Do I need to write a synopsis? (Please tell me I don't have to write a synopsis!)

You've just finished your book, and your first batch of query letters has created some interest among the group of literary agents you've queried. Things are good! There is, however, one problem: a couple of the agents have a requested a synopsis, and you don't have one. Oooopppps. As you consider your options, three choices rise to the top. 1) Send in the manuscript right away, striking while the iron is hot, and let the agents ask a second time for the synopsis after they have fallen in love with the ms. 2) Send the ms along with a cover letter explaining that you are now writing the synopsis, which you will forward to them when done. 3) Hunker down, write the synopsis, and send it in with the ms as requested. 4) Never write the synopsis, burn the ms, and spend your free time playing frisbee golf.

Let's consider each choice. One looks good, doesn't it: what's the sense of writing the synopsis if the agent doesn't love your ms? Conversely, it she does love it, she'll offer to represent without the synopsis, obviating the need to slog through it! Oh, so wrong. Many agents will read a sample (always the first chapter or two) of your book to assess your writing style and voice, and then skip right to your synopsis to assess the plot. If she has already seen the first twenty pages because you sent them with the Query, she will often start with the synopsis before she even opens the ms. Sending the ms without the synopsis will end up getting you a No Response, which, as I've said before, is the worst kind of Rejection.

Let's look at choice #2. Better, eh? I mean, you're sending the ms quickly and letting them know the synopsis is in production and coming soon. No? No! Rule #1 about agents: they are professionals, and they expect you to be a professional as well.When they ask for something, they are expecting to receive it in a timely fashion. For starters, you were supposed to have written the synopsis in the first place, so as to be ready when the request came. Secondly, agents are looking for authors who are easy to work with: there's nothing like missing your first deadline to scream "I am not easy to work with!"

That leave's choice #3. And it's a beaut! Why? Well, as a general rule, you will be in the best position when you give 'em what they asked for. Assume that each agent has given careful deliberation to the submission guidelines she has posted on her website, because she has. And then follow them. Agents love authors who follow directions because in the course of an author's career, she will have many directions to follow, such as please have your ms in by this date, we need your edits by this time, and give us your book tour schedule by next week. Following simple directions is going to put you ahead of the game, because, believe it or not, many people don't. Try following an agent on twitter when she does a ten queries in ten tweets. It always amazes me to see that at least five of the queries are thrown out because the submissions guidelines weren't adhered to.

There is another reason you should write a synopsis: you will use the synopsis again once you have signed with an agent. Agents use them to craft the pitches they send to editors, and you can use them to provide content for the website that you have to build in order to promote your own work. Publishers even use them when they need concise summaries of books for such things as book jacket covers, on-line retailers, book clubs etc. The point is, a well-written and concise summary of your book is an asset, and you should write with that in mind.

Here are two great posts I used to write mine:  
1) Writers Digest
2) Jane Friedman

Ok, ok, you've reached your limit with my verbosity, and I have to mow the lawn before I can't see what my neighbor is cooking for dinner. I appreciate your patronage, and hope you will come back and visit me again at My Author Website Thanks for reading.


Peter Hogenkamp is a physician and author living in Rutland, Vermont. Peter's writing credits include ABSOLUTION, the first book of The Jesuit thriller series; THE LAZARUS MANUSCRIPT, a stand-alone medical thriller; and The Intern, a serialized novel based loosely on Peter's internship, published bi-weekly on #Wattpad. Peter can be found on his Author Website as well as his personal blog, PeterHogenkampWrites, where he writes about most anything. Peter is the founder and editor of Prose&Cons; a frequent contributor and reviewer at ReadWave; the founder and moderator of groups on Facebook (The Library), Google+ (Fiction Writers Anonymous); and a Beta-reader at StoryShelter. Peter tweets--against the wishes of his wife and four children--at @phogenkampvt and @theprosecons. Peter is the chief of two tribes on Triberr, The Big Thrill and Fiction Writers. He can be reached at or through his literary agent (Liz Kracht of Kimberely Cameron & Associates) at


  1. Thank you very much. I have written synopses and they have been dry, banal and off putting.I have known this for a long time and have done nothing to resolve this issue. I am going to use your essay as an inspiration to quickly correct this flaw,
    Juneus Kendall Historical Fiction


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