Okay, I’m going to admit upfront that I am not an expert on the synopsis.

In fact, like many writers I screw up my forehead, get a pain in my stomach and feel the beginnings of a migraine coming on at the very thought.

I mean let’s face it, is there anything harder than writing a synopsis? (Except filling out a grant application of course.)

What does a synopsis ask of you? It requires you to condense what is sometimes a very long book into a few succinct sentences that display your skills and experience as a writer, introduce your characters, tell what happens to them, show the resolution – and sell your story – all in about as many words as I have just used on this post.

Recently, I was asked by a couple of writer friends to help with their synopses.

They weren’t my submissions, so fortunately, I didn’t feel that same mind numbing panic – and could actually think straight. In fact I was able to breathe deeply and realise this:

Yes, the synopsis is hard – and yes, it can make or break your submission, but if you put the panic aside, strip the task back to the basics, it is manageable.

To write a killer synopsis, I think you need to put yourself in someone else’s shoes… or slush pile.

Imagine you are the publisher/editor picking up your twentieth synopsis for the day. What would you hope to find?

As I ruminated over what makes up a good synopsis, I thought to myself, what would I want to know about this book?
This is what I came up with – these are the things that I think would help sell your story.

  • Who is the main character?
  • What does he/she want?
  • What is the main obstacle/enemy that/who stops him/her getting what he/she wants?
  • Does your MC get what he/she wants in the end?
  • How does the experience change his/her life?
  • Who is the audience for your book?
  • What are your credentials as a writer?

(As I mentioned, I’m no expert, so I’d welcome any suggestions/additions to this list).

I hope you have found this post useful and that it’s helped take the fear out of writing your synopsis. When you think about it, a synopsis is just words on a page. (I’ll try to remember that myself next time I’m stricken with terror at the thought of writing one.)

Happy writing.



  1. Sounds like good advice – considering the manuscript from the perspective of someone who hasn’t spent the last however many months (years) working on it. Thanks for sharing.

  2. And being one of the above-mentioned authors needing help with a synopsis, I can guarantee Dee’s list does make it a whole lot easier.
    The key thing for me was making sure I didn’t put in TOO much extraneous detail about the plot. It’s all about condensing and finding the essence of your story.

  3. Congratulations Chris,

    Good to know that it works:-) I agree that blurbs can also be terrifying – there is a lot at stake. Look forward to reading your new book.


  4. Thanks Dee. Great advice as usual. I will now attack my synopsis and see if I can cut it down to one page using those points.

  5. I wish someone would decide once and for all how long a synopsis is supposed to be. It seems as soon as I master a short one, my agent wants a 10 pager. Arg!

  6. Thanks Karen,

    The synopsis is a hard thing to write, isn’t it? I agree that it’s always good to get someone else to look at it before you send it off.


  7. Thanks for dropping in, Sheila,

    That is one of the dilemmas of a synopsis, isn’t it? They can really vary in length.

    Good luck with your synopsis writing.


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