How Long Should a Synopsis Be?

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Say that your query letter has piqued the interest of an agent. She wants to see a synopsis, but doesn’t specify how long it should be.

How do you decide? (For some reason you can’t just phone her and ask.)

You can search the web for a nice simple answer.

You’ll get answers, but none will be simple.

Here’s one:

Most synopses are one or two pages long at most and give the reader a basic idea for what the book is about.

Here’s another:

Suggested length of synopsis, according to Wood: ten to twenty-five pages (each chapter one to three pages).

Then there is this one that covers all bases:

One guideline is to allow one synopsis page for every twenty-five pages of manuscript…Most editors and agents…prefer short synopses — two to ten pages. The busier ones like five pages at most. I personally consider two pages ideal, and have distilled synopses down to a single tight page.

Instead of worrying about length, it may be more useful to think about content.

A synopsis is a sales tool. Its purpose is to persuade an agent or editor that your novel is worth a further look.

Write the synopsis in present tense. Ex. Charlie Jones is a personable young man with a third eye he keeps covered with a patch….

Think book jacket blurb. The synopsis should make the agent want to read the book. NOTE: If your novel is a mystery, don’t hide the ending. The synopsis should give all the information the agent needs to know that the plot structure is solid.

Take pains. The synopsis, even a one-pager, reveals your writing ability.

Focus on important things. Include the main conflict/s, plot turns, and final resolution of the main conflict. Focus on your main characte. Subplots and secondary characters may be mentioned in passing, but keep character names to a minimum. When you do name a character, accompany the name with a few descriptors. Anything else is irrelevant.

Keep it brief. If the person you’re writing the synopsis for hasn’t specified length, short is better than long.

Here’s a link to a TCM “full synopsis” of a film called Send Me No Flowers. It gets the job done in about 280 words, a little more than one typed page.

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9 thoughts on “How Long Should a Synopsis Be?”

  1. I always think it should reflect the intended use of the synopsis and what kind of document your trying to summarise. A synopsis of a novel for a prospective publisher would probably be much longer than one for a book reviewer, for example. A synopsis of War and Peace could easily be expected to be much longer than that of an Enid Blyton book. Horses for courses I suppose.

  2. I wonder if you could clarify the use of first person for the synopsis, only because your example appears to contradict that statement. Did you mean use your own (the author’s) perspective rather than that of a character?

  3. thanks for this post. it was very informative. i am confused on one thing thou… you mention to write it in “first person” but then the example you gave is in “third person,” so which tense should it be written in?

  4. Jennifer,
    I don’t know which example you’re referring to.

    The Charlie Jones sentence is in first person as is the linked synopsis at TCM. What am I missing?

  5. MY BAD!!!!!

    I meant to say PRESENT TENSE (not first person).

    I’ll correct the mistake as soon as I can. Right now I’m in a Red Cross
    shelter because of an ice storm.

    Thanks for pointing it out.

  6. ok, that makes more sense now. i was seeing third person and thinking–am i losing my mind?! haha…

    yes, present tense, that makes a lot more sense.

    thanks for the correction! 🙂

  7. I had the same question, Jennifer ….

    Both the Charlie Jones synopsis and the one at the TCM link are in the third person. Writing a synopsis in the first person would be somewhat awkward (unless the synopsis was excerpted verbatim from a book that was written in the first person).

    Regarding length of a synopsis, I agree that shorter and more concise is better. In fact, that’s a rule I try to follow with most of my writing: fewer words make for better reading, and less is often better.

  8. Thank you for sharing this great post. I’m in the process of finishing up a book and am trying to put together my synopsis so that it sells the book. You’re right. You do need to cover the bases so that the reader will be interested in the plot.

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