The dreaded book synopsis! It seems like this is the least favorite part of the submission package for so many writers. I have a few tips to help, but first, let’s talk about what exactly a book synopsis is.
A book synopsis is a brief summary of your story from start to finish. It tells an agent or editor exactly what they can expect if they take the time to invest in your book. The actual length of the synopsis can vary, but mine have been about a page and a half on average, and never more than two pages.
As far as how to write and format a synopsis, YA author Melissa Meyer has an awesome explanation complete with examples. I feel like this is a pretty good guide, so instead of giving a synopsis guide of my own, I’ll share five tips that have helped me make this process as painless as possible.
1) Focus on the 5 Ws in your introduction
Who, What, Where, When, and Why are classics for a reason. They cut to the chase and pull your reader into the story. Take advantage of them! However, if it’s too much, or too challenging to fit everything into your intro paragraph, you can probably get away with stretching into the second paragraph. By the end of the second paragraph, all of these questions should be answered.
2) For your plot, only focus on your major plot line
Narrowing down storylines is always a challenge for me. There’s a lot going on in my books and everything feels important. But if you try to mention every important storyline, your synopsis will be entirely too long and difficult to follow. To simply things, put your focus on your main plot line, and limit adding details about any of the others. With that said, it’s okay to hit at another storyline if it impacts your main plot. Just avoid getting swept up in details. Give your reader only what they need to know in order to understand the main storyline.
3) For character, only focus on your main character
Like your plot, you want to keep the focus on your main character. That doesn’t mean you can’t include other characters, but they need to be characters who are essential to progressing your main plot and your main character. A synopsis is short, so the more characters you add, the more confusing it will read. If there’s a character who is only important for one or two plot points, don’t give their name, give a descriptor instead. For example, “the CEO” or “the teacher”. This keeps the focus on your main character and prevents reader confusion.
4) Don’t get bogged down in specifics
The key is to keep the synopsis moving. Even if you’re limiting your focus on your main plot and main character, you shouldn’t go into every detail. For example, maybe there’s a complicated series of events that lead your characters from Plot Point A to Plot Point B. You don’t have to go into the details of those events. You can simply say something like, “After a complicated series of events, Main Character makes it to the other side of the mountain.” This way you’re connecting plot points without slowing your reader down.
5) Give away the ending, but don’t give away everything
One thing that’s always emphasized in synopsis guidelines is the fact that you’re supposed to give away the ending. And that’s true. However, going off the previous point, you don’t have to give away every single detail about the ending, nor do you have to give away every twist and turn that gets us to the ending. I suggest using points two and three as guides. Make sure you take your reader through the climactic moment of your main plot and your character development, but it’s okay if you hold back details that are non-essential to understanding those storylines.
Bonus: Try writing the synopsis before you write the book
Now, this is a bonus tip because I find this helpful, but it also slightly goes against traditional advice.
In most cases, if you’re writing a synopsis for a book you want to submit to an agent, you’re supposed to wait until you finish the book to write it. However, I find it easier to write a synopsis before I write the book. Once I’ve written the book, I have a much harder time narrowing the focus to the main plot and what really matters. Everything feels important. But when I write the synopsis before I write the book, I have haven’t developed the book enough to write more than the main plot and the character. This approach is done more traditionally when a synopsis is part of a submission package for a book that hasn’t been written yet, as explained by author Melissa Meyer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t write the synopsis ahead of time even if you plan on writing the complete book.
Granted, I always have to revise my synopsis based how the book looks when I’ve finished writing it, but I’ve found it much easier to shape an in-progress synopsis than to completely start from scratch. So, if you’ve struggled with writing a synopsis in the past, maybe try to do a draft of a synopsis as an early brainstorming technique, then come back and revise later.
As always, I hope this helps!
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Now it’s your turn: What has your experience with a book synopsis been? Do you love them or hate them? Tell me about it in the comments! If you have any tips, please share those too!