Most agents will ask you to send them a submission pack containing three items:
Most agents will look at the covering letter first, then turn to the manuscript. If they like the first three chapters, they'll be thinking, "This book looks really interesting. I'm definitely tempted . . . but is the author going to hold my interest over the full 300 / 400 pages? Is it worth me making that investment of time to read the whole thing?"
That's where the synopsis comes in. The synopsis is there to answer the question, "What is the story of this book? Is there a clear story arc and will there be a satisfying ending?"
Obviously the actual experience of reading a synopsis is quite underwhelming. Synopses are boring, technical documents which (we hope) would not be true of your novel. But that doesn't matter. Agents know synopses are dull, so all your synopsis really has to do is:
But - and this should be reassuring - agents do know that synopses are hard to write and they care less about the synopsis than any other part of your submission package.That means you probably don't need to worry excessively about your synopsis - just follow the guidelines below and you'll do just fine.
A perfect synopsis has the following ingredients:
And luckily there are things you don't need to do:
For a perfect example of a synopsis, please see below - a synopsis penned by one of our own fair clients. The synopsis (and the book) went on to wow an agent and secure a book deal. But before you look at that, why not sign up to our mailing list and get a free, detailed PDF on How To Get A Literary Agent? The process is simple, fast and free.
Dunai Marks discovers the strangled corpse of Siobhan Craig, an activist who is not only her employer but also a mother figure; Dunai had been abandoned at an orphanage as a baby.
Siobhan was about to present to government the results of a controversial population control model for possible implementation at national level. Dunai believes this is the reason she was murdered.
The investigating officer on the case is instructed by an agent of the National Intelligence Agency to treat the murder as a botched burglary. Although some evidence points in this direction, Dunai believes Siobhan’s murder was work-related, which means she and Bryan, an American statistician, could be in danger.
She strikes a deal with Carl, a private investigator. If she is able to find a motive for the murder he will show her how to go about catching the killer.
Dunai discovers Siobhan was blackmailing five people who stood in the way of her pilot project, and was involved with a subversive group of radical feminists called Cerchio Del Gaia whose insignia is a double cross.
Dunai and Carl investigate the individuals blackmailed by Siobhan. They include: an anti-abortion activist, the head of an all-male religious fundamentalist group, an Anglican bishop, a member of local government, and a USAID official. One of these suspects was the last person to see Siobhan alive, another is known to have approached a contract killer a month before her murder.
Cerchio Del Gaia becomes increasingly entangled in both Dunai’s life and the investigation, and she is told that if she joins the group she will have access to information about her birth. The National Intelligence Agency is on a similar tack; if Dunai infiltrates Cerchio Del Gaia, which they believe is an international terrorist organisation, they will provide her with information about her origins. Dunai turns down both offers and the mystery of her birth and abandonment is eventually revealed by a woman claiming to be Siobhan’s sister, Dunai’s birth mother and the head of the South African chapter of Cerchio Del Gaia.
Throughout the investigation Dunai has searched for Mr Bojangles, a schizophrenic vagrant who may have seen the murderer. When she eventually finds him he seems to be of little help, yet it is his ramblings along with another clue that leads to her close friend and colleague, Bryan, who has been wanted by the FBI for twenty years for terrorist activities in the US. Bryan murdered Siobhan after discovering she intended betraying him to the National Intelligence Agency to deflect attention from Cerchio Del Gaia and as proof that she abided by the law even when it meant personal sacrifice.
Carl, who is now romantically involved with Dunai, offers to continue her training as an investigator and she agrees to divide her time between this and Siobhan’s NGO.