Common Synopsis Issues

Author K. S. Brooks
Author K. S. Brooks

When soliciting agents or publishers, the synopsis is one of your most important tools. It’s a direct reflection of you, your writing skills, and therefore, your manuscript. Yes, synopses are not easy to write – “if I could have written it in one page, I wouldn’t have written 300…” Just the same, if someone doesn’t want to read 300 – you have but one page in which to inspire them. Sure, I understand, but think of your synopsis as your book’s resume. If the resume stinks, your book won’t get the job.

Here are some of the most common Dos and Don’ts I’ve noticed when it comes to synopses, not in any particular order:

#1 – Being mysterious or cryptic does not draw in the reader, it makes them work harder to try and figure out what’s going on. Never make extra work for an agent or publisher!

#2 – Just because it’s a synopsis doesn’t mean the rules of formatting go out the window. If it’s a paragraph, indent.

#3 – Agents and publishers and readers want to know “who, what, when, where and why.” If your synopsis doesn’t get that across, you have a problem, especially if you’re taking readers to another planet, dimension, or era.

#4 – If it doesn’t impact the story, leave it out. Don’t be wordy and don’t clutter the synopsis with unnecessary details.

#5 – Don’t confuse the reader. I’ve noticed many synopses go in circles, completely disorganized and constantly introducing new characters and details that should have been used to lay things out earlier. See #4.

#6 – Sometimes there’s not enough information. “Joey is under a heinous curse.” Really? What makes it heinous? What is it? Who did it to Joey…and why? Here’s another – “this comic suspense novel” – yet nowhere in the synopsis does it sound remotely humorous. What makes it funny?

#7 – Important characters should be introduced early on. See #3 and #5.

#8 – The “Lost in Space” rule: if you’re writing Sci-Fi, Fantasy or Paranormal, and you make something up, let’s call it Pishkinata, and you constantly mention it in the synopsis – then explain what it is. If it turns out that Pishkinata is a planet filled with cute fluffy white dogs and the main character lives there – well then, we want to know that.

#9 – Ask yourself – does your synopsis make someone want to read the book? Give the synopsis to someone who has NOT read the book and ask them to honestly tell you what the book is about and if they’d be interested in reading it after seeing the synopsis. If they say yes, then ask why. You might be surprised by the answer.

#10 – Ask yourself – does your synopsis accurately reflect your story? Give the synopsis to someone who has read the manuscript and ask them to honestly tell if they think it follows the storyline.

#11 – Tenses: I’ve noticed a lot of people tend to shift back and forth between past and present tense on their synopses. I understand it can be confusing, writing your manuscript in past tense and your synopsis in present tense – but you need to be consistent.

Remember, whoever is reading your synopsis wants to know who the main characters are, what their motivation is, and what the major points of conflict are. If you have an outline for your project, take the key, pivotal points and use those in your synopsis.

Many agents and publishers will have guidelines on their web sites detailing how they want the synopsis – how many pages, etc. Make sure you do as they ask. If you don’t, you’re basically illustrating that you can’t follow instructions and that you’re going to be difficult to deal with. See Item #1. And good luck!

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K.S. Brooks is an award-winning author and photographer, and Co-Administrator of Indies Unlimited. For more information, please see the IU Bio page and her web site:

This article originally appeared on K. S. Brooks’ Write, Write, Write blog on July 27, 2011.[subscribe2]

Author: K.S. Brooks

K.S. Brooks is an award-winning novelist, photographer, and photo-journalist, author of over 30 titles, and executive director and administrator of Indies Unlimited. Brooks is currently a photo-journalist and chief copy editor for two NE Washington newspapers.  She teaches self-publishing and writing topics for the Community Colleges of Spokane, and served on the Indie Author Day advisory board. For more about K.S. Brooks, visit her website and her Amazon author page.

26 thoughts on “Common Synopsis Issues”

    1. Thanks Laurie. I've seen a lot of synopses during the novel-writing contests I've judged. Some of them were so bad that there was more of my ink on the page than the writer's. So this is quite a common hurdle for authors. It's so much easier for someone who doesn't know the story to read it and tell you what "they don't get" – giving you a clear idea of where you need to compensate.

  1. This is a great help, Kat. I'm going to bookmark this one. I will soon be finished one of my manuscripts and will need to write the synopsis. I have been dreading it. Adding more to your ms is not nearly as difficult as cutting it down to the bare bones and still making it sound intriguing. I imagine it is different for fiction than non-fiction, too. You don't need to worry about a story line, but you do need the pertinent points to induce someone to read a how-to or teaching book or a memoir, for instance. As Laurie mentioned, it is a good idea to give it to someone who has not read the story.

  2. Great info here. The synopsis was one of the harder things to put together and I'm still not happy with the final outcome. At least I feel this is a good outline to start with for the next one. Thanks.

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