You are here:

Writing Books/synopsis of mystery novel


Dear Cathy, I've had one novel published. I've just written my first mystery and I've been asked for a two-page synopsis from an interested agent.  Are there any sample two-page mystery synopses that I could look at?  I'm not exactly sure what is of particular interest to mystery agents and editors.

Hi, Sukey!

Well, I have to admit that mysteries aren't my particular genre. But I have submitted thrillers before, and I'd imagine they're similar. In fact, MOST synopses have the same elements. They are:

1.  Primary plot. In your case, this would be the mystery to solve.

2.  Primary character. You'll want your detective (whether police procedural, amateur sleuth or cozy) to come alive in the narrative. You don't have to really go into the person's background, but give the agent/editor some indication why a reader is going to fall in love with the person you're featuring.

3.  The "Goal, Motivation, Conflict" of the plot. the GMC of any book tells the 1) Goal, or what the plot solves (the murder or other mystery) 2) The Motivation, or why the detective needs to solve it. Is your protagonist a cop, that it's his/her job, or a neighbor or are they a "Miss Marple" type that just can't stand not to know; and 3) The Conflict, or what is preventing them from figuring out the solution.

Now, one of the nice things about synopses is that you can go out of order from the actual book. Think of the agent/editor as your best friend that you're telling the plot to. Instead of saying,

"The hero, Bob, couldn't figure out why someone was trying to kill him. Then he went home."

You can say,

"The hero, Bob, couldn't figure out why someone was trying to kill him. But later, in chapter 10, is when he learns the villain's microchip was attached to his shoe. He went home, not realizing he was being followed."

This insight into the ENTIRE plot helps an agent/editor easily decide whether the plot has logic and that you've thought out the twists and turns. Since synopses are, by and large, about two pages, single-spaced (or 5 pages, double-spaced) you don't have much time to spell things out. So any "shorthand" you can do to speed it along is good.

Now, if you want to look at some synopses in a different genre (that have the same elements I've described here) that actually sold books, I've had a few romance author friends post them up on a writer's website where I'm a moderator, called AbsoluteWrite. They also have a thriving mystery forum where you can also ask specific questions if you get stuck. Here's the link to the synopsis thread:

Reading different arrangements of the same information will help you decide which one suits your writing best.

Hope that helps a little, and feel free to ask any other questions that come up.  Good luck with it! :)


Writing Books

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Cathy Clamp


I'm happy to answer questions about any aspect of writing novels, from the beginning kernel of an idea through completion. I can help with writing a query letter and synopsis to an agent or editor. I can explain publishing terminology and acronyms. I can also assist with questions about verifying the credentials of agents/publishers and how to proceed once you've been accepted for publication. I can teach the rules of formatting a manuscript, creating viable plots, characterization and flow in the following genres: romance, science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, suspense, horror, women's fiction, mainstream and mystery.


I'm a USA Today bestselling author of urban fantasy and paranormal romance for Tor/Forge Books. Along with a co-author, I've published fifteen novels (combination of mass market and trade softcover) since 2003, and have contracts for four more books through 2011.

Romance Writers of America, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Western Outdoor Writers, Horror Writers of America.

Tor/Forge Books, Western Reflections Publishing, BenBella Books, Running Press, Wild Child Publishing. Many others.

My educational background is limited to real life experience of publishing novels commercially for the past five years.

Awards and Honors
USA Today bestseller, Waldenbooks Mass Market Paperback Top 20 bestseller, Nielsen BookScan Top 20 bestseller, RT BOOKreviews Career Achievement Award winner, 2009, Book Buyers Best Award for Paranormal, Romantic Times Best Werewolf Novel, Write Touch Readers Award, EVVY Best Historical Chronicle Award, The Lories Best Paranormal. Many others.

©2017 All rights reserved.