Sunday, August 7, 2016

Dread NOT the Back Cover Blurb, for You Can Do It!

Recently I was at Westercon and the topic of writing the back cover blurb came up. You know, those couple paragraphs that describe your book and sell the reader on it. Great ones encapsulate the story and lure you to buy the book. It's the second thing people look at after the cover. If they like the cover, their next move is to pick up the book, flip it over, and read the description to find out what's inside.

One of the authors on the self publishing panel said she hated writing back cover blurbs. I said I actually liked writing the back cover blurb and had written them for all my books, published and un-published. 

I began writing the back cover blurbs with Tea Times Three, then an unfinished novel that I hoped to one day complete. I wrote it is as an exercise to help me finish the book. I continued to write back cover copy and wrote one for Carmine Rojas: Dog Fight which was actually the paragraph describing the book in my query letter. 

I began to do it seriously when I found this blog post by Cat Rambo Notes From Michael Stackpole’s “How To Write a Novel in 21 Days”. Using his plan you write the back cover blurb on day 16. The back cover copy should consist of no more than six sentences. It sounds like an impossible task, to boil your work down to just a few lines. But I went and I counted the number of sentences on the back cover of other, published novels, and by gum, he was right! Most blurbs are just that long. That's not to say they don't cheat with a semicolon here and there too squeeze in an extra long sentence. But that really is the average.

I found that it really helped me focus on the plot, the core conflicts (just like he said it should) and best of all, it will help you write the dreaded query! And you don't have to wait for Day 16 either. If you have a book idea you can always start there. Or write it midway through your first draft when you feel more secure about the plot. Write it when you feel inspired to write it.

Tips to keep in mind:
-Establish your main character(s) quickly.
-You don't need to include the entire plot- get to the inciting incident ("but when").
-Include the stakes! What does your character need to accomplish and what stands in their way?

Breakdown of the original blurb for Tea Times Three:
The sleepy town of Midswich Maine is shaken when three witches arrive and open a tea shop. Bruleé, Anglaise, and Caramel just want to start over in a new place, far from their troubles. Unfortunately Pastor Austin and a pack of upright citizens have other ideas.
Can the witches stay in their new home and save their business? Or will they be run out of town before anyone can even try their magical teas?
Even as they make friends their days may be numbered.
The first paragraph introduces the main characters, the setting, and what the main characters hope to accomplish. The second sentence of the first paragraph introduces the character who stands int heir way, Pastor Austin and his upright citizens. 
The second paragraph raises the stakes for the three witches. Can they save their business or will they be run out of town?
The last paragraph, just a sentence, introduces some hope, they are making friends, but it may not be enough. 
Whole swathes of both plot and characters are left out of the back cover description. The reader will discover those on their own when they buy the book and read it for themselves. They don't need to know everything upfront. If they did, why buy the book?
If you feel intimidated by the task, practice! Write a blurb for a book which has already been published. Or for one that you've read. Before too long you should start being able to tell what to add and what to cut. I will also say that it takes a few drafts too! Don't be afraid to write two, or four, or seven versions. 


Charles Gramlich said...

I like writing them too. who knows your book better than you?

Maggie King said...

I imagine we can use this method to create our elevator speeches.

Che Gilson said...

Charles- Yes exactly!

Maggie- it is indeed short enough to use as a pitch. You can also expand on it after the initial pitch and take questions.

Ritter Ames said...

Interesting. I've always tried to keep book blurbs under 100 words because more than that get truncated off on the Amazon description. But my editors often asks me to add more, so I can end up with about 150--but I try to get the most info I can into that first 75 or so words. When I looked at yours, 75 is around the number you've used in your example too. So, while we attacked the challenge from different ways, we seem to both be heading for the same outcome. Good post. Thanks!

jrlindermuth said...

Interesting. I just checked some of my earlier blurbs and was surprised most fell in that six sentence range. I enjoy writing blurbs much more than (ugh!) a synopsis required by so many publishers now.

Marja said...

Great advice, and thanks for sharing. I enjoy doing the back cover blurb, but I have to stop myself from giving the story away.

Che Gilson said...

Ritter Ames- I never tried going just by word count, though I'm sure that works just as well!

jrlindermuth- No one likes synopsis! But I have done that too! In various lengths!

Marja- Thank you! It can be hard not to give away the story especially because you want to tell people everything!

authorlindathorne said...

Yikes. Mine is 11 sentences. I never thought about writing it before the book is finished, but that's not a bad idea.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Great post Che. I like your format. Writing the back cover blurb is one of my greatest agonies, second only to writing query letters and synopsis. I absolutely hate it. I will definitely be using your tips in the future.

Liane Spicer said...

I'm with Jewel here. I agonize over blurbs and tweak them at least 50 times I'm sure. Really appreciate this guide.

Che Gilson said...

I hope you guys can use my tips!! :D