The Synopsis

If we like your idea, as pitched in the query letter, we may ask you for a synopsis.  If you talk to ten different agents, you will get ten different stories on how to write a synopsis.  The truth is, there are few hard and fast rules for writing one.  The idea is to simply tell your entire story, from start to finish, as briefly and succinctly as you can.  If you do that, then it really doesn’t matter what form your synopsis takes.  But that’s a lot like the United States Supreme Court’s view on obscenity:  “We can’t define it, but we know it when we see it.”  The same is true for a good synopsis. 

That being said, let us tell you what we look for in a synopsis.

The first thing most people want to know is how long it should be. I once asked that very question of a college professor about a research paper I had been assigned.  He replied that “Good writing should be like a woman’s dress:  Long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to make it interesting.”  In the case of a synopsis, we believe a woman’s dress should be one to three pages long, and no longer.

Write the synopsis in third person.  It doesn’t matter if the novel is written in first person, write the synopsis in the third.  It’s easier to summarize the story that way.  And write in present tense, all the way through.  Again, it doesn’t matter if the novel is written in past tense, write the synopsis in present.

Start at the beginning of the book and work your way straight through to the end, summarizing the action.  Tell everything, including any twists at the end.  You want to tease the reader of your book, but that comes after it’s published.  To get it published, you have to first convince the agent that it works, so that the agent can convince the publisher that it works.  To do that, you can’t withhold the twists and surprises from them.

When you reach the end of the book, stop.  You don’t need to sum up or restate any of what you’ve already said.  The synopsis should end just as the book ends.

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