Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Book Blurbs - as hard as writing the book itself?


Book blurbs: 
a few pointers for the yet to be initiated

So, you're days away from publishing your new one on Amazon, and you know you've got to take that 'must write the blurb' thought out of the back of your mind and actually write the wretched thing....
 
Most people hate doing them.  I think they're harder to write than synopses.  At least a synopsis is just an account of the book; if you did précis in English at school you should know how to add the relevant and discard the irrelevant to give just an account of the pertinent points.  But a blurb is something else, isn't it?  And this, I think, is where new writers sometimes fall down.

A blurb is NOT a synopsis.  Readers don't want be told the plot.  The blurb's job is to make us want to find out.  In other words, don't copy and paste the synopsis you were thinking of sending to an agent, into the 'Product Description'.  The blurb is the interest-catcher.  It's that back cover bit you read in the library or the book shop, the couple of paragraphs that make you decide whether or not you want to open the book and look at chapter one.  I think that's the main reason novelists find them so difficult to get right - we write long fiction, not advertising copy.   


I'm not brilliant at them, but I've got better as time goes on, I think.  Recently I read a short blurb by a friend for his new book.  One short paragraph, and it was worded well but wasn't going to sock anyone in the eye.  The book was a crime thriller - I suggested that he simply divided the paragraph up into four lines, with spaces between them, to make it more 'punchy'.  More thrilling.  He did so immediately, and agreed that the book now looked twice as exciting.

Here are a few pointers, because I love bullet points!
  • Always, always think about what would make YOU want to read the book.
  • Think impact, not detail.
  • I read somewhere that you shouldn't include more than four character names at the absolute maximum.  I agree with this.
  • A couple of medium length paragraphs or a few very short ones are quite enough.  Any more probably won't get read, anyway.
  • Don't give away the ending.  I notice this in romance books, in particular; you can sometimes guess the outcome of the book by reading the blurb.  Okay, romance is one of the most predictable genres, and this feature is one of the reasons its readers like it, but if you see something like "will Millicent choose her boring but safe life with Nigel, or head for the hills with unpredictable but devilishly attractive Raoul?",  you can bet your bottom dollar that Raoul's going to get the girl!  Or "Jocasta Lusty was doing just fine as the boss of Lusty Electrical until fiery and enigmatic technician Gregory Hotstuff arrived to upset the applecart" - no prizes for guessing that, after a series of spats, Jocasta and Gregory will admit their tumultuous passion for each other!  (Hey, should I start writing this stuff???).
  • If you want to add in a couple of quotes from reviews, put them at the end, after the description.  So often, I've waded through a list of "I couldn't put it downs" looking for a tiny paragraph hidden somewhere amongst the list of glowing testimonials, to tell me what the book is actually ABOUT.  The product description bit on Amazon is where readers go to find out if they want to read the book, and this is generally dependent upon its subject matter.   If they want to read all the great things people have said before they buy, they can click on the reviews.  Yes, it doesn't hurt to include a couple of particularly neat and memorable quotes, but they shouldn't outshadow the description of the book itself.  Similarly, any personal details about you can go on your Amazon author page, which is duplicated in 'more about the author' the book's own page, anyway. 
  • Make sure the blurb is error free, perfectly paced, etc etc.  I've decided not to buy a book in the past because of a dodgy comma.  If I've done so, you can bet hundreds of others will feel the same.  Run it past your proofreader if you're not confident.
  • Keep 'em wanting more!  An unanswered question is always a good idea, and does not have to be posed in such an obvious way as the Raoul and co examples, ie, by asking a direct question.  You could put something like "Millicent can't make up her mind if she'd be happier dashing out into the unknown or trying to add new spark to her marriage."  (I'd go with Raoul if I was her, but that's beside the point).
Here are a couple of examples, first of two bad Amazon blurbs, and then of a good one, so you can get more of a picture of what I mean by all this.  Both are for the same book, which doesn't actually exist.  I'll call it Paradise Island (I know, I know, I'm making this up off the top of my head as I go along!).

BAD AMAZON BOOK BLURB: NUMBER ONE 

"I found this book hard to put down and was up all night reading it" ~ Amy Smith, Amazon author.

"Full of twists and turns that will keep you guessing to the very end!" ~ Jackie Brown, book blogger.

"I really enjoyed this summer romance" ~ Wendy Green, avid reader. 

Paradise Island was longlisted for the Worthy Effort Book Awards, 2015. 

About the author: Angela Author lives in Stoke on Trent with husband Colin and two cats who think they run the house.  She loved writing from a young age and her drawers are stuffed full of half completed early attempts.  After completing a course in creative writing Angela decided to have a go at being an author, and Paradise Island is her debut novel.  She can be found on Twitter @AngelaAuthor, and writes a blog about her self-publishing journey.  

About the book: (note: if potential buyer hasn't stopped reading by now)

Eager to take a break from her dreary life with husband Nigel, Millicent Battersby goes to work on Paradise Island for one summer as a receptionist in a hotel.  While she is there, though, she feels a bit homesick.  However, a new group of travellers arrives and she makes friends with Pam and Lucy.  The three of them go off to discover the real life of the island outside the tourist area.  In a bar, she meets Australian travellers Guy and Luke who invite her to a party.  At the party she meets Raoul, a very handsome traveller to whom she is immediately attracted.  But Raoul is against her nine to five and steady way of life, and they argue a lot, although the attraction between them is apparent to everyone. 

Just when Millicent thinks she may abandon her life back home and head off into the hills with Raoul, who should turn up but Nigel.  He is disturbed to find her having changed her outlook on life and feels jealous of her burgeoning desire for Raoul.  To make her jealous, he begins a flirtation with Samantha, an amply bosomed blonde waitress.  Millicent is upset by this.  But Pam and Lucy tell her that she only feels upset because she thought he was so dependable, and that if she was bored with her life before then she shouldn't go back.  Meanwhile, Raoul is stepping up the pace and showing her how exciting a life with him could be.  But he will not wait forever.  Will Millicent go back home with Nigel, or head off into the unknown with Raoul?
~~~ 

Awful, isn't it?  Ticks every single 'wrong, wrong, wrong' box, from the gruesome, cliched  bio to the 'when are we ever going to find out what the wretched book's about?', to the synopsis-not-a-blurb....
 

BAD AMAZON BOOK BLURB: NUMBER TWO 

Bored with her life and husband, Nigel, Millicent takes a summer job at Paradise Island.

Up pops mysterious adventurer Raoul, who makes her feel restless.  Despite their tempestuous arguments, they are very attracted to each other.

Suddenly Nigel arrives, wanting her to come home and trying cheap ploys to make her jealous.  She is torn between her dreary but safe life, and passionate adventure with an enigmatic new love.

Will Millicent go back home with Nigel, or head off into the unknown with Raoul? 

I think we can pretty much guess what she is going to do, don't you??
~~~ 

GOOD AMAZON BOOK BLURB 

Millicent Battersby is in a rut in her safe, steady life and marriage to Nigel.  Is she just marking time?

A summer job on Paradise Island delivers sunshine, fun and new friendships, and the prospect of adventure.  Yes, and some much missed passion and romance, too...    

Then Nigel turns up out of the blue.  His reaction to her new life is extreme, and sends her already conflicting emotions into overdrive.

Will Millicent decide that her marriage is worth saving, or head out to the road untravelled? 

Paradise Island is the absorbing debut romantic novel from Angela Author, ideal for summer beach read escapism.
~~~ 

The 'good' blurb is by no means Amazon bestseller perfect, and is not without a hackneyed phrase or two, but it's a hell of a lot better than the other ones!  Notice that Raoul is not even mentioned in this one, that a new love affair is just hinted at, as are Nigel's activities post arrival on the island.  I don't know about you, but I'd quite like to read that book; I'd be wondering about Nigel's extreme reactions, at least!  I wouldn't buy it if I'd read either of the first two blurbs, though, because I'd already know what was going to happen.

You can always try running your first blurb drafts past someone.  I showed my first one for my new book, Last Child, to my sister and she said, "Yeah, great, but lose the horrendous cliche in the second paragraph".  She was right, of course.  It's since been amended several times and will be again before publication.  This will be the tenth book I've published on Amazon; I've learned, now, that it's best to tackle the blurb during the first few drafts, and keep going back to it to revise.  As with the novel itself, if you leave it a month you are more able to see its strengths and weaknesses.

Lastly, make sure the blurb accurately portrays the feel of the book.  If it's a thriller, put questions in the reader's mind.  If it's a light, amusing book, make the blurb funny, too.  If it's especially gory, make sure you let the reader know.   

Think reader, reader, reader, all the time!


35 comments:

  1. Very good Terry, yes a good book blurb can make or break a book.

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    1. Thanks Rosie - especially coming from you, an avid reader!

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  2. Very well put, and timely for me, Terry. I think my current version of my blurb passes muster on brevity and not giving away the plot, but I cringe slightly at the word ADVERT – which is definitely what it is, but perhaps part of what it makes it seem harder than a synopsis

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    1. Oh yes, Anne, I agree - as I said, we're not trained in writing advertising copy, as you see when writers try to do it in tweets ~ "The perfect gift for Christmas", "Why not curl up with a good book tonight" - eeeek!!! I know it's not a nice word, but really a book blurb is only an advertisement for what's between the covers, isn't it? Adverts don't have to be cheesy and cringe-making :)

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  3. Great points, Terry, all of them, from giving away the entire plot to proofreading the damn thing ;-)
    You had me on the floor with Millicent difficult choices :D

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    1. Yes, I feel she and Raoul are characters I could develop!!

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  4. Great! Now I know who to run my blurb by...dodgy commas and all. All great advice. Thanks!

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    1. Perhaps an English expression - London-ish slang for 'not good' or 'not right' or similar!

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  5. Great post Terry! Wish I'd read it last week *rushes off to update blurb on new release* :)

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    1. Shelley, great advice I never take is to check back on blurbs from time to time and change as you feel necessary! I sometimes give mine a bit of a re-think before a promotion, if I remember/get round to it. Seriously, though, I've not bought 2 books in the last 6 months because you could tell the outcome from the blurb. But I think the main thing people do wrong is just making them boring, with too much detail.

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  6. Oh how I hate blurb-writing! I must come back to this post when I get home.

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  7. I use this actual review as an advert. I never thought of breaking it up, I can see a difference in the way it is read.

    This well written crime thriller will keep you reading and leave you satisfied. It is in the tradition of the old school pulp detective stories, but updated for modern society.

    The character development is excellent. It is written in a realistic style that really captures the feel of the setting and characters. It is a fascinating and exciting look at the crime world from the police officer’s perspective.

    Filled with twists and turns, this excellent story will keep you guessing right up to the surprising and appropriate ending”.

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    1. Not quite sure if you mean you use it in your book blurb - I am not that convinced by review quotes in blurbs, to be honest; the reviews are all there for people to read it they want to. I have used a couple of quotes in one or two of my blurbs but it's hard to find original ones, isn't it?

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  8. When I was published by BIG PUBLISHER, they wrote them for me. Didn't always agree but had no say. Now I have to do my own...another good tip is to go to Waterstones or nearest book shop ad just read a few shelves of book blurbs. Pinch any useful phrases and adapt according to need and genre.

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    1. That's a good idea, Carol, and one I will take up - thanks!

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  9. Thank you.. Book blurbs are an area where I think I need improvement and I printe dout your pointers to study a few times. I'm a slow learner. :o)

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    1. Hi there, I'm glad you found it helpful! Here's even more about it, from Rayne Hall who writes the 'Writer's Craft' series:

      http://ukartsdirectory.com/terry-tylers-literary-blog-37/

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  10. My bok BLOOD N' GUTZ is reely god. Its' got monstas!!! U will turn the pages, except you can't becos its not a proper book. A reeveiwer said 'Its better than another bok I red.' Another one of them said 'It absorbed me until I was totally absorbed' and another who was my uncle said 'Buy this bok - I did and I have become a millionair and a chick magnit'. That's true as well.

    Given three full stars by the Ulan Bator Sunday Book Club it can be bought for money on Amazin or traded in Nepal for images of Chairman Mo or somebody.

    The story is better than anything.

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    1. JD, I think I love you. Thank you for giving me heartburn as the laughter mixed with my muesli first thing in the morning. Innit!

      But you didn't mention the books 'twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the very end'!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  11. Thanks - I'd already decided to give my book blurbs an overhaul so this was timely.

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    1. Yes - having written this, I need to do mine, too!

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  12. This came just at the right time for me - I have to write a blurb for a friend's book. So thank you muchly! Jx

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    1. They're a nightmare, aren't they?! I always change mine about 15 times before publication! x

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  13. Bookmarked for future use, Terry. Thanks : )

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  14. Most readers of romances who buy the book based on your good blurb example are going to be disappointed if Millicent and Nigel don't sort out their marriage and end up more in love with one another than they were when they married. The suspense in a romance novel isn't usually about who's going to end up with whom, but about how they're going to conquer the obstacles in the way.The point of the blurb for those books is usually to highlight the problems that threaten to keep the couple who are made for one another apart.

    Thank you for an interesting article. Until you made me think about it, I hadn't realised that different genres require different approaches to blurb.

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    1. Oh, sorry, April! I suppose everyone reads blurbs differently. Ah well, I did say it wasn't bestseller perfect. I get about romance books being about the journey not the ending (I think I mentioned that), and I had it confirmed in person by Lizzie Lamb and Adrienne Vaughan when I met them a couple of months ago; it was most enlightening to meet the writers of a genre I don't read. I wrote this based on my own impressions, and how I feel - one can only write from one's own POV, after all. I've read so many chick lit book blurbs that make the ending apparent, and thought, why??? It was only after talking to Lizzie and Adrienne that I fully realised that the readers of romance EXPECT a predictable ending.

      I think the main points I was trying to put across were that a) A blurb should not be a synopsis b) Don't give away the plot and c) Keep it short, snappy and forget all the 'I couldn't put it downs' and fake bio claims. I did write the article 2 years ago, so might have made slightly different considerations now.

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    2. ps, I have read romance books, when I was younger, and for review, btw. But even when I read them I still didn't like the ending to be blindingly obvious. Some romance/chick lit blurbs actually read like spoilers.

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    3. I most certainly agree with your your points a) to c) and follow them myself.

      Any thinking we do about blurb is never wasted, so it's useful to understand the point of view of someone who doesn't usually read the kind of thing that I write.

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    4. You're so right, April! About any aspect of this thing we do, I believe.

      Not book blurb related, but I must give you this example of 'you can't please them all' that I received recently. In my latest book, a quarter of it is taken up with the aftermath of the capture of the mystery killer, ie, telling what happens to the characters post 'the end', if you like! About ten reviews have said how much they liked this aspect. Then I got one last week that praised every aspect of the book apart from this one, which he said brought it down to an anti climax.

      It made me feel much, much better about writing the book I want to write and not worrying too much about reader pleasing!

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  15. I so agree with you, Terry. So many times have I banged on about this. Cheers for the reminder to all authors.

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    1. Thanks, J. When I'm choosing books to read from the Rosie Review Team list, I almost always reject on sight any with a long synopsis for a blurb. My thoughts: 'I will read the book to find out what happens. Your job is to make me WANT to read it'.

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