Annotation Advice

Guidelines for Writing Annotations
(No, you don’t have to be a Shakespeare!)

The purpose of an annotation is to convey, as briefly as possible (generally within a few sentences), the contents of a book in a manner that entices the reader. Copywriters who specialize in book jacket blurbs and film posters/ads, have honed this skill to a fine art, and provide excellent examples of how to distill the essence of a story down to its most exciting and potent elements. There are many similarities between an annotation and a booktalk, though here your written words must convey the drama or power of the work.

Annotations, unlike book reviews, are not opinions. Therefore, avoid using phrases like “extremely well written,” “I think,” or any other subjective terms (you’ll love this book is a classic no-no). Descriptive words like “suspenseful,” “moving,” etc., should be used sparingly.

Annotations Are...

• Short—typically 2-3 sentences at the most.
• Dramatic and Compelling—they are intended to be quick sales pitches that “go for the emotional jugular.”
• Attention Grabbers—they are teasers meant to instantly engage the potential reader.

Annotations are NOT (Ever!)...

• More than a brief paragraph in length
• Reviews or opinions. There should be absolutely NO “I think,” “you’ll love,” kind of commentary; no judgment statements of any kind. A strong annotation creates the impression of the experience without overtly telling the potential reader how to respond.
• A laundry list of plot details strung together—the goal is not to summarize the book but rather to tantalize the imagination with just enough information to make the reader hungry for more.

Here are some suggestions for creating your descriptions (you do not necessarily have to include every point):

• Identify the central character: In most cases, there is only one character to identify, though occasionally focus might shift to an ancillary character (relative, love interest, the alien next door, etc.) who you think would prove a more powerful draw for your audience. Once you’ve selected the character, capture their key distinguishing features or traits with appropriate descriptions (age, ethnicity, career, marital or relationship status, etc.).

• What other characters play a significant role in the book?: If this character (even if it’s the family pet) interacts with the central character in a substantial way, it might be worth mentioning them.

• Describe the Setting: Where does the action take place? Is it a posh suburb, an urban ghetto, a rural outpost? Are we on a dark and forbidding moor? In outer space? In school?

• When Does the Story Take Place?: Are we dealing with the here and now, the past, or some future world?

• What is the character’s main challenge?: Is the character trying to find a place to belong, to win a big race, come to grips with his/her sexuality or a traumatic event or an emotionally charged relationship ? Is his/her goal to save humanity from disaster? What is the driving force that galvanizes the character into action?

The New Jersey State Library Youth Services Booklists: 
The New York Public Library’s annual “Books for the Teenage”: (2008), (2006) and their newest incarnation:
“Stuff for the Teenage”:

Partly adapted from Mary K. Chelton’s and Dorothy Broderick’s instructions to VOYA reviewers ( and Sue Rosenzweig’s Reading Interest Survey, with permission of authors. Revised May 2009