What is a Synopsis and How to Write One

By: Angelique Caffrey – Updated: 4 Aug 2017


A book synopsis is simply a very short description of the main theme of a nonfiction work. The synopsis deals with the novel’s central characters, their conflicts and their relationships. However, it does not get into any subplots unless they directly affect the central plot.

The book synopsis is typically used by editors to determine if they want to work with a new (or seasoned) author. Though editors (and agents) will probably read a sample chapter or two of a novel first, they’ll then want to skim the synopsis to get a feel for the whole work.

Note: If you’re having difficulty visualizing this definition of a synopsis, consider that the synopsis is acting in lieu of a book jacket or marketing device. Consequently, your synopsis should be action-oriented, written in the present tense and interesting enough to cause someone to say to him- or herself, “I have to read this book!”

When Do I Need a Synopsis?

Have you written a book? Are you contemplating writing one? If so, you’ll sooner or later want to write a synopsis.

Some authors actually prefer to write a synopsis before starting their books; that way, they can have a “game plan” for their novels before the weeks, months and – quite possibly – years of writing begin. Other authors wait until their books are finished before sitting down to write a synopsis. Either way allows a writer to have a synopsis that he or she can use in the future.

When Don’t I Need a Synopsis?

You don’t absolutely need a synopsis for your book if a) you’re planning on keeping your book for your own eyes and never want to become published; or b) you’re going to self-publish your novel, thereby eliminating the need for an editor or agent.

With that being said, writing a synopsis is still an exceptional exercise for authors and shouldn’t be avoided simply because it’s difficult. (Who ever said the easy route was the best one?)

What Should Be Included in a Synopsis?

As mentioned previously, your book synopsis should focus on:

  • The Main Characters
  • The Main Plot
  • The Main Conflicts

Anything superfluous should be jettisoned from the synopsis.

Not surprisingly, for most writers, it takes quite a long time to pare down a novel into a pithy synopsis. Some authors even request help from trusted writing companions to get them through the process or pay others to help them construct their synopsis. (And why not? After all, a strong synopsis could mean the difference between snagging an agent or having your work languish in the slush pile.)

How Long Should My Synopsis Be?

There’s no one acceptable length for synopses; in fact, editors and agents will probably have their own requirements when it comes to how long they expect synopses to be.

With that being noted, a general target is anywhere from two to twelve pages, but that definitely varies. It’s probably best to trim your synopsis down as much as you can without losing the intensity, action and flavour of your work. When you’re ready to send it to an editor or agent, find out what length he or she requests.

Should My Synopsis “Give Away” My Book’s Ending?

A synopsis should tell the entire plot of your book from beginning to end, and that includes your “shocking ending.” Many authors bristle when told to reveal their books’ “secrets”, but to an editor or agent, knowing how a novel concludes is critical.

Remember that the synopsis isn’t for the public’s eye; it’s for the eyes of someone who has the potential to bring your work to the public. So don’t hold back anything that’s important to the central theme of your book.

Will a Book Synopsis Help Me Sell My Work?

It’s a fact – a well-written, gripping book synopsis that holds the reader’s attention is more likely to win kudos than a poorly written one. With that being said, your entire book manuscript has to be just as wonderful. In other words, the synopsis and the full text work hand-in-hand… so start polishing them both!



About eve culley

Children's Author, micro-farmer in the great state of Texas
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