Being a book blogger is difficult, especially when you’re first starting out. I began writing reviews for books in 2015, however, I felt so intimidated by the process of the whole thing, that I took a break and didn’t return again until the end of 2016 to the beginning of 2017. For me, one of the more challenging aspects of being a book reviewer, or a reviewer of any media content in general, was the physical act of writing a synopsis. Out of everything that went into being a content creator, that was, by far, the most frightening.
Since January 2017, writing a synopsis in my own words has become an extremely crucial part of the type of blogger I am, whether I am reviewing a book, manga, or cinema-related content. If I cannot write a simple handful of sentences that provides a basic understanding of the contents of the title in question, then how I am supposed to string together a cohesive and reliable review for said title?
Now, I know that I am very much in the minority with the subject matter of this discussion. I cannot count how many bloggers out there opt out of writing their own synopses. Instead they copy the summaries off of sites like GoodReads (GR) or My Anime List (MAL). So, the fact that I will be discussing why something like that is off-putting, as well as highly unprofessional, will no doubt rub many creators the wrong way. However, before I jump into the discussion, I do want to make a point of stating that my intention is not to point fingers or cause drama.
I have been blogging for the past two to three years, and my personal experiences as both a blogger and a consumer have shown me the impact of copying something as seemingly irrelevant as a synopsis, and how it plays a vital role in the content that is being created. I would also like to state that the opinions shared here are completely my own and you don’t have to agree with them. I respect that everyone has their own individual subjective beliefs and experiences, and I only ask for the same understanding in return. Positive and rational discourse on the topic is most-definitely welcomed.
My Personal Experience with Synopsis Writing:
As I mentioned earlier, writing a synopsis, or a basic summary, of the narrative for a book that I had read or an anime that I had seen, used to intimidate me as a newbie reviewer. Firstly, I was utterly terrible at putting one together. They would either be ridiculously long-winded and too detailed, or they would not have enough information and that made them seem (in my own eyes) rather pointless. Some other reasons that synopses scared me included my fear of unintentionally including spoilers, ruining the shock value for certain stories, and having them differ drastically from other bloggers’ synopses.
Nevertheless, regardless of the numerous reasons that I had for not writing a synopsis, I never felt comfortable stealing one off GoodReads, even if I linked back to the original GR page/credited where I acquired the information. It made me feel ingenuine as a reviewer and it also made me feel like I was half-arsing the content I was creating; kind of like using a shortcut that made me take my work and my appreciation for the content less seriously. I hated that feeling just as much, if not more, than the feeling of being intimidated or too afraid to do something solely because I was bad at it. I would only suck at it if I never physically tried to get better, which wasn’t an option for me. I don’t like being bad at things that I have immense passion for.
Additionally, setting my passions aside, I didn’t want this to affect the professional quality of my work. Writing reviews and getting into the bookish industry, whether in publishing or working at libraries, is one of my biggest aspirations, and I wanted to excel at my work on a professional level. Copying a synopsis off places like GoodReads and MAL is not professional in the least. So, I began to write my own synopses.
The progress of getting started with it and forcing myself to write something based off entirely my own experiences and memory of the content consumed was appalling. More often than not, I found myself looking up certain details to ensure they weren’t spoilers, or to make sure that I wasn’t confusing one book with another. On top of that, my summaries were boring due to how lengthy they became. I felt discouraged, but I kept going and kept practising. With each new synopsis that I wrote, I became better and better. Now, I can write one within a handful of sentences with ease. The only exception is if the work has a super convoluted fucking storyline. Then I give the basic of information and provide a link to the respective page for anyone who wants it.
Sharing Links vs Copying Information
This is something that I have seen lots of discussion on. Why is it okay to share a link to a book’s GR page, but not to copy a synopsis for it, even if it’s cited? Or why is it okay to link to a MAL page, but not use the MAL’s synopsis?
The first and (personally) most important reason I can offer is that it’s plagiarism. It is stealing the words written by another person, sometimes the marketing department of publishers, and then using it for your own benefit, especially if you have a monetised platform. On MAL, more often than the synopsis they share is contributed by regular people on the website, particularly if the website doesn’t have access to a legitimate synopsis straight from the anime publishers/producers/etc. Also, when you are citing GoodReads or MAL, you’re not properly citing the people responsible for writing the physical synopsis, which includes the writers of the books/anime/etc.
The second reason is that it is wholly impersonal and a waste of blog space. The information found on GR and MAL can be found by anyone if they run an internet search for the relative titles. By providing access to the links, you assist in saving the consumer’s time and energy, however, when you straight-up copy the information, it fluffs out the post for the sake of fluffing it out, and implies that the information shared is your own, or involves your own personal feelings about the title, which is dishonest.
As a consumer, a lot of the time, I will read a book review that provides a synopsis that isn’t cited until the very end of the post. When that happens, it makes me question everything else that I’ve read in the review up to that point, and whether it truly is an authentic representation of the person’s perspective on the story consumed.
There are professional reasons that content creators should write their own reviews, as well as reasons that apply to the consumers who visit your spaces looking for information so they can make an informed decision on whether to invest in the books or media that we’re talking about. Let’s take a look at those. I will use books as the main example to keep things simple.
💠 Plagiarism: I’ve already touched base with the first one. If a person can copy a synopsis, then they can copy a full review from another individual. While this isn’t that common, it has happened. I have seen reviews on GoodReads written by amazing people who choose to review solely on GR, have their content stolen and pasted on blogs who then claim that work as their own. It’s dishonest, lazy, and unreliable, not to mention extremely fucking wrong.
💠 Professionalism: It is extremely unprofessional to read someone else’s words on a personal book review that is supposed to be based off of a single person’s experiences and responses with the title in question. If you read a review from a source such as The New York Times, you will see that the basic outline of what happens in the narrative is never copied; it is always stated in the reviewer’s own words. Sometimes key phrases may be taken, but never the entire synopsis. It illustrates a callous disregard for the quality of the review being written and can be indicative of them either not understanding, or not wanting, to really discuss the work in question.
💠 Individuality: A synopsis can be the gateway to help other content creators in understanding how a reviewer process the books that they read. Every reader who reads the same title experiences it differently, and this can be exhibited in the synopses written. For the novel An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir, Person A can say, “It’s about a brown-skinned girl who was oppressed, but discovers she has badass powers that she then uses to try and save her family.” Person B can say, “It’s a fantasy story inspired by South Asian culture that revolves around strong females on different sides of a political shitstorm who are trying to do what’s right by their experiences.” Person C can say, “It’s about a girl and a boy on opposite sides of a war, set in a South Asian-inspired, fantasy world, where they have to fight everything that they’ve been taught so they bring peace to the realm, which includes their feelings for one another.” Each of those synopses is different in its own way and reveals the different ways an individual reader absorbs the same narrative. This is especially important when it comes to diverse books and #OwnVoices reviews of those books (e.g.: a Chinese teen reviewer who reviews a Chinese YA story).
💠 Takes out marketing bullshite: Snippets provided via the publisher are written to be charming and to draw readers into the things they are trying to sell. Because of that, they can be unreliable themselves. I have read many books where the synopsis was nothing like the actual, physical story that unfolded. It infuriated me. By sharing the happenings in our own words, we are providing more authentic and sincere information about the things that we are reviewing, without having to worry about it being some marketing gimmick.
💠 Helps you consistently improve as a blogger and a writer: Learning how to write a synopsis and then practising it over and over and over again with every book that I read helped me become great at writing them. I was horrendous at pulling together a synopsis when I began. Saying that a reviewer doesn’t like writing a synopsis because they’re terrible at them isn’t really a good reason because they can always improve if they’re willing to put in the hard work. Synopses writing also helped me learn how to be more succinct with blogging. It taught me where I needed to be more detailed and where I could be a bit vague; it showed me how to avoid talking about spoilers while still allowing myself to discuss critical elements; and most of it all, it helped me find a comfortable blogging voice and rhythm that is uniquely my own.
💠 Spoiler-Free! Snippets that are on the inside flaps of books or the back covers tend to say way too much shit, especially in the past five to ten years. When I look at a book with an interesting title, I don’t want to know every single thing that will occur. The most basic and simplified idea is best, that way there is room for me to be shocked and space for me to become completely invested in the tale. Writing my own synopsis, has taught me how to pay attention to the stories that I read so that when I do concoct my own summaries, I know exactly what to avoid and how to keep things basic. Most readers and consumers (myself included) don’t want spoilers when we look up reviews. We want the gist of the what the book has to offer such as good/bad writing, world-building, familial dynamics, some cool themes, and a vague idea of what to expect from the narrative.
💠 Harmful content warnings: While trigger warnings are very slowly starting to make their appearance within a book, we still need to rely on a reviewer to tell us whether the book has content that will be construed as offensive or harmful. A couple of book reviewers that I follow, place the content warnings into their synopses towards the start of their reviews, and it makes a world of difference to me as a consumer. Immediately, just from those warnings, I will know if the book is something comfortable for me, or if I even need to read the rest of the review because of it. If I know a book has graphic scenes of rape, for example, via domestic situations, I will avoid it at all costs. That’s a trigger I cannot handle. When it’s brought up, I can take comfort in knowing that I can pass those books up and move on to the next TBR treat.
💠 Variety: I will admit something: if a review has a snippet that is taken off GR, I won’t read it, most of the time. The only exceptions I make are for close, personal friends, and even then, they have to be chatting about a book that I’m really interested in. It is boring, unimaginative, and excruciatingly repetitive. I don’t want to read the same fucking snippet three or four times. I like to read multiple reviews for a book to gauge the different ways its been perceived. As I’ve already mentioned above, everybody reacts differently to the same stories. This helps me get a better comprehension of the title and whether it’s worth investing my time and energy into it. When you have TBRs that are taller than Mount Fuji, you have to find a way to balance that stuff out. Different synopses help keep things fresh and they add variety to a consumer’s research, which is far more important than it may seem.
💠 Discover new bloggers/content creators: Before I ever became a content creator myself, I read blog posts. I had subscribed to many different bloggers and would thrive off their content. It helped me gain more confidence when it came time for me to start my own dive into blogging, but it also helped me maintain a list of reliable sources to turn to when I went shopping after payday, upon paying my bills, to spend my fun money on books and anime. People who take the time to write their own synopses, usually have far more entertaining and insightful posts across the board outside of the review posts. They also tend to think outside of the box and create unique content. I find them to be highly intelligent and engaging, and usually the comments section on their blogs will help me find more similar bloggers. It’s a kooky kind of chain that is pretty amazing. If a reviewer copies content, then I know to avoid them because then I will more than likely not enjoy their content, or take them as seriously, nearly as much as others.
My only real exception to writing a personalised synopsis (as a consumer, not a creator) would have to be TBR/W posts or posts that involve unread books and unwatched media. At that point, there is no familiarity there to base the synopsis off of. Most of the time, however, I will skim the titles and ignore the snippets. Once I have the titles, I can just Google the media myself. Nevertheless, as a content creator who is writing their own TBR/W type posts, I will skim the synopsis (avoiding all of the spoilery or over-detailed stuff) and still try to throw together an uncomplicated idea of what the titles are about, or I will avoid writing a snippet entirely and just provide a link to the GR/MAL pages. I won’t fill my post with unnecessary fluff that can be found literally anywhere else.
With that, I bring my ginormous discussion of why content creators should write their own synopses to a close. I know that a lot of people may be pissed off or feeling negatively upon reading this novel-sized chat. Nonetheless, my goal isn’t to attack anyone. My personal feelings are quite strong on the subject and I felt like sharing these thoughts with you all. Sir Betrothed referred to synopsis copying as my pet peeve, and honestly, they wouldn’t be too far off the mark. I suppose it’s a concept I don’t understand, and I feel that it is a waste of some amazing potential out there.
I am open to positive and rational discourse. Come chat with me and help me understand why you choose to write a synopsis, or you choose to copy them, or anything else you may have to say on the matter. I only ask that you do so respectfully. I’m always willing to learn and listen so that I can comprehend opinions outside of my own beliefs, as long as they aren’t laced with hate. Thanks.