Writing Your Manuscript Synopsis

A literary agent friend of mine, Diana Murphey, told me once that the best manuscript synopsis she ever received was one sentence long. She was so impressed with the brevity of the synopsis that she immediately accepted the project and sold the book in two weeks.

Obviously, not all novels can be summed up in one or two sentences, but the general consensus is the same no matter where you submit: the shorter, the better. Agents and publishers see so many manuscripts that they can’t be bogged down with lengthy synopses that take thirty minutes to read. They want to know right away whether or not they would like to accept it.

This concept is difficult for most writers because they want to be as detailed as possible in their description of their novel, giving the agent as much information as possible with which to make their decision. We have been raised in a society where more is better, and we find it difficult to break those inherent beliefs.

With a little work, however, you can create a brief, one-page synopsis of your manuscript that conveys everything that a ten-page diatribe might contain, without alienating your over-worked agent.

1. Identify the genre.

Agents agree that this is one of the most annoying things that they come across: writers who can’t specify a genre. Most agents have specific genres that they routinely represent, and anything outside of that list is of no interest to them. Before you even begin to think about an agent, identify which genre your manuscript falls under, whether it be horror, suspense, mystery, chick lit, science fiction or fantasy.

2. Introduce your manuscript.

The first paragraph of your synopsis should be one or two sentences long, and should give a basic idea of what your novel is about. In the introduction, you should identify the title of your manuscript, your main character and his or her main obstacle in the novel.

EX: Vegas High Roller is about a middle-aged man named Alex Becker who has made a career out of swindling money as a card mechanic. While in Las Vegas, however, he is caught up in a ring of criminals who will kill to make the winning bet, and who will stop at nothing to make sure Alex can never gamble again.

3. Give details.

After your introduction, your job is simply to woo the agent. Read the blurbs on the backs of paperback books to get an idea of how to concisely describe your novel. Agents are looking for quality writing, even in the synopsis, and they want to see a plot that has not been done before. Any unique, engaging qualities to your manuscript should be touched upon in the details of your synopsis, but not so extravagantly that your agent knows all your secrets up front.

4. Disclose the ending.

According to Diana Murphey, my literary agent friend, most agents refuse to continue with an author who does not give the ending in their synopsis. It isn’t because agents are curious by nature, but because a solid ending is just as important as an exciting middle.

5. Thank the agent.

The conclusion to your synopsis should not be lengthy, but take time to thank the agent. They are spending theit time reading your synopsis, so the least you can do is be polite.

EX: Thank you, Ms. Murphey, for taking the time to read my synopsis of Vegas High Roller. I would be happy to send you the full manuscript if you would be interested in reading it.

Short. Simple. To the point.

6. Critique.

Let someone who has not read your manuscript look over the synopsis. Ask if they understood the plot and if it encouraged them to want to read more. Idealy, your critique will be completed by a writer who knows to look for grammatical, word usage, and continuity errors.

7. Last Advice

– Send your synopsis on plane, white paper, in Times New Roman font, double spaced, and in 12-point letters.

– Accompany your synopsis with a query letter and a short author biography that explains your experience, previous publications, and any industry experience that might lend credibility to the subject matter of your manuscript.

– Do not bind the pages of your synopsis, query letter, and author bio in any way. Send it in a normal legal sized envelope.

– Read the submission guidelines for this particular agent for instructions on a SASE, or any other specifics.

– Address the agent by his or her last name to show that you’ve done research.

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