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.
Thanks to @uLibraryDigital for producing these stories!
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Happy New Year. I hope you had a wonderful holiday.
This morning I woke up to a daunting historical fact. Five years ago, I made a rather strange decision or idea to publish a title a month for a year. I’ve spoken about this project several times over the past years. When I set out to do it, I had one main reason, to sell more books.
I heard the best way to gain readers and sell more books was to write more books. I also heard it was easier to do advertising with more than one book.
When 2016 started I had one full-length novel, a novella and a novelette. What I didn’t have was a completed series, or at least a duet. I now know that was a big mistake. If I were to ever do another challenge like that, it would center around one series.
I have learned a lot about writing and publishing books. I think I finally have a handle on my writing style and what my readers expect from me. I write books that aren’t necessarily written to market. In my books someone is always wrestling with their feelings, raging hormones and how they mix with their faith. I like to hook my reader with something a little sweet and sassy so they can get to know the characters. The heat levels grow as the series progresses. In my writing world, the characters need to read like real people. It should feel like you’re reading about someone the reader would actually know.
I have three series and two duets I need to tie up. I’m not saying I’m going to tie up all of these collections this year, but I’m going to try.
I’m also guilty of using cliffhangers…another thing I tried to sell books. I think it would have been successful if I’d immediately released the next book in the series.
Last year I didn’t release a book and my sales suffered as a result. What did I learn from this…no new book and a lack of marketing my backlist leads to no money. I did however, participate in some incredible free promotions which gave me awesome results. My book Unexpected Love was #1 in one of my categories on Amazon US and UK for three days. I was on the roof. Both of my other books peaked in the top ten of their categories.
These promotions yielded several thousand downloads and sales which I loved.
I take responsibility for my low sales, because I failed to do adequate marketing and advertising. I refuse to kick myself for not sticking to my production schedule. I was distracted by a little thing called COVID-19.
So what is my plan for this year? I’m not quite sure. I know I’ll be releasing a book in February. My goal is to release the next in that series approximately three months later. I’ll also be releasing new covers for my Alex series as well as another book.
The other thing on my list is the follow up to Unexpected Love. I have the cover, title and eleven thousand words. Seeing several free copies have been downloaded and it ends in a cliffhanger, I need to release the follow up asap.
Before I start any writing plan for 2021, I’m going to take a few days, clear my head and make a reachable and achievable plan.
So what’s your author plan for 2021?
If you think you are telling too much, you probably are. Likely, you are caught up in the literal play-by-play of the work, rather than the essence of the story that makes the reader want to read. One way to make the description shorter and more interesting is to step away from the task completely for a bit. Ask readers of the manuscript to send you their descriptions. Acquire three or four descriptions and blend those descriptions. Try not to get too emotionally caught up in the story of the story. Remember: this is about coaxing readers to read, not writing a book report to prove you know what happened.
Start with the pieces you want to keep, so that it makes sense, and strip out everything else. Too much description? Too many adjectives? Look at bestseller summaries and take some inspiration from their structure. They will have had whole teams to work on theirs, so don’t worry if it takes you a while to get it right.
A good book description works more like a lure than a synopsis. Intricate descriptions of ‘what happens’ is too much tell, so don’t give away the story. Try dangling the promise of a great read by hitting the plot highlights as they happen on your dramatic arc — and then leave it dangling before you hit the denouement.
If you pare it down to just those points that support and move the plot — this could be characters, the problem, the compelling idea — and make the tone fit the story — eerie for horror, soft for romance, brittle for a thriller, punchy for humor — it makes the task more manageable.
A book description is not the condensed version; it’s an opportunity to tantalize and intrigue a reader with what makes your story irresistible.
My gut is my favorite writing tool, too. Kudos on recognizing something is wrong. Regarding blurbs, I have taken a lesson from my friends who write scripts and I start with a logline. This is one sentence that lays out the hero, the goal, and the challenge the hero faces.
This is a story about a woman determined to save her family from the ravages of the Civil War no matter what the personal cost.
That is Gone with The Wind in one sentence. Once you have your log line, build on it. Use active words, dramatic words, and draw the reader into the story and stop before you give it away. This is the one piece of writing you should edit, and edit, and edit, and then edit one more time. Blurb writing is a craft to be honed.
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I love this time of year. Christmas. All the scurrying about, sending out cards, decorating our houses, shopping, cooking, baking —you know what I’m talking about. But what I really love is watching television, specifically watching Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life. These are love stories told with a sprinkle of stardust, a sense that magical things can and do happen, all within the context of real life. After watching these movies, I am convinced there are happily-ever-after’s despite the everyday muck. There is nothing our heroes can’t overcome. You root for them through their trials and your heart bursts with their triumphs.
Which brings me to my new favorite Christmas story: Eternal Love by Louis Moore.
This book is really a long short story. The man who wrote it, Louis Moore, is ninety-eight years old. He is a Chinese-American gentleman who wanted to honor his late Japanese-American wife, Nellie, by writing their love story. I heard about this book in a round about way. It sounded very sweet, very nice, but I really didn’t have the time to read—I was working on my own book. But then I learned that what this book was about: Mr. Moore’s 74 years of marriage to a woman he adored. It just so happened I was celebrating my 44th year of marriage to a man I adore. So, instead of spending a couple of hours with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed in It’s a Wonderful Life, or working on my own book, I sat down with Eternal Love and read about a love story for the ages.
Lou and his wife faced prejudice on many fronts, rejection from his family. They built businesses and lost them, they moved more than once, they had professional set-backs, and Lou sometimes wondered if he had the ‘right stuff’ to succeed. Throughout the telling of this story, Mr. Moore shines a light on his wife with the wonder of a man truly, deeply in love. He writes about Nellie’s good humor, the kindness she showed to everyone who crossed her path, her intelligence, her beauty, and, the greatest gift of all, the love she had for him and the confidence she gave him.
What I am sure the author doesn’t know is that in the telling of Nellie’s story, Louis Moore revealed himself to be a man of manners, a hard worker, a man who got up even if he was pushed down. Above all, he was devoted to his wife and loved her beyond reason.
This book was shiny and bright because every word was chosen with care, every thought, observation, and aside moved the story ahead with purpose. Eternal Love was like opening a Christmas present I will use all year long. I will remember to write to my story, I’ll remember to write with verve, and I will remember—if I ever find myself peeved at my husband—to follow Louis Moore’s advice for a happy marriage. Be kind, be courageous, have eyes for no one else but your spouse because together you can accomplish anything.
Thank you, Mr. Moore, for a wonderful story of love written just in time for Christmas. Eternal Love is magical.
I’d like to give you a special Christmas present too. Check out my December newsletter for your FREE BOOK, the best recipe for Oreo pie and some other fun stuff. Wishing you all the best of the season.
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