Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Hot Tips on Crafting Blurbs for Your Novel

Ah, the promotional blurb. Those little emotion-packed paragraphs that have to do it all; hook the curiosity, sway the impulses, swoon the heart. They never get easier to write. Whenever I find myself caught and reeled in by a well-crafted blurb, I want to analyze its parts and dissect its structure.

Blurbs have to do a few things which are:

  • tell us something about the protagonist(s) that hint at their personality and deeper character,
  • cast a mood or tone so we know if the book is suspenseful, funny, dramatic, romantic -- if it's historical or speculative this might include hints at setting or era,
  • set us up for the primary conflict or story problem.

But this is a lot to accomplish in, say, 100 words, give or take a few. Meaning -- it's imperative no words are wasted. So, just like in the manuscript itself, get rid of unnecessary words like "that", or opening phrases like "this story is about..." Lose adverbs that take away immediacy and add to word count. Replace them with taut verbs.

Here's an example:

Clara Hopkins' spine tingles with dread every time she's forced to look upon Brody Mack's scarred face. How could her father really expect her to marry such a powerful and frightening man? Still, with her father's fortunes spent, and Hopkins House falling into disrepair, she dare not refuse Brody's attentions. Without the promise of his money, Clara's mother might never have the chance to get well. If only Brody were like Tom, the poor school teacher she admires more than anyone. He is light to Brody's darkness. Fear twists Clara's heart as her carriage bounces over the rain-gushed ruts, and lightning illuminates Brody's mansion in stark contrast against the night. For there is no way out.

Here we learn that Clara is of marriageable age, she's a faithful daughter, frightened but determined, willing to sacrifice for her mother whom she must love deeply, and perhaps formerly used to privilege but without fortune now. We know she compares two very different men. We don't know if she has good cause to fear Brody Mack, or if she's just being snobbish because of his scars, but that begs a good story question.

This blurb also helps us know we are in some type of historical setting, and that the book is suspenseful and romantic -- gothic even.

The conflict is clear. She must save the family fortunes and her mother's life by marrying well and against her wishes. Will she do it? Will she find love instead with Tom the school teacher, and discover another way to save her parents from their despair? Who is Brody Mack?

Know the purpose of your blurb.

Doing so isn't as obvious as it seems. You will have different blurbs for different purposes. The example above is too long for an elevator pitch, and it might be too short for something else, like a brief synopsis in which an editor will want to know further details and answers to those story questions. It might need further tweaking to suit the back jacket of a book. Note that in the example of Clara Hopkins's story, I haven't really given any idea about a hero or protagonist. We don't really know the precise roles of either Brody or Tom. In some genres -- straight romance for example, and depending on the requirements of the publisher -- you might need to specify more in your blurb about those roles. So you will need to write more than one blurb, because, as I said, different blurbs serve different purposes. In writing several, you will notice the cream of your reconstruction rising to the top. You will wind up with a variety of very effective blurbs of differing lengths which you'll use on Facebook, Twitter, in interviews, and for web pages. It's all good.

Another thing to do when crafting your blurb is to let it rest.

It's a good idea all the while you are working on your novel to periodically reassess your blurb. Stepping away from it for days or even weeks at a time will give you a fresh perspective each time you visit it. I just wrote the above blurb yesterday. I'm sure when I look at it again in a few days or weeks, I'll think of many ways to change and improve it.

Showing is still better than telling.

Blurbs, by their capsulated nature, tell things. But whenever you can, show in your blurb rather than tell, just like you do in the story itself. Notice the last line in the example above. Instead of saying, the future looks dark and ominous as Clara realizes she is forced to accept her fate, we see it happening in real time as she bounces over those rain-gushed ruts in her carriage while lightning flashes across the sky.

Hmm... I like it. I think I'll go write a book to go with it. God speed tackling your blurb.

Write on.

Coming Soon! The Black Rose ~ Empire in Pine, Book 3
Despite the panic of 1893, logging reaches its golden era in the growing state of Wisconsin, and twins Jesilyn and Corianne Beaumont enjoy a comfortable life with family in the bursting Great Lake city of Superior. But when jealousy incites Jesi to seduce Cori's fiance, a flight and fall from grace lands her in a boomtown brothel, where a fresh start is denied her.
Camp preacher Paul Winter longs to offer hope in the logging and mining towns of northern Wisconsin, but not in the way he expects when he meets a redhead he calls Pie Girl. He's never had to battle his own longings quite this way before.
Meanwhile, stung by Jesilyn's betrayal, Corianne's bitterness might separate her fom a second chance at happiness and peace. Only by Grace can both women begin new lives, and budding love can bloom in places neither of them expect.

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