Over the past few weeks I’ve been revisiting a series on book blurbs, and specifically, how they generally follow genre rules. This means if you know what genre your book is, you can follow a pretty standard template for writing your book blurb (and yes I know this is easier said than done, but if everything was as easy as it should be, Brexit would be last week, climate change deniers would live on flood plains, and book bloggers would be paid.)
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 not everyone has 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 the former, because the latter is compete nonsense.
STONE MATTRESS – MARGARET ATWOOD
BY THE AUTHOR OF THE HANDMAID’S TALE AND ALIAS GRACE
A recently widowed fantasy writer is guided through a stormy winter evening by the voice of her late husband. An elderly lady with Charles Bonnet syndrome comes to terms with the little people she keeps seeing, while a newly formed populist group gathers to burn down her retirement residence. A woman born with a genetic abnormality is mistaken for a vampire, and a crime committed long ago is revenged in the Arctic via a 1.9 billion-year-old stromatolite.
In these nine tales, Margaret Atwood ventures into the shadowland earlier explored by fabulists and concoctors of dark yarns such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Daphne du Maurier and Arthur Conan Doyle – and also by herself, in her award-winning novel Alias Grace. In Stone Mattress, Margaret Atwood is at the top of her darkly humorous and seriously playful game.
- Did something you wrote previously do really well? Or 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.
- It’s worth noting that none of the above was needed for Margaret Atwood, because she is Margaret Atwood. Blurbs for anthologies written by well-known and many-prized authors can often be complete messes. Those blurbs are very often non-stop guff machines. You could basically put a recipe for Eggs Benedict into them and it wouldn’t matter, because if you’re famous – or a publicly declared genius – you can get away with anything.
- Which proves that Margaret Atwood is a proper genius, because her books still adhere to that quaint, old-fashioned adage ‘give someone a better reason to buy your book than the simple fact that you wrote it’. All hail Margaret Atwood I say.
7. Mind, Body & Spirit (Self-Help):
12 RULES FOR LIFE: AN ANTIDOTE TO CHAOS – JORDAN B. PETERSON
The #1 Sunday Times and International Bestseller from ‘the most influential public intellectual in the Western world right now’ (New York Times)
What are the most valuable things that everyone should know?
Acclaimed clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson has influenced the modern understanding of personality, and now he has become one of the world’s most popular public thinkers, with his lectures on topics from the Bible to romantic relationships to mythology drawing tens of millions of viewers. In an era of unprecedented change and polarizing politics, his frank and refreshing message about the value of individual responsibility and ancient wisdom has resonated around the world.
In this book, he provides twelve profound and practical principles for how to live a meaningful life, from setting your house in order before criticising others to comparing yourself to who you were yesterday, not someone else today. Happiness is a pointless goal, he shows us. Instead we must search for meaning, not for its own sake, but as a defence against the suffering that is intrinsic to our existence.
Drawing on vivid examples from the author’s clinical practice and personal life, cutting edge psychology and philosophy, and lessons from humanity’s oldest myths and stories, 12 Rules for Life offers a deeply rewarding antidote to the chaos in our lives: eternal truths applied to our modern problems.
- Ask a question which is irresistible to Mind, Body & Spirit enthusiasts. This means a slightly more subtle reworking of: ‘How can you be less shit?’ ‘Which stuff will make you instantly happy?’ and ‘Do you want to be told that nothing is your fault?’
- State your credentials. “From the triple BS-awarded head of the Moneymaking Clinic in Butte, Montana, frequented by Gwyneth Paltrow’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 next month.