Skip to main content
Publish date:

How to Write a Novel Synopsis

- First of all, synopses have a specific format. They begin on a new page and should have all your contact information in the upper left corner of the first page. Just below your contact info, centered, should be the book’s title, its genre and your name. - The body of the synopsis is double-spaced. - Use dialogue sparingly, if at all. - You can get to the point, meaning you can say if a character is “a hopeless romantic.”

This is a "Blast From the

Past" post. To celebrate the

GLA Blog's 2nd birthday, I am

re-posting some of the best

"older" content that writers

likely missed.

If you write a novel and want to sell it, you'll need a good synopsis to hook a literary agent. A synopsis, simply put, is a long summary of your fictional story, detailing the events and characters.

At a recent writers' conference, I critiqued several synopses from amateur writers. When I met with the writers, I found myself repeating the same things over and over regarding formatting, content and length. I'll try and relay some tips in this post, so writers don't follow in their footsteps.

  • First of all, synopses have a specific format. They begin on a new page and should have all your contact information in the upper left corner of the first page. Just below your contact info, centered, should be the book's title, its genre and your name.
  • The body of the synopsis is double-spaced.
  • Use dialogue sparingly, if at all.
  • You can get to the point, meaning you can say if a character is "a hopeless romantic."
  • Starting on the second page, there should be a header at the top of all pages, looking like this: Author/TITLE/Synopsis. That should be pushed left while the page number should be pushed right.
  • Things must be explained. You can't say a character has "psychic powers" or "finds a surprise around the corner" without saying what these things mean. I find that writers, when questioned about confusing details, will often say, "Well that's explained in the book." Then I say, "OK ... but an agent won't read the book if they're confused by the synopsis. Make sense?
  • Try to stick with main plot points and characters. This will help cut down on confusion. Ideally, an agent won't get any name/character confusion because the synopsis doesn't detail needless subplots or minor characters.
  • When characters are mentioned for the first time, CAPITALIZE their name.
  • I read somewhere that a synopsis should read like you've summarizing a story for a 12-year-old. This is good advice. To practice, read a novel. Then explain the plot and characters of the story to a child as if it were a bedtime story. Tell the tale from beginning to end in 5-10 minutes. That's a synopsis.
  • Remember that queries and synopses are different things. You would never find a synopsis in a query. A query is a one-page letter that explains what you've written, who you are, and why the agent should represent you. In a query letter will be a pitch, which is a explanation of your story in 3-8 sentences. It's like the text you see on the back of a DVD box. It's designed to pique your interest. A pitch, like the back of a book or DVD, will not spill the beans regarding the ending.
  • I recommend having TWO versions of your synopsis - a "long synopsis" and a "short synopsis." Let me explain. In past years, there used to be a fairly universal system regarding synopses. For every 35 or so pages of text you had, you would have one page of synopsis explanation. So if your book was 245 pages, double-spaced, your synopsis would be seven pages approximately. This was fairly standard, and allowed writers a decent amount of space to explain their story. I recommend doing this first. This will be your "long synopsis." The problem is: Sometime in the past few years, agents started to get really busy and they want to hear your story now now now. They started asking for synopses of no more than two pages. Many agents today request specifically just that - two pages max. Some may even say one page, but two pages is generally acceptable. You have to draft a new, more concise synopsis - the "short synopsis." So which one do you submit? Good question. If you think your short synopsis (1-2 pages) is tight and effective, always use that. However, if you think the long synopsis is much more effective, then you will sometimes submit one and sometimes submit the other. If an agent requests two pages max, send the short one (because, naturally, you've been instructed to). If they just say "Send a synopsis," and you feel your longer synopsis is far superior, and your long synopsis isn't more than eight pages, I say just submit the long one.

Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers Conferences:

Image placeholder title

Don't let your submission be rejected for
improper formatting. The third edition of
Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript
has more than 100 examples of queries,
synopses, proposals, book text, and more.
Buy it online here at a discount.

Other writing/publishing articles and links for you:


writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: 4 WDU Courses, an Upcoming Webinar, Submission Deadline for Your Favorite Writing Websites, and More!

This week, we’re excited to announce 4 WDU courses, an upcoming webinar on creating an author website, and more!

How To Find the Right Professional Editor for Your Writing

How To Find the Right Professional Editor for Your Writing

It's not enough to know when your manuscript is ready for a professional edit—it's knowing who is the right fit to do the editing. Here, Tiffany Yates Martin discusses how to find the right professional editor for your writing.

From Script

Understanding the Writer and Agent Relationship (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by Script magazine, read an intimate interview with Verve Literary Agent and Partner David Boxerbaum about the state of the spec market, the relationship between a writer and agent, and more!

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Ending Your Story Too Soon

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Ending Your Story Too Soon

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake is ending your story too soon.

FightWrite™: Fight Scenes with Magic

FightWrite™: Fight Scenes With Magic

In this post, trained fighter and author Carla Hoch explores the process of writing fight scenes with magic—how to make the unbelievable believable, how limitations bring us closer to our characters, and more.

Invoice Template for Freelance Writers

Invoice Template for Freelance Writers

If you're a freelance writer who is able to secure assignments, an essential tool you'll need is an invoice. In this post, Writer's Digest Senior Editor Robert Lee Brewer shares a very basic and easy invoice template for freelance writers to get the job done (and get paid).

3 Things Being a Broadway Wig Master Taught Me About Storytelling

3 Things Being a Broadway Wig Master Taught Me About Storytelling

A career behind the curtain helped Amy Neswald in creating her own stories. Here, the author shares 3 things being a broadway wig master taught her about storytelling.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Out of Control

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Out of Control

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, let things get a little out of control.

November PAD Chapbook Challenge

2021 November PAD Chapbook Challenge: Next Steps

Here are the final steps for the 14th annual November PAD Chapbook Challenge! Use December and the beginning of January to revise and collect your poems into a chapbook manuscript. Here are some tips and guidelines.