Award-Winning Editor of Clarkesworld Magazine, Forever Magazine, The Best Science Fiction of the Year, and More

For the writers among us…

Any suggestions for someone who is having a hard time creating book summaries? Of all the things I’ve had to do since starting Wyrm Publishing, this is the thing that gives me the biggest headaches.


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Wyrm to Publish Signed Limited of Memorare by Gene Wolfe


  1. Huh. Should have thought of that one. Let’s assume for a moment that they don’t want to. I’d actually like to learn to do this.

    • I wish I had a formula, but truth is I hate writing book/novel summaries as well.

      I guess something that summaries the main character(s) and main conflict of the plot. Sounds easy, right?

      • Yeah, sounds easy… until I try to do it. I’m sitting here with a blank page in Word and a novella that I need to describe in one or two paragraphs. I don’t think this is happening tonight.

  2. As a reader, I like a book summary to list the genre and the premise of the book’s plot . . . and maybe some relevant details about the author, such as if other people consider this author to have a promising track record. Also, it drives me nuts when some idiot gives away spoilers. I guess my advice would be to not get too stressed out about this or overthink it. Like I said, as a reader if the book’s premise sounds interesting, and I have a pretty good idea of the genre and who the author is, then that can persuade to take a chance on a author I’ve never read before. And from reading your blog, you strike me as somebody who can express themselves well in writing, so I’m sure you’ll do fine.

    • Thanks for the vote of confidence and the advice. What you said about spoilers is something I feel very strongly about. Working with a novella, it feels like most of what I say is a spoiler of sorts. As for the author, it’s Gene Wolfe. It’s easy to talk about someone like him.

      • You’re welcome! Yeah, the other day I was reading this description on Amazon that gave away the book’s ending, but I realized what was going to happen and I diverted my gaze just in time. If I’m putting my energy into reading a piece of fiction–especially something long–I want to be surprised as the person who read it before me. I’ve never understood this mindset some people have reading a piece of fiction or seeing a TV show or movie before me gives them the right to spoil it for me. These people deserve the bastinado!

      • Hmm … if it’s something like “Strange Birds”, I’d want to mention both the Lisa Snellings art and how/where it fits into its particular series of collaborations, plus a sentence or two about whatever it is in the work that sticks in my memory, or that distinguishes it from other Wolfe stories, or something of that ilk.

        Long ago and far away, I learned in lots of summaries, what you’re trying to do is to write something sufficiently interesting that the person reading your copy isn’t going to say, “So What?” and turn away.

        What’s the hook that pulled you into the novella? What was the experience of reading this work? Was it a great comfort read? a challenging work that made you, as the reader, work too?

        Sometimes when I’m trying to summarize something, I’ve set myself a really silly forced-choice kind of question: Was this work more like a babbling brook or a deep mountain stream? more like a daisy or a rose? etc. What’s important isn’t the choice itself, but how you then justify the choice that you’ve made. In other words, are you focusing on the complexity of the work that reminds you of a rose, or are you focused on the delicacy of the petals of that rose (and what does that say about the prose)? Is it like a deep mountain stream because reading it is like dousing yourself with the cold water? Because there are major currents that you can’t see until you’re caught in them?

        Enough babbling!

  3. I’d tell you how to do it, but I might put myself out of a job…

    (hint: the best copy is written by people with no emotional attachment to the book)

    • Thanks for the hint. So in addition to your books, you do this sort of stuff too? Must keep you quite busy!

      • So in addition to your books, you do this sort of stuff too?

        Marketing copy R us. Like all advertising skills, you’re never quite sure if you should be proud of it, or wash your hands a lot….

        • 🙂 Just checked your website and see you do freelance work. I’ve made note of that and perhaps sometime I’ll be able to send you some business.

  4. Not that I’m anybody, but.

    If I have to write a synopsis, I start by trying to sum up each chapter in one sentence. I let myself write the dullest sentence in the world to take the pressue off, and if I absolutely can’t get it in one, I’ll write two. After I’ve done that for each chapter, I’ll go back and read over it and see where the strongest plot points are and what’s just hanging in there by dangling threads of love. I cut all those dangling bits out. Then I revise to make the dull sentences more reflective of my voice and not so dull. Then I put some stuff back in (but I take more out than I put back). Rinse. Repeat until satisfied or insane.

  5. I’m just submitting my MS to agents and having to ‘summarize’… sheesh! Harder by FAR than writing the damn thing in the first place.

    Thanks, everyone, for the timely tips ::G::

  6. I also ask the authors to come up with a summary if they’re comfortable with it. For the book Summer of the Apocalypse, he wrote two, asked which I liked better. I took the best parts of both of them and melded them together.

    But yeah, sometimes you’ve got to do it yourself, and it’s not always easy.

  7. This is off-topic, Neil, but do you also use black-and-white art for Clarkesworld Magazine? If so, check out this guy‘s work.

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