Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Beating the Blurb Blues - Part One

Last week Sia wrote an article on the trials andhair-tearing frustration of writing blurbs and pitches.

Since I have a business writing blurbs/cover copy, I offered to share some quick tips to make it less frustrating.


Your blurb is your most powerful tool for enticing readers to buy your book. All the good reviews or social media shouting isn’t going to work if a reader doesn’t get excited about the book’s content. You want to lure the reader in, hook them with an intriguing setup, and land the sale by leaving questions open that can only be answered by buying the book.

First, some terminology:

 

Tagline/Logline: This is the quick summary on the front cover that serves as a hook. It’s usually no more than twelve words, and is best at around six words.

Pitch: Also known as the “elevator pitch” because it needs to be short enough that you can recite it to an agent/editor in the duration of an elevator ride. Aim for no more than about two or three sentences and be able to recite it without blinking. My all time favorite pitch was from Judi Fennell pitching the romance In Over Her Head: “He’s a merman and she’s afraid of the water.” Fewer than ten words. She got the contract.

Blurb, Cover Copy, Jacket Copy, Product Description: Here’s where things get murky. Technically, a blurb is the line or two of praise on the front cover from a reviewer or an author who is well known and writes in the same genre.

Cover copy (on the back cover), jacket or flap copy (on the inside flap of a dust jacket) and product description are all pretty much the same thing, but most folks today have taken to calling all of them a “blurb” and use the terms interchangeably. For the purpose of these articles, I’m going to use the term “blurb” to mean the description of the book that appears on the cover and in product descriptions.

Here’s a secret: for fiction blurbs, there’s a formula, and you can learn it. Really. Non-fiction is different, and I’ll cover it briefly at the end of part two next week. Ready?

  • Step One: Create a one or two word description of your protagonist(s). The description is usually a job, relationship, or status: Starfleet Captain James Kirk (job). Orphan (or spinster) Jane Eyre (relationship). King Arthur Pendragon (status). For sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal it may be a creature type, tribe, planetary affiliation, etc. (hobbit, Starks of Winterfell, Vulcan). If you only have one main protagonist, you may want to come up with this descriptor for your villain, which is often used in mystery and thriller blurbs.

  • Step Two: Define the external GMC for your protagonist(s). GMC stands for Goal, Motivation, Conflict/Obstacle. It helps to define internal and external GMC for your characters early in your writing process. Blurbs are generally only concerned with the external GMC. To create yours, fill in the following sentence for one or two protagonists and/or your villain: Character wants/must do (Goal) because (Motivation) but can’t have/get it because (Conflict/Obstacle).

  • Step Three: Mention or imply your setting and/or period. Victorian-era Egypt. The starship Enterprise. The ruins of a place once known as North America.

 
Next Wednesday in Part Two, we’ll work on expanding your blurb, discuss requirements of various publishing platforms, and why hyperbole is your friend when it comes to blurb writing!

For now, in the comments, try your hand at writing the GMC for your character(s) and if possible, include the character description and setting. Here’s an example:

In order to protect her little sister (Motivation), 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen (character description) must survive a brutal game (Goal) in a land once known as North America (setting), but in order to do so she’ll have to kill all other opponents, including a childhood friend (Conflict/obstacle).

Feeling brave? Try your hand at a tagline and a pitch, too!

OK, your turn!

Part Two of Beating the Blurb Blues

 
Kat Sheridan helps fellow authors create compelling product descriptions for their books. Read more about it or contact her at www.BlurbCopy.com


Image courtesy of africa at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

25 comments:

Kat Sheridan said...

By the way, that Hunger Games example of the GMC? That's what a pitch looks like!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Oh this is great Kat! I love how you break it down in a sentence with fill in the blank format. And why. It pulls your mind from the panic of omg I have 90k words and you want a paragraph that incapsulates the story? This focuses the mind on where it needs to be.

I also like that it doesn't tell the whole story. I've seen back cover blurbs that tell too much.

Great example with Hunger Games.

Natalie Aguirre said...

These are great tips. You make it sound so do-able. And thanks for the examples. They really helped.

Kat Sheridan said...

Sia, that's why I write out the GMC early in my writing process. Not only does it help me focus and stay on track as I write, but it creates a ready-made pitch! And you definitely don't want to tell everything in a blurb. Leave them wanting more!

Kat Sheridan said...

Thank you, Natalie! I'd love to see an example of your GMC when you're ready to try it!

Crystal Collier said...

Awesome article. So many people don't know where to start when it comes to writing a "blurb." I'll have to bookmark and refer people!

Kat Sheridan said...

Thank you, Crystal! I'm sure different copy writers have different methods, but this one seems to work for me.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

I think it's an awesome method. A definite share!

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

That is such great advice. These are dreaded tasks for me.

A Beer For The Shower said...

Great tips and a great glossary of terms, easily explained for newbies.

Also, I love Judi Fennell's pitch. That's how it's done. My favorite personal pitch, that won us over with the VP editor of Random House on the spot, is this one for our 2012 zombie humor novel:

"Black Elvis, a drunken janitor, and a stripper embark on an epic quest to not become zombie food."

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Great tips! Wish I'd had them before creating the blurbs for my books.

Saralee said...

Great post, Kat! After being so close to an intricate story for as long as it takes to write a whole story, it's very hard to step back and see it as a whole. Thanks for breaking it down to the essential Goal-Motivation-Conflict approach!

Kat Sheridan said...

ELIZABETH - Thank you! And thank you for sharing!

SUSAN - lots of people dread these tasks. That's why I started my business, so that writers could take one less thing off their worry list!

A BEER FOR THE SHOWER (and really, I love that name!) What a great pitch! It sounds like a great, hilarious premise! No wonder they jumped at it!

ALEX - You have great blurbs and did just fine!

SARALEE - What I find is that most authors have the same problem of not being able to see the forest for the trees. They have so many cool, exciting things going on and they want to tell the reader about them all! But a blurb should be like the warm up act for a strip tease: a little shimmy, a glimpse of skin, and leave them wanting more!

shelly said...

Thank you for this post. It was great!

Kat Sheridan said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Shelly!

Carol Kilgore said...

This is great! I hate coming up with all these things. I will practice and be back next week!

LD Masterson said...

Perfect timing. I'm just at the point of needing all of these. Thank you!

Kat Sheridan said...

Good luck, LD!

Kat Sheridan said...

Carol, I can't wait to see what you come up with!

Peaches Ledwidge said...

Brilliant! So wonderful of you to share your knowledge (step-by-step) so others will understand.

Kat Sheridan said...

Thank you, Peaches! I hope it encourages authors to give it a try and not find it intimidating!

Tyrean Martinson said...

Thank you for breaking this down into steps. I feel like I've written, re-written, and rewritten x100 each blurb for my books and they still aren't good enough. Agh. Here goes trying again. :)

Kat Sheridan said...

Good luck, Tyrean! I hope you share a before and after with us!

Author R. Mac Wheeler said...

Enjoyed

Sheila Deeth said...

Working on it... thank you.

Sylvia's depression might hide behind black and red paintings, but life goes on and children grow up; it's time for her to take control.