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
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.
- Have you won an award? For any writing at all ever? In it goes. In bold type.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
(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.
- Have you won an award? A really big one? Oh, lovely. In it goes. Between asterisks.
- 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.
- But this is okay, because Alice Munro has won a Nobel Prize.
- You could basically put a recipe for Eggs Benedict in there and it wouldn’t matter.
- Which proves the hypothesis: if you’re famous – or a publicly declared genius – you can get away with anything.
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.
- State your credentials. “From the triple BS-awarded head of the Moneymaking Clinic in Butte, Montana, frequented by Madonna’s chiropodist, and a Kennedy.”
- 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.)
- Lob in the flowery adjectives. Life-changing. Authentic. Holistic. Healing. Recalibrating. Inspirational. Transformational. Muppetational. Whatever.
- Make it clear that the ingredients to wealth and happiness are within the reader, but mainly within this book.
- 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:
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.
- Does your book have something really, really weird in it? Like a man who learned everything he knows from elephants?
- No? How about a depressed mime artist who’s addicted to turnips? Yes? Excellent. Put that in.
- You’re on your own now.
- 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.
- 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.