Book summaries! That’s the two or three paragraph-long explanation of your book that might end up in a press release, on a back cover, the French flap, highlighted on an author website, or on an eBook listing – there are many, many places where the summary for your book can (and will) end up. Meaning, of course, that a good summary is key – this is, after all, what your potential reader will be reading first!
You can have an amazing first sentence, a captivating opening chapter, and an amazing book overall, but your potential readers won’t be seeing any of that until they actually click on that preview link or start flipping through some pages. What they will see, however, is that summary – so make it work for you.
A great summary accomplishes the following in only a few short paragraphs:
- Gets a reader interested
- Introduces the main character(s)
- Mentions the setting
- Introduces the overarching plot or main conflict
- Informs the reader of the tone of the story
Consider the above a checklist – if all of the above is present in your summary, you’re off to a great start!
And, if you are more of a visual person, think of your summary like a trailer for a movie or TV show. Who is shown on-screen first? Where are they? What kind of music is playing in the background? What story beats are depicted without giving too much away? All of these questions and visualizations can help you craft a better summary.
Read on for some more tips on writing best-selling book summaries.
Write in third person – unless first person is a convention for your genre; but most of the time, writing a summary in first person is not advisable. However, many authors, particularly in romance subgenres, find success with this approach. Be sure to keep many of the same key points in a first-person summary as you would a third-person summary: name of the main character, mentions of other important characters, setting, tone, and overarching plot. A vague or purposefully opaque first-person summary can confuse a potential reader, and readers always want clarity when looking for a new book to pick up!
Summarize, don’t spoil – most people dislike spoilers when it comes to stories. Don’t give away major plot points in the summary, unless they are, of course, the inciting incident. Focus only on the broad strokes as you paint a picture of what a reader can expect. This may be obvious to some, but for many authors, knowing the ins and outs of your own book so intimately can make it hard not to spoil when summarizing it!
Try and think like your potential reader: what might ruin the enjoyment of the book if it was mentioned? Most likely, this will include twists, turns, or major reveals. Leave those to the body of the text and focus instead on mentioning an inciting incident, key background for the character or story, and what the reader should expect, such as the major conflict or dilemma faced by the protagonist(s).
Mention the main characters – key characters should be mentioned by name in the summary. Don’t include the entire cast, of course – but the protagonist should be the first name your reader learns in the summary. Think of it like an introduction – even before a hello, hug, or handshake, most people introduce themselves with their name!
Likewise, be sure to mention other key characters, such as the love interest or the story’s antagonist. Avoid, however, listing too many – your reader will be introduced to these characters when they start reading, and, again, its most important to mention the POV character over all others.
Make sure the setting is apparent – Like the protagonist, it is key to introduce the setting. Some readers gravitate towards books with certain settings – making it clear will help draw those readers in. The setting is an important “character” itself, so be sure to give its mention due diligence!
Often, real-world settings need no description alongside their introduction – simply mentioning the name of a city is enough to invoke plenty of imagery. But if you’ve set your novel in a fiction city, small town, or entire fantasy world, it’s best to include a few key descriptors to give readers a good idea of where this story is set.
Avoid turning it into a sales pitch – Readers don’t want to be sold a book when they read a summary; they want to be introduced to the book first and foremost. Adding “buy now” or “get your copy today” to your summary is not effective marketing unless you are part of a promotion or the book is on sale. Most likely, there is no time limit to purchasing your title, and while you might want your reader to buy the book as soon as possible, allow them to come to that decision without feeling pressured.
Don’t end with a call to action – As mentioned above, a call to action at the end of a summary such as “buy now” or “read today” or “don’t miss out” don’t do much for your book’s saleability. If your potential reader has made it all the way to the end of those 2-3 paragraphs, chances are, they are already interested in getting a copy! They don’t need a reminder to buy it.
Instead, use this space to mention whether the book is part of a series, include a blurb of praise from another author or reviewer, or even mention the tropes present in the novel. This way, the summary ends of with something that further affirms the reader’s interest or provides them with a little more context overall.
Be creative – of course, feel free to be creative here – you are a writer, after all! Bring your own personal flair to your summary. This helps your reader get a sense of your voice while also learning more about the story they’re about to read. An engaging summary bodes well for an enjoyable book, after all!
Check out our articles on book blurbs and why book blurbs are so crucial. We also dive into how comparing your books to others can help with sales. And, if you’re looking for help with your metadata, be sure to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Happy summarizing from the KWL team!