Monday, August 23, 2010

The Book Teaser: Long or Short?

You readers out there: when you come across the description of a new book, either on the web, on your e-reader, or standing in the store and reading a book jacket, how long and detailed do you like it to be?

Do you want to know all the major plot details or would you rather have a teaser and discover the details as you read?

I have heard many movie-goers complain about movie trailers which show spoilers or major plot details about the movie itself. As we all know, sometimes the ads for a movie can contain all the funny or dramatic moments and the movie may only serve as joiner between those big moments. 

Years ago I remember attending a pre-release screening of a horror movie called "The Relic" starring Penelope Ann Miller and Tom Sizemore. Because it was not in wide-release I hadn't seen a poster, an ad or even a short teaser about the movie. I didn't know if it was a horror flick or an Indiana Jones-type action movie (with a title like "The Relic" it could have been Angelina Jolie on an archaeological dig with robots, for all I knew). What I do remember is the sheer joy in NOT KNOWING A THING about where the story was headed.  I had no residual memory from a trailer which allowed me to say, "Oh, that critter is going to jump out at us. And that train car is going to explode." It was pure bliss for me, but I do know that many (most?) people would rather know a good lot about a movie or a book before they A) pay for it and B) spend their time on it.

Here's an example of a synopsis for a friend's novel, Vincent Zandri's popular suspense story, "The Remains" which is currently available just about everywhere.  It's a successful book, currently a Kindle bestseller at and the outline below appears to give a clear picture of what's in store for the reader.

Thirty years ago, teenager Rebecca Underhill and her twin sister Molly were abducted by a man who lived in a house in the woods behind their upstate New York farm. They were held inside that house for three horrifying hours, until making their daring escape. Vowing to keep their terrifying experience a secret in order to protect their mother and father, the girls tried to put the past behind them. And when their attacker was hunted down by police and sent to prison, they believed he was as good as dead. Now, it s 30 years later, and with Molly having passed away from cancer, Rebecca, a painter and art teacher, is left alone to bear the burden of a secret that has only gotten heavier and more painful with each passing year. But when Rebecca begins receiving some strange anonymous text messages, she begins to realize that the monster who attacked her all those years ago is not dead after all. He s back, and this time, he wants to do more than just haunt her. He wants her dead.

And here's the synopsis for my own book, "On The Gathering Storm" which is available in all the major e-formats. I think we can agree that this one is shorter, by about a third, and that it displays less specific information about the plot.

Hannah Garretty is snatched from her bohemian life on the island and vanishes into a forest lair where unspeakable things have happened…and will continue to happen. We catch visceral glimpses from before the abduction, when she last came face to face with her own mortality. But can Hannah find a scrap of light in the absolute darkness of her ordeal?

I don't know that one is particularly stronger than the other but I do believe that story teasers are an art form, much like movie trailers demand their own set of unique skills. What do you think? Does one make you want to read the story more than the other? Is length a big factor or is it more about what is said in the synopsis and less about how much is said? Sound off!


  1. I'm a middle of the road kinda guy. I probly like a synopsis a little longer than yours but I also don't want to know what's going to happen for the entire first third of the novel (or serious plot twists later on). The great thing about ebooks (or any book, really) is that the teaser can be short but there's usually a lengthy sample of the story itself that you can read.

    I went to "The Six Sense" with the same kind of blindness you describe for "The Relic" I had such a great time without knowing anything beforehand.

  2. If it's an author I've never read before then I want a healthy free excerpt and a really solid teaser. But I DON'T wanna know anything even close to spoilery.

  3. Yeah, I'm still at a loss about how much I truly want to give away in a teaser or synopsis. I want to give enough to entice a reader but I want there to be real joy in reading the thing. It's a balancing act, and I maintain that, ideally, it should be done by someone adept at it -- not necessarily an author. The two disciplines require differing skill sets.

  4. 300 - 500 words-- max-- seems to be a fairly good balance between teasing and boring the customer. This is similar to writing a good resume. The interviewer is typically not going to spend more than 15 seconds glancing across the page. I think the first two or three paragraphs of the actual work is much more important. These are the opening lines of my unfinished short story ‘Children of the Bittered Earth’:
    Mia is with me now. She, as I— Firstborn— destined to replenish the spoiled earth, long ago lashed by the fiery tongue of a distant dying star.
    Although Firstborn is a term Mia dismisses with mild derision, pointing out quite accurately that the Caregivers were the first reanimated— gaunt, shallow, mute, ghoul-like creatures, designed by the Forebearers to nurture the Firstborn from the primary incubators through mid-adolescence.
    Mia never forgot the Caregivers, and her sculpted cheeks streamed with tears at the mere mention of their name. How woefully she recalled their passing just two years past, their mission fulfilled— slipping quietly into eternity’s emptiness.
    “The designers had a purpose for everything,” I said. “The Caregivers did their part, now we must do ours.”

  5. You're right Mark, and I'd even go a bit further. I'd say the opening ten to twelve pages are of tantamount importance. I read the first fifteen pages of a friend's book tonight (someone who shall go nameless here) and it was atrocious. Not because the writing was bad, it was good, very good. But nothing happened. Something needs to happen. And, quite frankly it needs to be interesting enough or vital enough or unusual enough to make me want to keep going.

  6. I hope it wasn't something of mine... If so, please let me know. When you have the chance, please download my breezy, 9000 word novella 'The Watchers within moments, revealed' and let me know what you think. One professional called it 'pulpy' but evocative (lol); actually, my intention was to write it ‘pulpy’.

  7. No, Mark, it wasn't yours! That would be really bad of me to mention it sideways to you like that. I've only read "Reckoning" so far from your catalogue and that, as I recall, was a few weeks ago. I was actually browsing through your pages on Smashwords moments ago and noted that "The Watchers" seemed the most appealing to me. I will grab it for my iPod and see if it draws me in.

    You okay'd my use of your review. You can check it out and approve it above on the newly added "Reviews & Acclaim" page. A little egotistical yes, but part of the marketing to do this kind of thing...

    Drop me a line -- jason(at) -- and we can keep up our dialogue via email. For tonight, though, I must sleep!


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