So, you’ve completed a novel? Congratulations! That in itself is an impressive feat. Most people that set out to write books don’t finish them. But, now your novel is finished, you’ll want people to read it.
You may have received favorable responses from friends. You may even have held an online meeting with beta readers. Before you can send your work out into the world, however, you’ll need to impress a publisher and an agent.
This is where your next challenge lies. Publishers and literary agents will want to see a novel synopsis. This should include each key beat in the story from beginning to end.
To some authors, this is a more terrifying prospect than actually completing their book. How do you condense a full plot into a series of short sentences? While this is undoubtedly a challenge, it is impossible.
Here are some simple tips to help you secure an agent and get your book published.
Why is a Synopsis Important?
The most obvious reason is that it would be impractical for an agent or publisher to read every submission in full. A synopsis helps them identify quality writing from credible writers more easily.
Your synopsis isn’t like a blurb, which highlights exciting and compelling elements of a story. While this is undoubtedly important – alongside website personalization to direct readers to the right books, a compelling blurb is essential for making sales – a synopsis serves a different purpose.
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In it, you’ll need to create a full rundown of your plot. The fact is, a story should be able to stand on its own even when broken down into its most basic components. If a reader finds your synopsis dull, they’re unlikely to enjoy it in its fuller form either.
If there are any glaring issues with your story, such as a nonsensical plot or poor structuring, a synopsis will reveal them. This isn’t only useful to agents or publishers. Laying out your plot in a simplified beat-by-beat manner can help you identify issues too. After all, it’s better to fix any problems with your story before you send it.
When you prioritize your tasks, don’t overlook the importance of a strong synopsis. Here’s how to construct one.
How to write your novel synopsis
1. Know What to Include
This is the most basic step in planning a synopsis. It’s also the most difficult. Your novel will likely contain many characters, settings, and plot points. Which should you include within it? There is no clear-cut answer to this.
Take a moment to consider the importance of each character and their role within the story. Does a side character have a meaningful impact on your protagonist? If so, they should be included. If a character has more of a supporting role and doesn’t influence the overall direction of the plot, you probably don’t need to include them.
Similarly, which settings drive the story? Imagine, for example, that your character meets a friend at a coffee shop before going home. The scene has no major relevance to the plot and shouldn’t be included. Alternatively, what if, while visiting the coffee shop, your character finds a note telling them to go somewhere. In this instance, this is a significant plot point and should be included.
2. Avoid Wordy Sentences
As the creator of a story, it can be hard to look at this process objectively. To write a successful synopsis, however, you need to adopt a different mindset. Describing plot points in short, snappy sentences isn’t easy, especially if you’re describing a scene you’re proud of.
Just remember the agent or publisher isn’t looking to read your full manuscript at this stage. They simply want to understand your novel. This doesn’t mean your synopsis should be dry or dull. Your objective is to hold the readers’ attention, not send them to sleep.
Rather than describing each action within a scene, describe how a character is feeling. How have events within a plot affected their mentality? If you’re unsure, a good practice can be to write a synopsis for a book you enjoy. Write down each of the key plot points in order.
You’ll no doubt find you can summarize another author’s work more easily than yours. This is because you can adopt a more detached approach, allowing you to look at the process more rationally. Try to utilize this same approach when summarizing your work.
3. Don’t Use ‘Marketing Speak’
Your novel synopsis isn’t a sales pitch. An agent or publisher won’t want to read jargon. The purpose of it is to provide information about your novel, not sell insurance. You may already have written a short synopsis for a blurb. Here, it’s fine to use exciting language to draw a reader in. After all, the purpose of a blurb is to sell the book.
Remember, this isn’t the purpose of a synopsis. You’re trying to inform the reader, not dazzle them (a strong plot will do this anyway). This means no rhetorical or answered questions.
It’s also definitely not an opportunity to show off your writing skills. Don’t attempt to impress by using complex words or poetic descriptions. Leave that for your online blog or social media posts.
A reader is expecting a description of your plot. Anything beyond this will only put them off. Instead of using jargon, think about how you can use language to properly summarize your story.
4. Don’t explain themes or backstories
Have you created a rich backstory for your main character? Well, this isn’t the time to tell it. You may also have created a world with its own history. You might be tempted to explain how it came into being, but avoid this temptation. While you’re no doubt proud of what you’ve created, it has little relevance here.
Similarly, there may be numerous themes that characterize your novel. You may want to talk about these and how they drive the plot. As you’ve probably guessed, this is a bad idea too. A successful synopsis will already give the reader a feel for the themes of a story. As the expression goes, ‘show don’t tell’.
Don’t forget, your synopsis should be no more than a few pages. Any longer and an agent will consign it to the trash. Within this space, you must summarise your entire novel – usually, between 70,000 and 120,000 words. With limited space, you don’t have the word count to go into great detail about the backstories and themes of your book.
Ultimately, if a reader finds your synopsis appealing, they’ll go on to read the full work. You could think about starting an author website if you’d like a space to talk about the themes or world-building in your novel. If you go down this path, be sure to use cornerstone content to drive traffic.
5. Edit Your Novel Synopsis Carefully
You’ve finished your synopsis. Happy? You should be. You’ve almost completed the next crucial step in sending your book to an agent or publisher. We use the word ‘almost’ because there’s one important step remaining – you need to go through your synopsis with a fine-tooth comb and correct any errors.
Your synopsis is your only chance to leave a lasting impression on a reader. You want to make sure it’s positive. Mistakes such as typos or bad grammar will have the opposite effect. To be sure of an error-free document, check and double-check what you’ve written and use spell-checking software such as Grammarly.
If you have an editor, enlist their help to read your synopsis. Host a quick video call after to discuss how your synopsis could be improved.
6. Avoid General Pitfalls
Alongside the points listed above, there are some general pitfalls lots of writers fall into. To avoid these:
- Don’t use terms that refer to the structure of your novel. Avoid language such as ‘the story opens with’ or ‘at the conclusion of the novel’.
- Stick to conventional methods of writing. Dictation features in voice recognition software have many fantastic uses, but using them to write your synopsis might not be the best application of this tool.
- Avoid using dialogue. There may be occasions where the inclusion of dialogue is useful. As a rule, however, you should avoid it in your synopsis.
- Be consistent with your character names. It might sound obvious, but it’s an easy mistake to make. In your book, you may use nicknames to refer to your character. Stick to using their formal names in your synopsis.
It might seem daunting, but once you get your head around the process, writing a synopsis isn’t too difficult. You’ve written a novel – a synopsis should be a walk in the park. Remember, you can start again if you need to.
That being said, a strong synopsis is extremely important. It’s critical for success. There’s no time limit, and you only get one chance with each publisher or agent (per book). Don’t get disheartened if you receive a rejection. There are 2,600 different companies in the US publishing industry – you’re probably not going to run out of options any time soon.
So, get planning. If you follow the simple steps listed above, you’ll be well on your way to writing a gripping novel synopsis. Good luck!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Patty is the EMEA Product Marketing Manager for RingCentral Office, the leader in cloud communications solutions. Patty is passionate about creating value and differentiation, ensuring a better experience for customers and partners.
She gained a wealth of international product marketing, product management, GTM, and market development experience, across a range of high-tech SaaS in a fast-paced, hyper-growth environment that assumes both strategic and tactical execution.
She is not new to UC, starting in Tandberg, then Cisco, driving the launch of video collaboration and services, online meeting software, and Enghouse with global responsibilities for hosted CCaaS. She has written for Quirk’sMedia and PrettyLinks.