#UtopYA Con 2014 – Slaying the Blurb Beast

I have connected with many authors online over the past year and handful of months since becoming a book blogger. I’m sure many of you have as well. It’s much easier to chat with our favorite authors and read what’s going on in their heads these days with the help of Facebook, Twitter and other popular social media sites. One common thing I see authors rant about frequently is about how much they hate writing blurbs, even more so than any problems that arise while writing the book itself. As an aspiring author, I thought it would be fun and informative to hear from the select few authors I found that actually enjoy writing blurbs! Yes, you read that correctly — they like to write blurbs! It’s extremely helpful information for book reviewers as well, as many of us like to summarize the story in our reviews. If anyone else has tips & tricks to share, or has any questions, feel free to leave a comment!


Jacqueline Garlick has some excellent tips to share with us…

Slaying the Blurb Beast

What’s in a blurb? In a word—everything. It is the author’s handshake extended to the readers of the world. It is your book’s first (and could be its last) sales impression. It can mean the difference between a click through sale and a click away (especially in self publishing,) yet many authors would rather write an entire book than to face the task of composing one back copy blurb.

It’s a shame really, because it doesn’t have to be that hard. In fact, writing the back copy blurb first, before you’ve written the book can prove to be an invaluable exercise, creating a clear and concise road map from which the writer can write.

How do I do that, you ask? Well, I attack writing a blurb by answering a string of questions. The string of questions I use, are based on a famous technique called, The Gary Provost Sentence, (http://peterrubie.com/dramatic_sentence.txt) which I’ve adjusted to better suit my needs.

This is how mine works. I start out by asking myself…

Who (or what) is this story about? Age? Timeframe? What was his/her life/world like (in the beginning) before tragedy struck? Then what happened? How was his/her life/world/situation changed?
(The answers to these questions combined become sentence one of the paragraph. Then I move on to…)

What must the main character do now to change/fix/return their situation? What goal must they achieve? (Enter motivation.) What journey has he/she been launched on? Who stands in his/her way? (Enter Antogonist) How? Why? What about this individual thwarts the main characters success? In what ways are his/her efforts thwarted by this person/creature. (Think rule of 3 here.)
(The answers to these comprise sentence 2 of the paragraph. From there I ask myself…)

What does the main character do to try to overcome this adversity? What is at stake? For the character? For the world/universe? Love wise? What must he/she face/battle/outsmart along the way? What does he/she do (mentally/physically?)
(The answers to these questions comprise sentence 3…and then I continue on to…)

Does all seem lost? Why? What happens next? Who shows up to help the main character? (Enter mentor figure. A team of experts. Or a love interest.) What team/plan is assembled? What does this person (do these people) do/offer/bring to the table? Why have they come? (Motivation of secondary characters is revealed here.) How does the main character help him/herself?”
(Answering a variation of these questions, according to your story demands and genre, comprise sentence 4 maybe 5.)

Now for the big finish.

(At this point I ask myself the big questions…with a plan to provide a big overall (non-specific) answer in mind…)

How does the main character achieve his/her goal? Or does he/she? What changes because of this? For the character? The world? The universe? Relationship wise? Who gets hurt/lost/changed/rewarded? Who wins? Who loses? What is the prize? What does victory/loss mean to the other characters? The world? Your reader? How does it affect them? What is the Reader take back? What have/will readers gain?
(The answers to these questions will comprise the final sentence of the paragraph. However, when completing this last task, think all encompassing and vague. Don’t share detail. Rather, compose a sentence that only hints at what happens, to evoke intrigue, to leave readers yearning, to pique their interest—don’t give the ending away. The questions in this section are more to help to stimulate your brain and help YOU (the writer) compose an overall statement. They are not to be fully answered for the reader.)

Once you’ve completed answering all the questions above you should have a pretty good summary of your book in paragraph form. It may still need honing and likely beefing up with more tantalizing active verbs, but as with all things in writing…once it’s revised…the should result in a pretty compelling blurb.
Try it!


And what does K.C. Finn have to share about blurb writing?

Leighton’s Summer – Synopsis

A teenage boy with something to prove gets caught up in a web of crime and deceit in England, 1945.
In the weeks leading up to his sixteenth birthday, gifted psychic Leighton Cavendish finds himself suddenly packed off to Blackpool, a glittering teenage paradise filled with plenty of opportunities for amusement (and trouble) to ensue. With only a preoccupied grandmother to keep an eye on him, Leighton’s desperation for adventure leads him out into a world of holidaymakers, candy and carnival rides: the ideal place to spend six weeks away from home.

But Leighton’s psychic visions are encroaching on his fun, trying to warn him of the danger that lurks beyond the shimmering lights of the Golden Mile. Who are the mysterious thieves Leighton sees in his head and what do they want with the children they seek? A girl called Faye holds the answer, but she has enough problems of her own. Amid the climate of a tourist town recovering from the impact of the Second World War, two lost teenagers will discover a shocking truth about human greed and together they will try to fight against it. For Leighton and Faye this will be a summer to remember: a summer filled with challenges that must be overcome.

A summer that turns a boy into a man.

——–

On December 4th 2013 I sat down and wrote the first two chapters of Leighton’s Summer, which was about 5000 words. Then I broke away from the writing to create this blurb. Now on January 25th 2014 I sit here with the completed manuscript of 76000 words and look back at the blurb ready to make revisions. I am delighted to find I don’t need to, because I have managed to tell exactly the same story here that I first envisaged when I began the project eight weeks ago. Personally, I always write a blurb somewhere in the very opening stages of my novels. If it doesn’t have a blurb, the likelihood is I will not finish the story. The reason behind this is very simple (and some authors will agree and some will not, for we are all very different creatures):

If I can’t write a blurb, then I don’t know my story well enough.

A blurb requires a set of core ingredients to be successful. Some are simple things that can be changed later on if need be, like character names, places, even dates and times if you find that the story dictates those changes as you write it. But there are fundamental things that need to be included in the very first glimpse that readers get of your book, such as core themes and atmospheres that give a clear flavour of the kind of story you’re offering.

In the case of Leighton’s Summer, those things come in the form of the journey from boy to man, the teenage paradise of Blackpool in the mid-1940s and the sinister note of the child abductions that offsets the whole story, tipping the scale towards a dark discovery the characters will eventually make. Without those clear markers, my blurb is little more than a useless list of settings and people that doesn’t do much to whet the reader’s appetite, because those big clues as to the arc of the tale and the growth of characters are what I feel my audience wants to get invested in.

If you don’t know what those markers are in your own story, you can’t write a satisfying blurb to really give your readers the indication of what they’re going to experience when they pick up your book. If you’re not somebody who finds it easy to pick these things out in your own work, then a beta reader would come in handy here. A friendly beta who is willing to be honest about their reading experience is invaluable, someone who can tell you which characters they connect with best and what the real overall message or feeling is that they come away from the book with.

The blurb is nothing to do with the author; after all, it is the story itself speaking to readers, giving a little tease of what’s to come when they buy the rest. You don’t want to give it all away up front, but you’ve got to show enough ‘literary leg’ to get the readers interested enough to dive in. It’s a serious pimp tool, one that requires an analytical eye at your own work and a ruthless (and shameless) sense of self promotion to really pull off well. Do you hope that your story is a tearjerker or an action-packed blast? Then say so. Readers need to know what to expect, and if you believe it, they will too.


Alexis Allinson was also kind enough to share her blurbing wisdom with us!

When trying to write something quick about any subject, I think the most frustrating part is knowing what to write to make a reader become interested in the topic. I find that the shortest route is usually the best way to go in this situation.

First, know the thing you want to “blurb” about intimately, then maximize the aspect of it that caught YOUR attention the most. Like a synopsis of a book, if you try to write what you think the reader wants to know all about, you will usually fail in getting the feel for the piece you want. A first impression has to be a good one, for people are fickle in their thoughts and won’t easily change.

Secondly, when approaching a quick and easy “sum-it-up”, you want to ensure it will stick in their brain. For example: when I talk about my books to a stranger, I normally tell them: “I author a set of twisted dark fantasy novels to pull you in and not let you back out!” A blurb doesn’t have to be revealing in any way, but it should be a conversation starter. They will ask more questions from there if they are truly interested. It’s kind of like giving them the first 2 chapters of a book to read. They will resist at first, but won’t be able to stop thinking about it after.

Don’t over think the quick wit of your mind when writing something short, or it will lose its power. As I always say, “A story doesn’t have to be epic in length to be epic in content.”

You should also definitely check out Pauline Creeden’s Blurb Clinic — a series of several blog posts she did recently which I think is absolutely brilliant!

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There will be loads of awesome panels with helpful information for everyone at UtopYA Con 2014. To find out more about UtopYA check out the website at UtopYA Con. If you still need tickets, click here! I hope to see you there 😀

Be sure to follow the rest of the Official #UtopYA Bloggers for exclusive content and news!

Delphina of Delphina Reads Too Much
Ren of A Little Bit of R&R
Heather of SupaGurl Books
Kathryn of TSK, TSK, What to Read?

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Wife, mother, blogger, author, gamer, and a lover of the culinary arts. Toni lives in Michigan with her husband and four children. If she's not writing or curled up with a book, you'll most likely find her playing with her kids, baking cupcakes, or killing zombies.
  • Maureen Mayer

    I always get my beta readers involved in helping with writing my blurbs as well. As readers, they know exactly what they are looking for to grab their attention, so I’ll shoot ideas to them and vice versa. They have been a huge help! <3

    • That is excellent advice, Maureen! Thank you so much for sharing. I’ll have to keep that in mind when it comes time to write my first blurb. 😉

    • Melanie Karsak

      I do the same thing, Maureen. I think it helps to get an opinion from someone who hasn’t read your book. They will spot what’s confusing, missing, or just plain boring!

  • Pauline Creeden

    🙂 awesome collection with some new tips for me, too! and thanks for the shout out <3

    • Thanks for stopping by, Pauline! Glad this was helpful 🙂

    • Melanie Karsak

      I really liked your blurb clinic, Pauline. It gave me some great tips!

  • Melanie Karsak

    Fantastic discussion, Toni! Love to hear how others’ process. Great tips here!

  • Cherie Colyer

    Great tips. I have mixed feelings about blurbs and always enjoy hearing how other authors tackle them.

  • I loved all three of these. I use Jacqueline’s method of always blurbing a novel before I write it. But that doesn’t mean the blurb can’t change as I get deeper into the story and other options present themselves. Thanks so much for this! 🙂

  • Michelle

    Wow, these are a lot of help! I’ll definitely have to try these methods out.

  • Awesome. Thanks soooo much for posting this, Toni! WRITE ON!