Back cover blurbs

I mean how hard can it be to write a back cover blurb? I’ve lived with His Brand Of Beautiful and its characters for all this time, surely I can sum up what the book is about in three catchy paragraphs that will make someone want to read more? It’s just like writing a query, isn’t it? Err… no, apparently not. The query is to make an agent or a publisher want to read your book and they want to know what happens, and some of them even want to know how it ends (the cheek).

The back-cover blurb can’t tell the reader what happens… or they won’t need to read your book (See the one-third rule below). And possibly if you tell them the wrong thing, they’ll decide it isn’t for them (even if it might be perfect).

It’s simple! All the blurb lives for is to get readers to buy. Easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy. 🙂

I found this information at: http://www.palmerhiggs.com.au/blog/back-cover-blurbs-sell-your-book

To get started you’ll need to ask yourself some questions:

Who is your book being marketed to?

Your blurb should speak to those people you imagine are most interested in the type of book you have written. A blurb for a book for teenage girls will have a different tone to one for teenage boys, for example. An overview detailing how the story will help Suzie mature into a well-rounded adult is not as enticing to a teen as a short sentence telling us Suzie will get sweet revenge on her tormenters, so keep you audience in mind as you write.

What is the most interesting aspect of your book?

Is it the characters, the location, the era, the conflict to be resolved, the plot twists, the moral dilemmas? I can understand that having immersed yourself in your book for so long you can’t see the forest for the trees, so ask a friend or partner to offer some words or phrases they think summarises your book. Create a list of synonyms for those words and circle the evocative and fresh ones.

Once you’ve done this you can start to put your blurb together. These points should help:

•  Use the one-third rule. When outlining your story, try not to reveal anything that occurs more than one-third of the way through your book. Your blurb needs to encourage reading on, not spill the beans.

•  Avoid cliches. Tired, overused phrases will not coax a reader to continue reading, so look for fresh ways to express ordinary ideas.

•  Avoid too much detail. Remember, you only have two or three paras to make your point, so don’t waste space saying Johnny had a red wagon when he was ten if it has nothing to do with the story. Any characters that do not drive the story in a major way should not be mentioned.

•  Use evocative words. A back cover blurb is your last chance to persuade someone to buy your book, so you want to make them feel emotionally involved in your story, and a clever way to do this is to use words that evoke feeling within the reader. Words like laughter, glamour and whisper, or terror, dread and shriek are better than amused, well-dressed and quiet, or scared, worried and loud. Using active rather than passive sentences will involve the reader further.

• Shoutlines. If you come up with a great sentence or phrase that encapsulates your book, use it as a shoutline (one or two lines in a larger and bolder font). Movies call them taglines and they can be very effective, for example, ‘In space no-one can hear you scream’ (Alien, 1979) and ‘See our family. And feel better about yours’ (The Simpsons Movie, 2007).

The structure of your blurb is limited by the available space, but if you use the following as a guide, you’ll be on the right track:

Short novel: 2–3 paras

Longer novel: 3–4 paras

1st para — Introduce characters and give basic plot outline.

2nd para — More detailed plot outline (what is the conflict/dilemma/challenge of the characters).

3rd para — Can be effective to have questions here, such as will Suzie be humiliated or triumph?

Keep your audience in mind, be concise and evocative.

There is no strict formula to writing a good blurb, but time must be taken to ensure your book is presented at its best to potential buyers. Hopefully some of these suggestions will be helpful and we encourage you take a look at your own bookshelf and on the internet to get more ideas (search terms such as ‘back cover blurb’, ‘writing a book blurb, ‘shoutlines’, ‘passive active voice’ will get you started).

Good luck.

Good luck indeed! Here’s what I came up with. I tried a ‘shout line’. Any thoughts? Would it make you want to read His Brand Of Beautiful?

Sometimes to get a woman out of your head, you have to let her in.

When Tate Newell first met Christina Clay he had one goal in mind: tell Christina he won’t design the new brand for Clay Wines. Tell her: thanks but no thanks. So long, good night.

But Tate has always been a sucker for a damsel in distress, and when a diary mix-up leaves Christina in need of his help, it’s Tate who gets more than he bargained for.

What does a resourceful girl do when the best marketing brain in the business won’t play ball? She bluffs (badly). She cheats (a bit). And she ups the ante (by a mile). But when the stakes get too high, can anybody win?

Falling in love was never part of this branding brief.

Let’s see how many revisions this gets!

 

Start where the damn story starts!

The STALI (Single Title and Loving It) results are in (Romance Writers Australia competition). By results, I mean the finalists have been announced. I am not one of them, but regardless, I am very happy tonight.

Entering contests is one of the advantages of being a member of Romance Writers Australia (I don’t need to go into all the other reasons, I wrote about this in my last post. https://lilymalone.wordpress.com/2012/11/16/heres-to-the-ladies-at-rwa/) Suffice to say, until I joined RWA, getting feedback for my manuscript was hugely difficult.

If you send it to friends, they give you “friendly” feedback. Which is good for the ego, but not for much else.

So, I joined the RWA Critique Partners program, and I started entering contests.

Having just read through the STALI judging comments for my entry, His Brand Of Beautiful, I find the real beauty about them is they mirror the comments of my Critique Partners. Namely, that I’m starting the story in the wrong bloody place! Sheesh!

This is Kathy, my Critique Partner:

“If you were cheeky, you could omit the first 1190 words and start the novel when Christina mistakes Tate for a stripper.  Then the reader would find out at the same time as Christina, that she has made a mistake.  You miss on that dramatic irony of knowing Christina is making a mistake, but you gain the real drama of making it along with her.  Tate’s reserves and issues could be hinted at for later exploration.”

This is a judge in the STALI:

“Please, please, please change it so you start at the heroine’s point of view. The first scene is too slow and mostly full of introspection – or dialogue that doesn’t seem to advance the story. You could filter that information in later. Better still, put that phone conversation into the bedroom scene and he could take in the scene around him whilst talking. It was a bit slow through that section.”

And the wonderful Jennifer Crusie who is my mesiah on all things writing, has the most classic summation for the entire thing:

“Start where the damn story starts.”

And I missed this! It seems so obvious once you have multiple people start pointing it out to you! All I know is that my opening scene is something that I have struggled, and struggled, and err STRUGGLED with since day dot. I have spent more time here than anywhere else in the book.

In the last week, prior to the STALI results but luckily, in time to enter the Emerald, I ditched my opening scene – which previously started with the hero – Tate – and opened it with my heroine – Christina.

The bad part of all these (what I call) light-bulb moments is: I’d submitted this manuscript as it sat to a request I had for a full. I wish I’d waited, but I’m impatient. I’m impatient to call His Brand Of Beautiful finished and get on with the next book… I’m impatient for feedback. I’m just … IMPATIENT!!

The good thing was, these are some of the judges’ comments. So it’s not all bad:

Judge 1:

“I really loved the picture you painted so vividly with your words. The characters are well fleshed out and have clear goals and motivations. The stakes are clear and I think you draw the reader into your world very effectively (except the first scene detracted from it for me). Mostly because I couldn’t work out why it needed to be there. Overall though, I thought you did a terrific job and you have me wanting to read more!”

Judge 2:

“The dialogue and dynamics between h/h are fabulous. So much of this entry is fabulous. You have a real knack for swiftly paced, witty exchanges in addition to good internalization. I think a bit of distance [with] your work would help you to pinpoint the areas where just a bit of judicious tweaking or pruning would clarify things.”

Congratulations to all the STALI finalists – well done! Thank you to Sandy Harris at RWA for organizing, and to everyone involved in the judging. I hope you know how helpful your comments are.

What I learned through Critiquing

When I started writing this blog back in June, one of my early posts was titled When Do You Let Someone Read Your Writing? I mentioned at the time that I was almost obsessed with ensuring no one read my words, even hubby had the laptop closed on him any time he entered the room (if the poor guy was any less trusting, he might have thought I was surfing for porn.) I’d barely mentioned to anyone, including family, that I was trying to write.

The problem was, I had to get my writing to a level where I felt a modicum of confidence in showing another living soul. I knew that for a long time what I was doing was dreadful. And it was gut-wrenching to go through revision after revision and then find every time I opened a page or a chapter in the light of a new day, what I’d thought was great the previous night, was now crap once again. I’m sure Gremlins were in my system!

Two people through the RWA Critique Partners Program have now had a look at my book, His Brand Of Beautiful.

These are the major things I’ve taken from the process:

Not enough narrative

I had been so obsessed with the concept of ‘show, don’t tell’ that I had excluded narrative to the detriment of the book. I launched into scenes and chapters without slowing down long enough to give my reader the most basic concepts: where are we, when is it? Both my CPs picked up on this in different ways, but what brought it home for me was when in one of my chapters I say:

Christina Clay walked into his architecture-award-winning four-walled mausoleum for the second time about three-thirty on Saturday afternoon. Actually, stumbled into it was closer to the mark, mannequin crossways in her arms like a sculpted sack of potatoes.

And my CP wrote: “phew – call me lazy but it’s nice just to know where they are. Tate’s house. Saturday afternoon.”

The other CP said the same thing, but in different words:

It is very enjoyable to be dumped mis-en-scène and then discover what is happening.  It can be tiring to have this happen a lot.

The good thing was: both of them felt the same thing, and it forced me to sit up and take notice and change it, and hopefully this is for the better. I am sure that if I take that time to ground my reader with a sentence or two in the beginning, they can then better concentrate on the plot developments and dialogue and where I want to take them next.

Double description

I never realised I use similies like I use my tissue box in hayfever season ( 🙂 ), until my CPs began commenting. Neither were negative about my use of similies, both CPs liked my descriptions and felt it was a strength in my writing, but a comment that resonated with me was:

Sometimes you use two strong and sometimes disparate images and the reader flounders, just having absorbed and enjoyed one, and forced to picture another.  I have put “1 or the other” to show what I mean.

Here’s an example (I’m describing a taser shot):

And a high-pitched ticking, like the fastest clock in the world. Like a bike wheel with a leaf trapped in the spokes.

Once you’re told you do it, and told to look for it, well – now I see them everywhere. In my last round of revisions after the two CPs had looked at His Brand Of Beautiful with fresh, ‘reader’ eyes, I tried to be lethal with the delete key on my similes. Less is more, Less is more. And perhaps on that philosophy, if I’m only keeping the best of them, they’ll be more cut-through because of it.

And finally, for Kathy (just in case she’s listening!) 🙂

Commas in dialogue!

“Use them, Lily!”

There were many more points each CP raised, including plot points and inconsistencies – all of which were useful – but one of the sentiments I see in just about everything I’ve read on critiquing is: only take out of it the things you want to.
So these were the big three for me!

Jennifer Crusie recently posted a piece about critiquing. If you’re considering going through this Critiquing process (and I now strongly recommend it) it’s an excellent post covering the whys and wherefores. http://www.arghink.com/2012/10/09/critiques-some-questions/

 

I think the eyes have it

I’ve been thinking about eyes this morning. As with many things right now, mostly influenced by my critique partner. But somewhere in the last few years I remember reading a blog post of writing craft, highlighting 10 things one author found most annoying. One of them was characters with eyes that drop and slide. In it, the author said something like: “every time I read about the heroine’s eyes dropping… or the hero dropped his eyes… I get visions of two eyeballs rolling around the floor and everyone scurrying to pick them up.”

Good point. But I feel like the authors I read have characters with eyes that slip and slide, especially some of the cop thrillers I love, like anything by John Sandford. He always writes shady, seedy characters who don’t want to answer Lucas Davenport’s questions and so their eyes slide away…

My CP made some comments in my manuscript about ‘eyes sliding’… which my characters tend to do a fair bit. Although they don’t always slide. They drop or flick or, you know.

So I’ve been consulting another oracle this morning (Jennifer Crusie), but in a reasonably quick scan of some first chapters, this is all I could find:

“I need somebody who doesn’t care about the way things are supposed to be,” he said, his eyes sliding to her neck. Jennifer Crusie, Maybe This Time.

And even Sandford, who I thought did it a lot? I couldn’t find that many references when I really started trying.

So I think I have my answer. It’s time to do a search through my book for “eyes” and see how much slippin’ and slidin’ and droppin’ my characters’ eyes actually do. Maybe they need to look more, or follow (which Crusie does), or hold, or evade.

Maybe they can slide once or twice, or look sideways, just not fall to the carpet and hide under the furniture for the rest of the book. 🙂

In the meantime, I thought of a little ditty. You have to sing it in your head in tune with “Do your ears hang low.” Warning: you may have to be mother (or father) of kids under 5 to remember the tune!

Here goes:

Do your eyes slide and slip?

Do they drop and fly and skip?

Do they flick left and right?

Do they bug and screw up tight…

I won’t inflict anymore of my lousy Keats upon you!

What about you? Do you write characters with eyes that almost deserve a gymnastics medal? Any other favorites? I have this vague memory of another blog post about eyes where a publisher said, just once, she’d like to read about a heroine with ordinary hazel eyes or brown eyes… or any eyes except green, or violet, or ice-blue. Her point being, the vast percentage of women (and men) on the planet have very ordinary-coloured eyes and yet writers tends to want to make their characters’ eyes anything but normal. She said she was looking forward to the day she read a submission about a heroine with ordinary, plain, hazel-coloured eyes.

More to remember!

Hooked on a prologue

I had a lightbulb moment with His Brand Of Beautiful today, and I have two things to thank for it. Two people actually. Stephen King and my critique partner, Kathy. I’ll thank Jennifer Crusie too for this phrase I read on her blog on a topic completely unrelated to prologues. She said something like: The character isn’t in the same location, but I want her to be strong on the page.

I love that. Strong on the page.

So I have a villain in His Brand Of Beautiful who is only in teeny segments of the book, but he’s a huge part of the backstory, and I want him to be Strong On The Page.

My CP said that my villain isn’t ‘bad’ enough, that to raise strong emotions in my characters I have to give strong reasons for those emotions. Because she didn’t read my villain as nasty as I wanted him to be, she felt that my hero’s reactions were then all too far-fetched, or over the top. She didn’t think he had enough reason to hate the villain like he did (does).

So I wrote a prologue in about two hours of writing this morning. My three-year-old was blessedly, beautifully behaved during this time and played with his dinosaurs and came across for the occasional cuddle and generally, just let me get on with it while my muse was flowing.

And here’s where Stephen King comes into it for me. I’ve just finished reading The Dead Zone. King starts it with a prologue. He gives both his hero and his villain a segment in the prologue then kicks off into Chapter 1.

I re-read the prologue this morning.

His villain, Greg Stillson, is gradually climbing the political ladder throughout The Dead Zone and towards the end of the book the hero Johnny has a psychic flash that Stillson is going to become President and that as President, he’ll unleash nuclear war.

In the prologue, King shows a scene with a much younger Stillson, working as a door to door salesman. He rocks up to sell someone encylopedias and when they’re not home, the homeowner’s dog objects to a stranger on his turf. Stillson then proceeds to kick the dog to death.

Nice guy huh?

So because we’ve seen this side of Stillson early in the book, no matter what happens through the next pages we’re all convinced Stillson is an arsehole and that come what may, Johnny Hero has to find a way to prevent Stillson becoming President. It’s brilliant.

This afternoon I visited one of my favorite blogs, Nathan Bransford. He has a great piece on the pros and cons of prologues.

Here’s what he says:

The most common question I get about prologues: are prologues necessary? Personally I think the easiest litmus test is to take out the prologue and see if your book still makes sense.

(I would think given I only just put the prologue in, the answer to that is that I kind of fail this litmus test because I’m sure my book made sense yesterday… but is it better now??? Will this prologue resonate for me right through the book, like Stephen King’s does in The Dead Zone? I think that’s a yes, too.)

Bransford then says:

If you can take out a prologue and the entire plot still makes perfect sense, chances are the prologue was written to “set the mood”. But here’s the thing about mood-setting: most of the time you can set the mood when the actual story begins. Do you really need to set the mood with a separate prologue? Really? Really really?

Sometimes the answer to those four reallys is: “yes, really.” Or the prologue is to be used as a framing device around the plot or to introduce a crucial scene in the backstory that will impact the main plot. So okay, prologue time.

(There’s me. A crucial scene in the backstory that will impact the main plot. Got it in one).

Bransford again:

What makes a good one?

Short, self-contained, comprehensible.

The reader knows full well while reading a prologue that the real story is waiting. A prologue makes a reader start a book twice, because it doesn’t always involve the protagonist, and starting a book is hard because it takes mental energy to immerse oneself in a world. You’re asking more of a reader, so they’ll want to make sure it’s worth it.

You can read Nathan Bransford’s entire post on prologues here. http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2009/03/prologues.html

For the moment at least, I’m hooked on my prologue. I wonder what my Crit Partner will say?

What about you? Are you a prologue fan?