“Don’t judge a book by its cover” is TERRIBLY bad advice. While we would all love to live in judgement-free world where people actually walked through a bookstore and opened every single cover to read what was inside, we don’t. Large, loud, colorful displays crowd every bookstore and the title with the best cover wins. While “don’t judge a book by its cover” should absolutely apply to people, we cannot say the same things about books. An ugly book cover will dissuade a reader from picking it up, and a poorly written synopsis can be the difference between you getting an agent and a reader tossing your book in the trash. Your book synopsis tells the agent your querying everything you need to know about your book in one paragraph. Seems impossible, doesn’t it?
How do I write a great book synopsis?
Your book synopsis needs to condense your 50k novel down into merely a hundred and fifty words. To write a great synopsis, you need to tell the story, give a clear idea of the conflict and the resolution, and avoid boring language. If you do all of these things, your synopsis will be the sexiest on the block. You can use this synopsis minus the resolution on the back of your book AND you can send the synopsis with the resolution to agents when you query them. The book synopsis is also a great backbone for an elevator pitch about your book. It will allow you to quickly identify the characters, the plot, and the conflict so you can spit it out to someone in fifteen seconds flat. The hard part is going to be reducing your book down into a paragraph or less, so buckle up!
What do I include in a book synopsis?
The first thing to include is the names of the main characters and their role in the story. What you DON’T want to do is this: Bella and Edward are in love but he’s a vampire. This is boring, leaves no mystery, and will not draw readers or agents in. Introduce us to your characters as if we’re sitting around a campfire and you’re about to tell us the most thrilling story of our lives. You want to focus on the protagonist mostly and focus on their main struggles and conflict. Revealing the character’s motive is crucial at this point. That is what is going to MOTIVATE (see what I did there?) the reader to pick up the book.
Next, go deep into the conflict. What really grinds your protagonists gears? What is the major big bad that they’re trying to destroy? Again what we don’t want is this: Bella and Edward are in love but he’s a vampire and doesn’t feel safe loving her. BORING. Take the tone of your novel and really add some zest to that synopsis. Your reader or the agent should also understand what is the source of the conflict and how the protagonist is going to deal with said conflict. If you’re writing the synopsis for the back of your book, this is where you’ll stop. Your reader obviously doesn’t want to know the resolution… they need to read the book for that!
If you’re sending the synopsis with a query to an agent, they will want to know the end of the book. It may seem lame spoiling your book, but they don’t care. They are trying to assess whether or not they want to go out on a limb and try and sell your book to publishers. The last part of the synopsis needs to include how your protagonist solves the conflict and also how the character (and the world that they are in) grows and changes. Once you’ve included all of these things, you should start to have a nice synopsis!
What should I avoid when writing my synopsis?
Synopses are hard to write, and it’s really easy to get caught in traps when you’re working on them. First, don’t get dragged down by the details. While having some basic information is important, don’t get bogged down by extra characters’ names, or names of meaningless story locations. Stick to the bare bones. If you do want to mention specific character names (especially if they are main characters) you can put their name in all caps if you like. Beware of tangents and unnecessary information, and keep your synopsis short and sweet.
Don’t spend a lot of time deconstructing every one of your story’s themes. You don’t have to offer an interpretation, just what the story is. Your agent will love to talk to you about your story’s themes and symbolism after they decide to take on your book, not before. Imagine you’re explaining the plot pyramid to your agent or the reader, and that was all. The reader can interpret the novel for themselves.
Character backstory should be left out unless it’s directly tied to your protagonist’s motivation in the novel. Even then, you should only include a sentence or two. Remember, this should be short, sweet and succinct. Don’t go overboard! If you’ve written a story with a lot of flashbacks, don’t include those in the synopsis.
Don’t include dialogue. You can always add dialogue to the back of your book as flavor text, but if you’re sending this to an agent, skip it. If you do include dialogue, it has to be the most iconic dialogue of all time.
No rhetorical questions! Not only is this campy (Wiiiiiill the Mario Brothers ever get to watch The Lord of the Rings? Wiiiiiiilll I ever get a life?), but agents don’t want to see it. Even on back covers of books, they should be avoided. Your goal in a synopsis to an agent should not be to entice them but to inform them.
Keep your synopsis all in one paragraph. Not only will the query sections of agent websites specify how long they want the synopsis, breaking it up into two paragraphs is confusing. One tight paragraph, people!
Don’t be too flowery with prose. You want to keep your synopsis short, sweet, and succinct. When you go to put it on the back of your book, THEN you can get flowery. Just tell. This is entirely counterproductive when you’ve been told, “show, don’t tell” for so long, but trust me. It’s okay to come out and describe your character as what they are (a jaded antihero, for example). The agent isn’t here to get hooked, they’re here to be convinced.
When should I write my book’s synopsis?
After you’re entirely done with the first draft of your book is a safe time to write the synopsis. At that point, you’ll know your major players, your climax, and your resolution. You should never write your synopsis at the beginning of the writing project. It’ll take a lot longer and won’t be as good!
For me, writing the synopsis is the hardest part. How do you take 50,000 words and reduce them down to nothing? Don’t be afraid to really take a while to write a good synopsis. You want your synopsis to be dressed to impress and in this case, first impressions are everything. Have you written a killer synopsis? I’d love to see it below. Feel free to share! Good luck writing your synopsis and good luck getting your book in front of agents. Happy writing!