book synopsis

How to Write a Book Synopsis

Ann O'Brien

May 31, 2022

There are times you may have to write a synopsis of your book. This can be challenging, but your hard work will pay off with a book synopsis you can use to present your book to agents or marketing experts. In this guide, we show you why you need one and how to write one.

What Is a Synopsis?

A synopsis is a brief but comprehensive summary of a book. In a fiction synopsis, it must include the plot, main characters, setting, and genre. A book summary for a nonfiction title must present the main points of the book, supporting evidence, and the author’s viewpoint and conclusion.

In some ways, a synopsis is like a preview for a movie or TV show. A well-done one makes the viewer want to watch the movie. On the other hand, a synopsis should not leave the reader wondering what happens. You want to engage the reader while explaining how your story ends.

There are varying views about what the length should be. While some people recommend keeping it to 500 words, others recommend limiting it to three typed, double-spaced pages, or two single-spaced pages. That’s not a lot of room to condense your book into, but you’ll lose the reader’s interest if it’s too long.

Is a synopsis the same as a precis?

No. A precis is a summary of an article or book that uses a strict, four-section format. It is mostly used in scholarly publishing. It’s also used in some school programs as a way of making sure students understand their assigned texts.

When Do You Need a Book Synopsis?

  • When you’re trying to get a literary agent: Although you don’t need a literary agent to self-publish, you may want to see if you can interest a commercial publisher. When you do, an agent will expect you to send an application package that includes an introductory letter, sample chapter, and book synopsis.
  • When marketing your book: If you want to develop a marketing plan for your book, a book summary will help you create a targeted plan. It’s also useful if you want someone else to market it for you. You’ll need a synopsis to show them what they’re working with.
  • When you approach scholarly publishers: If your book is aimed at the scholarly market, you must give the publisher a well-written synopsis.

What Makes a Good Book Synopsis

An enjoyable book synopsis hooks the reader in from the first sentence. The opening sentence should describe the main character’s primary location or situation. It should include the main event, also known as the inciting incident, and how that propels the plot. Include any details about other relevant characters and events, and be sure to include the crisis, resolution, and ending.

You don’t have a lot of pages to work with, so avoid lengthy descriptions or abstract themes. Let the plot speak for you as you describe how it develops and what happens to the characters.

For a good synopsis:

  • Keep it to two or three pages in length.
  • Write in the third person.
  • Write it in the present tense.
  • Reveal the ending.

Writing a Good Book Synopsis Is a Skill

It’s not easy to condense a long, plot-filled book into a brief book summary. It may seem especially overwhelming after you’ve spent a lot of time writing your book. You finally finished, you reached the end, but now you must go back and go over the whole thing again.

We know, it’s not easy, but drafting a book synopsis is a skill that you can learn. You may need several attempts, but you will get there. Our guide will take you through the process step by step.

Example of a Good Book Synopsis

On his writing blog, published author Graeme Shimmin offers his synopsis of the movie Casino Royale. Here’s how an award-winning author opens the summary:

“Casino Royale opens with James Bond gambling at the Royal-Les-Eaux casino in France. Amongst the gamblers is Le Chiffre, who is a Soviet agent.

The story then flashes back to a briefing by M, the head of the British Secret Service. Le Chiffre controls a trade union for the Soviets but has stolen union money and invested it disastrously. Now, his financial position is desperate, and his only hope is to stake all his remaining capital on a big win at the casino. M plans to stop this and bankrupt Le Chiffre, destroying Soviet influence in the trade union.

Bond is M’s chosen man to execute this plan, as he is one of the service’s best gamblers.

Vesper Lynd is sent from headquarters to improve Bond’s cover. A French agent, Rene Mathis, and Felix Leiter of the CIA are also in position. Mathis warns Bond that the Soviets have blown his cover and he can expect resistance.”

That’s the opening, and most readers are hooked at this point.

Six Steps To a Gripping Book Synopsis

1. List your characters

Before you write the book synopsis, write a brief, two- or three-word description of each character. You’ll use this to write your synopsis. For instance, describe your main character as “an 11-year-old girl living in London,” and a secondary character as “kindly bakery owner Claire.” This is all you need for the synopsis. Don’t get into unnecessary details about the characters.

2. Outline the five plot points

Every story has plot points. The reader of a book summary doesn’t want to keep guessing what happens. They want to see the full plot, so be sure to include each of these five key points.

  • Setting and present situation: Where the main character is starting from.
  • Inciting incident: The incident that causes the main character’s conflict or challenge.
  • Rising action: These are the things that happen between the inciting incident and the resolution.
  • Climax: During the climax, everything comes together, and the plot moves toward the resolution. It should be the most exciting element of your story, so be sure to include it.
  • Resolution and ending: The resolution is where you draw all the plots together. Your main character has either solved the first challenge or learned to accept it.

Don’t reveal the ending until the last page. Ideally, your reader will be eagerly anticipating getting to the ending.

3. Show character motivations

While you don’t want to get into details about the background or personality of each character, you do want to show why they take certain actions. For instance, you could say, “Jim goes to Frank’s house to confront Frank about the rumor he heard,” or write, “Linda decides to get revenge on Ted by making him lose his job.” Don’t include dialogue or background information. Just tell the reader what the character does and why.

4. Use plain, direct language

A synopsis is not a jacket blurb. It’s not marketing copy. It’s a condensed version of a book you want to sell. Keep the language plain and straightforward. Don’t clutter it up with descriptions, flowery language, or heavy emotional passages. Those should be in the longer version, which is your book. Write your book summary in the present tense.

5. Get an outsider’s perspective

How do you know if your synopsis is attention-getting enough? One effective way to tell is to let someone read it. Give your book synopsis to a trusted friend or family member. Ask them if the book sounds like something they’d like to read. Getting an objective view of your own work is almost impossible, so ask a friendly outsider to offer theirs.

6. Edit and proofread your synopsis

Your synopsis must be professional and well-written. Read your final version carefully. Be sure to correct any misspellings, grammatical mistakes, and errors of continuity. If you introduced a conflict, show that it was resolved. If the plot had one or more subplots, make sure you show how they ended.

Short and Sweet

We hope you found this guide useful. A good book summary tells your story in clear, uncluttered language. It entices the reader to want more in the form of a full-length book. Writing a good one is worth some time and effort, so get started today. At Publishing Xpress, we specialize in helping writers put their best foot forward. If you’re a self-published author looking for great rates on book printing, use our pricing calculator.

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