Writing

How to write a great book synopsis

Post by
Jack Wells

Most writers admit that writing a synopsis is their biggest pet peeve. But why? When you look at it, a synopsis is just a page about your own book. And yet, many would rather spend a night alone in the woods rather than write a synopsis.

This is because when the time comes to write a synopsis, it means that it’s also the time to face the music. For your work to be judged. For you to be judged. And that’s hard to take.  

But that’s how it goes. If you want to be a published writer, you need someone to say ‘yes’ to your book. And it all starts with a synopsis.

What is a synopsis?

Many editors and publishers ask for a synopsis to come with a sales pitch for your book along with first three chapters. There is no set rule that the book must be finished at this point, but it certainly helps.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking that a synopsis is just a longer sales pitch. All three parts of the package you send to the publishers are meant to help you sell your book.  But each in their own way.  

A sales message is the place where you hook and intrigue. You even have the freedom to be salesy. Explain why you wrote the book, who is it for and who it is not.

A book synopsis IS your book. Just 600 times shorter. It should be written in the same style as you book and explain what happens from start to finish.    

They are both similar in a way that it should raise the interest of the reader. But while the sales message stops at ‘you can’t believe what happens next’, a synopsis lays out the events and how they change the characters and their emotions.  

The foundations of a great synopsis

It’s YOUR book synopsis. You’ve already written hundreds of pages, not including everything you’ve thrown out already. Then why is it so hard? 

For thousands of writers the synopsis is the most dreaded part of the process. For some it’s about seeing the finish so close, that you start smelling the fear of ‘what if’.

For others, it’s much easier to write a 50,000-word novel than a 600-word summary because a synopsis requires you to be ruthless and selective. That’s key.

The main rule of any synopsis is to include only the most critical information. So, some characters will become passers-by, while others will inevitably be left out completely. This may seem like a daunting task.   

The good news is that the synopsis becomes much easier to write once you eliminate the common mistakes that first-time synopsis writers make:

  • ‍Point of view - Synopsis is commonly written in a third person, present tense. For the writer, it helps gain an outsider’s perspective into an own story and simply tell what happens in the story.
  • ‍The story and the plot - Your synopsis should tell the plot but not the whole story. Avoid going too far into the backstory of characters and the world you describe. You should focus on what happens, why and what follows.
  • Too long, too short - Editors and publishers usually specify the length of the synopsis. But if they don’t, remember that it should not exceed two, double-spaced pages.
  • ‍Plot holes - We’ve already mentioned this. All characters seem to be important and all events lead somewhere. But if you do mention a character in a synopsis, there must be a good reason to do that.
Helpful tip: Introduce characters in ALL-CAPS. Later, when you go through your synopsis, it’s much easier to pick out which characters you included and how these additions help the publisher understand the story better. 

How to write a book synopsis in 5 easy steps

 We all love when things are easy and simple. No promises that this is what your next synopsis is going to be, but if you follow the next five steps, it will be easier. Promise.

Step 1 - The beginning – deciding on what is key

The beginning of your story is always a good place to start. This is how you introduce your world to the editors and publishers. Be brief and answer why should the readers care about the protagonist. 

Some writers swear by marking the timeline of the story or mapping out the events to help them stay on point. 

Step 2 – Writing the synopsis

This is where you turn off notifications and ‘Nike it’. Don’t worry about anything. You already know how to do this. The first draft may take five pages and feel like a complete mess.  Remember to keep the focus around the main story arc:

  • ‍The problem
  • ‍Complications
  • ‍Desperation
  • Climax
  • Resolution

Step 3 – The format

We’ve already touched upon the correct format for a synopsis.

You don’t need to break down your two-page synopsis into smaller parts, but it may be helpful for you to pick out any unnecessary information.

Step 4 – Editing

Now, ideally, your synopsis, like a juicy stake, should be left to rest. For an hour, or even better, for a day.

If you need to make it shorter, start by looking for dialogues, detailed descriptions or explanations. In addition to telling the events in order, you should explain how it changes the protagonist, but not much more than that. Here are a few ideas on how to edit your book if you're on a budget.

Step 5 – One final read

Take one last look at your synopsis. Does the main story arc have a beginning, middle and the end?  Did you leave any loose ends?

Remember what we talked about in the beginning. A synopsis must tell the whole story but also maintain the style of the book. 

Maybe get a friend, or someone you can trust and isn’t familiar with the story to read it. They will be able to tell you if what you’ve included makes sense.

In the end, all you have to do is tell a story about your book. Synopsis shouldn’t be daunting. Even superstar authors have been rejected numerous times. It’s part of the process. Just start and see what you get. Like riding a bike, cooking a soufflé or, writing a book, your first time will probably be awful. Just do it again.

With the knowledge, you already gained, your second try is bound to suck just a little bit less. So, you do it again.

Well, you get the point. With that said, there’s no more time to waste. Grab a sheet of paper and start outlining your synopsis.

Just do it! 

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