HOW TO AVOID A BOOK SUMMARY

Some writers can complete a book summary in less than hour. I am not one of those writers. I need days — maybe weeks — to piece together a book summary. Summarizing an entire book in three to four short paragraphs can be hard. Sometimes I know what I want to say but have trouble getting the ideas on paper. Other times, I don’t know what to say and completely ignore the assignment. I’m really good at procrastinating because summaries are not my favorite projects.

For the record, not my book summary. Back cover for "Confessions of a Call Center Gal" by Lisa Lim.

Sometimes I am determined to work on the summary, but once I’m at my computer, more important matters take over. Reading my sisters’ blogs. Cleaning the litterboxes. Washing the dirty dishes. Vacuuming the apartment. Taking out the trash. Working on my blog. Yelling at the contestants on “Chain Reaction.” Cleaning the bathroom. Brushing the cats. Watering my tiny little plant. Thinking about whether I should do laundry. Thinking about all the unfinished projects. See? My days are pretty filled.

Why do I dislike writing summaries so much? Condensing the story into three to four riveting paragraphs that will capture the reader’s attention and interest to buy the book. No pressure. No pressure at all. If the summary doesn’t interest me, I’m not going to read the book. In my opinion, the first two sentences are crucial. I’ve put books back on the shelf when I lose interest after reading the first couple of sentences or the first paragraph. After looking at the book cover, I immediately look for the summary.

SENTENCE A -- This book is going on my must-read list.

I spent weeks on writing a summary for “Vodka Four.” Even after I had written the bulk of the summary, I revised — or polished — it so many times. At one point I have to say, “This summary is good enough,” but in my mind, I feel I can continually improve it somehow. I am happy with the “Vodka Four” summary. I think it’s witty and pretty much sums up the book well. If I re-released the book, I would probably make a few changes here and there. But for the most part, the summary makes me happy.

Think about the following sentences for just a moment. SENTENCE A: Madeline, Avery, and Nikki are strangers to each other, but they have one thing in common. SENTENCE B: In the middle of the year, in the middle of her life, Bethanne Hamlin takes a road trip with her daughter, Annie, and her former mother-in-law, Ruth. SENTENCE C: Linda Davis’s local fabric shop is a place where women gather to share their creations: quilts commemorating important events in their lives. Wedding quilts, baby quilts, memorial quilts — each is bound tight with dreams, hopes and yearnings. Out of the three first sentences: Which makes you want to read more about the book?

For me, SENTENCE A grabbed my attention. What do the three women have in common? OK, I’m going to read the next sentence. SENTENCE B made me wonder why the main character is taking a road trip with her daughter and former mother-in-law. The longer I read the summary, the more likely I’m going to read the actual book. I know friends and family are obligated to buy my book because well, they know me and want to support me. And I say THANK YOU! But what the other people who don’t know Jennifer Elliott? What happens when my books end up in the bargain bin or dollar store? Even for $5 or less, I want people to still buy and read my book.

SENTENCE B -- I probably won't read this book. Sorry, Debbie Macomber.

I also put too much pressure on myself. If I’m not interested in reading my book summary, then I highly doubt other people will want to read it. I want something smart, funny, and witty and can most everything about the book in just a few words. Too much to ask for? I think so. The best process for me is to lay down my foundation of the book and work around that. Bits and pieces of the summary usually come to me when I least expect it. I’m always looking for ways to improve it.

In a perfect world, I would be able to write a smart, funny, and witty book summary in less than an hour and be done with it. No rewrites. No polishing. Done. However, I don’t live in a perfect world and deal with writing summaries. Blech. Until the process becomes a little easier or something, I’m going to avoid them until it’s no longer possible. Because I highly doubt I can sell a book without a summary. Would you buy a book if the back cover was completely blank? Me neither.

I probably should end this post and work on my summary, but first, I should check if my sisters took their turns in Words with Friends.

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