Dissecting The Blurb Part 2: Crime, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction/Fantasy

Last time out, I was pontificating about the magic formulas for writing blurbs for thrillers, chick-lit and romance. I also did a huge amount of talking about other stuff in relation to blurbs you’ve probably forgotten by now. So just to make sure, I’m not even going to mention that, and instead I’m going to jump straight into looking at the basic formulas for writing blurbs in the genres of…

Dissecting The Blurb Part 2: Crime, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction/Fantasy

  1. Crime

CAREER OF EVIL – ROBERT GALBRAITH

When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg.

Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike, is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible – and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.

With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands, and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the other three men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them…

BLURB FORMULA:

  1. Explain the modus operandi of your Evil Perpetrator.
  2. Introduce your Main Character [cop/victim], what’s important about their life/family and how the threat from Evil Perp targets them specifically.
  3. Ask: What is the [intriguing detail/further connection] between the crimes and the Main Character?
  4. Ask: must Main Character overcome an internal/personal obstacle in order to stop Evil Perp from doing even worse things?
  5. Suggest what might happen if Evil Perp is not defeated [and don’t forget the dot dot dot…]

Dissecting The Blurb Part 2: Crime, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction/Fantasy

4. Historical Fiction:

I’ve chosen this example because this blurb was brilliant enough to make me really excited about the story and therefore buy the book. If I’m honest, I didn’t think that the intriguing stuff from the blurb was resolved in the novel at all, so I was quite disappointed, but this doesn’t take away from the blurb’s pulling power.

Also, Historical Fiction seems to be the one genre where you can get away with praising your own novel with flowery adjectives, so go for it. All the big shots are doing it.

THE MINIATURIST – JESSIE BURTON

On an autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman knocks at the door of a grand house in the wealthiest quarter of Amsterdam. She has come from the country to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt, but instead she is met by his sharp-tongued sister, Marin. Only later does Johannes appear and present her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. It is to be furnished by an elusive miniaturist, whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in unexpected ways . . .

Nella is at first mystified by the closed world of the Brandt household, but as she uncovers its secrets she realizes the escalating dangers that await them all. Does the miniaturist hold their fate in her hands? And will she be the key to their salvation or the architect of their downfall?

Beautiful, intoxicating and filled with heart-pounding suspense, The Miniaturist is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth.

BLURB FORMULA:

  1. State the when and where: In [place and year], [historical event is happening] / Main Character is [doing/being something].
  2. Explain how [important life or historical event] intrudes and [creates obstacles for Main Character], he/she must fight against the [constraints of their time] to achieve [self-actualisation or greatness].
  3. State how this novel/story is a [flowery adjectives] examination of what it means to [be human, change society] and will delight readers who loved [any classic or successful historical novel which made shedloads of money].

Dissecting The Blurb Part 2: Crime, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction/Fantasy

5. Science Fiction/Fantasy:

THE MARTIAN – ANDY WEIR

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive – and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first.

But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills – and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit – he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?”

BLURB FORMULA:

  1. Set the fiction: make it clear, through a unique event, character trait or description of place, that this is not realism.
  2. Introduce your Main Character, who discovers [problem, threat, invitation], which sets them off on a [journey/chain of events] which changes [them/the universe around them].
  3. Introduce what it is about the Main Character which makes them uniquely qualified to fix everything.
  4. Throw in some specific scenarios/keywords to create intrigue.
  5. Optional: Ask a vague question about the future of the universe/mankind/Main Character which alludes to the wider theme of the book (and its relevance to our world).

********

Dissecting The Blurb Part 2: Crime, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction/Fantasy

That’s it for today. On Thursday, I’ll be dealing with short story anthologies and literary fiction. Do you know, when I started this caper, I thought I was only doing one post. But what’s more important than a blurb? (And don’t say world peace, or I’ll block you.)

So on that note, if there are any other genres you think are missing, please let me know in the comments. (Within reason. Medieval Erotic Shipping Manuals, for instance, are out.)

And I’ll warn you now, I’ve been fairly straight with you so far, but I’m going to have to have my fun with this some time, and that’s probably going to be next time.

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  41 comments for “Dissecting The Blurb Part 2: Crime, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction/Fantasy

  1. February 15, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    How’s my mystery novel blurb? Your opinion is appreciated 🙂

    Like

    • February 15, 2016 at 2:11 pm

      Hi Eleanor, thank so much for sending through your blurb. I hope you don’t mind but I had to edit it out of your comment as I’m afraid of this turning into a forum for blurb critique rather than a discussion! I thought it was great though, lots of questions and different points of intrigue, well done.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. carousel1234
    February 15, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    See you next time for the fun and frolics. And whatever you do don’t behave yourself!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. February 15, 2016 at 4:16 pm

    Fairly straight is just not you hunny! 😉 Break out the funnies PDQ

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 15, 2016 at 4:25 pm

      I know. It’s just not in my nature to be helpful. Sorry, Jan. I don’t plan on making a habit of it.

      Like

  4. February 15, 2016 at 4:19 pm

    Tara, at the risk of showing my Irish, I’m going to disagree with you. 🙂
    At least on one point.
    For mystery blurbs, I think it’s a mistake for the blurb to give away any solid elements. For instance, the “severed leg.” If that detail’s in the blurb, then thunder is stolen from the narrative–from the reader, and from the writer.
    Better is a blurb which conjures the whole atmosphere of mystery rather than the pointing out the shapes of the clouds.
    Other than that, I think your post is right-on.
    So very Irish of me: Criticize, THEN praise. 🙂
    Your fan,
    Sibella

    Liked by 2 people

    • February 15, 2016 at 4:38 pm

      Are you sure you’re Irish, Sibella?! Praise isn’t really part of the vocabulary around these parts! We’re not used to it – we wear criticism so much more stylishly 😉

      And I see what you mean, but I’m afraid I have to disagree with you back. Solid elements are what sell a book to a reader. Otherwise, nothing stands out. I’m always looking for the USP in anything I buy. Something that other books don’t have. In the Robert Galbraith instance, the severed leg was what piqued my interest, and it caught me in the all-important first line. If it had simply been ‘a mysterious package’, I wouldn’t have noticed, let alone cared, because it’s too vague to conjure anything. The question raised here isn’t the ‘what’, as in the severed leg, but rather the who, the how, and the why – so, we get 3 questions for the price of 1!

      From the sounds of it, it happens in the very first chapter in any case, so it’s not losing much if any thunder. I believe it’s all about making the reader buy your book – not being gentle with a reader who has already decided to read it.

      Like

      • February 15, 2016 at 4:49 pm

        Yes, I hear you on the specificity. It does pique interest. So it’s a judgement call, and in that instance the severed leg was the only concrete detail, which you point out appeared in the chapter. More commonly, we see blurbs that are like the movie trailers which telegraph so much of the story, the audience is left feeling as if they’ve already ingested the entire work.
        Recently, I saw a blurb which lifted an excerpt from the book. It was very very well done. So although it “gave away” some of the story, it was done in an alluring way.
        Perhaps that’s my point. The blurb must seduce the reader. Not flash the reader by exposing everything, nor wear the cloak so tight that nobody much cares what’s underneath.
        As for being Irish with praise, it’s allowed, as long it’s weighted to failure in some way. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • February 15, 2016 at 5:10 pm

          I agree completely with you there. Lots of blurbs give away far too much. It’s a fine balance, which is I suppose why the publishing professionals often pay people to do it.

          Like

    • February 16, 2016 at 6:42 am

      I’ve experienced this also though it wasn’t written by me. A reviewer pointed it out and I realized it did give away a major plot point…

      Liked by 1 person

      • February 16, 2016 at 8:41 am

        Yes indeed, major plot points/twists need not apply. There’s a big difference between those, and hooks, though.

        Like

  5. February 15, 2016 at 4:24 pm

    Reblogged this on Jan Hawke INKorporated and commented:
    See – I wasn’t pullin’ yer chain! Part 2 of the art of blurb 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  6. February 15, 2016 at 6:26 pm

    I don’t suppose the next post will include the all-important incompetent heavy metal vampires genre (I know it’s sailing close to the Medieval Erotic Shipping Manual, except it’s not a manual – more like an automatic, bu-bum! Sorry.)

    The thing that stood out for me in the Robert Galbraith blurb, and I know who ‘he’ really is, is why the main character has such a bloody ridiculous name. Is he still called Cormoran Strike in the story or is that his blurb name? What’s the rest of the Strike family called? Lucky, Nuclear and Miners. . . . Actually you could have some fun with that. Instead of fan fiction you could have daft alternative names fiction.

    And I’ve veered off topic. Great post. Sorry for being late again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 15, 2016 at 9:06 pm

      Do you know, there’s something I read about that name – that Cormoran Strike means something, as in it’s J.K.’s code for some point she’s making. I agree it’s a totally ridiculous name, but maybe she also did it for a bet. Your idea for alternative names fiction, by the way, is ingenious. Miners Strike. Love it.

      And I don’t mind you being late. I’m just disappointed, Chris. Sigh.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. February 15, 2016 at 6:27 pm

    Reblogged this on helenjnoble.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. February 15, 2016 at 6:54 pm

    Thought-provoking stuff, Tara – thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. February 15, 2016 at 7:44 pm

    I’m so bookmarking this. Thank you!

    As for what’s more important than a blurb, how about choc–*sound of Nicholas choking to death on a Toblerone shoved down his throat by Tara*

    Liked by 1 person

  10. February 16, 2016 at 6:55 am

    Thanks, Tara. Now I have to look at all my blurbs and see if they work! I’m saving this post for future use!

    Like

    • February 16, 2016 at 8:39 am

      Good stuff Diana! But remember to ignore it all if your covers re-dos are finished already 😳

      Liked by 1 person

  11. February 16, 2016 at 8:23 am

    You are right about writing a blurb that can sell the book. Thank you for focusing on this subject today. I will start paying more attention to blurbs.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. February 17, 2016 at 3:23 pm

    Dear Tara

    I would be grateful if you could give favourable consideration to including the self-help genre somewhere in this series. I feel it would generate a number of satisfying guffaws for your readership.

    Yours in anticipation

    Deptuness etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 17, 2016 at 3:47 pm

      Hmmmmm. Unfortunately, that is a great idea. Leave it with me. I have a text-heavy post ready to go tomorrow but upon review maybe some of that heavy text could be replaced with some heavy text…

      Liked by 1 person

  13. armenpogharian
    February 20, 2016 at 1:23 pm

    In general I agree with your suggestions for blurb writing with one exception – length. Maybe it’s only my publisher (a small press primarily focused on e-books, but with a few in print), but I’ve been asked to keep my blurbs short. Five years ago I wrote a 200 and a 150 word blurb. It’s been steadily dropping since. My long blurb is now 100 words and my short closer to 70. According to my publisher this is all she’s being given to promote her books. Obviously I can write a longer one for my own marketing or the back cover when/if my books go to print, but the standard seems to be very short now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 20, 2016 at 2:49 pm

      Hi Armen, I agree that some publishers will set their own limits, but as you can see from the bestsellers I used as examples, they’re mostly well over 100 words long. It will depend on the genre, the publisher, and the geographical or e-book market, but for the UK/US widely read fiction market, the average would seem to be 140-180 words. My own feeling would be that for an e-book from an author I’ve never heard of, more information would be better than less, because nobody’s going to sell an entirely unknown book to me in 70 words, but perhaps that’s just me.

      Like

      • armenpogharian
        February 20, 2016 at 2:55 pm

        It can be a challenge, but you can get a lot into 70 words. I’d share my latest, but I realize that wouldn’t be appropriate here. If you have any interest (I’m not looking for a critique – just a sample of what smallpress authors deal with) let me know how to get it to you. As always, thanks for your insightful blog.

        Liked by 1 person

        • February 20, 2016 at 3:13 pm

          My details are on the Contact page here, Armen. I’d always make an exception for such a long-time supporter 😉

          Liked by 1 person

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