If you’re submitting your nonfiction manuscript to publishers, you want to make sure your masterpiece gets the attention it deserves—which is why being able to write a great summary, or synopsis, is so important.
As a nonfiction editor here at TCK, I spend a lot of time reading and reviewing manuscript submissions and their accompanying summaries. But the fact is, not every publishing company or agency will spend time actually looking at your manuscript if your summary doesn’t capture their attention.
How to Write a Summary That Will Get Your Book Noticed
Writing a summary of your book can be surprisingly difficult. No one knows your book better than you, but that deep connection can be a detriment—it can make it challenging to pick and choose the most important points.
Remember, your summary can’t—and shouldn’t—include every smart observation or bit of groundbreaking advice contained in your book. Instead, focus on the most important, unique, and salient points that will excite the person reading enough that they want to read the whole book.
By following these simple steps, you’ll have a killer synopsis that can be used for book proposals, Amazon descriptions, social media marketing, and more.
1. Think about Your Book Objectively
One of the hardest parts of writing a good synopsis is that it requires you to sell yourself (and, of course, your work) to the reader. And most of us know just what an odious task that can be.
So your best bet is to take a step back and think about your book objectively. Take the emotion out of it. Imagine your book was written by someone else—what would you say about it? What are its best qualities?
Your summary should also demonstrate your enthusiasm, knowledge, and authority. Think about why you decided to write this book in the first place. Are you an expert in a particular field? Were you motivated to research this topic because of specific events in your life? Include those things in your summary.
2. Take a Cue from the Tone of Your Book
Your summary should be an illustration of your writing prowess and style. You should be telling the reader about the book in a way that demonstrates what they can expect when they read the book itself.
If your book is funny, your summary should make the reader smile. If your book is a highly-researched biography, adopt a professorial tone to tell the reader why the subject is worth their time. And if you’re offering up a treasure trove of business advice in your book, make sure it’s your smart, snappy voice the reader is hearing—not a bland, lifeless robot.
3. Start with a One-Paragraph Description
Start your summary with two to three sentences that capture the essence of the book. You should explain the question or problem that is addressed by your book and why the book is essential reading for your audience.
You’ll want to include some context around the book as well—why it’s relevant and important to publish at this moment.
Essentially, the first paragraph of your summary needs to grab the reader and get them to keep reading, so put your strongest sales points and most interesting insights right up front.
4. Give Your Summary a Beginning, a Middle, and an End
Just as your book has a beginning, middle, and end, so should your summary.
Once you’ve written your scintillating first paragraph, you should give a bit more detail in the middle of your summary:
- Who will be interested in reading this book?
- What is the book’s value to the reader? (Or: What will the book teach the reader?)
- What makes your book stand out in the market? Why is it different than other books on the topic?
- Why are you the best person to write this book? What are your qualifications? Why do you feel passionate about your topic?
- What research methods or sources did you use when writing? (Or: How credible is your information?)
This should take no more than one or two paragraphs—much longer, and the acquiring editor will lose interest and likely won’t finish your summary, let alone glance through your chapter summaries or manuscript.
Your conclusion should also be one paragraph, and should leave the reader hungering to find out more. Reel the reader in with a promise to help teach them something important, improve their lives, disrupt their worldview—or whatever it is you’re hoping your book will accomplish.
5. Read Book Reviews for Inspiration
Book reviewers are amazingly good at picking the most salient points from a book and explaining what makes those points important.
Find a few positive reviews of books that are similar to yours and see what the reviewers say. What’s capturing their attention? What’s resonating with them the most?
In all likelihood, those points are similar to the things that will stand out to an agent or editor.
Write a Synopsis That Will Sell Your Book
Following the steps laid out here will produce a solid, multipurpose summary that you can use to sell your book to agents, editors, and readers.
Don’t forget to check out each publisher’s submission guidelines before sending anything, and tailor your synopsis, proposal, manuscript, etc. accordingly.
How do you write book summaries? Share your tips in the comments below.