How Long Should My Summary Be for a Novel?

Writers often ask about the length of a book summary for a proposal. How long should it be? I can say:

The summary should be as long as you need it to be.

Your goal is to present your story so an editor will want to read the book and then make an offer to publish it. If you can write a compelling summary, that’s a gift you should not be shy to use.

Here are a few more tips:

Present your proposal as single-spaced, so your summary should be single-spaced.

If you have a ten-page summary, separate it into chapters to give the reader a visual break. Another way to separate it is in acts, as in a play. Or better yet, see if you can cut it to five pages. Just make sure there aren’t a lot of enormous blocks of dense text.

If your summary is one page, I recommend expanding it to at least two or three pages. If you’re struggling to make the summary more than one page, especially a double-spaced page, I recommend revisiting your plot to make sure it’s complex enough to compete in today’s market.

So, back to the wordy author with a ten-page summary. Here, I recommend including the ten-pager, along with a one- or two-pager. These can be labeled “Short Synopsis” and “Long Synopsis.” The main issue is that the reader can choose to peruse one, neither, or both. Remember to include a superb back-cover copy section early in the proposal to draw in the reader right away. Your back-cover copy might also act as part of your cover letter.

Bottom line: The longer the reader lingers with your proposal, the better.

4 Responses to How Long Should My Summary Be for a Novel?

  1. Pamela Meyers June 10, 2021 at 5:30 am #

    Also, be sure to supply the ending of the story. The editor needs to know how the storyline wraps up, and that means even including the “who done it” if it’s a mystery. Back when I facilitated the Genesis, and we required a synopsis, and many. entrants didn’t do that. They just supplied what would be a back-of-the-cover blurb.

  2. Pamela Meyers June 10, 2021 at 5:32 am #

    Also, be sure to supply the ending of the story. The editor needs to know how the storyline wraps up, and that means even including the “who done it” if it’s a mystery. Back when I facilitated the Genesis, and we required a synopsis, many. entrants didn’t do that. They just supplied what would be a back-of-the-cover blurb.

  3. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser June 10, 2021 at 6:52 am #

    Oh, that dreadful word, synopsis,
    feeling like a pitch-downfall,
    puts one in mind of thanatopsis,
    for it’s where you can lose it all
    if the plot’s not well-presented,
    and the characters seem dry;
    so many sent, and then lamented
    for this, friend, is how novels die!
    The agent’s eyes dim and get glassy,
    the paragraph’s re-read, again,
    and she tries to find a classy
    way to ease rejection’s pain:
    “I hope you couldn’t hear my snoring,
    but your summary’s really BO-RING!”

  4. Kristen Joy Wilks June 10, 2021 at 8:14 am #

    I love the idea of dividing it into acts! Also, writing both, ha! I’ve done that. I’ve also accidentally written a chapter by chapter summary because I glanced at the non-fiction guidelines. But I loved it so much I kept it!

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