Thursday, 25 August 2011

Blurbling On: Penny Dolan.

The blurb is so simple that Year 1 children – the five to six year olds – can recognise the thing. They point to the patch of text on the back of book cover, proudly telling you “It’s the bit that tells you about the book.”

Is that truly what a blurb does? Does it tell you too much? Or not enough? I’ve been thinking about this because I’ve had examples of both.

In books I’ve written for an early reader series, the standard blurb format sometimes gives the twist of the plot away.

Eight enormous elephants turn a little boy’s house upside down.
It seems nothing can stop them . . . until a little mouse appears.


When Ed dropped his gum on as stormy day, little did he know what would happen. Can Granny save him from the Big Bad Blob?

Why? I wanted both the mouse and the Granny to be a surprise.

Does it help the young reader’s reading and enjoyment to know what the surprise is? Would it help readers of Christie’s “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” if the blurb contained the words But the narrator did it all along?

The writer doesn’t usually write the blurb, in my experience. The words comes from someone at the publishing house. The copy editor? The editor? Are the words agreed with marketing who must surely know what aspects of the book might make it sell? It’s all a mystery to me.

However, for my long novel for upper junior readers, A BOY CALLED M.O.U.S.E, there was some information missing.

The book blurb emphasizes Mouse’s earlier life and his time in a dreadful school. Here’s an extract:

Mouse cannot know there are people who want to kep him hidden away . . . or worse. Frightened and alone, what Mouse does know is that he must get away from Murkstone Hall – and fast.

The blurb is gripping and compelling stuff, but nowhere does it mention that the final third of the book takes part in the busy backstage world of the Victorian theatre, nor that the play that involves Mouse is A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Originally I had decided this had been missed out because someone at my new publishers felt that any hint of “the theatre” might put readers off. Maybe it would have attracted readers? I’m not sure. Or perhaps it just was that, with a long and complex story, there just wasn’t enough space for everything? Ah well.

I looked at quite a few book blurbs before writing this post and must admit that one stood out:

Once I escaped from an orphanage to find Mum and Dad.
Once I saved a girl called Zelda from a burning house.
Once I made a Nazi with toothache laugh.
My name is Felix.
This is my story.

I can’t help wondering whether it was Morris Gleitzman or his publisher who wrote that blurb for "Once".

Can any of you explain the mysteries of blurb writing? Or do you have your own favourite “blurb” blurbs?


Jongleuse said...

Article about research that shows spoilers actually enhance enjoyment of a story! My 6 year old definitely relies on the blurb when choosing his library books.

adele said...

Oh gosh Penny I do so agree with you! The mysteries of blurb writing are many and I don't understand any of them. Still, I do now try to do the blurb myself. They do OFTEN give away stuff. My biggest success as a blurb writer came when I wrote to an editor of a thriller i'd just read in hardback, pointing out that they'd given away a CRUCIAL plot point in the blurb. They changed the blurb on the paperback and thanked me profusely. It was a Swedish thriller by Johann Theorin and maybe he didn't see the cover till it was too late!
As for my own books, I've been quite lucky though I did have to tell the blurb writers on Happy Ever After to indicate that these were versions of Fairy tales! It's a mystery...looking forward to other blurb stories.
ps. I also can't bear REVIEWS that give away the plot,that article in the Graun notwithstanding!

Susan Price said...

Editors often write the blurb - I know because I have twice put my foot in it by critising blurb, and it turned out it was written by the person I was talking to. I never knew you could write the blurb yourself, Adele! Of course, as a kindle author, I write my own blurb - and it is hard to give a flavour of the book, and enough to tempt someone into buying it without giving much away.

Emma Barnes said...

It seems like it's easy - until you actually try to do it.

The Once blurb is great - it is so intriguing.

And I like the start of this one: "Ever since she bit Father Christmas when she was six months old..." My publisher wrote it for my new book!