The value of a great book synopsis

book synopsis

Whether as a substance check, a means to kick-off the writing process, or a vehicle to share your story with beta readers, agents, and publishers, there is a lot of value in a book synopsis

There are many reasons for writing a book synopsis. First, to summarize a long tract of text like a book, you have to have great substance. Does yours pass the test? Second, writing a book synopsis offers a practical way to develop a story in the first place. Third, it makes it possible to share a short version of your book with others.

How to write a book synopsis

A quick Internet search returns plenty of articles and advice on how to write a great book synopsis — mostly geared toward sharing your book with an agent or editor as a means of selling your book. (Here’s one by Jane Friedman, another by Marissa Meyer, another from, and here’s a collection of synopses that won their authors contracts with agents and publishers.

A synopsis can be a great tool for discovery right from day one, though writing a synopsis is not simple because all the “big stuff” has to be in place. All your literary elements — characters, plot, setting, conflict — must be in place and working well together. You have to summarize the story from start to finish.

Most importantly, if you do it right, a reader of your synopsis should be dying to read the real thing. You should be dying to write it — or extremely proud that you did.

Substance check

Summarizing a book in a few pages is very different from writing an 80,000-word manuscript. It’s a massive condensation of material. The reason this is such a powerful approach is it tests how much substance you have. All the biggest stuff in your book belongs in the synopsis. Do you have enough? Is it all balanced? Do you have a smashing ending that made it all worth it?

In a synopsis, all the strengths and weakness of your story come out of hiding. A book synopsis puts your story under a microscope. You can’t fake it. And you can ace it if the substance and structure are great.

“Writing the synopsis of that novel-in-progress took me a week and left me parched, diminished, and terrified. The thing is, as I wrote the synopsis, I realized the novel had more holes, cracks, and missing shingles than I’d realized. – Holly Robinson (Huffington Post)

Fully developing your story

A synopsis isn’t always done after the fact. You can kick a book project off with a synopsis or you can craft one as you write to help keep sight of the big picture.

With a synopsis, it’s possible to zoom in and out between the “big” and “small” elements of your story. Alternating between a synopsis and a full draft is like working against a prose outline: it’s easy to see what you have left to do.

You can explore and shuffle things before committing to writing a readable scene. Each sentence can summarize a chapter, and yes, all the chapters must be covered. This is a full reveal.

Here is the kind of high-level summary sentence you might find, with character name in upper-case letters the first time they appear in the story:

EVELYN and JACK get married, but not is all well when, at the party afterwards, SARAH admits she is still married to Jack.

Ah! We know who is doing what and that there is substantial conflict. What happens next?

Sharing your book synopsis

Just as a book synopsis allows you to cast a glance with a bird’s eye view, it makes it possible for you to ask others to do so too. A synopsis can be a super tool for introducing your story and soliciting readers’ impressions. Are there things that might warrant changes within the nuts and bolts of the story?

Developmental editors love talking story, so they adore a great synopsis. Bang! The story is all laid out. A synopsis makes it possible to judge all the major aspects of a story, including pacing, plot points, tropes, logic, believability, motivations, character arcs and so much more.

Write as many as you like

Why not write some for fun? You can add them to your short fiction journal. If you really like one, you can start to fill in the story. You already know what to cover in each chapter and scene. You can write the beginning knowing the ending. You can see the character arcs you want from the start so you can stage them perfectly and end up with extreme transformations that surprise and delight readers.

All the synopses you don’t take forward are still a huge help. With each partial or completely imagined synopsis, you are practicing how to mold a book-length idea. It’s okay if they aren’t perfect. Go as far as you like and start again.

You can write happy, sad, or scary one day and romantic the next. You can write one story and give it six different endings. You can practice creative leaps or try your hand at different genres.

If one sticks, well, you have your next book.

Your experiences

Have you ever written a book synopsis? What was your experience? Did you do so at the start or the end of the writing process? Was it difficult? Did it reveal holes you needed to fill or breaches in logic you needed to fix? Did it help you balance the flow of scenes or realize you spent too long or too little time on a story element?

If you haven’t written a book synopsis before, why not take the plunge and try to write one today? Maybe it’ll be the basis of a new book project.

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  1. It isn’t easy for a novelist to write a synopsis but agents and publishers know this and make allowances. Fear not. Everybody likes a good story but not everybody (especially the writer) can take a step backwards and condense a quart into a thimbleful. My advice would be to try your tale out on your friends. Initially, you might blather on and on and on and they will be bored, but eventually, you will arrive at the kernel of the tale and they will want to know more. That is the point at which you must realise that your synopsis is as good as you can make it.

    • Interesting read. Writing my novel was so much easier than writing a synopsis. I know my book is good but getting the synopsis to reflect that and get an agent interested enough to take it on isn’t easy. I Like Brent Smith’s comments about getting to the kernel of the tale. perseverance I guess sis the answer.

  2. Thanks for a wonderful eye-opener. I think I’ll try to write a synopsis before I start my next litterary masterpiece as you suggest. Your article helped me see the synopsis as a more polished story outline.

  3. Writing a synopsis for your book might be the “bomb” as you say, but your article left me as knowledgeable as when I began reading… Thank you.

  4. A very good and helpful read. I felt like sharing my experience of writing a synopsis for the first time. Unfortunately, there was no place!
    Thanks for clearing a lot of my doubts regarding synopsis writing. Please keep sharing.


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