The Art of Summarizing

Wisteria single flower 2“Summary sucks, please read” is one of the great proverbs of amateur fiction writers. Go ahead, type it into Google and count the search results. Fanfiction, original fiction, and even poetry is burdened with this well-worn disclaimer. I used to use it myself, tucked away in a corner of the high school library. “Summary sucks, please read,” I’d write before hitting “post” and refreshing my story’s statistics every five minutes to see if anyone had reviewed it.

Now, eventually, I had some people take me up on my requests. They’d read my stories, send me helpful or hateful or ecstatically encouraging reviews, and subscribe to my profile. Slowly but surely, my readership grew – but still, my stories never got that much attention until I put some effort into learning to summarize.

If my success as a teenage fanfiction writer was hampered by my poor summary skills, then imagine what this deficiency will do to your chances at success in commercial writing! Your summaries are not just asking your readers to take five minutes out of their day to read about Draco confessing his love for Hermione; they’re asking your readers to give you some of their hard-earned money in exchange for your story.

Your summary needs to not only give your readers a sense of your story’s subject, but also give them a sense of your skill as a storyteller. It needs to tell the reader who the characters are, tell the reader what the conflict will be, and give the reader some sense of the main obstacles in the characters’ way. It should be elegantly written, and it should end on a mysterious note (usually a question or cliffhanger) that has the reader clicking the “add to cart” button instead of scrolling down.

The summary of your book is one of your most important marketing tools. Make sure it’s an effective one, and your readers will reward you for the extra time you spent tantalizing hem.