By Kris Maze
When sending out work to an editor or publisher, you will most often need a specific set of documents they will request. Query letter, check! First fifty pages, check! Synopsis, wait what? I don’t know why, but many of us balk at the thought of creating this tidy little summary of our book baby. We know our story, line by line, and know our characters intimately, so why is this difficult for many writers?
Fear not, dear writer. I’m going to list ten tips for a synopsis that can aid your journey to publication. Read on to craft an effective synopsis that can catch the attention of an agent and increase your chances of getting selected.
1. Know your Agent.
You have researched agents and what they represent. You have found out which books are the closest comparison titles and have identified the unique aspects of your book. Be sure to also know the specific way they prefer your synopsis.
Agents and publishers have guidelines for submitting work. It is very important to follow their instructions exactly. What they ask for may be as varied as the agents themselves. Here are some requirements I have encountered.
- They may have their own portal, where the writers must paste their cover letter, first pages, and synopsis in digital form onto their website.
- Some want a specific word count pasted right into the body of an email.
- Others want an attachment placed on a website like Submittable or Moshka
- Pay attention to the type of files they want. The most common I’ve seen is .docx, but we can turn many other files into these standard formats with a simple save.
Don’t let a formatting mistake lead to a rejection before an agent reads your work. Find out what they want and take the time to make it easy for them to read. This also gives a perspective editor a feel for how it would be to work with you. Let them understand you are willing to follow their rules.
Jane Friedman has a thorough post on how to write a synopsis and which pitfalls to avoid. It begins with why a synopsis is so important to agents.
2. Have a few formats ready.
When you are submitting your work to various agents, have a couple of variations ready in advance. Create a synopsis that can be altered easily to your needs and save yourself some time and stress.
- a short length one (500 words)
- a medium one (750–1000 words)
- and some agents may request a more detailed, longer one (1500-2000).
This still is a tight amount of words, so the key is to edit and trim away all the excess. Be sure your synopsis is between 2 to 5 standard formatted pages when you prepare to submit your work.
3. Point of View.
Several editors have said to use a third person point of view in your synopsis. Even if you write in first person. The synopsis is a taste of your story, but the focus is on the story itself. Stick to the standard so your potential agent can focus on your character, key events, and fabulous story.
4. Edit. Edit. Edit.
Be brutal. Editors are getting a very trim version of your entire book, save the elegant elocution and clever turns of the dialogue for your first pages. Avoid filling your precious few synopsis words with too much world building or background. Your ability to state clearly what happens in your book will attract a publisher if it fits their needs.
5. Less is more, but don’t leave anything out.
Impossible, right? Agent Carly Watters offers this advice for crafting a synopsis in this post as a “play-by-play” of your story. She continues to describe a simple synopsis as including:
- rising action of conflict
- character growth
Watters shares the importance of not leaving out major turns in the plot and to reveal the ending.
“Yes, please tell us the ending! This is a common misconception. A synopsis isn’t a query letter, and it isn’t your back cover copy. Tell us how things resolve. Being able to resolve your manuscript is a big writerly skill and we want to see you can do it well.”
6. Tone It Down.
The tone of your synopsis should be plain and business-like. Save the fun and snarky for your manuscript. Reedsy offers a blog post filled with synopsis examples and tips that helps a writer whittle down their work to an easy-to-read summary of your book.
7. Vocabulary For World Building.
There is very little room for description, so build your world around the events with specific vocabulary. Find the words that best demonstrate your world and characterizations in your story and make them count. For example, when describing how a critical injury occurs to a main character, saying the weapon was a revolver, shotgun, light saber, or AK47 makes setting the time and place of your story easier.
8. Hook Your Reader.
Your synopsis must be to the point, but it shouldn’t be boring. Crafting a compelling synopsis that hints at your writing style will help agents know how you handle words. They want to know that you can write a focused piece describing your work and maintain your voice, too. Keep it quick and interesting and your synopsis may be the key to selling your book.
9. Fix Your Novel.
Do any parts of your synopsis seem flat? Repetitive? Now is the time to fix those plot holes and make alterations. It is amazing how rendering down a story can reveal tiny flaws (or big ones!) You want to send in only your best, so make the changes before you hit send.
10. Smile! You wrote a book!
And celebrate your hard work. It all comes down to chance and cosmic timing sometimes, but writing a solid synopsis can help keep the odds in your favor. When in doubt, go back to number one in this list and follow the agent’s instructions. Happy submitting and enjoy the process of submitting your work. You are building a reputation and taking steps to put your work into the world. It’s a big deal, and it is worth celebrating.
Tell us a story about your worst synopsis nightmare. Or share a tip about how to create a perfect synopsis. We’d love to hear it.
Kris Maze works in education, teaching Spanish through stories. She writes for various publications including Practical Advice for Teachers of Heritage Learners of Spanish and award-winning blog Writers in the Storm where she is also a host. Maze published a YA dystopian novel by a small press in the summer of 2020. Lately, she has been entering and placing in writing competitions, such as NYC Midnight’s Short Story and Micro fiction contests. You can find her Sci-fi, dystopian, YA series, this summer and keep up with her author events at her website.
Here is a sneak peek of a scary short story collection coming out on her sister site KrissyKnoxx.com. Also available this summer in various formats.