No one ever told me I would hate synopses

So here I am looking for agents. The first round of queries went okay, with mostly form rejections and couple of requests for partials and full. No acceptances yet though. :-(

What I should be doing is polishing the letter/ manuscript in preparation for round two. But I'm not. In fact there's a big wall in my way.

It's called the synopsis.

See, all the agents on my list from now on what synopses with the query letter. Some only want a short synopsis, some want a synopsis of the entire book chapter by chapter, most fall in between. This is a huge problem for one simple reason.

I hate synopses. They make me cranky...

(or grouchy, as the case may be.)

See, I have tried writing them before and they are irritating to me on almost every level. Here are a few examples:

1. I never know what to put in. Every character? Every subplot? If I'm not careful, this could end up being as long as the book itself...

2. I never know what to leave out. Say there are mystery aspects to my book, and the twist at the end is who the killer is. Do I need to say who it is? Can I just say "The main character confronts the killer." Well, maybe not for a complete synopsis, but what about a shorter one?

3. How does one organize it? A paragraph for every chapter? A loose outline? A list of events?


Heck, even the word itself is annoying. it's hard to spell and almost as hard to pluralize. If I hadn't had spell-check I would have been writing about synopsis-es.

Argh and Double argh...

I know, I know, being able to summarize my book is a valuable skill and one I'm going to need. And I know it's probably not as hard as I'm making it out to be in my head. I just feel like I know way too little about writing these dang things. Especially for something so important.

Help me out here, oh intelligent and experienced readers. What do I do?


  1. I keep my synopses a little on the vague side, not too many details. Try reading book jackets and see how they summarize the story, and go for that. Esp read the jackets of books you're familiar with, and I think you'll see that details are just enough, but the essence of the book comes through. I've seen that advice often, to write a synopsis as if it's a book jacket. Hope this helps.

  2. I have a short synopsis (I also call this a blurb) for use *in* the cover letter. And [sigh] a full page synopsis (I also call this a 'torture device') for when they want a true synopsis. The full page synopsis, I have been told, should spill the beans, so no cliffhanger ending. If your MC is the killer, the agent should know by the end of the synopsis. The blurb should read like a movie trailer. Here is a website with some synopsis tips in the Writers Corner: It's pretty basic, but helpful.
    I hate synopses too.

  3. Always short - no more than two pages no matter what. Keeping it shorter will allow you to show your voice, which you should do in the synopsis also.

  4. It's so hard! How can you condense a book, with all of it's nuances and subplots down into two pages? I mean, it just seems crazy!

    That said, it's a hoop we writers have to jump through. I wrote one for the novel I'm querying, and it's not too bad. My suggestion is to write out the whole story (including all of the ending)as sparsely as possible. Then, pull out that scalpel and slice away. Have other people read it, and have them slice away. Just slice, slice, until you get it. (btw, I'd be happy to help, if you like.)

  5. I am not an author so I do not know what you are going through or what is right and wrong in writing world but what about having someone else write it up for you and have you edit it? Someone who you trust of course but maybe that would help with your hate of doing it. At least that would help you get started.

  6. Oh wow, thanks all! This is going to be really helpful. I'm wondering if I should do an experiment and write up a synopsis for the Flute and the Dagger (minus ending paragraph of course) and post it for your analysis. Do you think that would be a good idea?

  7. Hey Mir -

    I don't know much about this stuff, but is a synopsis more or less an effort to get the publisher's attention? If so, you should probably write to sell the book - you know, dazzle them with all the advertising know-how you've learned at Starbuck for the last couple of years. Granted it is only a synopsis for your book, but it's also the only real form of advertising you get with these people. Make 'em want to buy it!

  8. Definitely post it here. You can also send it to the critique group. Just ask for anyone who has time to take a look at it. You'll usually get 2 or 3 responses.

  9. Ashley- Normally I would completely agree with you, but this would be a synopsis for a book I've already sold, just to see if I have the general idea right. (That's why I'd leave the ending off, so people still want to read it.)

    Amy- Oh, good idea. I must mull on that...

  10. Oh, the lovely tortures of synopsis writing. :)

    Industry standard for a synopsis is one page, single spaced. It's all telling, and it's only the high points of the plot. I write my synopses by pulling the critical plot elements from each chapter, then weaving them all together. If it's too long (it's never too short), I trim it down. And it always has to include the ending, or the agents reading it will get cranky (or grouchy, as the case may be). :)

    As for posting it, that might help you and it might not. Someone who has read the story would be more helpful than someone who hasn't, since she can form her own opinions of what's a critical plot point and what isn't. :) Those who haven't read it can only comment on word choice, grammar, and punctuation.

    Good luck!

  11. Thanks Tabitha, I love knowing how long things are supposed to be. Then I can tailor accordingly...


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