Reading Jordan Smith’s Finding the Core of Your Story last month was part of my personal study on novel summarizing. I’m still working on the skills necessary for crafting compelling “back cover copy” (the paragraphs on the back of a book that tell what it’s about), but in this post I’m hoping to potentially help you out as I learn.
Here is a real-life example from my second book, England Adventure. This is the first synopsis I wrote for it after I finished:
Marielle’s fondest dream is coming true…by landing her and her cousins Emma, Caroline, Abby, Kailey, and Reanna in England. Gregory and Yvonne Endicott, old friends of their grandparents, and their sociable granddaughter Paris act as tour guides while they meet castles, villages, history, and the British. They wend their way from the homey village of Madgwick, to the global metropolis of London, to the rural sweeps of the Lake District, to many other intriguing towns and sights. Marielle has never had such an adventure.
But it’s not exactly a dreamland. It’s a place for Marielle to be challenged and to learn about real life, love, and God’s purpose. She soon discovers Paris is in trouble—can she help her? Will England be a place where other lives besides Marielle’s are changed?
I showed it to friends who read the story, and they gave me some valuable suggestions. One of them, however, told me it was far too slow-moving and just not intriguing enough to get people to open the pages. When she sent me a reworked synopsis, I heartily agreed with her. Here is the final synopsis:
For as long as she can remember, Marielle has dreamed of seeing England in person. When kind grandparents send her and her cousins there to visit old friends, she can hardly wait to see the places she’s known in fiction and film. The Endicotts are perfect hosts—and their worldly American granddaughter Paris, perfectly beautiful.
But it soon turns out that nothing is as it seems. Her cousins Abby and Reanna, once the best of friends, appear deeply at odds, and the picture-perfect Endicott family is hiding secrets of its own. Distanced by an ocean from home and her family’s protection, Marielle finds herself challenged by a troubling new world. She befriends Paris, but Paris seems opposed to what Marielle stands for. Can Marielle be the witness who helps Paris overcome the lifestyle that’s harming her? Or will Marielle and her cousins be overwhelmed by the conflict this supposed dream trip has brought them?
I and my friends were much more pleased with this one. Even though both explain what the story is about, the second does so more enticingly. It doesn’t get bogged down in naming every character, but focuses only on the most important. It dwells on character and action rather than setting. It uses hardly any passive voice. It expands on the conflict, which is what draws most readers to a story—so they can discover what happens. It drives forward instead of sitting in place. My friend said to think of a movie trailer and the types of scenes it shows.
Now of course, your back cover copy is subject to your story. You can’t write something untrue to make your story sound more exciting. But, as my friend proved, there are ways of drawing out its most exciting and intriguing aspects. Instead of lollygagging, you can use high-stake words that drive forward and push questions that demand an answer. These should be what your story is about anyway. But always stay true to the character of your book! Otherwise it won’t attract the right readers.
Also, reading the back cover copy on other books and evaluating what draws you in should really help. Study them enough, and you’ll get a feel for what works.
Do you have any experiences writing enticing synopses for your stories?
Kelsey Bryant is an author, blogger, and copy editor who loves the Lord. She revels in many things: the beauty of God's Word, the music of English, the wonder of nature, the joy of creativity, the freedom of motion, the richness of literature, the intrigue of history ... and much more. To learn more about her, visit her website or blog.