How To Write A Book Synopsis

Once Upon A Time pencilMany writers I know find writing a synopsis VERY difficult. There’s so much you want to include. How do you decide what to leave out? How long it is supposed to be? What tone should you write it in?

5 Steps To A Perfect Synopsis

1. Take time to set up the premise

Use the opening paragraph to set up the setting, premise, and other world building ideas. You only have one chance to draw us into your world. If someone hasn’t read your book and is reading your synopsis first what will they need to know?

2. Focus on conflict

We want to know what trouble we’ll be encountering in this book. What are the road blocks? What hurdles does the main character have to overcome? How high are the stakes?

3. Clearly outline the character’s growth arc

A one dimensional main character will suck the air out of your manuscript’s tires. We want to see a character develop and grow over the course of the book. The synopsis is the perfect place to boil this down. Show how the main character reacts in certain situations. Bring them to life on the pages of the synopsis even though you’re not writing creatively.

4. Focus on plot

What is the narrative arc? The synopsis is a play-by-play. Don’t be afraid to tell–even though in your manuscript you’ll be showing, not telling, right?–because we want to know what the main scenes will entail. It’s hard to know how many details to include, but if you start with a summary of each chapter and then mould it together you’ll be able to see what chapters are the most important to the reader’s understanding of the book.

5. Tell us the ending

Yes, please tell us the ending! This is a common misconception. A synopsis isn’t a query letter and it isn’t your back cover copy. Tell us how things resolve. Being able to resolve your manuscript is a big writerly skill and we want to see you can do it well.

A simple synopsis: premise, rising action of conflict, climax, character growth, resolution. 

What NOT to do in your synopsis:

  • Write it in your main character’s voice
  • Include EVERY plot point
  • Detail what the reader will learn and hit us over the head with metaphor and symbolism
  • Leave the ending, or other major plot points, out

TIP: If you want to be prepared in advance for when an agent asks, have a 1 and 3 page synopsis ready. Some agents ask for synopses of different lengths so save yourself some time when you get a request.

Some synopsis resources:

How to Write a Synopsis Without Losing Your Mind

Anatomy of a short synopsis

The synopsis: what it is, what it isn’t, how to write it

Marissa Meyer on synopsis writing

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

43 thoughts on “How To Write A Book Synopsis

  1. Carly, how would you recommend that author hopefuls approach writing synopses in the case of large, complex, multiple narrative arc novels? Obviously you need to straddle the line between giving enough information and not writing a second novel in the form of a synopsis. Do you have examples of synopses for complex books that work well?


    1. I don’t have examples, but the main principle there is world building, setting up the premise and following the complex plot. If there are multiple sub plots only include the most important.


  2. Pingback: Lauren K. Denton
  3. Carly, thank you for your fabulous tips on the daunting writing of a synopsis.

    Do you provide a query and synopsis editing service? If so, cost and turnaround time?

    Thank you.


What do you think? I love hearing from you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: