How to write a synopsis

The challenge

You’ve finished your manuscript and spent even more time editing.  Finally, it is at a standard you are now confident to present.  Now you are preparing to query.

When it comes to querying literary agents they general request the same things:

  • A sample of your manuscript
  • A covering letter
  • A synopsis

Many will ask you to keep the synopsis to one page (or 500-800 words).  That is the challenge:  summarize 80k words into one page.

Create a standard version

Most agents will want similar things in a synopsis.  So it is worth having a standard version that you can use as a template and adapt to meet their requirements.

What to include?

  • Title:  Novel title
  • Plot:  outline the story arc from start to finish.  Only give the meaningful events and you must include the ending.  A synopsis should be written in third person.
  • Main character names:  type these in capitals when they are first introduced.
  • Genre: Target market (in header/footer)
  • Novel length:  word count of full novel (rounded to the nearest whole thousandth number in header/footer)
  • Contact details:  Your contact details (in header/footer)

How to lay it out?

  • Length:  500 to 800 words
  • Font:  Times New Roman or Arial (it must be easy to read)
  • Text size:  ideally 12 pt (no smaller than 10pt)
  • Text colour:  black
  • Background:  plain white
  • Document Format:  Check but generally .doc or docx (you may need to copy and paste it into a body of an email or convert to pdf)
  • Paragraphs:  Indent the first line of your paragraphs and use single line spacing

How to approach this?

Try to break your novel into sections:


  • introduce the main characters/setting/era, etc
  • inciting event – the catalyst that kicks the story off


  • Middle (the plan) – how your character(s) will solve their predicament
  • Middle (twist) – something that goes wrong with the plan
  • Middle (new plan) – how your character(s) will solve their predicament


  • Conclusion – the epic battle, the tie up of loose ends, the big reveal (murder mystery), they get the guy (or not)

If you can break your novel up into section for the main events, you can try to keep those sections to one paragraph. This will help keep the word count of your synopsis down.


Keep saving your synopsis and then return to see what you can edit out.  Some fixes will be simple – remove filler words like ‘that’.  You will also need to be critical about what details are necessary to keep and may see you can delete out some minor subplots.  Keep doing this until you have reduced the size to at least one page or 500 to 800 words.

What not to do?

  • Teasers:  The document should clearly tell them what happens and not leave any mystery or cliff hangers.
  • Chapters:  Don’t describe what happens in each chapter.
  • Details:  It isn’t necessary to describe settings and characters or explain every actions the MC makes.  Leave out minor characters and minor subplots.
  • Mention other stories:  keep the synopsis focused on the story it is about.
  • Shrink the font:  This may be tempting to make it fit on the page but if it is not easy to read then… it won’t get read.
  • Fancy font:  Again, if it isn’t easy to read, then they’ll move on to another query that is.
  • Wrong format:  If they ask for the synopsis in a certain format then it is for a reason.

Finally – Tweak to meet the requirements

  • Guidelines:  Check agents requirements.

Whoever you are submitting to will likely make certain requests on how they want the Synopsis presented and you will need to tweak your standard version to meet their needs.  For example, they may ask for a certain font size or style or they may request a word count or number of pages.  Some will want you to include a tag line or to submit it in the body of the email (not as an attachment).

Always, check the guidelines before submitting.