my readers’ time. They have busy lives, and if I want them to spend hours and
hours reading my novel, I need to show them, up front, that it will be worth
their time. A great (professionally designed) cover is required to visually draw
people in, but readers are literate creatures—they want words that beguile and
speak to them, and it is your words that will hook them.
lines, those pithy nuggets of story that light up the curiosity centers of your
readers’ brains. If you blanch at the idea of distilling your novel into a
paragraph-long blurb, try writing 12 words or less that describe it. No, seriously, try.
Even if you do not use the tag line in your marketing (but you will), the
exercise will encapsulate the key reason to read your novel. Your tag line
should work alone, as well as coordinate with your title. It will take time to
craft, but it will be worth it in the end. I’ll use one of mine as an example
to deconstruct how/why it works:
minds, a secret is a dangerous thing to keep.
reader knows the novel is science fiction/paranormal (“everyone reads minds”),
there’s tension between the (unnamed) character (with a secret) and the world
(where everyone reads minds), it’s specifically intriguing (a telepathic world—
how does that work?), and it’s high stakes (“dangerous”). So I’ve communicated
genre and conflict with a specific twist. It coordinates well with the title (“Open
Minds, Book One of the Mindjack Trilogy”) to provide even more specificity
to intrigue the reader (How are the minds open? What is mindjacking?).
premise: it’s a promise to the reader. Like a good premise, it will spring up
all kinds of questions that the reader is eager to have answered (and that you
better deliver in the book). Even more importantly, you’ve whispered into
your reader’s ear, I can intrigue you in just twelve words—imagine what
I can do with more.
succinct blurbs (95-130 words max). If you’ve ever queried, it’s about the
length that your book description should be within a blurb – because the idea
is the same. You’re pitching this story to someone with enough information to
compel them to read on.
you: writing a blurb is like writing a story.
blurb doesn’t give away the ending.
fiction version of your book. You have to introduce the character, set up the
stakes, say what inciting incident has upset their carefully ordered world,
maybe add a complication or two, then leave us with a choice the character has to
make, something that isn’t an easy choice. In fact, the choice is so
horrifically difficult we have no idea how the character could
possibly make that choice (and survive it). We have to read the book to find
out, because we just gotta know.
Kira Moore is a zero, someone who can’t read thoughts or be read by others.
Zeros are outcasts who can’t be trusted, leaving her no chance with Raf, a
regular mindreader and the best friend she secretly loves. When she
accidentally controls Raf’s mind and nearly kills him, Kira tries to hide her
frightening new ability from her family and an increasingly suspicious Raf. But
lies tangle around her, and she’s dragged deep into a hidden underworld of
mindjackers, where having to mind control everyone she loves is just the
beginning of the deadly choices before her.
this is what the blurb does:
character and her basic conflict with the world
conflict, also a subplot (the love story).
incident that upsets her world, and sets up a third conflict.
conflict, and then the choice (my choice in this example is somewhat implied:
she can either try to hide her ability or mind control the people she loves).
the story basics are there; we have tons of specificity to intrigue the reader;
the final choice is compelling and sympathetic. In fact, one of the many
taglines I use in promoting Open Minds is taken straight from the blurb: What
would you do if you had to mind control everyone you loved?
answer this question, which makes for its own entertainment!)
mistakes I see writers make in their blurbs is not being specific. They make sweeping statements like, “It’s a tale of love lost and won, hearts broken
and mended.” The problem with generalized statements like this is it
doesn’t say why this particular story is one I want to pick up – basically, the
author is telling me it’s awesome, rather than showing me (via specific power
words). Also, it tells me the ending (hearts are
mended!). If instead they said, “It’s a tale of a mermaid in love with a
human,” I’m instantly much more intrigued. I can immediately see the
broken heart, and it’s not at all clear that it will mend, or how.
Don’t be afraid of “giving too much away” in your blurb (with the exception of don’t give away the ending). There’s a whole lot of information in my blurb for Open Minds – in theory, you could skip the first half of the book after reading the blurb. But people forget the blurb specifics by the time they actually pick up the book to read it – all they remember is that it intrigued them.
You may have to search for the
right choice to use in the blurb – I find it’s usually either the essential
conflict of the character or the climax choice. Occasionally it may be one of
the earlier choices the character has to make- say, at the break into Act II or
Act III of your story.
character has to make, it may be a problem with your story, not
your blurb-writing skills. Readers make this judgment, too: if the blurb is weak, they suspect the story will be as well.
In fact, writing the blurb early on can help you strengthen your story – or help you decide
that maybe it needs a few more revisions before it’s ready to release into the
– but the ones that do generally work better than the ones that don’t. Like any
“rule” in writing, if you master it first, then you’ll know when you can break
it. Just like queries, blurbs have only one job: hook the reader. If you accomplish that, it doesn’t matter if you’ve followed any rules or guidelines.
Between a great cover, a catchy tag line, and a tightly scripted blurb, you’ve hooked your reader. Next, we’ll talk about the Hook, Line, and Sinker of selling your story.