Show me an author that claims to enjoy writing book blurbs and I’ll show you a liar. There’s a fundamental difference between writing a book with 70k+ words and writing a blurb that needs to clock in at a few hundred. And you know what makes things even worse? You’re not even supposed to use “In a world…” to start off the blurb? How are you supposed to hook a reader without using “In a world…”?
Madness, I tells ya. Madness.
There’s always some jerk messing things up.
I’ve written a couple posts on writing blurbs in the past, but now I’m staring down the barrel of needing to write one for Transmute and decided it’s probably time to give my skills a little brush up. Just like in Kenpo where we regularly practice punching and kicking, it never hurts to shore up the basic skills of writing.
The first thing to think about is what a blurb is supposed to do. In its simplest form, a blurb is the second mechanism for getting a reader’s attention. The first mechanism is the cover. If your cover blows, no one will even take a look at the blurb. The third thing potential readers will look at is the preview – although this is optional. Of course, the final bit of attracting a reader is those precious first few lines of the book that set up the story.
I’ll hit on covers in another post and it’s really up to the author to make the book good and hook the reader with the first lines. Since I’ve got Transmute’s cover done and the first chapter kicks all kinds of mad ass, I’m going to focus on the blurb.
©2016, Eric Lahti. Illustration by sababa66
To start off, a few rules for writing your blurb, taken from various places on the Interwebs (see the notes at the bottom if you want to read the original posts).
- Use a formula
- Figure out how best to link to your genre
- Show the conflict
- Pick the best kinds of words to use. (I have the best words, trust me)
- Use hyperbole
Things to not use
Most of the don’ts are pretty obvious and easy to follow pointers. The dos, likewise, are fairly straightforward. One thing to note is the word choice by genre. A romance blurb isn’t going to hook many readers if it emphasizes the action in the story. Unless it’s that kind of action. You know what I’m talking about. Likewise, a blurb for an action/adventure story probably won’t focus on the interpersonal relationships between the main characters. The choice of word use can have a huge impact on that. Action words like explosive, rapid, terrifying, exhilirating don’t look as good on romance blurbs unless you’re using a phrase like “She experienced rapid-fire, explosive orgasms.” And even that doesn’t sound too good. Choose words that fit the story and the genre. A book about The Cure, for instance, could use words like morose, ennui, and soul-crushing.
That leaves us with implementing a formula and using it as well as possible.
Start it all out by looking at the book and applying it to the formula. Formulaic writing is bad. Formulaic blurbs are good. A reader expects a certain amount of information in the blurb and if they don’t get it your book gets ignored.
What a bad blurb might look like.
A book blurb should consist of four things: a setting, a problem, a twist, and something that establishes the mood. Depending on the book, the setting might be a single place or a multitude of places, but it should refer to the place that the action starts. For instance, in Transmute, Steven suddenly finds himself in the middle of nowhere overlooking a small farm where every animal has been slaughtered and a woman is buried up to her neck in the sand.
The problem is the component that shifts the narrative from normal into the events of the story. It’s the part that kick starts the story and it doesn’t have to be complex. In the setting sentence above, the problem is hinted at; namely Steven suddenly finds himself somewhere else. It’s a bit worse for poor Steven, though. He’s a god now, and gods aren’t supposed to have to do anything they don’t want to do, but the rules of the universe seem stacked against him.
To make matters worse, as he tries to figure out how he got transported and why, an old enemy makes a fresh appearance. The twist isn’t so much how he got transported, but why and to what end. That’s the meat of the story.
The final thing to consider in writing a blurb is to give the reader a sense of the mood of the story. Does it have action and adventure? Is it a romance? Are there Nazis and giant snakes? Is it funny or deadly serious?
Transmute follows on to Henchmen and Arise, both of which have plenty of jaw-dropping action and witty dialogue, and is written in the same style. Most books have good guys and bad guys, but Henchmen started out with the bad guys and Arise added the worse guys. Transmute gives the bad guys a worse enemy than they imagined and sets up for the final exciting book in the series.
That’s the formula and a basic summation of the plot to Transmute. The rest of the do list needs to be kept firmly in mind while writing the blurb and the don’t definitely need to be avoided. So, here’s a first crack:
Steven and Jessica find themselves outside small farm in the middle of nowhere. One moment they were sharing dinner, the next they’re surrounded by dead animals and staring at a woman buried up to her neck in the sand. Steven’s a god now and gods aren’t supposed to get teleported all over creation against their will, let alone get called out to save damsels in distress.
As if he doesn’t already have enough problems dealing with the Dreaming Lands actively rebelling against his rule, now the freshly minted God of Dreams has to learn how to be a god, deal with overzealous followers, and generally get his head in the game. To make things worse, a powerful enemy has set its sights on Steven and Jessica and the entire world could be at stake.
An epic tale full of jaw-dropping action, powerful magic, and a cast of memorable misfits, Transmute will take you from New Mexico to the Dreaming Lands and back again. With a quick stop in the best bowling alley eatery in the world.
New god. New powers. New problems.
At least he’s still got friends.
What do you think?
Links for further reading