Jump To Section
What Is a Novel Synopsis?
The word “synopsis” comes from the ancient Greek word synopsesthai which means quite literally “a comprehensive view.” A novel synopsis includes a brief summary of your story’s main plot, subplots, and the ending, a few character descriptions, and an overview of your major themes. A novel synopsis appears in the query letter you will send to potential literary agents and publishers. Literary agents and publishers will then use the synopsis to determine the marketability and salability of your book.
9 Tips for Submitting a Novel Synopsis to a Publisher
Writing synopses is an acquired skill, so don’t fret if it doesn’t come naturally to you. A synopsis written for agents and publishers is different from a blurb you might find on the back cover of a bestseller. Your synopsis should be designed to communicate all the necessary information to a literary agent or publisher as you seek representation through the querying process. Here are some tips on crafting the perfect synopsis:
- Research submission guidelines. It’s very important that you understand the specific submission guidelines for the agents and publishers you are submitting to. Some may ask for a brief summary of your story and a cover letter; others might want a one-page synopsis with the inciting incident and major plot points laid out. Most will want a summary that includes character names and major conflicts, but otherwise, requirements will vary. Do your due diligence before you start writing a synopsis to make sure you are meeting the submission guidelines of the publications to which you are submitting.
- Have a finished product. One common misconception among new writers is the idea that they should prepare a submission package and sample chapters before they have a completed draft. On the contrary, you should only start to work on a synopsis once you have a completed first draft.
- Know your audience. Beyond just understanding submission guidelines, it’s important that you do a bit of research on the literary agent or publisher to whom you’re sending a query letter and novel synopsis. People in the publishing industry get hundreds of submissions a day; if you can tailor your cover letter and synopsis to a specific agent or publisher based on the books they’ve worked on, you can set yourself apart from the rest of the slush pile.
- Look at synopsis examples. One way to demystify the dreaded synopsis writing process is to look at synopses that other writers have prepared, especially for books you are familiar with. If this is your first book or first time writing a synopsis, seek out advice and templates from fellow writers to see what worked for them. Novel writing and publishing is a lengthy process. Asking fellow authors for their thoughts on submissions and understanding their point of view on the synopsis writing process can help streamline your own synopsis writing.
- Succinctly describe your plot. One of the most important elements that you should cover in your book synopsis is your book’s plot. Your synopsis should include major plot points, subplots, and plot twists and convey an overall narrative arc. You can choose whether to focus on your protagonist’s story arc or include secondary characters based on how vital they are to understanding the overall plot. The most important thing is that the person you are submitting to gets a comprehensive (but concise) summary of the major plot points of your novel.
- Articulate the theme. A good synopsis conveys to your audience the tone, genre and subject matter of your book. The publishers you are submitting to shouldn’t have to guess whether your book is a young adult coming of age story or a science fiction thriller. The theme and genre of your book should be apparent within the first few lines of your synopsis.
- Spend some time on characterization. It’s important to give a sense of your main character and some of your most important secondary characters. Beyond just including a character’s name, provide some insight into their POV and character development. A bit of backstory can help contextualize your characters and hook your readers.
- Write in the third person. You should always write your synopsis in third person. Avoid writing a synopsis from a character’s point of view in first person, as this can come off as amateurish and gimmicky. You have a bit of leeway when deciding on tense, although most writers opt to write in past tense as opposed to present tense or future tense.
- Pay attention to the length of your synopsis. The length of your synopsis will be dictated by the submission guidelines of the agents or publishers you are submitting to, but you should always try to write as concisely as possible. A short synopsis that has all the relevant and necessary information is ideal. Some agents have word count guidelines or page length requirement, though synopses are almost always under five pages.
Want to Learn More About Writing?
Become a better writer with the Masterclass All-Access Pass. Gain access to exclusive video lessons taught by literary masters, including Neil Gaiman, David Baldacci, Joyce Carol Oates, Dan Brown, Margaret Atwood, James Patterson, and more.