Five Tips for a Great Synopsis

One of your responsibilities as a self-published author will be writing a synopsis for your books. This is the text that will convince book sellers (such as agents and distributors) to purchase and sell your book. It is different from the copy on the back cover of your book, which persuades the reader to purchase your book. To write a winning synopsis, remember these five tips.

1. Reveal everything that happens in the book, including the ending. Heck, revealing the story’s ending is a synopsis’s defining unique characteristic. You shouldn’t find a story’s ending in a query or in-person pitch, but it does leak out in a synopsis.  A synopsis is designed to explain everything that happens, not to tease, so avoid language such as “Krista walks around a corner into a big surprise.” Don’t say “surprise;” instead say exactly what happens.

2. Make your synopsis two pages, double-spaced or one page, single-spaced. There is always some disagreement on length. This stems from the fact that synopses used to trend longer (up to 12 pages!). But over the last five years, agents have requested shorter and shorter synopses — with most agents finally settling on one to two pages. If you write a one page, single-spaced synopsis, it’s the same length as two pages, double-spaced; either are acceptable. There will be the occasional agent who requests something strange, such as a “5-page synopsis on lime green paper that smells of cinnamon!” But for  most agents, a one to two page document is perfect.

3. Take more care and time if you’re writing genre fiction. Synopses are especially difficult to compose if you’re writing character-driven (i.e., literary) fiction because there may not be a whole lot of plot in the book. Agents and editors understand this and put little (or no) weight into a synopsis for literary or character-driven stories. However, if you’re writing genre fiction — specifically categories like romance, fantasy, thriller, mystery, horror or science fiction — agents will look over your characters and plot points to make sure your book has a clear beginning, middle, and end as well as some unique aspects they haven’t seen before in a story. So if you’re getting ready to submit a genre story, don’t blow through your synopsis; it’s important.

4. Feel free to be dry, but don’t step out of the narrative. When you write your prose (and even the pitch in your query letter), there is importance in using style and voice in the writing. A synopsis not only can be dry, but probably should be dry. The synopsis has to explain everything that happens in a very small amount of space. So if you find yourself using short, dry sentences like “John shoots Bill and sits down to contemplate suicide,” don’t worry. This is normal. Lean, clean language is great, but do not step out of the narrative. Agents do not want to read things such as “And at the climax of the story,” “In a rousing scene,” or “In a flashback.”

5. Use all caps for  character names the first time they are introduced. Use normal text on other references. Also, avoid naming too many characters because this can get confusing;  try to set a limit of five or six. I know this may sound tough, but it’s doable. It forces you to exclude small characters and subplots from your summary, which actually strengthens your synopsis.

If you follow these tips, you will write a great synopsis.

Cheri Breeding ABOUT CHERI BREEDING: Since 2005 Cheri Breeding has been working as the Director of Production for Outskirts Press. In that time, she has been an instrumental component of every aspect of the Production Department, performing the roles of an Author Representative, Book Designer, Customer Service Representative, Title Production Supervisor, Production Manager and, Director of Production. She brings all that experience and knowledge, along with an unparalleled customer-service focus, to help self-publishing authors reach high-quality book publication more efficiently, professionally, and affordably.

One thought on “Five Tips for a Great Synopsis

  1. Dear Cheri Breeding,
    Thank you for a wonderful presentation on Back Cover Synopsis. I am also very pleased to find so many helpful hints from the people at Outskirts, since that is where my book is published. Makes me feel much more confident and prepared.
    John D Kearney

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