Some literary agents want you to include a synopsis along with your query letter. A synopsis is a condensed version of your book and is every bit as difficult to write as the query letter. Perhaps more so because the query letter offers only a hint of what your book is about. The synopsis carries that a step further by revealing all important elements of your plot, including the resolution of the final conflict. It is a stripped-down version of the entire book told in the space of two to five double-spaced pages depending on the length and complexity of the plot. Deciding what to include and what to exclude requires great thought.

First, forget about all subplots and characters not central to the climax and denouement. Isolate only those portions of the plot that are essential to understanding the circumstances in which your main characters find themselves, the growing threat to their well being, and the steps they must take to extricate themselves from peril. You are creating a road map to your book’s conclusion, not a blow-by-blow account of the scenery along the way. That said, it must be a colorful, attractive road map to give yourself the greatest chance of catching the agent’s eye.

Begin with a punchy hook. Continue in concise, tight narrative that utilizes the active voice, pregnant nouns, and potent verbs. Remember to summarize. Don’t try to insert little patches of detail to show off the power of your writing style. Your compelling narrative will advertise those skills without any additional help from you. Keep a fast pace while making sure your paragraphs flow into each other in a logical way. Keep in mind that you’re telling a story — a condensed one but one that must grab the reader in the same way as you expect your manuscript to do. When you’re finished, proofread and revise over and over again until you are convinced it is the best it can be. You know the drill.

The format for this piece of writing is the same as for a manuscript except that here, as in the query letter, you must use the present tense. Double space with one-inch margins and include a header within those margins. The first page header mimics the header on your first manuscript page. Center the word “Synopsis” two double spaces below the header. One double space below that center your title in capital letters. The body of the synopsis begins two double spaces below the title. Subsequent page headers are formatted like those in your manuscript.

On occasion you might be called on to submit a detailed outline. This does not refer to the type of outline you learned in grammar school with Roman numerals and capital and lower-case letters of the alphabet. The literary outline is written like a synopsis, but the summarizing detail is placed under a heading for each chapter in the book. This results in a more detailed and more fractured presentation than the synopsis and presents another difficult challenge. The same writing principles described above apply to the outline.

When you have completed your query letter and synopsis and/or outline, you are ready to market your manuscript.

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