Distilling Your Book:Three Different Summaries You'll Have to Write
You'd think wrong.
Just because I wrote the novel, doesn't mean I can easily capture its substance. As the author, I'm too aware of all the details, the cool subplots, the minor characters I've fallen in love with.
And I have to leave them all out.
If it weren't for my intrepid critique group, I wouldn't have a synopsis sitting in front of me today. It took many tries (and the first one was more awful than I can express), but it's done. Having four other pairs of eyes on it was the most important part of writing it.
Working on this synopsis got me thinking about the other ways we summarize our books, whether they're fiction or non-fiction. Here's a run-down of what you can expect.
One-sentence summary. This is one of the most important summaries you'll create, and also one of the most difficult. It's often called a log-line, tag-line, hook, or elevator pitch. Writing teacher Marilynn Byerly defines it this way, "The log line is a one-sentence statement of your premise or high concept." If you'd like to see some in action, Byerly recommends this post. Aim for fourteen to twenty-five words. Your intention is to spark interest in the reader, without giving away the ending. Not an easy task.
Work on your one-sentence summary as soon as you have the idea for your book. You'll use it often. Every time someone says, "You're writing a book? What's it about?" When you go to conferences, and meet agents and editors. It might find it's way into your query letter, and will be included in your book proposal, as well.
Back-cover copy. This is exactly what it sounds like. The short paragraphs found on the back of a book that entice the reader to buy it. It introduces the main character, plot, and the story question, but leaves the reader wondering how the story will work out. Marilynn Byerly has a great article on this in How to Create a Blurb.
You'll use a form of back-cover copy in your query letter, and once your book is done, you may also use it to create a one-sheet, basically a one-page advertisement for your book. Back-cover copy is usually included in a proposal, as well.
Synopsis. The synopsis differs from the other summaries in two ways: it's much longer, and it gives away the ending. It's a stripped-down version of your story, introducing the main characters, the main plot, and the motivations and outcomes.
Authors often write two or more synopses of different lengths, as some agents, editors, and contest organizers require different word counts. Start with one synopsis, and then add or take away words to come up with at least a short and long synopsis. The one I wrote this week had a maximum word count of 1250. Some synopses are required to be 750 or less.
If you're querying agents, and they ask to see your work, many will ask for several chapters plus a synopsis. Your synopsis will also go into your proposal, and if you submit your story to a contest, it's common for them to ask for a synopsis, also.
Have you written any of these? I'd love to hear any tips you have.