The Organized Writer: Summarizing Your Book

by Jeff Abbott on February 25, 2009

I’m posting this as an Organized Writer bit because it’s really only to interest of aspiring writers. Apparently there was a recent discussion on multiple literary agent blogs where several aspiring writers felt that they shouldn’t have to master the skill of summarizing their book’s dramatic premise into a single paragraph. Usually the first time this skill has to be brought into play is in writing a query letter, which is the first step in acquiring a literary agent (who in turn represents your work to publishers). Query letters basically serve very succinct introductions to writers and their book, and this is what determines if the agent asks to see the partial manuscript or the complete book or passes on looking at the book. The query has to give an idea of what the book is about, intrigue the agent into reading it, and give a sense of the writer’s professionalism. The reasoning of these writers was that they’re good at writing novels, not “marketing copy”, and so they should hire out the writing of their queries. This wrongly assumes that once the query is accepted, these writers never have to know how to summarize their books in ways that make people want to read them.

I shared with literary agent Nathan Bransford¬†some of the times that I’ve had to offer brief summaries of my work to a variety of audiences beyond the query letter, which he has posted on his blog, resulting in a lively discussion. Writing queries and being able to talk about your work in a brief and engaging way is a basic skill required to be a professional writer–much like an actor needing to feel comfortable doing auditions or cold readings, or a salesperson learning when to close the deal, or a screenwriter learning to pitch a two-hour movie in ten minutes to a roomful of producers. All those skill sets are required for survival in their respective businesses.¬†
I’m sort of stunned this was even debated. We might be taking outsourcing a bit too far. Sure, writing queries can be hard, but it’s seriously not brain surgery. And as a matter of professional pride: writers write.¬†
Nathan’s blog offers excellent advice on crafting queries, check out his Essentials on the right side of his page.

    { 2 comments… read them below or add one }

    Kristan February 25, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    I think you’re right: me, and anyone else who complains about it or says “but we’re novelists,” are really just trying to avoid the work. Maybe because we’re a bit unfamiliar and thus afraid of failure. But as you pointed out, there are too many times it’s vital that we can do it. So I’ll work on it…

    Robena Grant February 25, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    Thanks so much for your insights on the expectations after becoming published. I enjoyed reading your comments on Nathan Bransford’s blog. Better to start learning now, and the query and elevator pitch are probably the first steps in that process. This business is all about being prepared. I used to think it was luck, but as Deepak Chopra says, luck is just preparedness meeting opportunity. : )

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