Tuesday 27 January 2015

Book Blurbs - as hard as writing the book itself?

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

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 prรฉcis 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; I think we all suffer from wanting to put too much information in, deeming it necessary, when it actually isn't at all.  

Recently I read a short blurb by a friend for his new book.  One short paragraph, 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! 
  • 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 #1

"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 #2

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??


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!

Friday 23 January 2015

My Top Ten Favourite Characters in MAD MEN

Having just finished watching all there is to offer of this wonderful series at the moment, and having seen all of it, from start to finish, over a period of two or three weeks, I am struck by my usual 'what the hell do I watch NEXT?' quandary.  To keep us going until we get the final seven episodes I thought I'd do a tribute to it, here, for fellow addicts!

So here goes with the rundown of my Top Ten favourite characters in Mad Men, in reverse order....

10.  Just slipping into the top 10 after a few were rejected for this spot, I chose department store heiress Rachel Menken, from series 1 (I think I preferred the earlier ones), played by Maggie Siff, on whom I wasn't so keen in Sons of Anarchy but thought was great in this.  Rachel was really cool, an independent, intelligent woman who wore amazing hats and didn't allow herself to go in for too much of Don Draper's idealistic romantic rubbish.  A match for him, indeed.  You were right not to go away with him, luv, but I think you sussed that out, didn't you? 

9.  Lazing about at number 9, the laid back and funny Stan Rizzo, played by Jay R Ferguson.  Calls a spade a spade, but basically a nice guy.  I love the way he seems to be laughing at his private jokes all the time and doesn't care too much what anyone thinks.  Only question - WHY did he grown that awful fuzz all over his face, later??

8.  Being dead straight at number 8, the delightful Henry Francis, played by Christopher Stanley.  Quietly attractive rather than drop dead sexy, the perfect husband, especially when you've had your heart wrung out by the Don Drapers of this world!  Even when he's being a bit shouty and laying down the law, you can kinda see his point.  I love the way he told Betty he wanted to marry her within only a few short meetings.  And meant it.  The move of a confident man.  Love it.

7.  I thought Michael Ginsberg (aka Ben Feldman) was going to really annoy me when had his first interview with Peggy "hold on while I throw some more toys out of my pram" Olson, but he very quickly made me laugh instead - and didn't he always get everything absolutely spot on?  That is, until the breakdown - I didn't see that coming but I suppose it happens to all the best creative geniuses (or genii!).

6.  How could you not love Lane Pryce?  Such a sweetie.  I always felt sorry for him because he wanted to fit in with Manhattan so badly but didn't quite, even though he loved it.  I also wish he'd had the courage to go off with the bunny girl he loved, instead of being so brow-and-literally beaten by his horrible father that he went back home to England.  Sad, sad end.  Come on, Don, you needn't have been so harsh, he would never have let you down again.  Played by Jared Harris.

5.  Into the top 5, and one of the best television deaths I've seen.  Don's secretary for part of one series, after Joan decided he didn't need any more pretty ones: Ida Blankenship.  Hilarious Brooklyn-Jewish accent, some great comedy moments. Played by Randee Heller.

....and the moment her demise was discovered....

"She died like she lived: surrounded by the people she answered phones for."

4.  ..... so said number five, Roger Sterling!  Played by John Slattery, after a psychiatrist encouraged him to understand his true self, he described himself as an inquisitive child who happened to have a successful business and a huge bank account (or something).  Totally hilarious, loved him. 

"Well, I gotta go learn a bunch of people's names before I fire them." 

 "Have a drink. It'll make me look younger." 

3.  Well, self-indulgent, self-obssessed womaniser or not, he has to be in the top 3, doesn't he?  The thing with the totally lush Don Draper is that just when you think he's a complete asshole, he does something that softens your heart towards him, and just when you think that he's a nice guy underneath it all and is actually learning by his mistakes, he does something horrendous.  It's my theory that people who are consistently unfaithful are secretly looking for a type of love that doesn't exist, ie one that will keep the passionate beginning alive forever, when two people adore each other unconditionally.  Aside from the occasional one-nighter, Don's affairs were never just about sex, were they?  A screwed up psyche with a hundred and one hang-ups, all wrapped up in the big hunk of gorgeous that is Jon Hamm!

"The reason you haven't felt it is because it doesn't exist. What you call love was invented by guys like me, to sell nylons. You're born alone and you die alone and this world just drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts. But I never forget. I'm living like there's no tomorrow, because there isn't one."

2.  I've seen her described as 'the bitter, vengeful Betty Draper', and my husband thinks she's all kinds of awful, but I really liked her, and I felt sorry for her, too.  In the days when women had little choice but to be a perfect wife and mother, she gave 100% to Don and the kids, always looked fabulous and put him first, every time, unlike 60s girl Megan who kissed goodbye to her happy marriage the minute she made her own career her priority.  Yet still Princess Betty got treated appallingly.

I felt the most sorry for her when, older, overweight and gotten frumpy, she went to pick the kids up from Don and Megan's new swanky apartment and clearly felt bitter and jealous; who could blame her?  She'd given her youth to Don and had the worst of him, whereas it seemed as though Megan had got the best.  I was glad she found happiness with Henry, lost weight and ended up looking gorgeous again - I bet January Jones was pleased to get all that 'fat' off her face, too.  Best moment: when she picked up a guy in a bar for sex, just so she could feel that she and Don were even, although she never told him about it.  Oh, and after their one brief night together in series 6; I thought Don realised what he'd lost, then...

I loved the Rome look! 

1.  Who else could be number one but the fabulous Joan Harris?  Played by Christina Hendricks.  I thought she was just going to be an out and out bitch and gold-digger at first, but then her character was given more dimensions and she showed her supportive and understanding side.  Of course she's one of those terrific women who is smart, independent, but also understands the power of glam!

 Her worst moment was when she made the decision to sleep with a client for the sake of the company; the ghastly thing, of course, was that the partners (Don excluded) had little enough respect for her to suggest it in the first place.  I think she probably gained as much respect in business as any woman could during that particular era, on the whole.

I went off her a bit near the end of series 6, and series 7, when she was anti-Don, but, hey, she had her reasons.  I liked how she chose living as a single mother rather than succumbing to the countless men she could have been with, for the sake of having a husband.  Almost unheard of in those days!  Oh, and she was queen of the icy put down, too.... to the young guys in the office who laughed at her so cruelly, for no reasons other than that they were little boys trying to be big sexist men " I can't wait until next year when all of you are in Vietnam. You will be pining for the day when someone was trying to make your life easier. When you're over there, and you're in the jungle and they're shooting at you, remember you're not dying for me because I never liked you."

I still think (hope) she'll end up with Roger... 

What I love most of all about the whole show is how it shows the huge sociological differences that happened during the sixties - the world was a very different place in series 7, when compared with series 1.  Brilliantly observed and illustrated - as were the subtle changes in fashion each year, too.  Didn't you just love the clothes and hairstyles?

Just a few more episodes to go, before the Mad Men 1960s are all over....  

Catch you later, guys!


Wednesday 21 January 2015

My 10th book on Amazon - LAST CHILD

(Update: Last Child is now live on Amazon UK and Amazon.com, and all other Amazon sites.  It's also on Goodreads  It is the sequel to Kings And Queens (please click HERE for US link), which was published in April 2014)

Kings and Queens is the story of charismatic property developer Harry Lanchester, told through the eyes of six women in his life; his story parallels that of Henry VIII and his six wives.  Last Child continues the story, with the 'reigns' of Harry's children: Jasper, Isabella and Erin (who closely resemble Edward VI, Bloody Mary and Elizabeth I!)

Here's the blurb for Last Child:

LAST CHILD is the sequel to Kings and Queens, Terry Tyler’s modern take on the story of Henry VIII and his six wives.

Harry is gone, his legacy passed on to his children ~ 

Thirteen year old JASPER, who views the directors of Lanchester Estates as Harry Potter characters, and finds out that teenage love affairs are no fairytale…
ISABELLA, the eldest daughter; lonely and looking for love, she returns from a holiday in Spain with more than just a suntan...
… and impulsive, independent ERIN, the girl of Transport manager Rob Dudley’s dreams, whose priority is not a husband and family but the continuation of her father’s work.

You will also meet the ambitious Jim Dudley, ex-nanny Hannah Cleveley, Rob’s long suffering wife Amy, and Raine Grey, whose nine days as PR manager for Lanchester Estates have a devastating effect on her life.  LAST CHILD takes the drama, passion and intrigue of Kings and Queens into the present day, with echoes from the past ~ and a glimpse or two into the future....

A short excerpt from the first chapter of LAST CHILD:

The children's ex-nanny, Hannah, is talking to Kate, who was the last wife of Harry before he died.  She has since married Aiden Seymour.  Harry's two youngest children, Erin and Jasper ('Jaz'), now live with the newly weds.

     I followed her eyes over to the window, and saw immediately why her expression had changed.  Angie and Erin had joined the boys outside in the sunshine.  Erin had changed out of her amazing Chloรฉ dress into faded denim shorts so small she might as well have walked out into the garden in her knickers, worn with a Motorhead t-shirt and calf-high lace-up boots.  She looked like something out of a rock video; Aiden’s eyes were popping out of his head.

     I remembered the Christmas before last, when the two of them had been caught mid-snog at the Lanchester Estates office party.  That was when Kate was still married to Harry, of course, and Aiden was a free agent, but it caused an uproar nevertheless.  Erin was only sixteen, and Aiden thirty-two.  Now, as I watched her prance around the garden, swinging her neat little hips and flicking her hair over her shoulder as she shot sexy sidelong looks at Kate’s husband, I saw that the flirtation was far from over. 

     “Don’t say anything—just don’t,” Kate whispered.  Her eyes were filled with tears and I leaned towards her, but she put up a hand to ward me off.  “No, please,” she said.  “I have to ignore it, or I’ll go out there and behave like a jealous old bat.”

     “Come on,” I said, pouring out more wine.  “She’s only exercising her power over men.  I’m sure that’s all it is, and Aiden adores you; you know how long he waited to marry you.”

     She dragged her eyes back to me.  “I know, I know.  But honestly, Hannah, sometimes I want to just—just—oh, what’s that thing Jaz says?  Bitch slap her!”  At least that made us both laugh again.  “Thing is, she’s not an innocent little girl, not at all.  She knows exactly what she’s doing.  She comes down to the kitchen to get a Coke out of the fridge in her underwear, even though I’ve told her not to, she makes deliberate double entendres at the dinner table; I tell you, the way she eats asparagus spears ought to be X-rated!  I mean, what the hell’s going on here?  She’s not my daughter but she happens to live in my house, except it’s her house, really, isn’t it?  Hers, Isabella’s and Jasper’s.  Harry’s will stipulates that I can live here as long as I want, but it will never belong to me, and why should it?  My twelve-year-old stepson is my landlord!  Then I think, why can’t I just enjoy being with my husband without the constant presence of this sexy young woman who keeps flirting with him?  We can’t leave because of Jaz—it’s just such a weird and very difficult situation.”

     She was extremely overwrought; I could see it was more than just a slight annoyance.  “Presumably she goes out a fair bit?  Has her own life?”

     “Oh yes, it was great when she was away in New York, and she’s always zooming off in cars with her various other admirers; if it’s not Rob Dudley it’s a chap called Eddie Courtenay from the office, or Tim Wyatt, who’s the nephew of some old lover of Annette’s.  She certainly knows how to play the opposite sex—the apple has not fallen far from the tree, and I’m not talking about her mother.”  That amused us both.  “So, yes, I do get to spend evenings at home with my husband, just us, alone—until we get called out to deal with another scrape that Jaz has got himself into.  Only last week I had a phone call from his friend Guy’s mother, asking me to pick him up from their party—he and Ollie had smuggled in two bottles of that paint stripper type cider that down-and-outs drink, and were so drunk they’d been sick in one of the bedrooms.”

Friday 16 January 2015

Feast your eyes on these, ladies!!!

Just as something to cheer up a dismal January, here is my list of top ten Netflix and Amazon  PRIME HOTTIES!

10.  Striding around in tight pants and slipping in at number 10, Jonathan Rhys Meyers who is surely as far away from the real Henry VIII as you could possibly get, but do we care?  Far more sexy than the romantic hero style Henry Cavill in The Tudors, I thought.

9.  Wouldn't mind snuggling under a bearskin with number nine - the totally lush Travis Fimmel as Ragnar Lothbrok in VIKINGS!

8.  I LOVE Michael Kenneth Williams, as both Omar in The Wire and Chalky White in Boardwalk Empire - hell, I even liked him as the tramp in The Road!

7.  Who wouldn't want to be Jax Teller's old lady?  Give or take the gang violence and his not very cute way of putting all Sons of Anarchy business before you, of course - oh, but, Charlie Hunnam, you can get away with it!!

(ps, were Jax and Ragnar separated at birth?)

6.  Chain smoking and 'old fashioned' drinking along at number 6, sexy 1960s ad man Don Draper in Mad Men, played by Jon Hamm.  I wasn't keen at first, thinking him just a knitting pattern, Mills and Boon type tall dark and handsome stereotype, but then he became more interesting....

Oh go on, shall we have another?

5.  The pictures don't do him justice, but Matthew McConnaughy was at his lush best as Rust Cohle in True Detective!  Oh, that accent, that cynical way of looking at the world, those hidden depths...

4.  I always thought Damian Lewis was just some actor who people fancy because they're told they do in women's magazines - until I saw him as Nick Brody in Homeland.  I'm sure I lusted after him even more than poor Carrie!  I think it's the way those barriers break down, just occasionally....

3.  At number three, as my sister said, "Who cares if he's an alcoholic, he can sober up in the morning!"  Easing himself up to the podium to collect his bronze medal, guitar in hand, is the divine Deacon Claybourne in Nashville, played by Charles Esten.  Oh, Deacon, Deacon, sing a song for me - no, on second thoughts, never mind the song... 

2.  Swaggering up to claim the silver medal is the totally phwooooaaaarrr Norman Reedus, aka Daryl Dixon in The Walking DeadWho cares about the end of the world ~ just you, me and your crossbow in a cave somewhere would do just fine!

1.  Fanfare!!!!

Yes, my Top TV Lust Object is the glorious Sawyer from Lost ~ in other words, Josh Holloway.  Any woman who says she wouldn't is either blind or lying!  Feast your eyes, ladies.....

What's that?  This whole exercise was just an excuse to post pictures of Josh Holloway on my blog?  No, no, no, of course it wasn't.....

Oh, whoops, another one slipped in there by mistake....

Okay, okay, I'll pack it in now...