7 February 2009 - 4:59 pm

Guidelines – Synopses

Here are some guidelines for creating a synopsis, which is part of the standard novel submission package for agents and publishers. Remember that a synopsis is a tool for selling your book – it is a marketing exercise. It is also expected that there will be differences between a synopsis and the final novel, so don’t worry about making it match the novel exactly.

What’s it for?
Most submittees (agents/publishers) will ask for a synopsis, either with the first 1-3 chapters or before seeing any of the novel at all. This is to show that you:

  • Can be professional.
  • Have a whole story (not just the first three chapters), and that you are capable of telling it.
  • Have well-rounded characters.
  • Have a logical and believable plot.

What do I put in it?
A synopsis is not an outline (a breakdown of the story chapter by chapter). It is an overview of your story, and should include the following elements:

  • The story’s progression from beginning to end.
  • The same writing style as the novel (even if the POV or tense are different). Try to make it engaging and interesting to read, not just a list of facts, names and events.
  • The end/twist/denouement. This one is very important: never put in cliffhangers or teasers.
  • All the important details of the story. It’s easy to miss some, so try to make sure that it’s all in there.
  • Motives – for the major characters, give an idea of why they act, as well as what they do.
  • Subplots – and how they link to the main plot.
  • An introductory first paragraph – one that brings in the protagonist, the situation and the main issue/thrust/problem of the story.

This can very widely between agents/publishers – always check with whoever you are submitting to for their exact guidelines. However, here’s an idea of what you should be aiming for:

  • Length: 1-2 pages. 
    No more than 2 pages (A4). Changing the margins or font size is cheating (and they will notice this). Some submittees can have wordcount limits, but that is unusual.
  • Spacing: single or double. Usually single should be fine, but some require double-spacing.
  • Paragraphs: space between each one.

These do not vary between agents and are considered non-negotiable industry standard:

  • Point of view: third person.
  • Tense: present.

Things to remember
A synopsis can seem like a chore, but it does serve an important purpose. These things are worth keeping in mind:

  • This is an example of your writing. Let it reflect you properly.
  • Spelling and grammar are important. It does make a difference. Get it proofread, get it right!
  • You are not bound to it! Agents and publishers are aware that stories change as they are worked on, so don’t feel tied to reproducing the exact story in your synopsis. No-one else is expecting you to.

Talks with published authors.
The Creative Writing Coursebook – Paul Magrs, Julia Bell
Teach Yourself How To Write A Blockbuster – Helen Corner and Lee Weatherly
The CWA guidelines for submissions for the Debut Dagger competition

What do you think of this post?
  • Awesome (0)
  • Interesting (0)
  • Useful (0)
  • More pls (0)

Comments are closed!