Writing Exercises: Book Blurbs

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Ready to talk blurbs?

Because stringing together 40 thousand, 70 thousand, or even 100 thousand words is not enough. Nooooo. Now you must condense your story to a marketing hook of 600 words or less.

And I am not talking your elevator pitch to sell to a publisher, though this is related. If you choose to self-publish, you will need to create a book blurb. Since you are acting as your own publisher, you need to do the marketing too.

The first interaction of your book with a potential reader is the cover. People really do judge a book by its cover, and you can find out more about this under my blog on Cover Art here.

Now that the reader has either picked up your physical book or clicked on the thumbprint, they are going to look at the blurb. Congratulations, you have reach stage two of the marketing interaction with your potential paycheck.

I know, “paycheck” sounds crass – but that is what this is about. Getting paid for the hundreds of hours of work you have done on spec. Call them client, customer, reader, consumer – at the end of the day, they are the food on your table and the roof over your head. Otherwise you will be working for “exposure” – the frostbite in the winter and the sunburn during the summer when you don’t have a roof over your head.

Now to grab that walking meal ticket with the “blurb”. One to three paragraphs telling people how your manuscript is like everything they like to read, and then one hook telling them how it is different.

Here are some example blurbs I wrote based on books I have read.

“For Emily, the Zombie apocalypse was just the beginning of her problems. Then Death came to collect her, but lost his horse on the way. Now both of them are walking back to find the afterlife through a zombie America. Road trip anyone?” (Things to like – main character is female, Zombies, Death with a touch of humor, urban fantasy. Hook – follow the journey.) The Company of Death by Elisa Hansen

“New writer Sam Worth’s debut YA novel marries her well-know fanfic style with an original world of her own creation. Discover a world where everyone has powers, but none of them are the same. Getting the book report in on time gets complicated when abilities start manifesting.” (Things to like – new author to discover, YA, someone you might know if you like fanfic. Hook – being in school when powers come out.) Book will be unpublished; the author has decided she isn’t ready yet.

“In the manner of Douglas Adams, The Last Volunteer is comedic science fiction at its best. Bip is volun-told to warn the world about The Massive Ball of Death. Crossing the Plains of Forever Cold, the Oceans of Large Monsters, and infiltrating the Country of the Mad Emperor is far more than a simple stroll in the park, and Bip has an aversion to exercise.” (Things to like – comedic sci-fi genre; Hook – main character is lazy?)  The Last Volunteer by Steve Wetherell

“A cross between the Hunger Games and the X-Men, Storm Forged is a YA superhero story in a dystonian world.” (Things to like – Similar to things I already like, superhero and YA. Hook – none stated, bad publisher. See the full blurb. It does have a hook, but buried three sentences from the end.) Storm Forged by Patrick Dugan

When writing blurbs you can focus on you as a writer, your style, your genre, the plot, or who it might appeal to.

Once you have a couple of blurbs that you think work, test market them. Does it appeal to members of your target audience? Does it appeal to a broader audience? If you are fifty-something and writing YA, you need to verify the blurb appeals to both the YA readers and the YA buyers – ie, the teenage readers and the parent buyers.

Blurb writing is like cover art – they are both specialized and stylized versions of their creative parents. People may be good at writing and need someone else to write their blurb, just like an watercolor artist might be better off paying for art from a superhero illustrator when writing a supervillian romance.

WRITING EXERCISE: Take you present WIP and write two blurbs for it with different focuses – one concentrating on selling it through genre or a comparison to other products out there and the other focusing more on the manuscript. Show to five people and see which one appeals more. Ask them why – but don’t argue. LISTEN. This is about selling to people you might never meet.

READING EXERCISE: Explore blurbs. Choose three genres and crawl through your favorite bookseller online or in a brick-and-mortar. Pick up three books of each genre – try to have them from different publishers as a publisher will often have one or two blurb specialists. What things do the books focus on with their blurbs? (the writer, the genre, like products, the plot, etc) On a four point scale, how much does the blurb sell you the book (do not take into account the cover) – 1 – no interest/not going to buy; 2 – might buy if had more money, time, and a smaller to-be-read pile; 3 – going to save up money and come back, someday; 4 – buying, going to walk out of the store with this book.

BONUS EXERCISE: After reading a book, write a blurb for it without looking at the original sales blurb. Now compare. How is your focus differ from the original? How do you think it changes the sales approach? (Extra – you can post that blurb you just wrote as a review!)