I've outlined eleven of my 15 completed novel manuscripts, and each time I've gotten better at it. The last three books, I had to do some very fast work, because an editor was waiting, tapping her pencil. So I went to Holly Lisle's site and found this quick-and-dirty synopsis tool. http://www.hollylisle.com/fm/Workshops/notecard_plotting.html
The grand thing about the index card system is that it catches those "handwaving" spots that go unnoticed in a text file. I've noticed that when I haven't really planned a scene very well, I can't be satisfied with just one 3x5 index card for the scene. Later, when I go over the whole MS laid out in cards, it becomes easy to spot the trouble scenes--the ones where I've written the equivalent of "and then shit happens."
Those are the scenes with four, five, six index cards paperclipped together, trying like an Executive Vice President of Marketing to look like they're doing some work when actually they're just taking up space that a single card with some real plot on it would do better. So it's back to the 3x5 cards for a tighter, more plotty, single card.
Once I'm satisfied with every card, what I have is a working outline that I can then reduce to a selling synopsis.
The difference between a selling synopsis and a working outline is that a working outline is for your use alone. (Or, if you work for a nervous or picky editor, for your editor's private eye.)
A selling synopsis is a tool that you, your agent, and ultimately your editor will use to sell the book. As a good editor sells the book at every meeting she attends, throughout the year that your book is in preproduction and production, she needs this document. And you are the best person to write it, not her! This should be the "sexy" version, the version with lots of great sound bites she can snitch for meeting purposes. She will talk to her publisher, to the art department, to production, to copyeditors, to marketing and publicity, maybe to the sales force, and to meetings that combine two or more of the above. Make her job easy for her with a snappy selling synopsis and she will love you.
My selling synopses are about two double-spaced pages long in standard MS format.
Continued on next rock is the selling synopsis itself. I'm not posting my working outline because it's, like, thirty pages long.
SPOILER WARNING: Like every successful synopsis, whether a selling synopsis or a working outline, THIS SYNOPSIS REVEALS THE END OF THE BOOK. Never submit a synopsis that doesn't reveal the end of the book. It annoys editors.
In the immortal words of eluki bes shahar, "Don't striptease for your gynecologist." (Think it out.)