Just in case you missed it, Thursday October 2nd was a big day in the book world: the day when 426 heavy hitters released their books for Christmas, including Philip Pullman, Jojo Moyes and Bill Bryson. This was swiftly followed by just last Thursday October 17th, when further probable blockbusters from mahoosive names including Elton John, John le Carré and Nadiya Hussain swamped the shelves. So if you had a book coming out this autumn, and you HAVEN’T released it in the last 2 weeks… congratulations! You just avoided being stampeded by a herd of anxious, needy elephants in a race for column inches.
In previous posts, I examined when might be the best time of year to publish a novel, which concluded that Christmas might actually not be the worst idea, despite the flood of heavyweights. I also examined the effect of blockbusters on the sales of other books.
Assuming anyone out there agrees with any of these ideas (and I’m not saying they should. I am notoriously unreliable, and often cheat at Lego), you might be thinking about getting a book out there in the near future. So today I’m referring back to another former post, to look at how blurbs work – or don’t, as the case may be…
The above is a perfect example of what a blurb shouldn’t do. Going off on a tangent, and then over-explaining it. A lot of blurbs-in-progress tend to say too much about things which aren’t sexy. This might sound odd, but think about it. Some points in a synopsis might be essential to the story (or beloved by the author), but they do nothing to incentivise a reader to pick up your book. And above everything, you want people to pick up your book. That’s what a blurb is for.
Blurbs are short synopses with cliffhanger endings. They’re not reviews, so if your book is brilliant, heart-breaking or mind-blowing, this should be put into a quote, not a blurb (with one exception – but more on that later).
Many blurbs are also preceded by the book’s tagline, or what I call the Killer Line. Sometimes it’s on the front cover, sometimes on the back – it’s the one-liner which catches your eye and piques your interest. It doesn’t even have to be that relevant to the story, to be honest. The best one I can think of offhand is from Girl On The Train: “You don’t know her. But she knows you.” Bloody superb, that is.
The blurb is often the part of the bookselling process which gives authors the most headaches. How can 100-300 itty bitty words cause so much pain? But they do. If I ever want to torture an author who has wronged me, I will chain them to a desk in a bright room and tell them they only have 6 hours to write a blockbusting blurb for their book.
And yet, blurbs are just formulas – which was the basis of another post, where I
ruined rewrote the blurbs for classic novels as if they’d been categorised as women’s fiction. Each genre has its own formula, and can be broken down accordingly. Many of them have the same ingredients, only in different order.
To tell the truth, I was shocked by just how formulaic genre blurbs were. For instance, most crime novel blurbs end in the dreaded elliptical dot dot dot. Historical fiction blurbs end with self-praise, which doesn’t seem to be allowed in any other genre. And less surprisingly, thriller blurbs are full of questions.
And now, to prove my point, because I’m stubborn like that, I’m going to break down a few bestseller blurbs. This turned into a very long post for one post, so today, I’m dealing with Thrillers and Romance, because they’re currently the most popular genres. Next time we’ll dissect the bejaysus out of Crime, Historical Fiction, and Science Fiction/Fantasy. And to finish up, I’m going to have oodles of fun with Short Stories, Self-Help and Literary Fiction.
- Thriller/Mystery (Grip-Lit)
Let’s look at Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL. The paperback edition of the blurb online is as follows:
Who are you?
What have we done to each other?
These are the questions Nick Dunne finds himself asking on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, when his wife Amy suddenly disappears. The police suspect Nick. Amy’s friends reveal that she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him. He swears it isn’t true. A police examination of his computer shows strange searches. He says they weren’t made by him. And then there are the persistent calls on his mobile phone.
So what did happen to Nick’s beautiful wife?
- Set up the intrigue with a ‘what happens when…’ question, or a character quote.
- Introduce your Main Character, who is [puzzled/afraid/upset], say what’s happened/happening to them, and what problem(s) this creates.
- Throw in some curveballs which use specific scenarios or keywords to create intrigue.
- Ask: what will Main Character do? And will the problem/mystery ever be explained?
- Chick-Lit / Romance
ME BEFORE YOU – JOJO MOYES:
Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.
What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to lose her job or that knowing what’s coming is what keeps her sane.
Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that.
What Will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time.
- Start with a short quote from your novel, and/or a logline question, such as: What happens when [romance-related theme or question being explored in this novel]?
- Explain how your Main Character thinks/does things a certain way, until they meet irresistible Main Character 2, and how this makes them change/question/learn.
- Ask: will Main Character ever [overcome obstacle to love]?Or will [non-love related obstacle] ruin everything?
- Repeat for Main Character 2, if applicable.
Tune in next time for more amazing generalisations and crude dumbing-down.