What is a book synopsis?
A book synopsis is a summary of your book that tells the story from beginning to end. It traces the main characters and all the major plot points, the big twists—and yes, even the ending—to show the progression of the narrative arc and each character’s arc throughout the book.
It is useful for seeing the progression of a story and its characters, and is helpful when planning how to market a book.
A book synopsis is usually one to two pages (or up to six, depending on who you talk to) and single-spaced.
Why write a book synopsis?
When an author wants to traditionally publish a book, they will often need to include a synopsis in their submission package to a literary agent or publisher. The goal here is to get the agent or publisher so excited about the book that they want to read the whole thing.
If you’re planning on self-publishing, a synopsis of your book is just as important. Writing one will help you craft a more cohesive book, and give you material to help you market your book.
Condensing your novel into a handful of pages sounds super scary and hard, I know, but it’s worth it.
How will a book synopsis make your book better?
A synopsis will help you get a clear view of your book to see any plot holes, issues with character motivations, or wonky structure before you submit a book for publishing.
Writing a synopsis between drafts can help you flag (and then fix!) problems. Does the story go off on a rabbit trail away from the main plot? Does a character’s motivation change for no reason part-way through the story? Is there a story thread that gets abandoned halfway through?
How do you write a book synopsis?
There are a few ways to approach writing a synopsis. Here are two ways to try.
Literary agent Ammi-Joan Paquette suggests a four-step method.
- Write a one sentence synopsis that states what your book is about. This will be quite general and vague, but it’s a good place to start.
- Who is your main character?
- What do they want or need?
- What’s stopping them from getting what they want or need?
- Expand your sentence into a paragraph with more details.
- What is the setting?
- How old is the character?
- Who is the main antagonist?
- Is there a love interest?
- Any other relevant details about the conflict?
- Expand your paragraph to a single page by including secondary characters and significant plot points.
- Include emotion to show the heart of the story.
- Who are the most important secondary characters?
- Expand your single page to a full synopsis that shows the heart of the story and the progression of the characters.
- Trace all the threads of the story and how they connect.
- Include the ending.
Best-selling author Marissa Meyer has a six-step method to writing a book synopsis.
- Read through your manuscript
- Note the important events in each chapter in a couple of sentences.
- Embellish the beginning
- Introduce the main character and conflict in a way that will hook the reader.
- Add in all of your chapter summary sentences.
- Use a because/then method to revise the plot
- Ensure each event included leads into the next in a way that makes sense.
- Revise the character in the synopsis
- Show how important events impact or change the character emotionally.
- Edit with an eye to cutting extra words
- Ensure the synopsis is interesting and engaging but also as short as possible.
Tips for writing a book synopsis
- A synopsis is usually written in third person present tense, even if your manuscript is in another point of view.
- A synopsis is usually single-spaced.
- The first mention of a character’s name should be in ALL CAPS.
- Don’t just detail the plot – that’s boring and dry to read – include the character’s emotional journey too.
- Don’t use dialogue.
- Don’t be overly-detailed about minor characters.
- Use familiar language (and save invented terms for the actual manuscript).
- Be as concise as possible.
Fun Fact: I’m working on a book synopsis for my novel-in-progress right now. I wrote the first draft during NaNoWriMo and it is a hot mess. Writing the synopsis is helping me figure out what my story should look like and how to get my characters where I want them to be.
Have you written a book synopsis? What was the experience like?