Friday 18 February 2022

The nightmare of writing a blurb - by Lu Hersey

This June, I have a new book, Broken Ground, coming out with Beaten Track - a lovely, enabling, indie publisher, but one with virtually no marketing budget. Which means marketing this book is mostly down to me. 


Where do I begin? A quick check online and I find every site on book marketing emphasises the importance of the book blurb. Apparently this is the absolute essential thing to get right. According to a MasterClass article:

So this is the first big hurdle. For many writers, there's only one thing worse than writing a synopsis - writing your own blurb. You've written a whole book, with a complicated plot, lots of twists and turns, a load of subplots and a galaxy of characters - and now you have to sum that up in a few lines AND make it punchy??

I decide to make a start with the elevator pitch idea. Years ago, I won the Mslexia children's book award and attended a day workshop for all the shortlisted writers where we had to prepare a pitch for an upcoming 'meet the agents' event. In case you don't know, the elevator pitch is one sentence (maybe two or three) to sum up your book and make it grab people's attention - useful if you're ever stuck in a lift with an agent or publisher. Want an example of brilliance? Eion Colfer's pitch for Artemis Fowl. 'Like Die Hard, but with fairies.'  If you want more recent examples, take a look at #PitchWars on twitter... 

Anyway, I've no idea what I came up with that day for Deep Water - I only remember the pitying looks. Fortunately Usborne later wrote the blurb and said it for me... 'What if find out you're not who - or even what - you thought you were'. First rule of blurbs - grab the reader's attention immediately.

I think of Broken Ground as contemporary, myth based fiction, written in a kitchen sink paranormal style. But what genre would Amazon put it under? Probably 'folk horror' (think Wicker Man). So what do I say?

Back to the elevator pitch. 

When deep mining disturbs a terrifying ancient land goddess, Arlo learns the only way to send her back is with a blood sacrifice. But he wasn't responsible for the damage, so why should he have to pay the price?

Hmm. Not exactly punchy - and very dark. Too dark. Needs a rethink, so I go back online. Immediately an American site comes up with the four basic steps to writing a good blurb. It's full of pop-up adverts, which makes me dubious, but there seems to be some good advice. It goes something like this:

1. Introduce your main character (s)

2. Set the stage for your primary conflict

3. Establish the stakes

4. Show the reader WHY this book is for them

The site gives lots of examples, all for best selling books. They emphasise the importance of finding the right words to push your book up in the Amazon algorithms.  Apparently Amazon only displays the first few lines of your description so you have to get it right. Naturally an ad pops up at this point..

Ha. I used to be a copy writer. Surely I can manage this blurb without professional help? Basically I should have got all the four key points in the first couple of sentences. Damn. I've left no room for all the other characters, the crop circles, the magic...does that matter?

There's a lot of stuff under point 4 about showing your reader, who's already looking for your kind of book, that this is the one for them. Thinking about it, I realise that the crop circles and the element of myth and magic are probably more important to my readers. 


Take two:

Things are going badly wrong in Arlo's life. Accused of making crop circles he didn't make, now he and his mother are about to get evicted. Worse, this really weird goth girl, covered in tattoos, keeps turning up wherever he goes and it's spooking him out. When the girl he's in love with starts dating someone else, he thinks things can't get much worse. Until people in his village start dying... 

Hmm. Maybe not enough threat covered in the first few sentences. And will my Amazon algorithms be non existent without the right keywords? What are key words anyway, and do I care? Pah. This is hard. 

A quick check back to the bestseller blurbs and I realise it's now too long winded. And I still haven't got the other thing considered essential by my online guide to blurbs - comparisons with bestsellers written in a similar style. 

Are they serious??? How am I supposed to do that? I settle on a quote a very kind reader provided. 'Broken Ground put me in mind of Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising sequence or Alan Garner's early novels'. 

Aaargh! Adding those names to my blurb and I'm already suffering from a very British problem with self promotion - am I over-egging it by suggesting a comparison with these giants of children's fiction? Setting myself up to be slated by readers? Who cares. This is marketing and I need to get over myself. Oof. 

Hang on a minute. How many people under 40 have heard of either Susan Cooper or Alan Garner? And does anyone write folk horror these days? They might not even know what it means...

How about, 'put me in mind of The Wicker Man'? Hmm. Today's teens watch horror films where I can't even get through the trailer without hiding behind the sofa. And The Wicker Man came out when, exactly? Also, it's actually nothing like The Wicker Man. 

Day one of my marketing campaign really isn't going well. But I've made a start. By the time you read this, I should have settled on some mishmash of my blurb attempts to give the publisher. Hopefully a brilliant cover design will make up for any shortfall - because illustrators are amazing.

Meanwhile, my respect for marketers has already increased a zillionfold. They not only understand algorithms, it's their job to shout about you when you find it hard to shout about yourself. 

I'll give this my best shot - of course.

But frankly, I'd much rather just write the books.

Lu Hersey


Rowena House said...

Sounds like a great story. Waking an ancient goddess would get my attention!

Chris Vick said...

reckon 'waking an ancient goddess' would be good in a blurb

LuWrites said...

Thanks Chris and Rowena! Weirdly that's the bit I thought might put people maybe it needs to go back in?

Rowena House said...

The contrast between the everyday and the pagan divine would absolutely be a selling point to me. Also, as a rule of thumb, I understand blurbs are supposed to point people in the overall direction of the story so readers get a feel what to expect and aren't surprised & potentially disappointed. Maybe an Alan Garner blurb from something early, or The Dark is Rising, could be a template even if you don't reference them directly. Or a Marcus Sedgewick (if that's how you spell his surname). It's fair to borrow & steal off the best!

Lynne Benton said...

Quite agree, Lu - I'm at the stage of writing a blurb for my current book, and finding it really challenging! So your breakdown of what's needed is just what I need at this moment! Many thanks.

Joan Haig said...

Great blog! And hey, Lu, I'm so excited that you've chosen Beaten Track. Some of my best reads of the last couple of years have been from them. I know it's tough not having the backing and budget of a publicity and marketing team. Have you considered hiring a pubicist for this project? A couple of days work is definitely worth the money invested. (You'd still need to do the blurb bit yourself, though...) Please do let me know if there's anything I can do to help push your title - I can't stand the industry inequities and would be delighted to help sing about your book :)

Alan McClure said...

Hey Lu, welcome to Beaten Track! This was a timely post for me - I need to get the blurb done for my upcoming book, also coming out with BT in April. Also sounds as if we paddle in similar thematic waters - your story sounds deeply intriguing and I can't wait to read it.

All the best,

Andie said...

Waking an ancient goddess really jumped out at me too. Keep it in! x

LuWrites said...

Oh thanks everyone! Joan,you're probably right and a good suggestion! And Alan, I need to look at the site to find out about yours and when it's due out!