Every author faces this last crucial challenge. You’ve already spent untold hours researching, writing and editing your book. Your title hits just the right poetic note. You’ve gone several tense rounds to find the perfect cover. All that remains is the book blurb, the opening salvo in the promotional war. This is the first (and sometimes only) chance to grab a reader and compel them to buy the book. And so, like click bait, you need to lure your reader with an honest but irresistible snap shot.
It’s an art, this writing of a synopsis that isn’t a synopsis, this sell copy that isn’t an ad. And for something that isn’t a science there are strict rules: you have to be honest – no misleading the reader. No spoilers or why bother to read it – which can be tough since the spoiler is often the most exciting part of the story. Keep it at 200 words or less and don’t make it one run-on paragraph. Use the proper keywords for your genre. Reveal something about the antagonist – readers like to know if they can root for the hero. This isn’t the place to relate the entire plot but you have to provide the zeitgeist, the feel of the tale. No easy task.
A lot of the writers I work with find this daunting and ask for help, which I am happy to provide. I think it’s difficult for the writer to step far enough away from their work to pick out the enticing, salient points and present them with the tension and intrigue that make for a successful blurb. To the author, all story points are important. I get that, but as an avid reader I know what works for me in a blurb. It’s not how much is said, but how compellingly it’s said.
I start with a deconstruction approach. It’s possible to distill any story down to bare bones. In his book Hit Lit – Cracking the Code of the Twentieth Century’s Biggest Bestsellers James W. Hall provided the most distilled example I’ve ever seen. This is a beloved tale that we all know intimately: “A young girl wakes in a surreal landscape and murders the first woman she sees. She teams with three strangers and does it again.” It’s short, accurate and intriguing but would it sell the book?
I wouldn’t distill it down that far but it makes a great beginning. What if we knew something about the young girl – an orphan, a princess, a refugee? And what about the surreal landscape – gaping desert, oozing swamp, forbidding mountains? Then the three strangers – female, male, older, menacing, kindly? Is all this murdering spurred by necessity, thrills, defense, the three strangers or is it unintended manslaughter? And finally, what is the young girl up to – revenge, enlightenment, finding a way out of the surreal landscape? Flesh out those points, add some genre keywords, reference any kudos and you could turn those original 24 spartan words into a 160 – 200 word blurb that would peak curiosity and entice the shopper to buy.
If you can step away from the totality of your story and deconstruct the plot to the primary elements, then present those elements in a provocative way you can create an effective selling tool with your book blurb. BTW, that book Hall described? The Wizard of Oz.
With a BA in Anthropology and English I pursued a career in advertising and writing and segued into developmental editing. It was a great choice for me. I love the process of creating and am privileged to be part of that process for so many great voices — voices both seasoned and new.
I’ve worked on nearly 400 books over 20 years, books by noted authors published by New York houses including Penguin, Kensington, Pentacle and Zebra as well as with Indie bestsellers and Amazon dynamos. From Air Force manuals and marketing materials to memoirs, thrillers, sci fi and romance, my services range from copyediting to developmental coaching.
Having worked in advertising and marketing, I am always cognizant of the marketplace in which the author’s work will be seen. I coach for content and style with that knowledge in mind in order to maximize sales and/or educational potential. My objective is to help the author’s material stand out from an ever more crowded and competitive field.
Since Thanksgiving is a week away, it’s only natural that many of us are thinking about food. I love autumn and all the wonderful dishes that make up the traditional Thanksgiving feast, but did you know how many of them are New World foods?
The food supply expanded when Columbus “discovered” the New World. There were no potatoes, yams, tomatoes, pumpkins turkeys or maize (Indian corn) in the Middle Ages.
In Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders: A Writer’s (& Editor’s) Guide to Keeping Historical Fiction Free of Common Anachronisms, Errors, & Myths, author Susanne Alleyn takes a swipe at Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage in the Disney movie. The carriage it doesn’t bother me so much, since Disney’s Cinderella is apparently set in the 18th century, if the gowns are anything to go on. At least it’s an improvement on the scene in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs where the Huntsman leads Snow White into an American forest. I’m pretty sure I spotted a raccoon and an alligator. (Known fact: You can’t trust Hollywood when it comes to research.)
There was also no chocolate, no tea and no coffee in the Middle Ages. Peasants drank beer at every meal. The nobility drank wine. The introduction of coffee and tea in the 17th century helped to sober up Europe for the Industrial Revolution, thank goodness. Even the sober Pilgrims and Puritans drank beer in the 1600’s. If you’re writing a Medieval romance, don’t show your characters drinking tea, even if it’s herbal. The word “tea” comes from the Chinese, and didn’t enter the English language until around 1655. Herbal infusions, sometimes called tisannes, were mainly used for medicinal purposes.
Chocolate is native to the Americas, so the Spaniards were the first Europeans to encounter it. It became popular at court after the Spanish added sugar or honey to sweeten the natural bitterness. From there, chocolate spread through Europe in the 1600’s, and how thankful I am that it did. The best hot chocolate I’ve ever had was the dark, molten variety you find in France.
Coffee drinking started in Arabia in the middle of the 15th century and had spread to Europe in the 16th century. It became more popular after 1600 when Pope Clement VIII declared it a “Christian” beverage. When Britain cut off America’s tea supply during the War of 1812, Americans turned to coffee and we’ve been a coffee-drinking nation ever since.
Tea comes from Asia and was introduced to Holland in 1610, in common use by 1675; introduced to England about 1660, where it steadily increased in popularity. The ritual we know as afternoon tea didn’t start until the 1840s. Afternoon tea was for the idle rich and includes finger sandwiches, scones and pastries. High tea, which isn’t nearly as grand as it sounds, was the name for the evening meal used by the working class and features a hot dish like a meat pie or stew.
Linda McLaughlin w/a Lyndi Lamont
It has been piled high with cold, flu conferences, a last minute, out of country speaking engagement and now a medical screening that needs a follow-up. Of course, there are also everyday things that pile on to the plate: bills, calls from my sons, the tennis league I belong to, dinner to cook and bathrooms to clean. I’m not complaining. This is all just life and good stuff if you take the cold and medical appointments out of the equation. Still, filling out my calendar and trying to figure out how I’m going to fit quality writing time in the schedule made me think about the craft of writing a novel. The question on my mind was how much is too much before a reader throws up her hands and pushes the literary plate away?
As a thriller writer, I love to go over the top. Unfortunately, I can get a bit too energetic and take the technique to crazy extremes. It’s a fault. No, it’s worse than a fault. It’s a sin to be so involved with own words that I forget my job is to entertain not challenge someone to wade through my excesses. When I do go overboard, I am giving my readers a reason to push away the literary plate I have served them.
Luckily, there are remedies for ‘too much’ writers like me. In real life we say no to many things, so let’s start saying it in our fiction. Here are three ways to figure out if you just served your reader a plate that is too full.
Echo: A particularly inspired turn of phrase, description or character quirk is a thing of beauty. Constant use of the same phrase or description or a continual reminder of the quirk is an annoyance. Readers are smart and imaginative. They will get it.
Blow-by-Blow : No pun intended, but sex scenes are more effective and dramatic if they are evocative rather than clinical. The same rule of thumb applies to shootouts, character travel or any scene that stops the reader and forces them to linger without a point. Move the story forward using varied sentence structure and only critical physical descriptions.
Cast of Thousands: Have you ever tried to find a friend in a crowd? It’s impossible because all you can see is a blur of humanity. The same thing happens to a reader if there are too many characters populating your book. Think of your book as a play. Characters may come and go but the ones we care about should always be center stage.
While you edit look for the echo, the blow-by-blow and the cast of characters and adjust the emphasis, streamline the structure and your literary plate will go from too full to too fabulous.
Two weeks ago, we unexpectedly lost a very dear friend of mine. Today her friends and family are gathering together to remember her life. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there.
It has taken this long for me to get my mind around writing about our loss. Sal was a remarkable, inspiring, enigmatic, gentle, loving soul. She inspired so many, and made every one of her many, many friends feel special, valued, and loved. I am so sorry for the loss felt by her family and friends, but also truly sorry for those of you who will not get to meet her.
Sal had a lot to do with who I am today. I’ll never forget the morning she wrote asking if I would consider professionally editing her memoir. This was before we were great friends. She felt shy even asking me, when in fact she was offering me an incredible opportunity. See, this was before I identified myself as an editor– honestly, before I even felt truly comfortable saying I was a writer. Yet, she trusted me to help shape the way she presented her life story to the world. What an honor. As we worked together, Sal’s faith in me helped me find faith and confidence in myself.
Her memoir, From Scratch, is now a publication that has reached countless readers. Sal’s commitment and hard work produced a book that is so much more than just an interesting story from her life, but also a source of inspiration for others. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend you do so. I’ve read it more times than I can count (in all of its various incarnations) but you can bet I’ll be rereading it in the near future. Once my heart can handle it.
I miss you, Sal. ♡