What is a Synopsis & What Do Publishers Mean When They Ask for One?
When you submit your work to a publisher, they will usually ask for the first few pages or chapters (each publisher has their own standard). This is to give them an idea of whether or not they believe the material is something they feel they can publish and promote.
If they like your work, they’re going to ask for something else: more pages (often up to the first 50) and a synopsis.
To many writers, “synopsis” is a word that evokes the same feeling of dread as “hard drive failure”, “total memory loss”, and “apocalyptic brain freeze”. But why is that?
Simple: a synopsis is essentially a summary of your entire manuscript (anywhere from 40,000 to 120,000 words of pure fiction magic) fit into 1-3 pages.
Imagine that! You’ve labored to build a huge world, tell a broad story, and added thousands of details to make the words on your pages come to life. Now they want you to boil it down to a few pages? How the heck can you do that?
Writing a novel synopsis is both a lot easier and a lot harder than you’d think:
The Easy – You don’t have to worry about showing vs. telling, tenses, POV, or anything else. All you have to do is lay out the story line in a direct, clinical method so the publisher understands all the important elements of the story.
The Hard – You have to shrink your story to only its most crucial elements (main characters, important story lines, major plot twists, etc.). A lot of your sub-plots will be left out because they aren’t vital to the synopsis.
What to Include in Your Synopsis
There are a few elements that you ALWAYS need to have in your synopsis:
- The narrative arc. This is the story of what happens. It includes the characters, settings, problems, plot, obstacles, and ending.
- The character arc. Your character does grow, change, and develop through the story. You need to ensure that the publisher knows about these changes and developments by describing the arc your character goes through.
- Unique point of view. What makes your story different from everything else out there? Is it a unique character, a unique problem, or a unique take on a common character or problem? Make sure your synopsis highlights anything that makes the story unique.
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Start off by filling out the narrative arc. Talk about all the major characters (protagonists, antagonists, secondary characters, and anyone who plays a significant role in the story), and relate the story from start to finish with all the important elements.
Then go back over it and include the character arc. Add details of how they react to each obstacle, how they change and grow to overcome them, or how they fail. This is where you flesh out the emotional/personal journey your character has undergone through the course of the book.
Finally, add details to bring out the unique point of view. Showcase the elements of your book that make it stand out. Highlight them in the context of the story, and how they drive the plot/characters forward.
Synopses range in length from 1-3 pages. Some publishers will ask for a synopsis of a certain length, while others won’t specify how long they want it.
To be safe, write two synopses:
- Longer – This could go up to 3 pages long, and should include more detail. This is where you get to tell your story in full length.
- Shorter –– Try to write a synopsis around 500-800 words, just over a page long. ONLY add the major details and elements, and make sure it focuses only on the really important elements.
Need help figuring out that synopsis? Here are some resources to help you out:
- Back to Basics: Writing a Novel Synopsis
- Your Guide To An Effective Novel Synopsis
- Synopsis Example: “The Way, Way Back”
- How to Write a Synopsis
- How To Write A Book Synopsis
When he discovered science fiction and fantasy through the pages of writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs, J.R.R Tolkien, and Orson Scott Card, he was immediately hooked and hasn’t looked back since.
Reading—and now writing—is his favorite escape, and it provides him an outlet for his innate creativity. He is an artist; words are his palette.