Dissecting The Blurb Part 3: Short Stories, Self-Help And Literary Fiction

So far, in the Great Dismantlement Of Blurbage, we’ve looked at Thrillers, Chick-Lit/Romance, Crime, Historical Fiction, and Science Fiction/Fantasy. Now, in the third and final instalment, we look at some genres which lounge a little more on the fringes, smoking. Throwing their ISBNs up to heaven. Sneering disdainfully at the blockbusters.

Oh – and Self-Help.

You just know I’m going to have my fun here… don’t you?

6. Short Stories:

There are two types of short story blurbs. One is for authors you haven’t heard of. The other is for authors who are so revered that the idea of even bothering with a blurb makes angels sigh. Let’s look at them both.

(a) DARK LIES THE ISLAND – KEVIN BARRY

Dissecting The Blurb Part 3: Short Stories, Self-Help and Literary Fiction

Ok, so many of you have never heard of Kevin Barry. But in my opinion he was responsible for the second coming of the Irish short story, and spawned a whole new generation of widely read and innovative young skins. I also don’t care if he’s famous or not, because this blurb is masterful.

Winner of the Sunday Times short story prize

Winner of the Edge Hill short story prize

A kiss that just won’t happen. A disco at the end of the world. A teenage goth on a terror mission. And OAP kiddie-snatchers, and scouse real-ale enthusiasts, and occult weirdness in the backwoods…

Dark Lies the Island is a collection of unpredictable stories about love and cruelty, crimes, desperation, and hope from the man Irvine Welsh has described as ‘the most arresting and original writer to emerge from these islands in years’. Every page is shot through with the riotous humour, sympathy and blistering language that mark Kevin Barry as a pure entertainer and a unique teller of tales.

BLURB FORMULA

  1. Have you won an award? For any writing at all ever? In it goes. In bold type.
  2. Think clickbait. As succinctly as you can, mention unique images, objects or themes from your anthology which will make it stand out. It may be a constipated cat which is only mentioned once on page 23. This does not matter.
  3. Describe the overriding theme to your anthology, even if it’s just the genre (such as romance or sci-fi). This means that you must have one. If you don’t, it’s not an anthology and I can’t help you.
  4. Now praise yourself. BUT YOU MUST either make it look like someone else is saying all of this (it’s not easy, but it can be done), or actually quote someone else. Don’t sound like you’re talking yourself up. People will not believe you and they may take a violent dislike to you. Grab a review – it doesn’t need to be for this book – and quote it.

Dissecting The Blurb Part 3: Short Stories, Self-Help and Literary Fiction

(b) HATESHIP, FRIENDSHIP, COURTSHIP, LOVE, MARRIAGE – ALICE MUNRO

**Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature**

In these stories lives come into focus through single events or sudden memories which bring the past bubbling to the surface. The past, as Alice Munro’s characters discover, is made up not only of what is remembered, but also what isn’t. The past is there, just out of the picture, but if memories haven’t been savoured, recalled in the mind and boxed away, it’s as if they have never been – until a moment when the pieces of the jigsaw re-form suddenly, sometimes pleasurably but more often painfully. Women look back at their young selves, at first marriages made when they were naive and trusting, at husbands and their difficult, demanding little ways.

There is in this new collection an underlying heartbreak, a sense of regret in her characters for what might have been, for a fork in the road not taken, a memory suppressed in an act of prudent emotional housekeeping. But at the same time there is hope, there are second chances – here are people who reinvent themselves, seize life by the throat, who have moved on and can dare to conjure up the hidden memories, daring to go beyond what is remembered.

BLURB FORMULA

  1. Have you won an award? A really big one? Oh, lovely. In it goes. Between asterisks.
  2. Just look at the above blurb. That’s not a formula. That’s a mess. If someone spoke this sort of guff to you at a party, you would throw a drink in their face.
  3. But this is okay, because Alice Munro has won a Nobel Prize.
  4. You could basically put a recipe for Eggs Benedict in there and it wouldn’t matter.
  5. Which proves the hypothesis: if you’re famous – or a publicly declared genius – you can get away with anything.

Dissecting The Blurb Part 3: Short Stories, Self-Help and Literary Fiction

7. Mind, Body & Spirit (Self-Help):

EVERYTHING YOU NEED YOU HAVE: HOW TO BE AT HOME IN YOUR SELF – GERAD KITE

Gerad Kite – founder of the renowned Kite Clinic in London – believes that the way we are living today is making us ill. For all the choices we have, for all the improvements in our material lifestyle, people are more unhappy than ever – because we have lost the ability to tap into our inner selves.

In this inspiring, revelatory book, Kite shows us how to look at things from a different perspective, and to uncover the truth: that everything we need to be happy and well, we already have inside.

Drawing on the principles of ancient Chinese philosophy and his extensive experience of helping people of all ages and from all walks of life, Kite offers a life-changing promise – a route to a state of being that is more authentic, expansive and liberating than anything most people can currently find either in their thoughts or the world around them.

BLURB FORMULA

  1. State your credentials. “From the triple BS-awarded head of the Moneymaking Clinic in Butte, Montana, frequented by Madonna’s chiropodist, and a Kennedy.”
  2. Give your idea historical context. Or invent one, it really doesn’t matter. Call it Buddhist, Zen, Ancient Greek, or Irish Pub wisdom*. Just make out it’s been around and used by folks for millennia, and you’re encapsulating it scientifically and neatly into one book, for the very first time. (Well done you.)
  3. Lob in the flowery adjectives. Life-changing. Authentic. Holistic. Healing. Recalibrating. Inspirational. Transformational. Muppetational. Whatever.
  4. Make it clear that the ingredients to wealth and happiness are within the reader, but mainly within this book.
  5. For extra credit, imply that if people do not read this book, they will sink further into depression, before being run over by a bus.

8. Literary Fiction:

Dissecting The Blurb Part 3: Short Stories, Self-Help and Literary Fiction

I’m not even bothering with an example for this one. Most successful literary fiction blurbs are random, and about as exciting as a teenager telling you which smartphone they like.

BLURB FORMULA:

  1. Does your book have something really, really weird in it? Like a man who learned everything he knows from elephants?
  2. No? How about a depressed mime artist who’s addicted to turnips? Yes? Excellent. Put that in.
  3. You’re on your own now.
  4. In the last paragraph, make sure you call the book a ‘dark, insightful exploration of the [human condition/world of fencing/souls of fathers]’. That sort of thing.
  5. Best of luck.

******************

And there we have it. I know some genres are conspicuous by their absence. But if there is no discernible pattern or too many sub-genres – such as in ‘Non-Fiction’ or ‘Young Adult’, for instance – it doesn’t fit this exercise. The best thing to do in that case is to look at blurbs for books similar to yours, and break them down individually. (Whilst poking fun at them, obviously.)

Oh, and never, ever forget the cardinal rule. If you’re writing your own blurb, for Blog’s sake make it look like someone else did it.

* As soon as I wrote this, I realised it was actually a superb idea. Don’t you dare steal it. My self-help book  Irish Pub Wisdom – A Boozy Guide To Deliriously Happy Mediocrity will be out in 2017.

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  43 comments for “Dissecting The Blurb Part 3: Short Stories, Self-Help And Literary Fiction

  1. February 18, 2016 at 11:58 am

    Why wait till 2017 Tara? Just start pre-selling the Pub Wisdom book based on your blurb and fill in the stuff between the covers later : )

    Liked by 3 people

    • February 18, 2016 at 12:09 pm

      That is a stupendous idea, PJ. It also gives rise to what’s sure to become my favourite new blog series “Blurbs For Books I Will Probably Write Later”

      Liked by 2 people

  2. February 18, 2016 at 12:00 pm

    When I grow up, I want to be Alice Munro.

    BTW, I know these tips are somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but I did change the blurb of both my short story collections based on your advice, and I’m now buying my own island.

    Or not. But at least I think they read much, much better now. So, thank you!

    Oh, look: I’m the first one to comment, too.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. February 18, 2016 at 12:00 pm

    Doh! PJ beat me to the punch.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. February 18, 2016 at 12:13 pm

    “a Kennedy” Lovely. Bualadh bos to this entire series. What will I fill my empty morning with next? Don’t say it *clicks on The Journal*

    (P.S. Barry’s was the best kiss that didn’t happen. I remember that roof-top.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • February 18, 2016 at 12:35 pm

      There’s always the Sidebar of Shame, Tenderlation. Or if you’re really stuck, I hear there’s been a spike on political emissions lately. They’re always good for a laugh.

      And yes, bless Kevin Barry. But I’m conflicted, because my admiration is all bound up with excruciating embarrassment. Every time I imagine us being introduced, I also imagine myself saying something really stupid and wanting to die. I can’t even be cool in my own head.

      Liked by 1 person

      • February 18, 2016 at 7:07 pm

        Ha ha ha! I DID meet Kevin Barry and said one asinine thing after another until I finally went home and beat myself to death with a crowbar! Good times. Yeah, you’re right, never meet anyone.

        Liked by 1 person

        • February 18, 2016 at 7:56 pm

          Oh God. Masterful skills with the crowbar there, Janet… But why do we do this to ourselves? If we were the teenagers of today, we’d just shrug and go ‘yeah so I met Kevin Barry and I took a selfie with him and he told me I was really awesome which is cool because I have 34,293 Instagram followers so it must be true’

          Liked by 2 people

      • February 19, 2016 at 11:27 am

        That reminds of Dylan Moran’s thoughts on the anxiety that immediately kicks in after “hello”..er..”Do you wanna pineapple?” That’s not a bad opener in fairness. Maybe one to keep on reserve should the occasion arise. Nay, when the occasion arises.

        Liked by 1 person

        • February 19, 2016 at 4:43 pm

          Oh, I’ll have to put that one in the arsenal, absolutely. Although I should probably customise it, you know, to appear original – ‘do you wanna Chihuahua’ might work.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. February 18, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    Wow, that Alice Munro blurb. It was clearly written by someone coming round after a general anaesthetic

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 18, 2016 at 12:40 pm

      Or an altercation with an angry mob, Anne. I agree completely. Whoever wrote that has obviously been attending the Kite Clinic too long.

      Like

  6. February 18, 2016 at 2:46 pm

    Reblogged this on Jan Hawke INKorporated and commented:
    And it’s attack of the funnies time! The final instalment of dissecting blurbology from award-winning blogger the inimitable Ms. Tara Sparling…

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 18, 2016 at 4:23 pm

      Oooh, inimitable, that’s me, Jan. Especially when I do clever things, like simultaneously doing the washing up and having a vitriolic political argument with the television.

      Like

  7. February 18, 2016 at 5:05 pm

    I’m always inspired to think up money making ideas when I read your posts. All this mention of awards suggests there’s a business model there, like Catholic indulgences. The Alien Noise Award for Fiction, £99.99. (Under a hundred quid.) Stick it in your blurb, £15 extra for bold text, and see an instant 27% increase in sales.*

    And a question: if a friend says something nice in a Goodreads review, how can you include it in a blurb in a way that makes it look as authoritative as a review in, say, the Times Literary Supplement?

    *estimated

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 18, 2016 at 7:58 pm

      That. Is. Genius. Chris – you need to do this. Sure, Amazon are doing this whole ‘we’re not allowing paid reviews because we’re mean’ thing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still sell them for other purposes. Sounds like a bargain to me. Can you do one for my blog?

      To answer your second question, it’s all about cutting out the pronouns and addressing you by your last name. Easy.

      Liked by 1 person

      • February 18, 2016 at 8:42 pm

        I’ll do one for your blog. I’ll send the bank transfer details through after the Valencia Europa League match…

        Pronouns, eh? Let’s have a look…

        Liked by 1 person

  8. February 18, 2016 at 6:42 pm

    And what a grand finale to a very educational and entertaining series! I wanted to write my comment in the form of a blurb, but I just couldn’t pick between the genres… sounds like many of these authors couldn’t either. Besides, I knew no one would have a clue what I was on about. Well done, Tara! 😍

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 18, 2016 at 7:59 pm

      Thanks, Ali. I’m going to miss this series. It kept me out of trouble there for a good twenty minutes. Watch out, world. 😉

      Like

  9. February 18, 2016 at 8:51 pm

    Reblogged this on mallie1025 and commented:
    Tara, this was phenomenal!! I just happen to be self-publishing an anthology of my 25 years worth of slice of life and short fiction. I’m saving this to look back on and if it doesn’t work I may have to force feed you the mime artist’s turnips! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 19, 2016 at 12:11 am

      But then there would be all-out mime war, Micki. On account of their addiction. There would be invisible gore everywhere and painted-on tears as far as the eye could see. On the other hand, I’m delighted you liked it 😉

      Like

  10. February 19, 2016 at 5:17 am

    Thanks for making me laugh our loud. I guess we can assume that we are both humorists, 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  11. February 20, 2016 at 1:04 pm

    Tara, reading your blurb formulas are great lessons on how to attract sales. Points taken! Thank you.

    Like

    • February 20, 2016 at 2:42 pm

      You’re most welcome, Joy. And the very best of luck with your blurbs.

      Like

  12. February 20, 2016 at 4:43 pm

    Another informative post, Tara, especially the anthology blurb guidelines. That may come in handy someday 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. February 22, 2016 at 8:02 am

    Brilliant points. Especially the last one. How about setting up a blurb exchange for writing other people’s blurbs? Preferably not having read the book, of course.

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 22, 2016 at 8:39 am

      I’d be afraid to end up writing nothing else, Jane! Perhaps there’s a big publisher out there willing to pay me a besquillion euro to do it. I’d settle for a half besquillion though.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. February 22, 2016 at 3:10 pm

    I must be weird…or perhaps merely gullible, for the Alice Munro blurb spoke to me, made me want to rush to Amazon and order the book. It actually made me open a short story I’m writing and tweak a few words and phrases. Too often blurbs reflect little about the content of the book, the Alice Munro blurb left me in little doubt about what I would find between the pages, no disappointment but what I expected to read. I like that. Though I disagree with you on that, I’m off to check my own blurbs and vow the next will be more formulaic in the hope of attracting a few more readers!

    Liked by 1 person

    • February 22, 2016 at 4:50 pm

      Well, I know I was fairly scathing about it, Dorothy, but whilst the sentiment is there, I think the communication of it is lacking. The notion of seminal events from women’s lives being remembered in later snapshots is actually very appealing to me, a book I’d like to reflect over at leisure. But the florid ramblings of this particular blurb made me feel like I was at a student party in 1995, I’d run out of booze, and the person talking to me had taken off their shoes.

      Best of luck with your short story. It’s a form which continues to beat me into a pulp with nothing to show for it…

      Like

  15. March 14, 2016 at 10:17 pm

    I’ll be queuing up for your guide… though hasn’t Peter Sellers already recorded something similar?

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 14, 2016 at 11:19 pm

      Has he? Cheek of him. Stealing my ideas before I have them. Never would’ve happened before the Internet.

      Liked by 1 person

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