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Friday, December 3, 2010

Let's Fix That Blurb For Ya

Hello Fellow Writers!
Let's talk blurbs. When you read the back cover copy of a book, that's pretty much a blurb. It's meant to give you the basics of the story - the hook, the premise, while enticing the reader to want to buy the book.

We also need that blurb before the book ever gets published - because that's essentially what we're using in our query letters to editors and agents. The most important part of the query is where you write your paragraph or two about your book, hoping the editor or agent will think "Now this, I gotta check out."

An aspiring writer by the name of Steve LeBlanc asked me to critique his blurb, because he wanted to make it better. He even gave me permission to post his blurb - and my constructive criticism - on The Writer's Challenge, in the hopes that it would help others facing the task of writing the dreaded blurb.

Now, I'm not an expert. But I have written queries that contained blurbs for books which then got published, and I've written blurbs on the buy links for my books and a couple of other published author friends' pages. As an example of a blurb that sold a story, here is my blurb for Ginger Snap, which will be coming out on December 15th from Ellora's Cave (shameless plug? Or an example of a blurb? You decide.):


UPDATE! Ellora's Cave changed my blurb, lol! So while this blurb did sell the book to my editor, they changed it to something that would sell better to readers, and I have to say I love what they did. Here's my original:
When Holly sits on Tom’s lap to tell him what she wants for Christmas she knows she’s naughty enough to get a lump of coal—but she never expected to get a hand of ginger root. Peeled ginger up her bottom burns like crazy without causing any actual harm—so the punishment can go on as long as naughty Holly deserves.

Ginger-figging has been used since Victorian times to keep girls from clenching against a proper caning because—as Holly finds out, clenching with ginger up her bottom has her begging for mercy—and more turned-on than she’s ever been. From now on Holly has to be on her best behavior—because she knows if she’s bad, she’ll be ginger-figged!
 And here's what they changed it to:
When Holly sits on Tom’s lap to tell him what she wants for Christmas, she knows she’s naughty enough to get a lump of coal—but she never expected to get a hand of ginger root. Peeled ginger in her bottom burns like crazy without causing any actual harm—so the punishment can go on as long as naughty Holly deserves.

Ginger-figging has been used since Victorian times to keep girls from clenching against a proper caning because, as Holly finds out, clenching around ginger has her begging for mercy—and more turned-on than she’s ever been. From now on Holly should be on her best behavior…but with this sort of punishment, it’s more fun to be bad.
They fixed my blurb for me, lol! :) Okay, back to the original post:

Yeah, that's definitely not a book for the underage crowd. But we learn who the main characters are, and the basic premise. After reading this blurb, we know we're in for a fun Christmas story about ginger-figging. The tone is light. We can be pretty sure that a story like this isn't going to be a tear-jerker. But it'll be hot! :) And no, it's not Shakespeare.

Okay, so that's a blurb that I think works. Like I said, I'm not the final authority on this. This is just my opinion.

Now. Here is Steve's blurb that he wrote, unedited, for his novel Jennifer's Reflection.

Jennifer Travis is pissed off a lot, but contains well it behind her punk rock appearance, Zen-like approach to life and brining peace to others. She’s the main bartender in a gay woman’s bar, where lots of good times happen, and the occasional fight breaks out. She wants a serious romance now that she’s in her thirties, but fully supports the casual dalliances of her friends.
She has rich interactions with best friend and co-bartender, Mari and her engineer step brother, Eric. Discussions of holistic healing, excellence in parenting and social media sprinkle the discussions.
The novel is warm, smart, funny and fast paced, as we watch the characters reveal secrets and move though issues that have haunted them all their lives. Real issues are dealt with in a PG way. Romantic scenes are suggestive, but never explicit. And language never becomes foul. Enter the world of a group of women friends who are deeply devoted to each other and mostly at home with their sexual preferences.
 So how can we make this blurb better?
1. The basics - fix typos.
2. Get to the heart of the matter. Find the main theme and stick to it.
3. Don't tell us what your book is like. Just because you think it's "warm, smart, funny and fast paced" doesn't make it so. It could be - I've never read this book. But that's really something that should be said by a reviewer and put on the front cover as a quote, not written in your own blurb!
4. There seems to be judgments in this blurb when it talks about how it's PG. That's really not appropriate for a blurb. Again, it almost sounds like he's writing a review of his own book, which is *not* what we want.

Now I'm going to give it a shot. Blurbs are hard to write, and I've agonized for hours before over the perfect wording for a blurb. Alas, my time is limited now. But I'll try my best in the next few minutes to rewrite this bad boy the way I think would work.

Jennifer Travis spends her nights bartending in a lesbian bar, breaking up the occasional fight with her Zen-like approach to life. Too bad the Zen thing and her punk-rock-chic look are just a cover for her true self, which is suddenly yearning to rear its pissed-off head. And now that's she's in her thirties, she's ready for a serious romance. Not that she minds how her girlfriends have casual affairs all around her. She loves how her friends are all deeply devoted to each other and at home with their sexual preferences--most of the time. It's just not for her...or is it?

Unfortunately I have no idea what Steve's book is about, so I hade to make a guess and run with it. I'd recommend he go back and figure out the main theme and emphasize that. I chose the theme of exploring sexuality here, for example.

What do you guys think? How do you go about blurb writing?

4 comments:

  1. Shoshanna,
    Thank you for this. Great fun. It helped me to better understand how this was not a synopsis, but rather a blurb. I feel better. I knew the adjectives I used were iffy, but the PG thing threw me. You're right. Sounded more like a review than a blurb. I missed the typos all together.

    You've given me some great and useful info here. I'll rework it some more. Thanks again.

    I'd love to hear your readers' thoughts on this too.

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  2. Great post Shoshanna. You've made some great points on things that we all need to have in our blurbs. Very informative. Sounds like an interesting story!

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  3. My pleasure, Steve. You can also share this blog post with your Twitter followers and ask them to give their feedback in the comments :) And thanks Heather!

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  4. I think you made a good improvement on the blurb. They are hard to write since they are selling tools. I remember one I write that was very short. Take one footloose doctor. Add a nurse looking for a home. Toss a pair of orphaned twins left to him by his dead foster sisterinto a town who wants the doctor to stay. Now you have a recipe for The Doctor's Dilemma/

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