With Brenna Lyons
Many authors cringe at the idea of doing blurbs. How in the world do you describe a 100,000 word book in 25 words or 100? It’s really not as hard as it sounds.
Have you ever heard the horror story of the author meeting the editor, and the editor saying, “You have two minutes to tell me all about your book.”? Where do you start? That’s what we’re here to learn. Because, that is a blurb. That’s what he’s asking for.
Everything in this business is based on blurbs, from queries to book backs. That’s right...queries. Having the blurbs in place will save you a lot of time and trouble, in the long run.
What kind of trouble? A lot more than simply having a log line ready when the promo site asks for one and not having to scramble to make one on the spot, that’s for sure. We’re talking about decisions that affect whether or not you sell a book...not just to the reader but also to the publisher...or sign it with an agent.
Let’s start at the beginning... What blurbs should every author have ready, before he or she even starts querying?
1) Concept- An easy way to think of the concept is taking two or three movies or books that cover main aspects of your project. Maybe it’s Murder She Wrote meets The Flying Nun. It is a striking image, isn’t it? That’s the point. The first thing that comes to my mind is a hapless nun who solves mysteries. But, it gives a tactile feel for the book with very few words wasted. When doing this sort of concept, go for well-known movies and books. If you go for something obscure, you’ve already lost the agent or editor’s attention, and you never want to lose that attention.
2) Log line- A 10-12 word teaser for the book. A log line doesn’t have time to do much. It has to do one of a few things. You can make an outrageous or seemingly contradictory statement that will entice the reader to learn more about the book. You can ask a question that entices the reader to find out the answer to it. Or...you can say something that makes no sense on first reading to make the reader want to know what you’re talking about. The log line should always leave the reader wanting to know more. That is its purpose in life, since it can’t possibly give a lot of information.
3) A 25-word blurb.
4) A 150-word blurb- at least two of these. Why? You will want one for the book description on sale sites and one for other promo. In actuality, I find that I sometimes end up mixing and matching paragraphs from the 150-word blurbs to make a more exciting one for spotlights and other special promo materials. You can also merge them to make a longer book-back blurb.
Step One...finding the subject of your blurbs.
ASSIGNMENT: Give me a highlight of the events in the first three chapters of your book or the first 20% of your short story. Like a review, you don’t want to go further into the book. You don’t want to give spoilers. If you haven’t hooked a reader by the end of three chapters, you have big problems with the book. If you haven’t hooked the editor or agent by the end of one paragraph, you’ve already lost the contract. That’s likely true of a reader, as well. Rule #1, we don’t want to lose the contract or the sale.
Some people don’t do well with this assignment. It’s okay, if you’re one of them. Like I said, synopsis (or sometimes outline) is the first word that gives authors hives. Hang in there for a little longer.
And, remember that sometimes an outsider can see your book clearer than you can. Having someone else point out what stood out as the most important facets to her might give you focus.
Or, you might be an auditory planner. By that, I mean you choke when you try to put this down on paper, but if someone records you speaking the plot points out, you do well. Try it, if you can’t seem to make the written exercise work for you.
Step two...order your plot points by importance. If you had 15 seconds to
impart one central theme or plot point to the readers, what would it be? What point is
essential for them to know. If you had 30 seconds and could hit one more, what would
that one be? And so forth.
ASSIGNMENT: Do so. Refer to the list above for inspiration.
Step three...finding the core elements of your characters.
ASSIGNMENT: Explain your main characters, keeping in mind the things that make them special, the complications in their lives that affect the plotline... Ignore complete physical description, unless it’s extreme...like a 7 foot tall man...or affects the plot, like a disfigurement or ethereal beauty.
Step four...finding your genre or cross-genre balance. Now, don’t laugh. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, because you might be SO cross-genre that your blurb becomes harder to fit to what is considered standard for your genre mix. Example? A romance blurb typically lays out the hero and heroine of the book...or whatever sexes you’re using...and the complication to them being together or what throws them together. A heavily-science fiction book will have a blurb that will, of course, focus on the world building and the plot complications for that portion of the book. Try fitting it all into a 25-word or 50-word blurb and then discuss with me how finding your balance is of no importance.
What is your balance? Is the book high in romance and low in science fiction? Is it science fiction with romantic elements? Are they even? To be honest, an even split will be hardest to write a short blurb for. Do you want to write one for each side and use them in an alternating fashion? That might work. Do you want to make a log line for one side and 25-word for the other and use them together? Possibly. Whatever you choose, figure out what the usual blurbs for your genre/s contain and what balance you have to strike in imparting knowledge to the readers.
ASSIGMENT: What genre/s is/are your book? What do blurbs for that genre/susually consist of? What is the balance of your book?
Genre A ___________________B
Where along the line do you place your mark? Closer to which genre?
Step five...figure out your “voice” in the book. Is the book dark? Comical/ whimsical? A farce? A tear-jerker? You should never waste words in the blurb or the query, telling people what the voice is. Your blurb should be written in the same voice as the book is, conveying the “feel” of the book through the blurb. I won’t give an assignment for this one. You wrote the book. You can certainly write the blurb in the same tone. Also, it gives the reader/editor/agent a small taste of your personal style of writing.
As I said, you have a paragraph or less to capture and hold attention of your target audience. The more information you can give in that paragraph, the better. Now, I don’t mean that the paragraph should be so stocked full of book facts that it reads like an outline. I mean that the person on the other end should get as much a feel for you and your style as they do for the book as a whole.
Step six...figure out your strength in writing. That probably sounds horribly confusing but, this is why.
Do you prefer to add words or cut them when you write? Which are you more comfortable with? If you are more comfortable adding words, write your log line first. If you’re more comfortable cutting words, start with the 250-word blurb. You will find a blank planning sheet attached to the end of this article. Use ink if you dare.
Start with whichever blurb you are most suited for. If that is the log line, work up, blurb by blurb, adding more of the plot points in as you can fit them. The beauty of using the table to do this is that you can see at a glance how much space you have to play with, which allows you to explore some plot points more or to cut a bit from some plot points to make room for others.
If you are starting with the 150-word blurb (I never start with the 250, because that’s more storytelling than blurbing), it’s actually a bit more difficult for you. Why? Because the urge to fit every plot point in that first blurb is sometimes unbearable.
My best advice is to keep the list firmly in mind. Your space is limited. Don’t forget it. When you are running out of room, beef up the plot points that are already there instead of trying to fit in more points, cutting down the points you have already included. You may find yourself rearranging your list as you go. If you thought plot point A was most important but it just doesn’t read as strongly as plot point B, go with your gut instinct and use plot point B when you start cutting for the 50-word blurb and lower and lose the weaker point.
Step seven... No, you are not done, yet! Look at the blurb you created. Does it read like a hundred other blurbs for books in your genre/s? It might. If it does, you will want to go back and figure out ONE key question. What makes your vampire book different than the 50 other vampire books going on sale this month? What makes your world unique? What makes your lead character/vampire unique from all others?
One thing you absolutely do not want is a carbon copy blurb. There are too many of them already. If that’s what you’ve created, you need to focus on the novelty of your book. Otherwise... you’ve lost them. You never want to lose their attention.
What Works and What Doesn't?
Start with a quote!
GARNETS OF DESTINY (Gemstone Chronicles #1) by Serena Yates
"Good stories are as rare as flawless high carat gemstones." --The Collector
***The reader expects an epic tale, right out of the chute.
"For the extinction of the beasts that walk the night, we will give our life’s blood and our lives. Such is the curse that we were born to. Such is the duty we swear to. Such are the lives we lead."
***The reader expects two things...tension/action and rigid traditions.
"There were just a few little problems with tall, dark and sinfully-godlike. For one thing, he was bleeding all over himself."
***The reader expects wry humor out of the book.
Play on existing writing others will recognize...Parody...
Money clips and microchips...that's what little boys are made of. Lace and flair and grave malware...that’s what little girls are made of. Who knew a fatal crash could feel so good?
Setting the stage...start with the problem and work out to the characters...
SONS OF HEAVEN: BELDON
We've talked about them for millennia. The Sons of Heaven came to Earth and lay with the Daughters of Man, spawning the heroes of old (or the monsters of old, depending on your mythos). They have been called angels. They have been called demons, the fallen, the devil... Somewhere behind the myths, there were men, winged men who came from the stars and took simple human women as mate. It is time for one modern human woman to discover who and what the Sons of Heaven were, and that discovery will change her life forever.
Using the title or sections of the book in the blurb...
But don't force it. If it won't flow naturally, don't do it.
Unconventional choices in blurbs...
Note or letter...
See...NIGHT EMBRACE by Sherrilyn KenyonSince I don't have Sherrilyn's permission to quote her full blurb here, I won't. But I will link to it for anyone interested in reading it!
CHRISTMAS RUM BALLS by Cherie Noel
Santa Neil in leather, elf Tony in a sock;
Watch naughty Kevin, falling like a rock.
He's off the nice list--coal city's straight ahead,
'Til a miracle's made with wrist restraints, a bow and Rum Balls in their bed.
Nobody knocking. Nobody calls.
Nobody's footsteps out in the hall.
Alone in the house or alone in your head...
One man's delight is another one's dread.
Follow, dear reader, the path that we wind.
You have only to leave your body behind.
Basically, what WORKS is doing something original and specific to your book. Tell the readers why your book isn't like dozens of others released the same month in your genre.
What doesn't work?
Notice I am not pointing fingers at people I've seen do these things. I am a firm believer in praising in public and counseling in private.
Overloading the reader with characters and information...
When Tony meets his boss Terry's best friend George, sparks fly, but George's persistent (or maybe obnoxious) ex Stan doesn't want to let go. It's up to Terry and his sister Tia, with the help of their dog Skippy, to...
Okay, enough of that. It's clear the readers are going to have a tough time following the leader through this twisted maze of people and situation. First thing...stop naming names. You need to know a couple of names here. Tony and George, your main characters. Technically speaking, every other name in this particular blurb is extraneous. In some epic stories, you may need a few more names. But the more names you give the reader to remember in a blurb, the more likely you are to lose the reader's attention along the way. It's good enough to know Tony meets George through his boss and Terry's sister will help get rid of the persistent ex-boyfriend. You can even throw in the dog item for comedic effect, if your book has a slightly humorous element to it, or if the dog is part of a fantasy familiar type of setting.
Another thing, cut the run-on sentences. Don't bog down the reader with long-complicated sentences. There are two reasons for this. One is that conjunctions waste precious words. The other is that you want the reader immersed in the blurb and not picking apart a torturous sentence along the way. Vary sentences of course. I'm not saying to avoid all complex sentences, but don't let a sentence run on and on.
Telling too much...
Blurbs are not synopses. They are not outlines. They are teasers...hooks. You're going to be telling the crises/problems in a nutshell, not in detail. We're not going more than three chapters into a novel or 20% into a short story. You also do not want to reveal your twists in the blurb.
I had to cull a blurb, because the original blurb suggested by the author set up a lovely suspense then REVEALED that the main character learns her actual stalker isn't who she thought it was. Uh...no. The last thing you want to do is take that punch out of the book and into the open. For the best possible punch, that blurb had to end before the twist was revealed to the reader.
Another author was trying to foreshadow an event, as she had in the actual book. Since the foreshadowing happened in the first three chapters, she figured it was safe enough to do it in the blurb. Not really. In the book, she had 12,000 words that the foreshadowing of a paragraph (maybe 120 words) was hidden in. In the blurb, she had 150 words, of which the foreshadowing was 18. You see how much difference that makes. When the foreshadowing is 1/100th of the whole, it's easy to hide it in plain sight. When it's more than 1/10th of the whole, it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Oh...last one... AVOID clichéd turns of phrase, unless you are going for a humorous presentation. If you write a clichéd blurb, readers will believe your entire book is or may be clichéd.