Query Letter vs Synopsis - How to Write an Agent Query

Synopsis vs Query Letter – What’s the Difference?

Woman Literary Agent Comparing Synopsis vs Query LetterQuery Letter vs Synopsis – What’s the difference between a query letter and a synopsis? This article explains and shows you how to write a book synopsis. It’s part of our free 15-part guidelines on How to Write a Query Letter by Mark Malatesta, a former literary agent and former Marketing & Licensing Manager of a well-known book publisher.

These guidelines reveal everything you’ll want (and need) to know about writing a query letter. They answers questions like: What is a query letter? What is the best query letter length? What is a query letter hook? What is the best query letter format? What does a successful query letter look at? Where can you find example queries, or a sample query letter? And where can you get help writing a query letter?

This article discusses
query letter vs synopsis.

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Query Letter vs Synopsis – What’s the Difference?

Before you read any further, click here if you haven’t yet read my article answering the important question: What is a query letter?

Now…

A book synopsis is simply a summary of your book that helps literary agents understand what your book is about. If your book synopsis is well-written, it will also make literary agents want to read your book. As you’ll soon see, you’re going to need two or three different versions of your book synopsis for literary agents, depending which book genre, or book genres, your book fits into.

Every version of your book synopsis will do the same job. The only difference is that they’ll be different lengths and the longer versions will include more detail. The shortest version of your book synopsis (usually 1-3 paragraphs) will go inside your query letter. In other words, it will be part of the query letter.

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Query Letter vs Synopsis – Making Them Work Together

A lot of the authors I coach during my Query Letter Critique service (and my longer-term coaching program) ask me if it’s okay to repeat information in a query letter and book synopsis.

Absolutely.

Everything you write should stand alone: query letter, book synopses (all versions), and your book. So you’re going to have some overlap, especially between the short “mini-book synopsis” that goes in your query letter and your shortest standalone book synopsis (I’ll explain more about this in a moment).

Now, here are my best tips and advice about
how to write a book synopsis for literary agents…

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Query Letter vs Synopsis – TIP #1 – FORMAT

Always double-space a book synopsis, indent your paragraphs, and don’t include spaces or extra line breaks in between your paragraphs. You should also include the word “Synopsis” at the top of the page, along with the title of your book and your name. Don’t use a cover page. Use Times New Roman font, 12-point.

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Query Letter vs Synopsis – TIP #2 – LENGTH

If your book fits into one of the following book genres (fiction, memoir, or narrative nonfiction) you should write two different versions of your book synopsis for literary agents. The short version of your book synopsis should be 1-2 pages (most book agents agree on that). However, agents don’t always agree on the best length for the long version of a book synopsis. If you write a long book synopsis that is five pages, double-spaced, that will satisfy most literary agents. However, some agents will require one synopsis page for every 25-40 pages of manuscript. Always submit the short version of your book synopsis to literary agents when they ask for one, unless they specifically ask for the longer version.

If your book fits into a nonfiction book category that isn’t listed above, you should also create two versions of your book synopsis for literary agents. However, in this case, the short version of your book synopsis should only be 1-2 paragraphs. And the longer version of your book synopsis should be 1-2 pages. You should include the short version of your book synopsis in your query letter.  Use the long version of your book synopsis in your book proposal.

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Query Letter vs Synopsis – TIP #3 – STYLE

If possible, write your book synopsis using the same style that you used to write your book or sample chapters. If your book is academic, write an academic synopsis. If your book is humorous, write a humorous book synopsis. If your book is highbrow or literary, write a book synopsis in the same style. Your book, query letter, and book synopses should have a similar style.

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Query Letter vs Synopsis – TIP #4 – TENSE

One of the questions I’m asked most about how to write a book synopsis is whether to make it present tense or past tense. Make your book synopsis present tense and in third person–even if your book is written in first person. However, if your book is memoir, your book synopsis should be past tense, first person.

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Query Letter vs Synopsis – TIP #5 – FLOW

Everything in your book synopsis should flow together: ideas, sentences, and paragraphs. Make sure you don’t rush this part of the process. Literary agents and publishers will evaluate your book synopsis to help determine whether you’re a professional writer, and whether they should read your book. So give your book synopsis the same careful attention that your book and query letter deserve. Everything matters when you’re trying to get a literary agent.

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Query Letter vs Synopsis – TIP #6 – PLOT

What happens in your book?

That’s plot.

If you’re writing nonfiction, explain exactly what information or content is in your book and talk about how it’s organized if that’s relevant. If you’re writing fiction, think of your plot as the external events–the action that’s taking place. Include information about important subplots as well.

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Query Letter vs Synopsis – TIP #7 – CHARACTERS

If you’re writing fiction, who are your primary characters? Where do they come from? And what role do they play in the story? What do they want and what are their main conflicts? What’s at stake? Don’t skip these important details–but don’t include too much detail, either.

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Query Letter vs Synopsis – TIP #8 – THEMES

It doesn’t matter which book genre(s) your manuscript fits into (fiction, nonfiction, or children’s book), there are powerful themes driving your book.

What are they?

Love?

Desire?

Forgiveness?

If you’re writing fiction your themes, plot (above), and your main characters (above) are hard to separate. That’s okay–you don’t have to. I’m just doing my best to separate them here for you so you don’t leave anything out. Make sure you reveal what your main characters desire, and why. What’s preventing them from getting what they want–what’s the conflict? And how your main characters are different by the end of the book. Did they get what they wanted, or decide in the end that they didn’t want it after all?

If you’re writing nonfiction themes are still important. Don’t just talk about the information or content in your book. Explain why it matters (or should matter) to the reader. What pain or problem will your book solve? What’s the bigger picture?

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Query Letter vs Synopsis – TIP #9 – SPOILERS

Literary agents don’t read books for pleasure. At least, not all the time. And not when they’re at work. So don’t worry about “spoiling” the ending to your book by giving it away in your book synopsis. If literary agents or book publishers don’t want to know what happens at the end of your book, they won’t read your book synopsis until they’re finished reading your manuscript.

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Query Letter vs Synopsis – TIP #10 – SUSPENSE

No matter what genre(s) your book fits into, suspense is important. You don’t have to write thrillers to create curiosity and suspense. Begin your book synopsis with a great hook whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction. Everyone knows that your book has to be interesting for literary agents to read it–so does your book synopsis. Tease literary agents and make them hungry for more.

Now that you’ve heard the query letter vs synopsis debate
let’s talk about the best Query Letter Length.

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Author Success Story: Fiction/Young Adult  
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"When I got the phone call about my publishing offer with Harcourt, I was in my office with three other people. I slammed down the phone, ran into the secretary’s office, threw myself down on the floor and said, ‘I got a deal!’ They sat there and held my hand. I was speechless. I’ve never ever been that happy in my life. On my wedding day I wasn’t that happy! Getting married and having children are wonderful experiences, but I didn’t ‘work’ to get my children!" [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of many YA novels including The Body of Christopher Creed (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)   
Author Success Story: Nonfiction/Self-Help  
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"Mark helped me get five different offers for representation from top literary agents. I signed with Stephanie Tade who got me a 6-figure book deal with Penguin Books, which published my book in hardcover! When Stephanie first contacted me, she was very excited and said, ‘I can’t get your book proposal out of my head. It’s brilliant – I mean, really, it’s fantastic. Editors should be salivating by the time they get to the chapter outline.’ Working with Mark was completely worth it." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of the self-help book Woman on Fire (Penguin Random House / Penguin Books)   
Author Success Story: Memoir  
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"I got the number one agent on my wish list thanks to Mark. He’s done more than 100 deals in just two year and has a long list of accolades, including being talked about in the New York Times. Within 4 minutes of sending out my revised query letter, my literary agent called me on the phone. Less than 30 days later I had three major publishers making offers. And, a few days after that, I signed a deal with Random House. Mark’s query letter did that." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of the memoir Lights Out (Penguin Random House)   
Author Success Story: Fiction/Mystery/Thriller  
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"Ballantine Books published my first two novels in hardcover and paperback after Mark Malatesta helped create an auction and bidding war for my books, resulting in a six-figure offer. Mark is one of the rare and genuine good guys, but he also has incredible information (even his ideas have ideas). One of the most important keys to success as an author is good information and support." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of the mystery thrillers 24/7 and Black Valley (Penguin Random House / Ballantine Books)   
Author Success Story: Memoir/Christian  
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"Before I decided to work with Mark, I submitted my book to literary agents but didn’t get any interest. After I revised my query letter and book proposal, I got several agencies interested and decided to sign with Fine Print Lit, a top literary agency in New York. They got publishers bidding against each other and I ended up signing a contract with Thomas Nelson (an imprint of Harper Collins) for what I’ve been told by several people is a very large advance. What cloud is higher than 9?" [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of the memoir The Unbreakable Boy (Harper Collins / Thomas Nelson)   
Author Success Story: Nonfiction/Business  
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"Not long after Mark helped me land a top literary agent, I got a call from my agent letting me know that I had three different publishing offers from well-known publishers: Amacom, Palgrave Macmillan, and McGraw-Hill who recently published my book in hardcover! It was a fantastic feeling and a huge smile came over my face. For a moment I felt like life was perfect and the angels were singing." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of the business book Customer Focused Process Innovation (McGraw-Hill)   
Author Success Story: Fiction  
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"Before I revised my query letter with Mark, I got no responses. When I sent out my new query, I got four requests for more material within 24 hours The support Mark provides is fantastic. His suggestions changed my original query significantly, but they also helped me see that I had something to offer. Now I have a top agent! Mark is smart and reliable and working with him has made all the difference." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of novels including The Wings That Fly Us Home (Penguin Random House / Ballantine Books)   
Author Success Story: Eleven Fiction and Nonfiction Titles  
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"Finding Mark has been both a treat and a treasure. I now have two different agents for my work, and a book deal with Sky Horse Publishing. I’ve served as Creative Director of the TIME Incorporated Magazine Group; Director of Time World News Service, a Founding Director of TIME-Life Films; Executive Producer for both the CBS and NBC Television Networks; and Producer/ Director: Movies of the Week: CBS Cinema Center Films and Universal MCA. You just can’t do it alone today as an author." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of eleven fiction and nonfiction books (Harper Collins and many others)   
Author Success Story: Nonfiction/Narrative Nonfiction  
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"Berkley Books recently published my book in hardcover after Mark helped me get multiple agents interested in my work. I was able to speak with literary agents from top agencies such as Janklow & Nesbit, Trident Media, Anderson Lit, and Folio. I signed with Don Fehr at Trident Media and a short time later I had a publishing contract! Having Mark on your side is incredibly valuable." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of the narrative nonfiction book Single Handed (Penguin Random House / Berkley Books)   
Author Success Story: Fiction  
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"It has been an awfully long and bloody road towards publication but I’m finally on my way. Hard work, struggle, disappointments, and perseverance are important. So is following the advice of publishing industry experts like Mark. He helped me get a top literary agent and now my novel, The Wrong Hand is being published by Penguin Books and their prestigious Michael Joseph imprint, which is ‘principally interested in publishing Top Ten Bestsellers’. It’s hard not to be excited." [Click here to see all Mark Malatesta reviews]

Author of the novel The Wrong Hand (Penguin / Michael Joseph)   

About Mark Malatesta

MARK MALATESTA is a former literary agent turned author coach. Mark now helps authors of all genres (fiction, nonfiction, and children's books) get top literary agents, publishers, and book deals through his company Literary Agent Undercover and The Bestselling Author. Mark's authors have gotten six-figure book deals, been on the NYT bestseller list, and published with houses such as Random House, Scholastic, and Thomas Nelson. Click here to learn more about Mark Malatesta and click here for Reviews of Mark Malatesta.