I’ve heard more than one author lament the chore of writing a synopsis of their book. “If I could have summed it up in a few paragraphs, I wouldn’t have needed an entire book to write it!”, they say. But doing so is a necessary evil. Too bad more authors aren’t very good at it.
A rock-solid book summary (or should I say book summaries?) is as important as the title, the cover, the sub-title… I’ll borrow a word from the tech community and call these things metadata. Getting these right is important, because they lead to getting your book read.
And just like in the tech world, each of these data convey specific information within a specific medium. That’s a key point you need to understand. While some data (author name, for example) won’t change across different containers and marketplaces, most certainly will. That’s for a simple reason: the audience in each of these venues is different.
So if you’re using the same block of text as your jacket cover, in-marketplace description, and as your synopsis in your query letter; you’re doing it wrong. Because the audiences are different. And what you want from those audiences is different still.
The job of a book summary
When writing a summary to be included on your jacket cover (inside flap, back cover, wherever), remember that it will be read by someone holding your book in their hands. They’re in buying-mode, and they are analyzing multiple other clues your book conveys to them. They know exactly how long it is. They’re judging the cover. They’ve opened it up and flipped through a few chapters. They’ve examined the page stock, and they can see if you used an interior designer or just hacked it up yourself.
You’re at the last mile here. The job of your summary is to give just enough info to keep them interested so they don’t put your book down and pick up another by someone else. Put yourself in the mind of the would-be-buyer. What would hook you and make you want to buy the book? That’s what goes here. Push them over the line.
The job of the synopsis
A synopsis is different than that. It is written expressly for the agent or publisher you are trying to woo. They may or may not even read the book, and you shouldn’t care. You want them to rep it or buy the rights to it, and to give you a nice fat contract for your trouble. Jane Friedman has exceptional how-to tips for writing a synopsis for your book that will make an agent drool. Pay attention to the part where she says you have to give away the ending. Spoiler alert! This one should never be seen by would-be consumers. For obvious reasons.
But in the world of ePublishing, the one I care most about these days is the description you’ll add to marketplaces, like Amazon.com and others. You’ll be tempted to just use the jacket cover. Resist that temptation. Yes, the goal is the same: get the book in the shopping cart. But I promise you that the online buying experience is much different from the experience of buying goods in physical store. All those physical clues discussed above don’t exist here. Well, most don’t. And those that do are simply an approximation of physicality. And because of that, you need a different strategy.
5 steps to writing effective sales copy for your ebook
Yes, that probably sounds cheap and base. But I assure you it’s essential to getting people to buy your book. Follow these five steps, and you’ll have something that makes your book stand out from the others in the marketplace.
- Make your writing familiar. Of which well-known authors might your writing be similar? To pull this off, you need to be well-read yourself. And you need to be a little humble. Don’t say that you’re the next Heinlein. Prospects will think you terribly pretentious and click way instantly. And hedge your bets: pick two or three authors. Honesty is important, so get confirmation from people you trust.
- Hook ’em. Once the prospect is receptive to the style of the book, you need to draw them in. One quick, provocative statement can do the trick. One sentence is preferable. No, you’re not trying to summarize your book in a sentence. So don’t try. Questions work very well here: “When you sleep, where do your fingers go?” I stole that line from a Cake song, but it illustrates the point. Yours doesn’t have to be quite as absurd, but you get the idea.
- Pitch it! Build on that hook you just set, but don’t assume you’re done. You need to deliver the payoff, but not a spoiler. In a single (and short) paragraph, you need to convey the emotion, tone and/or experience your book provides. No, it’s not all that easy.
- Summarize. Now is the time to talk about the plot and your characters. If you’re a non-fiction author, it’s the time to talk about your pertinent experience and why you are the expert. Try and keep it within 2-3 paragraphs. If you need it at all. Do a good enough job on the second and third parts and you won’t need this part at all.
- Wisdom of crowds. People like to know what other people thought of the book. Find 2-3 great reviews or pieces of feedback that this book has received and include them at the end. They should be kept short, so edit them as necessary. Unless you’ve got reviews from other pro and recognizable writers, I’d leave out adjective-laden reviews. Instead, use reviews that talk about feelings and personal experiences people had with your book.
Plan several hours and several revisions spread out over several days to get your sale copy just right. Look at it again in the morning. Have a fellow author take a look. Really try and put yourself in the shoes of the person examining the book. I know you want to publish now. But no… you’re not ready. Patience!
Taking the time to do this right will have a positive impact on the number of units you’ll move through electronic marketplaces. Conversely, rushing through this vital step will cause your sales to suffer. You only get one chance to make a first impression, so do it right.
Then go write your next book!