The Agony of Writing that Cover Blurb!

It happened – the thing all writers dread (other than writing the synopsis) – I’ve been asked to write the cover blurbs for The Outcast Chronicles.I find  cover blurbs really hard to write. For one thing they need to be very short. The hard part is not sounding generic, because you break any book down to the bare bones and pack it into a few sentences it begins to sound generic.

Pull any book off the shelf and flip it over … go on. Now count the words in the blurb.

Death Most Definite – Trent Jamieson – 144 words.

Changeless – Gail Carriger – 120 words.

Cold Magic – Kate Elliot – 139 words.

The Blade Itself – Joe Abercrombie -137 words.

There you have it. Sum up a book of 100,000 to 150,000 words in less than 150 words, while making it sound interesting and intriguing. Gah!

I have a short blurb for the whole series.

The Outcast Chronicles – a fantasy family-saga, follows the fate of four people linked by blood, love and vows as they struggle with misplaced loyalties, over-riding ambition and hidden secrets which could destroy them. Some make desperate alliances only to suffer betrayal, and some discover great personal strength.

Now that’s 48 words and it gives you an idea of what the trilogy will be about. But the thing about cover blurbs is that you need to get the reader interested in a character. They need to identify with, and be intrigued by the character/s enough to open the book and start reading that first page. So this means I need to do the 4 Questions:

WHO is the book about?

WHAT do they want?

WHY can’t they achieve it?

HOW do they overcome this? (Of course in a blurb you don’t give this away. The reader has to buy the book to find out).

Well this slows me down  right away because there are four Points of View. So I start with Imoshen.

WHO is Imoshen?

Ruler of her people. Not their queen, because they don’t have queens and kings. She’s an elected leader. A reluctant leader. There, now that’s a nice conflict.

Imoshen, reluctant leader of the mystics …

WHAT does she want? To save her people. She’d do anything to protect her infant daughter.

Imoshen, reluctant leader of the mystics, must save her child and her people from …

This is the ‘WHY can’t she achieve it’ bit. Her people are persecuted by those without mystical gifts, who turn on them and lay siege to their fortress city. OK, here goes:

Imoshen, reluctant leader of the mystics must save her child and her people from vindictive King Chald, who plays on the ordinary folk’s resentment of the mystics and the noble’s greed for their lands and riches. When he raises an army and lays siege to the Celestial City, Imoshen seeks a solution but …

Now I need to introduce the next layer of complexity …

I’m going to stop there, because I really do have to get a draft written tonight, but I think you get an idea of the complexity of the task.

Take a look at the book you are currently writing, or have just finished.

Can you encapsulate it in less than 150 words without it sounding clichéd?

Can you introduce the main characters and make them sound interesting?

Can you make the core of the plot sound intriguing?

What to avoid? Jargon. Don’t introduce too many invented names or terms. Keep it simple, go for the emotion.

OK, let’s see your 150 words.

20 Comments

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20 responses to “The Agony of Writing that Cover Blurb!

  1. Oh, good timing! I’ve been batting this around for the last few days. The last sentence is such an obvious plot goal, I think I ought to leave it off.

    Genetic engineering.
    First they cured disease.
    Then they selected for the most advantageous natural variants .
    Then they made artificial genes.
    As the test children reached puberty, abilities that had always been lost in the random background noise were suddenly obvious. Telepathy, telekinesis.
    At first their creators sought to strengthen these traits. Then they began to fear them.
    They called them gods.
    They made them slaves.

    Wolfgang Oldham was sixteen when the company laid claim to the children they had created.
    He escaped once, and stayed free for three years.
    They have him now, and are training him to be useful.
    They don’t realize that they are also training him to be very dangerous.
    Wolfgang is determined to free all the telies, and make sure the company never tries this again.

    • I am pardoning my self a lot today, but as with Rowena I was playing with your cover blurb while at work(I left my iPhone at home so didn’t have anything to do but scribble notes on envelopes)

      Genetic Engineering

      Science promised Stronger, healthier, smarter.
      Customers wanted perfection.
      Marketing named them Gods™

      But soon after the first generation of genetically altered children are born, a backlash occurs. So when the populous, the government and their creators stop thinking of them as human why should they embrace their humanity?

      They were marketed as gods.
      They were turned into slaves.
      Do they have or future – or do we?

  2. This is really good, Pam. Feels a bit choppy. Here’s some little tweaks. (It is so much easier to do this to someone else’s work. With your own, you’re too close).

    Genetic engineering.
    First they cured disease, then they made positive changes.
    As the test children reached puberty, abilities that had been lost in the random background noise were suddenly obvious. Telepathy, telekinesis. The company called them Telies for short.
    At first the company sought to strengthen these traits, then they began to fear them.

    Wolfgang was sixteen when the company locked up the telie children. So he escaped and for three years he lived free but they recaptured him, and now they are training him to be useful.
    What they don’t realize is that they are training him to be very dangerous.
    Wolfgang is determined to stop the company and free all the telies.

  3. Stephen Simmons

    What Ricky understands about people could be contained in a thimble. What he understands about physics can’t be contained in multiple universes — he knows, because he was born with the ability to travel between them.

    That’s where his sister Peaches comes in. Peaches understands people. And she understands Ricky and that his ideas have the power to change multiple worlds.

    Unfortunately, as Galileo taught us, worlds frequently resist being changed …

  4. Hi, Rowena. I have the opnion you can overthink a blurb. Many of them are based on outright lies – they are a hook rather than a real description of the book or plot.

    Take comfort from the fact that I NEVER read a blurb when deciding to buy a book. I flick the first page and the book to get a sense of style and go on either recommendations or reviews such as LOCUS. Sometimes blog discussions.

    I do, however, read the blurb AFTER I have read the book – just for a laugh as they are usually so off the mark as a book description.

  5. Pardon the impertanence, but I was playing with yours Rowena, while at work:

    King Chald is raising an army. The Mystics are to be scapegoats for his country’s woes.

    In the Celestial City, the people want Imoshen lead them. She is reluctant, but knowing that her city, her people, and most importantly, her only child will perish if Chald is not stopped, what else can she do?

  6. The Space Between

    Kim thinks her day is going badly when an annoying knight hits on her and she’s stalked by an elf and a dwarf. But then the aliens attack and things really start to go down hill.

    From Sherwood Forest to Area 51, from Macchu Pichu to distant worlds, Kim collects strange companions as she races to stop a 50,000 year old war that we know nothing about. Seeing her only weapons are a wonder bra and a stubborn refusal to do as she’s told things might just get worse before they get better.

    It won’t be her fault though.

    • Good start, Scott.

      Kim thinks her day is going badly when she’s hit on by an annoying knight and stalked by an elf and a dwarf. But when aliens attack things really go down hill.

      From Sherwood Forest to Area 51, from Macchu Pichu to distant worlds, Kim collects strange companions as she races to stop (a 50,000 year old war that we know nothing about – This war needs to be tighter and more threatening) .
      Seeing her only weapons are a wonder bra and a stubborn refusal to giv eup, things could get worse much before they get better.

      • Kim thinks her day is going badly when she’s hit on by an annoying knight and stalked by an elf and a dwarf. But when aliens attack things really go down hill.

        From Sherwood Forest to Area 51, from Macchu Pichu to distant worlds, Kim collects strange companions as she races to stop a a race of aliens that just don’t know when to quit– they’ve been preparing for 50,000 years and now they’ve come for their revenge.

        Seeing Kim’s only weapons are a wonder bra, an attitude problem and a stubborn refusal to give up, things could get worse much before they get better.

  7. Argh I was going to edit the blurb and say Thanks Rowena and say that yes, It’s horrible doing 150 words about one book. It’s even worse when the book isn’t a stand alone…

    But I got a bit trigger happy and hit send before I got around to most of that stuff. oh well. Maybe next time…

    • LOL, Scott.

      From Sherwood Forest to Area 51, from Macchu Pichu to distant worlds, Kim collects strange companions as she tries to stop a race of aliens who … (been preparing for 50,000 years – doesn’t sound that threatening. It sounds like they can’t make up their minds). (and now they’ve come for their revenge – howcome they want revenge if they haven’t been to earth before?) … are bent on World Domination. (You’re writing comedy, so you can use cliches).

      Seeing Kim’s only weapons are a wonder bra, an attitude problem and a stubborn refusal to give up, things could get worse much before they get better.

  8. They want revenge because we started the war. I added that becuase I thought it might add a bit of mystery…

    And it isn’t a comedy, as such, it just has charageters with a sense of humour.

  9. 'nother Mike

    I’m far from an expert on this, but I’ve been thinking about this, and I think maybe the problem is… Well, let me pick a few phrases from your posting. “Break any book down…” “Sum up a book…” “Encapsulate it…”

    I’m not so sure that the blurb really should try to concentrate the whole book. As a reader, browsing the shelves, there was something that got me to pick up the book — the title, the author, the cover… And if I read the blurb before looking inside, what do I really want to know?

    What kind of a book is it — epic fantasy, urban fantasy, space opera, etc. and something that hooks me into looking further — a character, a problem, whatever? If you believe in Card’s MICE, you might want to consider which of those your story is most about, milieu, idea, character, event, and then give a little bit of a clue for the reader about that one. That’s all, though.

    I’m not sure that you need to try to put everything in. It’s not really an abstract, plot synopsis, or something like that. It’s a sales tool, intended to differentiate this book from all the others and make me interested enough to buy it.

    Why should I read this book? What’s the excitement, the thrill, the mystery, the challenge that will make me read it? Who will I be (given the vicarious life approach to reading) and what will I be trying to do, facing, or learning?

    Even in a book with two or more points of view, there is usually one that is the main one. Heck, just go with the one that the book starts with — that’s who the reader needs to empathize with to start. Or who does the climax in this book?

    I’m sure you can do better than this, but here’s a few words:

    Imoshen. Mystic, unwillling leader, mother. Her dreams and her principles say that she cannot use her mystic powers to save her people by fighting King Chald and his Army of the People as they attack the Celestial City, but her love for her baby and her people say that she must win — no matter what it takes. Now if only she can find a different way…

    I mean, I’d probably flip to the front and see what the first chapter was like.

    Maybe it’s easier to start fresh, and try to hook us again? Don’t try to boil it down, make a fresh batch of words?

  10. 'nother Mike

    Glad it helped. It felt as if that image of “concentrating the whole book” might be getting in the way.