The Blurbery Revisited – Writing A Book Blurb

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.

It's a Beautiful Day Now Watch Some Jerk Mess it  up Patch | Embroidered Patches

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.

Transmute cover ©2016, Eric Lahti. Illustration by sababa66

Transmute cover
©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.

stoppedreading

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

The Blurbery

I am absolutely terrible at writing blurbs.  I’m so bad it would take H.P. Lovecraft to pen a description of my blurbs.

“The unholy blurb of E’ric L’ahti oozed its blasphemous mass across the floor toward me, reeking of insanity and the minions of the dark one.  My heart froze in my chest, gripped by the icy cold fingers of a gnawing terror so great it threatened to steal my very mind!”

Damn, H.P.  Oozed?

Okay, so maybe they’re not that bad, especially the parts my wife wrote (which are really clever), but my skills at blurbing (blurbery?) are weak at best.  I’m also bad at author bios, but that’s for another blog post.  I think this stems from the fact that I get tongue tied and have trouble describing my books in any terms that don’t resemble the ramblings of a deranged lunatic.

This is kind of what I look like when I try to describe my books.

This is kind of what I look like when I try to describe my books.

Being the deranged lunatic I am, I decided to take it upon myself to learn the ancient and mystical art of writing a blurb.  Not surprisingly there’s a ton of information on the Interwebs about how to do this and do it correctly.  Interestingly enough a lot of the people writing the how-to files all seem to agree on a number of key points.  With that in mind, I’m going to start with the current blurb for Henchmen and see if I can’t apply some of the techniques and come up with a blurb that doesn’t make people want to run screaming from the crazy guy.

Since Google knows everything, I decided to start with a simple Google search.  I got back 1.5 million results.  Apparently other people need some help with writing book blurbs.  Consider this post to be number 1,500,001 in the results.  I picked the first couple links and read what they had to say.  If you know anything about Google searches, it’s largely considered a failure if you have to go to page 2 of the results.  Luckily the first two had some good info.

Here are some of the things I’ve managed to scrape together about writing blurbs.  The full articles contain a lot more information so go check them out.

Conveniently, there’s a site called blurb.com.  With a name like that they’ve probably cornered the market on blurbing.  According blurb.com’s article on the dos and dont’s of writing blurbs there are a handful of things to watch out for:

  • Dos
    -Reference the genre and central theme
    -Create intrigue around the main conflict
    -Dive right in and introduce your protagonist
    -Keep it short and punchy
    -Reference your book-writing or professional status, if it relates to your book.
  • Don’ts
    -Give away any spoilers, no matter how tempted you are
    -Give a summary of the first chapter
    -Open with “In a world,” or any other overused phrase
    -Give everything away
    -Say how amazing your book is
    -Compare yourself to other writers or your book to other books

Unfortunately, I love to say how amazing my book is.  Not in my blurb, of course – that would be so low-brow.  In my tweets and blog posts I usually refer Henchmen as amazing and imply it can increase a reader’s own amazingness potential.  I don’t open with “In a world”, I like to think I don’t give everything away and I don’t compare myself to other writers.  I don’t do a lot of the Dos, though, so that will have to change.

Thanks to the fine folks at blurb.com I’ve got a few ideas of what I should and shouldn’t do.  There’s a bit more to the story, though.  According to digitalbookworld.com’s post on 4 easy steps to an irresistible book blurb there are … well, crap …  four steps to writing an irresistible book blurb.  They kind of gave that one away with the title.  Wasn’t that one of the don’t of writing a book blurb?

“(1) Situation. Every story has to start somewhere, with some people in some sort of circumstances. Describe them simply here.

(2) Problem. Every story (every interesting one, anyway) has some sort of hitch that either makes that situation untenable or makes change inevitable. This part of the description often starts with the word, “But…” or “However…” or “Until…”

(3) Hopeful possibility. Here’s the potential to overcome the crisis. This “cool thing” or “longshot opportunity” makes your audience want to read your story. Yes, the situation (above) seems doomed by the problem (above). Still, there’s hope because of this new twist. Parts 1, 2, and 3, if concisely written, together create the drama that propels the story.

(4) Mood, tone or spirit of the story. Finally, readers want to know what kind of emotional state they’re going to get into while they’re reading this book. Is it a dark, dystopian tragedy or humorous chick lit cotton candy? This is where you set the tone and clinch the deal, turning browsers into buyers.”

Now, this is where my blurb really doesn’t work as well as it could.  I don’t deal with the situation very well, the problem is somewhat ambiguous and, I might add, a little to the left of normal.

tin_foil_hat

<POLITICAL RANT: SKIP IF UNINTERESTED>

Just so it’s in print somewhere, I absolutely do not advocate the violent overthrow of the US Government, nor do I wish to see everyone in Congress dead.  Henchmen is a story about the bad guys and how easy it is for us to get ourselves wrapped around the axle about our personal problems and decide to lash out.  If you don’t care for your Congress person, vote ’em out; that’s what you have a vote for.

</POLITICAL RANT: SKIP IF UNINTERESTED>

I have a feeling, and this has been vocalized a couple times from various readers, that writing about killing Congress makes me sound like I’m in some Michigan militia.  So that will need to be toned down.  I’m also not sure about how well the hopeful possibility or the mood come across.  Henchmen has some funny moments, but it also has some pretty dark moments, so that balance will need to be explored.

Now I’ve got a framework and some good ideas to keep in mind while I rewrite, so here’s the current blurb in all it’s wackiness.

“Gods, guns, secret bases, bad guys, and a small group of people with one simple task: Kill the United States Congress.
Are you ready to do the wrong thing for all the right reasons?
Steven’s boss is a seven-foot-tall blonde with supernatural powers and a penchant for parking-lot hookups. His coworkers include two hackers in love, a biker who loves guns, and a former nude model with an unexpected propensity for violence. They’ve all been hurt before, and now they’re poised to strike back. They’re done pulling small jobs. Now they’re aiming for the top – because why bother robbing jewelry stores when you can topple governments?
Yakuza gang fights.
Incursions into high-security, top-secret government buildings.
Picking fake fights with losers in bars.
A psycho ex-coworker who has some strange friends.
And a well-dressed older gentleman who haunts dreams.
It’s all in a day’s work for Steven…one of the world’s most dedicated and dangerous…
HENCHMEN”

Just a gander reveals some clever things and some things are, shall we say, less that ideal.  Just so you know, the first two lines are mine and they sounded like a good idea at the time.  Most of the rest came from my wife.  I particularly like the the last two lines and the line about robbing jewelry stores when you could be toppling governments, so I’d like to keep those.  There are a few things that could be changed, notably removing the first two lines.  It also needs to start by referencing the situation without using “In a world…”

“Meet a small organization of loveable bad guys: a supervillain and her henchmen.  Eve, the seven foot tall, bulletproof blonde is their leader.  Frank and Jean are a couple that can get into any computer or building unseen.  Jacob is a rough around the edges biker type that has a deep and abiding love of guns and explosives.  And Steven, well, he’s really good at manipulating people and pretty handy to have around in a fight.  As supervillainy goes, they’re just starting out.  They don’t have much of a secret base.  They don’t have matching uniforms.  Not a one of them owns a single pair of tights.  What they do have is an interest in tearing down the country and watching it burn.”

Okay, so that starts to give a better indication of the story without treading into the “WE GOTTA KILL CONGRESS” level of insanity the story eventually hits.  Now we need a problem statement, something to indicate the gist of the story.  That’s pretty easy to come up with.  Tearing down a country is hard work for other countries, let alone five people, no matter how tough and smart they are.

“There’s just one little problem, though.  No matter how tough and smart a small group may be, tearing down a country is almost impossible for five people to pull off, so they while away their time pulling small jobs and putting together as much advanced technology as they can.”

Simple and to the point.  Here’s where it gets fuzzy.  A typical problem statement is supposed to introduce a problem that most people would want to solve.  Most people I know, and myself included, don’t have much interest in tearing down the country.  But these are the bad guys and they need to do something terrible, even if it is for somewhat nebulous purposes.  Still, they have hope they can pull it off, so we’ll assume the reader has hope they’ll pull it off.

“A chance encounter at a sushi bar has led them to a young woman with a terrifying secret she doesn’t even know she possesses.  The Yakuza wants to use her to put pressure on her dad to give up that secret.  No one’s entirely certain exactly what the secret is, but it smells like a weapon and it might be just the sort of thing to help topple a nation.”

I tried to keep the mystery going in Henchmen as long as I could.  I like to think the ending was at least something of a surprise and faintly plausible, too.  Now it’s time to set the mood.  The story has a serious core, but it’s wrapped in a soft blanket of humor and action.  No one likes serious books, so I should play up the humor and the action.  This would be a perfect place to pull back in some of the original and focus the main character.

“They’re done pulling small jobs. Now they’re aiming for the top – because why bother robbing jewelry stores when you can topple governments?
Yakuza gang fights.
Incursions into high-security, top-secret government buildings.
Picking fake fights with losers in bars.
A psycho ex-coworker who has some strange friends.
And a well-dressed older gentleman who haunts dreams.
It’s all in a day’s work for Steven…one of the world’s most dedicated and dangerous…
HENCHMEN”

Put it all together and we get:

“Meet a small organization of loveable bad guys: a supervillain and her henchmen. Eve, the seven foot tall, bulletproof blonde is their leader. Frank and Jean are a couple that can get into any computer or building unseen. Jacob is a rough around the edges biker type that has a deep and abiding love of guns and explosives. And Steven, well, he’s really good at manipulating people and pretty handy to have around in a fight. As supervillainy goes, they’re just starting out. They don’t have much of a secret base. They don’t have matching uniforms. Not a one of them owns a single pair of tights. What they do have is an interest in tearing down the country and watching it burn.

There’s just one little problem, though. No matter how tough and smart a small group may be, tearing down a country is almost impossible for five people to pull off, so they while away their time pulling small jobs and putting together as much advanced technology as they can.

A chance encounter at a sushi bar has led them to a young woman with a terrifying secret she doesn’t even know she possesses. The Yakuza wants to use her to put pressure on a missing father. No one’s entirely certain exactly what the secret is, but it smells like a weapon and it might be just the sort of thing to help topple a nation.

They’re done pulling small jobs. Now they’re aiming for the top – because why bother robbing jewelry stores when you can topple governments?
Yakuza gang fights.
Incursions into high-security, top-secret government buildings.
Picking fake fights with losers in bars.
A psycho ex-coworker who has some strange friends.
And a well-dressed older gentleman who haunts dreams.
It’s all in a day’s work for Steven…one of the world’s most dedicated and dangerous…
HENCHMEN”

Let’s see if it matches up with the criteria.  It references the genre and central theme.  I like to think there’s some intrigue about the plot.  We’ve got the main character.  It’s not overly short, but it’s not terribly long, either.  It doesn’t give away any spoilers.  It’s not a summary of the first chapter, especially since the first chapter really introduces us to how the gang works rather than starting up the whole story.  “Meet a small organization of loveable bad guys” isn’t super overused, but it’s a bit on the common side.  It definitely doesn’t give everything away.  It doesn’t say how amazing Henchmen is (I’ll say that now, it’s amazing), and I don’t compare myself to other authors.  I always thought that sounded like a cheesy Hollywood pitch way of saying things, anyway.  “Think Predator meet Ice Age!”

So, what do you think?  Comments are open and operators are standing by.