In basketball, one of the hardest shots to make is the dreaded free throw. I mean, look at it. It’s a straight shot, not too far, not too close, and no one is trying to block or knock the ball out of your hands. It’s an easy shot! And yet people struggle with it. Summary writing is a lot like that. It should be easy for authors to write a few paragraphs describing their story, and yet it is a struggle.
Self-published authors and publishing houses both use several versions the summary to advertise the book such as in a catalog, on a website, on the book jackets, on bookmarks, for blog tours, on banners, etc. So it’s important for every author to have a working summary of his or her book to create the different versions needed to promote the book.
There are a few rules to summary writing, but even these can be bent to suit the needs of the book or circumstances. But in general, book summaries have the following basic elements in common:
- Summaries are written in third person.
- Summaries are written in present tense, regardless of what tense the book in written in.
- The summary does not give the conclusion to the story and will often end with a question or a cliffhanger.
- The main character is introduced first, including a few interesting facts or something that defines them as a character. The setting may be mentioned here as well.
- If there is another main character (love interest, villain, etc.), that character is introduced next. The differences between this character and the main character are usually briefly mentioned here.
- Once the characters are introduced, the plot and the main obstacles are presented. This is when the excitement builds and questions are posed.
- Finally, sum it up with a cliffhanger or some other element that builds the suspense.
Once you have the basics down, infuse the summary with emotion, humor, excitement, or those elements appropriate for your story. The summary is designed to be short, so make good use of your words and avoid paragraph-long sentences.
There are many ways to spin your book summary depending on the genre of the book and what elements you think will compel the casual book browser to purchase your book. To illustrate this, I have taken Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien and written three different summaries.
The first spins the book as a romance where the boy must save the girl.
What happens when a boy from the wrong side of town falls for the “it” girl?
Aragorn has turned his back on his heritage and lives as an outcast. He’s in love with Arwen, the girl everyone hopes to win. With nothing to offer but his love, he wins Arwen’s heart. But she is the daughter of an influential man who doesn’t approve of Aragorn or his circumstances.
When a magical ring is discovered by chance, power hungry men vie for the prize that could change everyone’s fate. Chaos ensues and soon the world in plunged into violence and war. When Arwen’s father realizes Arwen’s fate is tied to the ring, Aragorn and a motley band of misfits must destroy it before it destroys Arwen and everything they love.
Follow Aragorn and his friends as they fight the forces of evil and temptations that could spell disaster for Aragorn and Arwen’s love. Will Aragorn and his scrappy band of misfits save the girl, or will evil win the day?
Read Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, a tale about a boy, a girl and a ring.
In this next example, the focus shifts to that of an unlikely friendship between natural enemies.
Gimli may be short and more than a little hairy, but what this dwarf lacks in looks and grace he makes up for with his kind heart, charm, and friendly smile… if you can find it underneath his beard. He pledges his allegiance and his ax to an unlikely group of companions who become fast friends in their shared quest to destroy the one thing that could mean the end the world.
Legolas is a tall, lithe elf prince and every girl’s dream. He’s quick with his bow and has impeccable manners and grooming. He is kind to those he meets, with one exception: Gimli. Elves and dwarves simply do not mix.
What happens when Gimli and Legolas are thrown together on a quest to save the world? They must fight together, but will they learn to trust one another, let alone do the unthinkable and become friends?
Join these two for a tale of friendship and loyalty as natural enemies form an epic bond.
Read Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, a raucous tale about an unlikely friendship that lasts a lifetime.
In this final example, the story is presented as a tragedy about a man’s downward spiral as he seeks revenge for all that was stolen from him.
Branded as a madman and murdered in the prime of life, Sauron has braved the afterlife and found a way to return to the world of the living and reclaim his birthright. Betrayed by those he trusted, he returns to his childhood home in the foothills of Mount Orodruin. He is left with few choices and must now conspire with those others have shunned.
With the entire world against him, Sauron must embrace all that is evil in a desperate bid to win back the birthright and punish all who stand against him. Drawing on an inner strength that surprises even him, he is able to raise a vast army in an attempt to reclaim what is his. It’s a dangerous gamble and if he loses, he will be forever lost.
Will Sauron be victorious or will he fall victim to the very evil he has embraced so fully?
Read Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, a tragic story that answers the question: Can two wrongs make a right?
If you’re still unsure of how to write your summary, read the backs of other books. Pay attention to how the summary is put together, how the sentences are constructed, the words that are use, and the tone of the narrator. I would suggest taking it one step further and practice by rewriting the summaries of your favorite books. Then take what you’ve learned and apply it to your own book. The summary is your sales pitch and second only to the cover of your book when it comes to influencing the reader. So if the summary appeals to readers, there’s a better chance they will buy your book.
Now, go write something!