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How to Write a Synopsis for a Book

If you’re submitting a query letter to a publisher or literary agent, then one of the mandatory paragraphs in that letter will be a synopsis for the manuscript you’ve written.

If you are self-publishing a book, you will want to have a high quality summary of your book written for the back cover. This will help potential readers feel the need to pick up your book and want to read it.

Either way, one of the most important skills you can have as a writer is knowing how to write a synopsis for a book that is interesting, informative, and accurate. These are the steps you’ll want to follow to make sure that happens.

#1. Understand that there is no “correct” way to write a synopsis.

Maybe you’ve seen some advice that tells you to write certain things into a synopsis or leave other items out. The fact is that a synopsis for a book really depends on the actual manuscript being reviewed. There isn’t a format or set of guidelines to follow. So summarize your book into 500 words or less, keep it to a single page, and then use this document for all of your submissions unless asked for something else.

#2. A synopsis should involve more than just the plot of the story.

A good book has some level of conflict in it. There’s always a variation of the good vs. evil dynamic happening in some way. Make sure you include some of the finer details of the book so that the summary lets someone get to know the characters of your story as well.

#3. Stick to the basics whenever you can.

You can fill up an entire synopsis by trying to include all of your character names. Add in some locations and scenes and you’ve got a multi-page submission no one wants to read. Keep your tangents down to a minimum. Absolutely name your primary characters if it adds to the synopsis, but it isn’t always necessary.

#4. Don’t try to interpret the many layers of your book.

If your book is an onion, offered to the reader in many layers, then the book synopsis is the skin of the onion. You see it and you know that came from the onion. You get that there are many layers underneath the onion skin once it gets peeled off.

But you don’t have to peel it off to understand that you’re holding an onion. Show what your book is about instead of trying to tell someone how they should interpret your book.

#5. Backstories should generally be excluded from a synopsis.

You’re not trying to tell the complete life stories of all your characters in a synopsis. One sentence about their history is all a summary really requires to make a point. For this reason, having a complete backstory summary within your synopsis, then trying to summarize other backstories while also creating an overall summary, creates confusion.

After all, you’re asking someone to read the summary of a summary contained within a summary if you do that. So don’t do that.

#6. Dialogue is unnecessary in a synopsis.

In most books, there is a driving force that helps to keep the reader engaged. It is this force that needs to be summarized. Now if your driving force is the dialogue in the book, then you may wish to include a couple of examples so the reader of the synopsis can get a true feel for the book. Otherwise adding dialogue may actually distract from what you’re trying to accomplish.

#7. Leave the rhetorical questions alone.

You’re not trying to be a philosopher. You’re trying to become a published author. The rhetorical questions belong in the book. The answers, without giving away the full ending of the book, belong in the synopsis.

#8. Write with precision.

A synopsis shouldn’t be structured like a blog post. Subheadings, numbered lists [like this content], and other common online structures make for an uncomfortable synopsis in most circumstances. If you have multiple plot points, then creating sections within your synopsis may make sense. Otherwise it may wind up being more of a distraction.

#9. Leave the flowery prose at home.

Be straightforward with your synopsis. You’re not trying to create something that is so beautiful that it will be remembered for centuries. That kind of prose belongs in the book. What you need in the synopsis is the reverse of what you need in a book – tell, don’t show.

Just get straight to the point. You don’t have to be wordy, but you do need to be thorough. That’s how to write a synopsis for a book in general terms. The rest is up to you.

Melissa G Wilson

Melissa has been a leader in the book writing, publishing and marketing arena for the past two decades. To date, she has helped more than 100 thought leaders write, publish and market their books. Her clients include executives such as Dan Weinfurter a seven-time Inc 500 winner and Orlando Ashford, President of Holland Cruise Lines.

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