How to write a novel synopsis for a lit agent

If you want to sell your novel to a publisher or get a literary agent to represent it, you’ll ultimately need to write a synopsis, or a brief summary of what occurs in your story. It typically is sent by the author with a query letter; a literary agent who represents the book likely will use the synopsis to pitch your book to publishers.

The attention you give to writing a synopsis arguably is more important than the attention you gave to writing your novel. After all, it’s what the literary agent and book publisher read to decide if they want to pick up your book. If they like the synopsis, then they’ll move on to reading the sample chapters you sent (or they’ll request them). Indeed, if your book is selected for publication, the art and marketing departments that write your cover blurbs likely will base it on your synopsis.

Always keep the synopsis short. It needs to be at least a single page but anything more than 1,000 words probably is too long. Having said that, some agents and publishers do ask for a longer synopsis, sometimes up to 10 pages; you should write your synopsis accordingly. Also, see if the agent or publisher has any requirements or preferences about the synopsis being single or double spaced; if uncertain, double space it.

As writing the synopsis, remember that its tone must be full of energy, as enthusiastic and exciting as a squad of cheerleaders that have successfully rallied the fans at a big game.

Begin by introducing the main character and his or her central problem – this after all, is at heart what the book is all about. Show how the main character’s motivations leave him in a crisis. Show how he is opposed in his quest to resolve this crisis, perhaps by the antagonist, perhaps by his own failings. Build the tension in this summary, just as you did in your novel. Do give away the ending; not telling it is a sign of an amateur.

Also, if you have a novel that is science fiction, fantasy, or an action/adventure thriller, be certain to mention any exotic locales where this action occurs.

Always write a synopsis in present tense – even if the novel is in past tense. For example, write “Thales desperately seeks to build a new weapon for his king” rather than “Thales desperately sought to build a new weapon for his king.”

In addition, type the character’s name in all capital letters the first (and only the first) time it is mentioned. To wit, it’s THALES the first time the name is used and Thales all times thereafter. Always refer to that character by using that name, and that name alone.

If the story is told from one of the character’s point of view, type (POV) after that character’s name the first time it is used. So, if the story were told from Thales’ point of view, the synopsis would read THALES (POV).

Finally, don’t write the synopsis until after the novel is completed. If you do, you’ll probably end up rewriting the synopsis. And don’t confuse this summary with the action outline, which is a synopsis of a book that’s not yet written. The action outline guides the writer as he pens the novel.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.