After seeing your book cover or hearing your ucdm title, the first thing readers do is pick up the book and flip it over to read the back cover, or if they are online, they will look for the product description, also called a summary or synopsis (not to be confused with a chapter by chapter summary a writer would submit to a potential literary agent or publisher). We’ll refer to it as a “summary” here because it needs to be a description of your book that is relatively short. About 250 words or less.

The problem with too many books is that they don’t have proper summaries on the back. Many authors make the mistake of putting solely their biographies on their back covers. For example, I have seen crime novels where the back cover tells us how the author was a lawyer, a criminal prosecutor, etc. That might mean the author has some qualifications for writing about crime, but it doesn’t tell me what the book is about. I’ve seen other books by authors writing about marginal history and while their photos on the back might make it clear they are Native American or African American followed by their biographies, it doesn’t tell me why I would want to read their books.

Believe it or not, I’ve even seen books with blank back covers or listed at Amazon with no product description. The other day, I actually saw a copy of the bestselling book, “The Chosen” by Chaim Potok. I’ve never read it, but it’s a book I’ve heard mentioned many times although I couldn’t remember what it was about. I picked it up only to find the back cover and several inside front cover pages loaded with praise blurbs, but none told me what the book was about. It’s probably a great book, but I didn’t buy that copy-even a bestseller needs a summary. I bet a summary on earlier editions helped to make it a bestseller.

Let’s take the two examples above of crime and history novels and help these authors out by giving examples of what would be good summaries for them. We’ll call the crime novel, “He Had It Coming” and the marginal history book, “African on the Rez.” Both titles hopefully invoke a little curiosity that would encourage readers to pick up the books and read the back covers.

Don’t laugh. I’ve seen way too many summaries like these-short and telling us next to nothing. These types of summaries don’t move the dial on the “who-gives-a-crap” meter. Haven’t we heard enough stories about women who kill their abusive husbands? Do we really want to read one more? As for the history book, I admit it’s a bit more interesting, but still, why do I care? What does this have to do with me? I’m not descended from slaves and I’m not Native American.

Emily

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