Saturday, 2 February 2013

What's in a blurb? – Dianne Hofmeyr

So you've come up with a blurb… what’s the recipe? Take an air of mystery, a sense of character, add a pinch of place and a little pace and mix all together so whoever picks up the book, senses the heady whiff and tastes adventure before he or she even takes a bite… (and thinks ‘I must have this book in my life. Off to the till I go!’)

If only! In a very short space with the average person’s very short attention span, we have to capture the buyer. And different writers will produce widely different blurbs but all blurbs have the same function – to convince a bookshop customer to buy the book they have in their hands.

So what are the basic concepts of a blurb?
– they are short

– they tend to have attention-grabbing words

– they use active rather than passive voice

– they tend to pose questions

– they might end with an ellipsis (…) so the reader has to imagine an outcome.

Other factors to consider:

– Who is the book being marketed to? The blurb must speak directly. A blurb for a teenage reader will be very different to one on a picture book bought by an adult to read to a child.

– What is the most interesting aspect of your book? Is it the character, the setting, the moral conflict? As we emerge from the fog of having written the book, we often can’t find an aspect to focus on. Get a friend to give you another crisp slant on the story with a few phrases and words.

– Make a list of words that give insight into the story. Find exciting synonyms that evoke atmosphere – replace ‘scared’ with ‘terrified’, ‘lonely’ with ‘desolate’, ‘hiding’ with ‘lurking’, ‘very’ cold with ‘murderously’ cold (see below). Okay this is ABC stuff for a writer

– Never summarize the story. You want to keep the reader guessing.

– Perhaps find a particular phrase or piece of dialogue in the story to use as a tagline.

– Don’t introduce too many characters. Don't confuse.

Marcus Sedgewick’s blurb for his book, Revolver, ticks all the boxes.

It’s 1910. In a cabin north of the Artic Circle, in a place murderously cold and desolate, Sig Andersson is alone.­ 

Except for the corpse of his father, frozen to death that morning when he fell through the ice on the lake.

The cabin is silent, so silent and then there’s a knock at the door

It’s a stranger, and as his extraordinary story of dust and gold lust unwinds, Sig’s thoughts run more and more to his father’s prized possession, a Colt revolver, hidden in the storeroom.

A revolver just waiting to be used …’

Why am I so blurb obsessed? Because I’ve just written one for my latest book, Oliver Strange and the Ghosts of Madagascar and have fallen into and have tried to drag myself out of all the pitfalls – which included making reference to the ‘place du diable’, the place of the devil, which works in the context of the entire book but not in a blurb where someone might think the book is about devil worship!

Here’s the final result (cropped to make it legible) for a mid-range book… easy language, questions, quite different to a teenage novel, but should I have started with the tagline: ‘A modern day pirate story…’ ? I’m not sure.

If you have any blurbs to share – your own, or a brilliant one you’ve come across, please put them up or share any other recipe tips for a ‘tasty’ blurb.


adele said...

That is a very good blurb, Dianne! And your post is most interesting. So many books are actually spoiled by the blurb. You'd be amazed how often thrillers have a vital thing in the blurb that SHOULD NOT BE REVEALED!!

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Sarah Taylor-Fergusson said...

When I moved into fiction publishing, I remember my first task was to write blurbs for our new list. I thought it was the best part of my job ever - until I'd had to write about thirty in one week. Since then, I try and avoid blurbs...or I find mine becomes a "life spiralling out of control..."

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

30 in one week! I'd collapse. It took me days to write ONE! I find them VERY hard. Maybe copywriters who work in the ad industry might make good blurb writers but writers are programmed to tell a story over a long period of time so to write a blurb is alien to us. To write 30 would be a nightmare!

And yes how many blurbs give away just the line they shouldn't...

The Hollywood Gossip said...
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Linda Strachan said...

Great post, Dianne.
Blurbs are so important because it is often the blurb, the cover image and the first couple of lines that make people decide which book to read. It should make them desperate to find out more.
I also think writing a blurb is a great way to make sure you know what your story is all about - what matters most - when you are writing it or even before you begin!

As well as asking questions I think a blurb should also mention the main character, usually by name but not always. I agree with Adele, it should never reveal too much.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

I think writing a blurb before I begin even writing the story would totally freak me out, Linda! But then I'm a hopeless planner.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...
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Ann Turnbull said...

I agree with Linda. Either at the beginning, or later if I'm feeling a bit uncertain about the story, I'll try and visualise the cover of the finished book and write a blurb for it. It sounds daft but it really helps!