Step 3: The Synopsis – The Taster That Gets Them Hooked

synopsis

If all goes to plan, you hooked the agent/editor enough with the query letter to make them turn the page and start reading your synopsis.

What is a synopsis?

Think of it like one bite of a dish. The purpose is to give them a taste of what it’s like.

How long should it be?

Strictly speaking, you’re allowed up to five pages for a synopsis but it is recommended to stick to one (two, if you must). Remember, the synopsis gives them a taste. One bite does that. Leave them wanting more.

Every page you add, adds to the odds of losing the interest of your reader.

How do you condense a whole book into just one page?

Grab a few of your favourite books off the shelves and read the jackets. Don’t lean too much into the examples you find. You must keep the uniqueness of your story in your synopsis or they don’t have any reason to buy it.

  • Tell your story in prose, from start to (surprise) finish* in present tense, in the same point of view as the manuscript.
  • Skip ‘life at rest’. If possible, open with multiple character so your protagonist is immediately in conflict.
  • Present the names and descriptions of all major characters. Give those major characters, the setting and the main conflict within the first 300 words.
  • Summarize all major events.
  • Skip all dialogue unless absolutely necessary.
  • Reveal just enough to create interest in your script. Write it as if it’s a short story.

*This may go against your instinct, but do include the surprise ending. You don’t want to lead a reader on and then leave him hanging. Too many new authors promise more than they actually deliver. The editor won’t waste time on guessing games.

Check your synopsis

There is nothing worse than reading a page-long story and still having no idea what it’s about.

You know every detail in your story, so it’s nearly impossible to be objective about the impression you’ve painted with your synopsis. Give it a friend who hasn’t read the full manuscript. Even better, give it a stranger who’s never heard of you or any of your story ideas. If it makes sense to him, it works.

Sample Chapters

Sometimes the synopsis leads to a request for sample chapters before it leads to a full manuscript. Sometimes an agent or editor skips the whole synopsis and asks directly for a few sample chapters instead.

Which do you send?

Unless otherwise specified, send the first couple of consecutive chapters. Chapters from the middle of the story might be too confusing to have proper effect.

Synopsis / Sample Chapter Format

  • Fully typed. No handwriting.
  • Clean print. Use a new ink cartridge, avoid fading.
  • White 20 lb. paper (not erasable bond paper).
  • Plain font. (Courier 12, Geneva 12)
  • Comfortable font size (avg. 250 words per page, give or take 5%)
  • One-inch margins all around.
  • Chapter breaks should start on a new page.
  • Title/author name should be on every page.
  • Anything longer than one page, must be numbered.
  • All material should be unbound. (Incl. sample chapters and even the full manuscript.)
  • Double spacing.*

*You might get away with using single or a space and a half on your synopsis if this makes it fit on one single page.