This is supposed to be a Top 5 Wednesday post, but since I can’t off the top of my head think of a good list of books for this topic (the only one I can think of is the first Harry Potter book, the synopses in the Scholastic book flyer made it sound really boring and then our teacher read it to us….), I though I’d do a discussion post instead! ….On a Thursday!
Let’s face it, a book summary can make or break a book. Yet, writing just the right thing to summarize a book in order to appeal to the masses is the hardest part of of the entire process. Or so they say. It’s delicate balance of giving enough detail to entice readers but not give away any major plot points as most people hate spoilers. When done just right even a mediocre book will have flocks of people running out to buy it. Done wrong and the book’s sales and reviews will reflect that.
Every book is (hopefully) different, thus there is no right way to write a book summary and some books forgo the summary altogether and opt for an excerpt. That being said, there are a few general no-no’s for book synopses and I thought I’d share with you some of my pet peeves.
Firstly (and something the author doesn’t really have much control over), I hate reviews on the back of books, I wish that trend had died before it started. When I look at the back of a book I want to see a blurb or a summary of what is inside the book not a review of often times not even the book I’m holding but praise for the author’s previous novels. When I want to see reviews I look at Goodreads or Amazon.
I also can’t stand when the blurb/excerpt picked to entice readers is the first kiss of the two main characters. It’s boring since it’s 90% of the excerpts I have read. It personally makes me not want to read the book because I want more then just romance and a short kiss scene doesn’t actually give you a feel for what the book is about. It also often spoils a moment that the author is trying to make you feel ~something~ whether it’s the ‘finally they kissed’ or the second-hand embarrassment or the ‘cuuuute’ feeling they are trying to get out the of scene. Since you have no context you don’t get that feeling. You don’t know the characters yet so you have no connection to them or what is happening.
Generally speaking I dislike excerpts for this reason because they involve people that you have no connection to yet or events you have no knowledge of. However, when done right excerpts can be very powerful. Just read one of my personal favourites:
‘Commanders. Good ones, people with a knack for it […] they’re as rare as heroes. Commanders have an eye not just for what they do, but for what those around them do. Commanders size up people’s strengths and weaknesses. They know where someone will shine and where they will collapse. Other warriors will obey a true commander because they can tell that the commander knows what he- or she- is doing.’ Raoul picked up a quill and toyed with it. ‘You’ve shown flashes of being a commander. I’ve seen it. So has Qasim, your friend Neal, even Wyldon, though it would be like pulling teeth to get him to admit it. My job is to see if you will do more than flash, with the right training. The realm needs commanders. Tortall is big. We have too many still-untamed pockets, too curse many hideyholes for rogues, and plenty of hungry enemies to nibble at our borders and our seafaring trade. If you have what it takes, the Crown will use you. We’re too desperate for good commanders to let one slip away, even a female one.
It’s something like that, I don’t have the book handy and I know it’s edited down more but that is it. To me, this summary sucked me right in.
Another thing I dislike is when the summary of the book is comparing it to other books to try and sell it to you. All of the ‘This is the New Hunger Games!!” and the ‘mix of Throne of Glass and Red Queen” or what-have-yous. Sure they give you a sort-of idea of what the book is about but you go into it expecting something that likely isn’t there. Or you go into the book knowing there is a high chance it’s a rip-off or mash-up of other works and not original. Plus if you didn’t like the book it’s being compared to (Twilight, anyone?) the odds of you picking up that book are very slim.
However, one thing that does work for me is if the book is sold to me ‘if you like these authors then check out this book’. It’s a subtle difference, but for me it’s comparing the writing styles and the genera of the books and not the books themselves and makes be much more likely to pick up the book.
Straight up lies about the book is something unforgivable and while very few books will lie in the summary, there are a good handful that will bend the truth, pitching the book as something it is not or over- or under-emphasising something major. Past character cameos is one of the things I can’t stand. Sometimes the summary will play up the fact that old characters from a previous novel or series will show up in this one to get you to read it, and it’s true they do. But there has been a time or three when I have read a book and the cameo is small and unimportant to the story. Nice to see but not really what I was lead to believe it would be.
The final thing I will mention before this post becomes too long or negative, is when the book does not clearly indict it’s in the middle of a series. Sure this is also a cover design flaw (a way to sell more books because if you don’t know its the third book and not the first one the odds of you tracking down and buying the first one increase) but it really should be a higher priority to emphasize that the book is not the start of the series. Doubly so when you really do need to read the first one for the next one to make sense. Thankfully most books do a decent enough job of telling you ‘here there are other event before this book takes place, you might want to check that out’ but not all books do so, which is a great frustration to me.