How to Write a Book Summary

A great book cover will draw readers in, but a great summary is what will convince them to buy it. To be clear, a summary is different than a synopsis. A synopsis is a detailed description of the book that is placed on the back cover or inside flap of a book. A summary, on the other hand, is a condensed version of the synopsis used on purchasing pages, such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. It’s what catches the reader’s attention and entices them to read more about the book, which is the synopsis.

 

So why is a summary so important? First, it gives the reader an idea of what the book is about, from its genre to its basic premise. Second, it gives the reader just enough information to determine whether or not they want to know more about the book. Third, it provides a great talking point for fans of the book who want to share it with others. Without a great summary, selling a book becomes significantly harder. It leaves the reader without any idea of what the book is about and can leave him or her ill at ease about spending money on it. Failing to have a great summary may also lead the reader to believe that either the book does not have much to offer or that the author was unable to properly summarize their book, meaning that the book itself may also be lacking. These assumptions may or may not be true, for fantastic book may lack a great book description, but when an author is competing with thousands of other authors for a consumer’s money, there’s no room for easily fixable errors. In order to avoid this pitfall, here are a few helpful hints for writing a great summary:

 

Keep it simple

The point of a summary is to give the reader an overarching sense of the book’s plot and purpose, not to delve into the details. As you can see in the following example from Celeste Ng, author of the 2014 Amazon Editor’s Pick, the summary provides very basic facts, followed by the themes touched upon in the book, whereas the synopsis provides significantly more details about the plot, characters, and setting.

Summary (Amazon)

“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970’s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

Synopsis (Penguin Press)

A haunting debut novel about a mixed-race family living in 1970s Ohio and the tragedy that will either be their undoing or their salvation. Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . . So begins the story of this exquisite debut novel, about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee; their middle daughter, a girl who inherited her mother’s bright blue eyes and her father’s jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue—in Marilyn’s case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James’s case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the center of every party. When Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together tumbles into chaos, forcing them to confront the long-kept secrets that have been slowly pulling them apart. James, consumed by guilt, sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage. Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to find a responsible party, no matter what the cost. Lydia’s older brother, Nathan, is certain that the neighborhood bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it’s the youngest of the family—Hannah—who observes far more than anyone realizes and who may be the only one who knows the truth about what happened. A profoundly moving story of family, history, and the meaning of home, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, exploring the divisions between cultures and the rifts within a family, and uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

 

Use catchy keywords

A summary is designed to entice a reader to want more, so be sure to use language that is accessible and catchy. As you can see in the example above, the summary uses descriptive language, such as exquisite, profoundly, and page-turner. The result is that the reader is left with the feeling that they are missing out on something great if they don’t read it, thus compelling them to purchase the book. This is exactly what a summary should do, and is why a great summary can help drive more sales.

 

Be consistent

While a summary is a sales pitch, it shouldn’t read like one. It is very important to write the summary in the same tone and style that the book is written in. This is because a reader who purchases your book will begin reading it with certain expectations, primarily those set in the summary and synopsis. Significantly altering the tone runs the risk of throwing the reader off or, potentially, turning them off of your book entirely.

 

Compare with care

Debut novels are often touted as the new <insert bestseller here>, but they are oftentimes nothing like the book it is being compared to. If you choose to compare your book to an already popular title, be very sure that you are correct in that assertion. There are two reasons for this. First, there are readers who will pick it up expecting the comparison to hold true, and if the comparison was false, it will disappoint readers and result in poor reviews. Second, it may turn off potential readers who would like your book, but choose not to read it because of the comparison. Either way, the comparison has significant potential to backfire, so compare with care.

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