less is more. In your synopsis, you should simply outline the story in its most basic form. Less important plot twists can be summarized extremely briefly so that you can spend more time on the major components of the plot.
10. Don’t include “story structure” phrases.
You’re writing a book synopsis, not a book review. Your synopsis should be free of literary phrases such as “in a flashback” or “after several tense scenes.” You generally shouldn’t include flashbacks anyway, and you can sum up the events in those scenes succinctly.
Writing a synopsis is difficult—but so is writing a book. You’ve already written a manuscript, so you can do this too. By avoiding these common traps, you can write a book synopsis that does its job and moves your book one step closer to publication.
If you’re still struggling to entice an agent with a query letter, relax. Get the professionals to write you a top-notch query letter.