“If I had wanted it to be written in two hundred words, I wouldn’t have a penned a novel.”
But instead, you struggle to say something meaningful:
“Well, it’s sort of a Victorian fantasy/romance/paranormal/slightly-off-the-beaten-track/thing, except with cake-makers. And the people are sort of different, but just like you and me … and the book’s for all ages, but especially suited to anyone between fifteen and sixty-five.”
The person who asked you for a summary stares back blankly.
Recently, I’ve been doing metadata for my publishing company. In my metadata questionnaire, there are all these requests to summarise my book in a particular number of characters. At first this worried me. Now I actually somewhat enjoy it.
I’ve discovered numerous purposes for working on summaries – irritating though that can be – and I’d like to share some with you.
1. Hooking power.
A good summary can make your book sound attractive. A bad summary can completely switch your intended audience off.
2. Selling power
If you have a good summary, you can use it in your query letters to literary agents and publishers, potentially. Although, this does need to be treated with caution – you can’t have any cliff hangers in the summaries you send to these professionals. They need to know the whole story before they want to buy it. They’re too busy to bother with: “What happened to Johnny next?”
3. Understanding your own story
A good summary enables you to see your own story from a bird’s eye view, for the possibly the first time in your life. It’s so easy to get bogged down in the details. Pulling right back and penning a summary allows you to see what your book is actually about. Big plot ideas become apparent, and it’s easy to see whether they work or not. If your idea stands up to scrutiny in this format, then it has a better chance standing up to scrutiny in book format.
Summaries are fiendishly hard to write, because they force an author to see their work in a new way. But because of the reasons above, I now find the process invaluable. So … can you give me a quick summary of your work?