So, what was that third thing I said was on the back of all books? The bar code, the copyright and…. Oh, come on. Stop being silly – it’s the “back of book description” – or the “synopsis” or the “hook” … you can call it what you want, but any way you slice it, it still means that you have to tell people what your book is about!
You’d think this would be the easiest part of the process. After all, you wrote the book, you edited it, you know it inside and out and – and chances are that if you were to tell me what your book is about right now, you could write two or three pages on it. You can already see where this is going, I’m sure. That’s right, you have to condense, condense, condense and yet still hook your readers.
(You may scream now)
Done? Good. I’d hazard a guess that those of you who aren’t screaming already have a nice, short synopsis/hook written up, whether for query letter attempts, promotion purposes, or because you’re just that damn good. Great! In that case you can skip ahead. However, for those who don’t I’ll try to give you some pointers.
The first thing is length. Depending on your font size, you could probably fit quite a bit on there, but keep in mind that most people quit reading after two paragraphs, unless it’s especially gripping. Yeah, two paragraphs, I know. Where have attention spans gone these days?
Oh look – something shiny!
Hmm? What? Oh, right. That nasty hook. So, how long should it be? I’d say nothing over 300 words. If it helps any, mine sits at 242, including the sample excerpt at the top, which looks about like this:
He lay on the floor in a heap. A puddle of congealing gore, so dark it looked black, spread out around him and made the carpet fibers stiff.
Whatever killed Patrick wasn’t human, but if it wasn’t an animal what else could it be? What else is there to be?
Katelina is about to find out that if you turn over the rock of reality and look underneath it you’ll find things that hide in the shadows away from the light. Things you don’t want to see. Blood drinking monsters called vampires.
But what do you do when the vampire happens to be so beautiful you can’t stop looking at him? Or when he’s your only hope against a mob of monsters that think you’ve wronged them? Sure, maybe he saved your life, but how can you trust – really trust – someone who isn’t even human?
Katelina has no choice. Hunted by a coven of vampires, she has to rely on Jorick to help her escape. But no matter how far they run death chases them like a shadow until their only alternative is to turn around and fight.
Trapped between light and dark, the pair must travel down a path of mystery and terror as their pasts are slowly revealed and their passions ignite. To survive, the two allies must join in an ancient power-struggle that could very well decide their futures and the fate of the vampire covens…
So, now that you have a word count in mind, what should it say? Some good beginning ideas are to start with “The main character is about to face this challenge because…” or “In the town of whatever the main character is…” or “It was just after some event when the main character…” – see how the most important information is right there? It’s just like writing a newspaper article – who (the main character), what (faces this challenge), when/where and why. From there you can expand on the details of the challenge – and complications – the character faces.
For instance, above, Katelina is turning over the rocks of reality to discover vampires because her friend Patrick was murdered. The first complication to her dealing with this is that the vampire is hawt. And of course, the fact that Claudius wants to kill her is a pretty big complication. Here there is a miniature solution, of sorts – this hot vampire might save her – but here comes the next complication: she doesn’t know if she can trust him because he is a vampire, after all. Blah blah. You get it.
You may be wondering now, should you put an excerpt at the top? Sure, if you have a very, very short one that you can tie into the description/hook without too much bulky explanation. I wouldn’t suggest more than two sentences, personally, but if you can make more than that work then go for it. I’ve seen book backs that have an entire paragraph from the book; in this case it’s usually the very first paragraph, though.
It is worth noting, however, that a back of book description is different from your query letter. In the query letter you mat give away plot points that you don’t want to give away on the back of the book. You can also pepper this with the ever annoying rhetorical question that most agents hate, and the melodramatic moments, like “lost in a world of darkness and betrayal” that are unacceptable when querying. Query letters are built to be precise and super informative, this should be precise, but it can be much less informative, depending on what you;re going for.
Over all, my best advice is to just jump in and mock something – anything – up. Have people read it and listen to their comments. You could even put different ideas up for vote in your blog or website (I’ve done this for a lot of things.) Heck, maybe you can even find a friend or family member who is brilliant at writing these kind of things. Just like with the art work – never overlook the abilities of those close to you. You could be sitting on a treasure trove of amazing ideas.
Do you have any suggestions on writing the dreaded synopsis?