blurbs and descriptions

“Hello, I’m Dave… and yes, I, I… have a reading problem…”
“Go on Dave, you’re among friends here. We’ve all been there.”
“Well, I don’t think I want to quit. But… but I need help.”
“Oh, none of us do, when you’re deep in a great book. But the bastards put that Amazon link at the end to the next one.”
“Uh. Not quite my problem. I’m still one of the guys who loves to wonder around a bookshop and look at the covers and read the blurbs… but lately, um…”
“You’ve got to go electronic, Dave.”
“You’re sure?”
“Yeah, go to Amazon. Start with your favorite author.”
“Man, you don’t understand. Most of my favorite authors seem to be suffering from death. Baen only produce a handful, and I keep hitting stuff I can’t use, not even on my five books a day reading jags. I like to read the blurbs, see if I’m going to like it. The ones on Amazon suck.”

As you may gather, I have just been told (aka ‘offered the opportunity’ :-)) to write a description for CHANGELING’S ISLAND. It appears that blubs – the text on the back of a paperback or in the cover-flap of a hardcover, are not necessarily the same as the descriptions on Amazon. Writing either descriptions or blurbs is a skill, and not one of mine. Still, we do what must be done (and today ‘what must be done’ was two tons of firewood, so my hands are sore and not feeling like a lot of typing. So I plan to cheat, a bit).

Blurbs and covers… they’re about getting readers to engage – often on a very fleeting look. Therefore in my mind it makes sense – if you’re looking at readers who know neither the author nor anything about it that the book must 1)signal what it by the cover. 2)signal what it is by the blurb, 3)Hook the reader. 4)tell them something about the story and setting. Unless they are pre-interested… that’d better be quite easy reading, unless the hook is just too good.

Here is the paperback blurb off Louis L’Amour’s FLINT (and yes, the pictures are Amazon links. If you have certain adblockers, you won’t see them) –

He rode alone. He came out of the Malpais, the terrible volcanic badlands where nothing can live, riding a giant red stallion no other man could put a hand to. His boots were polished, his speech was gentle, but his guns were quick and smooth as silk. He shot first and talked later.
Nobody knew who he was or what he wanted. But they did know that where he walked Death walked too.
It has
0% Passive voice.
Flesch reading ease 87.8
Flesch-Kincaid grade 4.0

Here is the description Amazon for the same book.

He left the West at the age of seventeen, leaving behind a rootless past and a bloody trail of violence. In the East he became one of the wealthiest financiers in America—and one of the most feared and hated.

Now, suffering from incurable cancer, he has come back to New Mexico to die alone. But when an all-out range war erupts, Flint chooses to help Nancy Kerrigan, a local rancher. A cold-eyed speculator is setting up the land swindle of a lifetime, and Buckdun, a notorious assassin, is there to back his play.

Flint alone can help Nancy save her ranch…with his cash, his connections—and his gun. He still has his legendary will to fight. All he needs is time, and that’s fast running out….
0% passive
Flesch reading ease 69.6
Flesch-Kincaid grade 7.5

Personally, I did buy on the first. Not sure (if I didn’t know the author) I would on the second. But it does carry quite a lot of information about the story, whereas the first did not really, but worked on hooking the reader to look inside…

I looked at the Hugo Finalists Amazon descriptions (I don’t have the actual books and therefore it hard to guess if this is the same as on the back of the paperback/jacket-copy. They’re in Alphabetical order.

Ancillary Sword

Breq is a soldier who used to be a warship. Once a weapon of conquest controlling thousands of minds, now she has only a single body and serves the emperor.

With a new ship and a troublesome crew, Breq is ordered to go to the only place in the galaxy she would agree to go: to Athoek Station to protect the family of a lieutenant she once knew – a lieutenant she murdered in cold blood.

33% Passive
Flesch reading ease 61
Flesch-Kincaid grade 10.8
The sheer shortness of this may positively influence it’s readability scores. There is little information about the story. The hook, IMO is the lieutenant she murdered in cold blood. I can’t say I’d have looked inside, or picked it up on the cover, but your mileage may vary. In terms of attracting readers I think it relies on being the second book, and the hype created by the publisher.

The Dark Between the Stars

Twenty years after the elemental conflict that nearly tore apart the cosmos in The Saga of Seven Suns, a new threat emerges from the darkness. The human race must set aside its own inner conflicts to rebuild their alliance with the Ildiran Empire for the survival of the galaxy.
In Kevin J. Anderson’s The Dark Between the Stars, galactic empires clash, elemental beings devastate whole planetary systems, and factions of humanity are pitted against each other. Heroes rise and enemies make their last stands in the climax of an epic tale seven years in the making.

Passive 25%
Flesch reading ease 47,6
Flesch-Kincaid grade 12.5

Well, it is quite a description of the setting, not the story. No hooks for me. I personally like the cover.

The Goblin Emperor

The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an “accident,” he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.
Entirely unschooled in the art of court politics, he has no friends, no advisors, and the sure knowledge that whoever assassinated his father and brothers could make an attempt on his life at any moment.
Surrounded by sycophants eager to curry favor with the naïve new emperor, and overwhelmed by the burdens of his new life, he can trust nobody. Amid the swirl of plots to depose him, offers of arranged marriages, and the specter of the unknown conspirators who lurk in the shadows, he must quickly adjust to life as the Goblin Emperor. All the while, he is alone, and trying to find even a single friend . . . and hoping for the possibility of romance, yet also vigilant against the unseen enemies that threaten him, lest he lose his throne-or his life.

Passive 16%
Flesch reading ease 49.5
Flesch-Kincaid grade 14.2

Well, that was more interesting to me. Once again a lot of scene setting, but several hooks.

Skin Game

Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, is about to have a very bad day…

Because as Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Harry never knows what the scheming Mab might want him to do. Usually, it’s something awful.
He doesn’t know the half of it…

Mab has just traded Harry’s skills to pay off one of her debts. And now he must help a group of supernatural villains—led by one of Harry’s most dreaded and despised enemies, Nicodemus Archleone—to break into the highest-security vault in town, so that they can then access the highest-security vault in the Nevernever.

It’s a smash and grab job to recover the literal Holy Grail from the vaults of the greatest treasure hoard in the supernatural world—which belongs to the one and only Hades, Lord of the freaking Underworld and generally unpleasant character. Worse, Dresden suspects that there is another game afoot that no one is talking about. And he’s dead certain that Nicodemus has no intention of allowing any of his crew to survive the experience. Especially Harry.

Dresden’s always been tricky, but he’s going to have to up his backstabbing game to survive this mess—assuming his own allies don’t end up killing him before his enemies get the chance…

Passive 0%
Flesch reading ease 57.6
Flesch-Kincaid grade 10

I have a problem with the cover – I like cowboy books so it works for me. Jim Butcher fans probably look no further than the name, and in context with the story they’re cool with the cover being appropriate. But to someone who neither knows Harry Dresden nor Jim Butcher… they might not even get to the description – Which IMO is several miles above the rest in quality (I’d love this description-writer to write mine!) It has hooks, it has quite a lot of scene setting (telling you what kind of book this is).

Three Body Problem (this picture is not a link)three body

Set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, a secret military project sends signals into space to establish contact with aliens. An alien civilization on the brink of destruction captures the signal and plans to invade Earth. Meanwhile, on Earth, different camps start forming, planning to either welcome the superior beings and help them take over a world seen as corrupt, or to fight against the invasion. The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.

The description is from the hard-cover. The kindle version is quite different and more attractive IMO. I gather it’s a good read, I quite like the cover, but that’s not a blurb that hooked me.

Passive 0%
Flesch reading ease 47.5
Flesch-Kincaid grade 11.5

And this is my attempt (which Baen may use none of, some of or as they please).
🙂 CHANGELING’S ISLAND is YA (so not directly comparable) and the cover is not yet available. I’ve seen the art – it’s been up on Baen’s Bar, but I don’t have it.


Tim Ryan was a kid in trouble. Or who caused trouble just by being there, with his own personal poltergeist. His mother called him a changeling. After the shoplifting incident and the fire, he’d been sent to live with his crazy old grandmother, a woman who wouldn’t look at him, and talked to the fairies. And to make it worse she lived on a rundown old farm in the bush… on a remote island off the coast of Australia.

He was city boy, and he hated it. He didn’t milk cows, chase sheep or hunt fish with a spear. He didn’t go out on the wild sea in tiny boats. Except… well, here he had to. And the place didn’t hate him. It was a spirit place, a place of ancient magic, full of sadness, triumph, murder and survival. It wanted him here. Waiting just offshore lurked a Selkie, a seal woman, ready to trap him, to kill him, or take him somewhere else. Because Tim’s mother was right. He was a changeling, sort of. And this island was part of him, and he was part of it. It was in his bones, and the sea around it was in his blood.

It was his. He just had to learn to take it, to be an islander.

Sometimes that also meant taking trouble head on, whether it was drug-runners, snakes or risking his life at sea in the storm.

It was tough, but then, maybe, so was he.

4% Passive
Flesch reading ease 87
Flesch-Kincaid grade 3.7

And now you tell me which of those books you would have bought on cover/blurb (not knowing the authors, without the Hugo) and why? I need to learn :-).

37 thoughts on “blurbs and descriptions

  1. Goblin Emperor’s blurb is probably the best. It sets up the situation without saying things that should be said in the story, nor by pulling to many chunks of the story out for the Blurb.

    The Dresden one promises a lot, but as someone who has not read the series, it refers to an awful lot of background information that I don’t know about. it tells me, “You’re not ready for this book, study up.”

    As for yours, I’d drop that next to last paragraph starting with “Sometimes”.

    (Where does that scoring stuff come from?)

  2. The first one Ancillary Justice) annoyed me with clunky wording (repetition of to go) so I would have passed.

    The Kevin J Anderson doesn’t hook me because it’s too general. I need a person with a problem, not the nebulous ‘humanity’.

    Third one, subject matter doesn’t draw me, but even if it did, again I want to know about the character himself. Why should I care what happens to thegoblin emperor’s son, as opposed to say Fred, who was enjoying life as a peasant with his family and about to get married when he finds out he’s the son of … Etc.

    I would pick up the Butcher because, despite not having read anything of his yet, I get an idea of the character, what his problem is, and what’s at stake if he doesn’t solve it.

    Next one, nope. Who can I identify with? What’s at stake for them?

    Last one, too long and seemed a bit too YA for me, but at least it gave me someone to care about. If I was in the market for a kid’s book, I might consider it.

  3. I’d buy the L’amour, and seriously consider _Three Body Problem_. Maybe the goblin book, and I’d probably pass on the Dresden book until I could ask someone I trusted if it could be read cold or if I needed to read part of the series (FWIW I started the very first book, skimmed through it, and couldn’t get into the story or series.) _Changeling’s Island_ would go onto my wishlist, and the Leckie . . . probably not. The cover doesn’t work and it sounds too intellectual and dull.

    1. Didn’t want to jump on the Leckie, but the blurb IS really off-putting. “Used to be a warship” is designed to make you go “Huh?” (maybe if you think of “The ship who…” series, you might get that) but that’s said to be in the past. And then there’s this business of Agreeing to Orders. That makes no sense either. And why give someone a ship if they’re going to one place and staying there?

      There might be a decent story in there, but that blurb sure as hell doesn’t sell it.

    2. The Dresden books have a flaw.

      The whole series series was plotted out in one go, in an attempt to prove his teacher wrong. (He failed.) That isn’t necessarily an issue, but character development and experience is carefully measured over the series.

      If you examine the details, during Book One, Harry is more or less at the the level of life experience of a fresh out of college modern. After I read Phil Marlowe and the Continental Op, I realized that this is out of genre for Noir. I’ve often seen a recommendation to start at Book Four or so. I imagine that this is were Harry has aged to fit the genre. The standard explanation is that these books are still accessible, but Butcher’s quality has improved significantly.

  4. I wish I could find the original blurb/description for Barbara Hambly’s _Bride Of The Rat God_. It reminded me of the “over-the-top” ads for old adventure movies and the original cover was the same.

    Since Barbara Hambly generally gives me a good read, I purchased the book anyway.

    Well, about the only thing the blurb got right was that somebody was the “Bride of the Rat God”.

    It was a good read.

    As for the blurbs Dave showed us, I haven’t had enough coffee to judge them. [Smile]

  5. I’d buy the L’amour based on the paperback blurb but probably not based on the Amazon description. The paperback blurb is short and sweet and left me curious about the book. In comparison, the Amazon description went into too much detail without making the story sound nearly as interesting.

    The Leckie description is short and the to the point, but what is the threat against the lieutenant’s family? The general setup sounds interesting and has potential for a good story, but a little more detail would help this one. The art style for the cover reminds me of old paperbacks I read back in the ’70s, which isn’t a bad thing in my opinion.

    Love the Anderson cover and the description conjures the image of a vast adventure–only it looks like I ought to read seven other books before even considering this one. I wouldn’t buy it for that reason alone.

    The Addison book strikes me as one that could go either way. It’s an interesting setup and the description conveys that quite well. The story sounds like it’s going to be one of court intrigue rather than sword-swinging adventure. If that’s true, the description is even better for remaining true to the story. I’d consider buying it if I was in the mood for a court intrigue fantasy.

    I also love the cover of the Butcher book. I’ve read the first three in the series and know the cover matches the description of the character. I’m also a sucker for a good heist story, so that’s another added element. But it’s the 15th in the series and I’m one of those guys who tends to read things in order. I’ll get around to it, but not any time soon. The description sure is enticing, though. If someone who’s read the rest of the books tells me I won’t get a lot of spoilers by reading this one out of sequence, I’d make it my next read in the Dresden series.

    The description of The Three-Body Problem is fairly interesting but doesn’t tell me enough about the book to push me over the hump to buy it. If the book wasn’t getting lots of hype online, I think the book would get lost in all the other books I find on Amazon.

    The description for Changeling’s Island doesn’t do much for me. There’s just too much stuff packed into it to get a feel for the story. I took a crack at a rewrite just for the hell of it. I haven’t read the book, obviously, but then that seems true of most blurb writers these days. Anyway, I figure it can’t hurt.

    Trouble follows Tim Ryan in the form of his own personal poltergeist. Maybe that’s why his mother calls him a changeling. Whatever the reason, after the shoplifting incident and the fire, she sent him to live with his crazy old grandmother. The woman talks to fairies, for God’s sake, but won’t even look at him. Tim usually wouldn’t care about that, but his grandmother lives on a remote island off the coast of Australia.

    The island is hell for a city boy like Tim; where milk comes in cows rather than cartons, wool comes on four legs, and fish have to be speared and cleaned before you can eat them. But much as Tim hates the island, the island doesn’t hate him back. A place of spirits and magic, sadness and triumph, murder and survival, the island knows Tim belongs on it. But lying in wait beneath the waves is a selkie with other plans for Tim–plans to trap him, plans to take him away, even plans to kill him.

    If he hopes to survive, Tim must discover who he truly is and learn to be the islander he was born to be.

        1. Heh. I just realized these are *booktalks*

          Dave, if you need to learn how to do these there are books and magazine articles for writing them by Librarians that might prove helpful.

          Short answer: always start with the hook and end with a cliff-hanger.

          Quick example off the top of my head: Sure he got electrocuted, blacked out the entire school, and ended up in detention. A small price to pay to see Julie Hanson naked (opening booktalk for Paulsen’s schernoff discoveries).

          Professional book-pusher, at your service. (The *first* one is always free. Oh wait, so are all the rest…)

    1. The Goblin Emperor is definitely a tale of court intrigue, though it has its plot twists of sheer action.

      I enjoyed it.

      1. I’d still need more of a recommendation to read it, but based on what you’ve just said (which is boatloads more compelling than the blurb) it’s starting to sound better.

        The strength of “Hugo Nominee” nowadays is a so-what; back in the 70s, that meant something — I’d see that and the title and probably would look no further.

  6. Flint’s blurb has mystery and promise, and does intrigue.

    A. Sword doesn’t pull.

    The Dark Between The Stars actually sounds a lot like the book to me. I read it on the strength of Brad’s endorsement, and on Kevin’s Star Wars work. (The Young Jedi and Junior Jedi Knight books were my path into Star Wars, and from there into Sci Fi as a whole.) I found Dark a bit hard to get into, and it took quite some reading to get to the point where I might get the next work. I imagine it could be different if I had read and enjoyed the previous series.

    Goblin Emperor has some appeal, but I don’t know that it has much pull compared to the wealth of options the internet makes available.

    Skin Game makes me want to reread, but I am a committed fan. The cover is something like how Harry looks, he is sort of a noir cowboy wizard. He wrote the series outline while at the University of Oklahoma, which values history, and Oklahoma’s history certainly does not make the Cowboy an alien.

    Three Body Problem, I dunno. It has some interesting hooks, and lays things out, sure. Plus, Vox likes it. Problem is, I hate Mao, and am not sure I want to be in that angry of a head space right now.

    Changeling’s Island gets my interest, but I am already a fan. I may try my hand at a rewrite.

    1. Problem is, I hate Mao, and am not sure I want to be in that angry of a head space right now.

      The book starts with one of the main characters’ father being beaten to death in a “struggle session”. There’s no chance this book is going to interfere with your hatred of Mao.

      1. That’s good. I still maybe don’t need it amplified either. Not now.

        I don’t need rage insomnia added to everything else I am trying to manage.

        Furthermore, thinking too much about how nice it would have been if someone had murdered him before he had a chance to kill very many, and speculating about how many leftists today have the potential to become a Mao is not super healthy.

  7. L’Amour (cover) – doesn’t tell me much. Personally, I like the old covers from the ’70’s and 80’s as opposed to the new ones.
    L’Amour (DTB) – I’d buy it, sounds intriguing.
    L’Amour (eBook) – Maybe I’d buy it, sounds a little too goody-two-shoes. I’d still read it simply because it’s Louis L’Amour.

    Ancillary Sword – don’t like the cover, it doesn’t really tell me anything other than it’s a space setting, and I’ve never really liked that style of art though it does have a nice foreground grab with the bright color. The blurb wasn’t great, the only part I thought interesting was the dead LT. But otherwise it reminded me too much of Silvertip by Max Brand which I didn’t enjoy all that much.

    The Dark Between the Stars – cover is better than Ancillary Sword, but it’s a little too busy for a quick glance. Giving it a little bit of attention makes me like the cover better. The blurb pulled me in and I’d likely buy it to see what happens. Space Wars, yeah, that’s my kind of story.

    The Goblin Emperor – I’m not really sure what’s going on with that cover. Metaphysical I guess? Anyways, it didn’t make me want to pick up the book to even check out the blurb. The blurb described a book of court politics and intrigue, which really isn’t my type of story.

    Skin Game – I like this cover. It’s pretty busy in the background, but the foreground pulls me in, makes me want to see what this cowboy is up to. Reading the blurb was kind of so-so. Wizard? Yes! Court Intrigue? Not so much. Thrown in with a bunch of thieves he hates to steal something? Yes. I’d probably buy this book.

    Three Body Problem – Cover is not bad, but not great either. I like the imagery, but it’s doesn’t reach out an grab me. Seeing this on the shelf isn’t going to make me pick it up if there is another book close by with a better cover. It needs more in the foreground to grab me, or else some more color. The blurb makes it sound like my kind of book (alien invasion? Yes. Political maneuvering? meh.) and I’d likely grab it.

    Changeling’s Island – no cover. Blurb is a fish out of water story, but he adjusts to like it. Not really my kind of story, even if fantasy. The growing up, learning to be a man/woman story? That I kind of like (I think Kipling did that one best in Captain’s Courageous). Probably not going to buy this one without recommendations from someone I trust.

  8. Louis L’Amor – The cover says ‘the Author’s name says it all’. I probably would not get to the back blurb, as I know it is a Western, which I don’t read. However, in the spirit of the question; I would buy based on the back-cover blurb but the Amazon one leaves me pretty cold. I think the ‘with his cash, his connections – and his gun’ leaves me with the idea that with all that going for him, it doesn’t sound if the struggle will be too hard.

    Ann Leckie – The cover, even at Amazon at full zoom is fuzzy. Kind of like they wanted to give the impression of an oil painting instead of a book cover (the fabric grains on the ship reminiscent of canvas). Warship *controlling* thousands of minds??? Obviously, McCaffrey’s Ship Who Sang this isn’t. The rest of the blurb. Is she unwilling to go to any place in the galaxy *except* Athoek Station, or is she the only person in the galaxy what would agree to go there? It is probably the second, but it parses like the first. Biggest show stopper: Amazon announces this is a Hachette Book Group product, therefore, not any of my dollars.

    Kevin J. Anderson – The cover shows at least the dark has some pretty good infrastructure, and sets the tone for space combat. The blurb? There are probably 100 other novels minimum that could use the same description changing the name of the aliens, the author and the novel. I would only buy this because it is a Hugo Nominee from SP3. Stand alone, I wouldn’t give it the time of day.

    Katherine Addison – Cover shows a modest author, real small text. The artwork is very stunning in that overall it is the emperor and his crown, but the crown hints at a castle and an airship to kind of set the scene we will be seeing. The blurb, second longest of the bunch, gives a good idea of the story line, which in and of itself is something same old – same old. Only that it is goblins makes it any different. Unknown author, Macmillan setting Kindle price at paperback price, not SP3 finalist. These are all minuses on getting my dollars. If they dropped the price to $4.99 I would probably buy it, at $8.99, I will wait.

    Jim Butcher – At least he has a wizard’s staff on the cover, although the gun reminds me of my Brother’s .44 magnum Ruger revolver and is probably as difficult to aim, still wizards are allowed silver bullets to stop some unmentionables. The blurb is informative, but I would really be pissed if it takes 1/2 the book to get all the details it reveals. Book 15 of a series that I have never read is a show-stopper. However, I might be willing to go buy Book 1, especially, as a SP3 Nominee I am certain the reason books 1-14 have not won awards is that the SJWs disapprove of the author.

    Cixin Liu – Cover art: WOW! Amazon’s description includes this is a translated Chinese best seller. That background and emphasis alone mitigates the criticism that this book’s description and ‘The Dark Between the Stars’ blurb are pretty much interchangeable. Way too much money for the ebook. I might consider springing for the extra $3.00 for a hardcover, but only after Amazon explains why the book is available November 2011 and then not released until July 2015.

    Dave Freer – Suspiciously missing cover art. Blurb: What Dr. Mauser said… drop from Sometimes to the end. That part wasn’t helpful. Major complaint: Why can’t I pre-order from Amazon already!!! You could recite the alphabet in the blurb, as long as Dave Freer is identified as the author I will gladly purchase it. Overall, the title also is a good plus. Stories about a changeling are a good theme and the blurb and Sarah’s recommendation would be enough to purchase it even if it was from an unknown.

  9. Blubs are the literary equivalent of 30 second radio spots. You want to create interest in your product, the book. One to two paragraph blurbs not only save space on printed books, but are about the attention span of a reader looking for something new. Active voice is generally less-draggy than passive, and helps punch-up the blub.

    The best of the above blurbs is the one for Flint We have the genre, the situation, and promise of tough, two-fisted action. It’s much better than the second, which reads like Shane crossed with The Shootist. I wouldn’t have bought simply because I don’t usually read westerns.

    Of the other blubs, The Goblin Emperor Is pretty good, along with The Three Body Problem. Both are relatively short, though I thought The Goblin Emperor could be condensed with more punch.

    Now apply that to Changling’s Island. What it it were distilled down to something like:

    It’s hard enough being a troubled city boy with your own poltergeist hanging around. For Tim Ryan, a city boy living with his grandmother on a small island off the Australian coast, it’s a virtual hell that threatens to become the real thing. For there is ancient magic here, magic powerful enough to bring him to its shores.

    To survive, Ryan must learn who he is and how to use that magic. Even harder, he must to trust, and whom.

    As to the covers, they really serve more as eye catchers and to tell something about the genre and the quality of the book. All of these fit. The best, to me, are Skin Game, The Three Body Problem, and Flint. The Goblin Emperor is clever, but if it doesn’t have a certain amount of dry wit, it’s not going to match. The rest are serviceable.

  10. Flint, own it. In fact I own just about everything Louis L’amour wrote. And Louie did not write Westerns, he wrote manly adventure stories often set in historically accurate western settings. IMHO the Amazon blurb makes unfair use of the story’s hidden Mcguffin.
    Skin Game, got it the day of release as I do with all of Butcher’s Dresden books. It is by no stretch of the imagination a stand alone book. It is rich, complex, enthralling, but lordy there is massive backstory required to appreciate whole stretches of subplot. Thus I find the blurb unfair to a new reader. It should have a flashing red warning light saying “read the rest of the series first!”
    None of the other blurbs did much for me except yours. Was quite happy to see it’s a Baen release as I always buy their whole monthly output. The blurb may be a bit wordy, but truth is it reminded me of some of the things I really liked about Joy Cometh, urbanite put into a rural setting, having to adapt to a new lifestyle. The fantasy aspect I’m hoping will just be an added bonus.

  11. Here’s my take. the only one that really grabbed me was the L’amour paperback blurb. It was evocative without giving too much away, and it promised a hell of a ride. All of the others were IMHO much too long, and contained too much information. I’ve always responded most to Blurbs that were like women who know how to tease. They show you enough to get you imagining, but not so much that they answer your questions. Personally I would re-edit yours thusly

    Tim Ryan was trouble.He had his own personal poltergeist. His mother called him a changeling. After the shoplifting incident and the fire, he’d been sent to live with his crazy old grandmother, a woman who talked to the fairies. And to make it worse she lived on a rundown old farm in the bush… on a remote island off the coast of Australia.

    He was city boy, and he hated it.But the place didn’t hate him. It was a place of ancient magic, murder and survival. It wanted him here. Tim’s mother was right. He was a changeling And this island was in his bones, and the sea around it was in his blood.

    It was his. It was tough, but then, maybe, so was he.

    Now that’s a blurb that would get me interested. But that’s just me.

    BTW Dave, I really wanna read this.

  12. And now that I think of it, I would pare the second paragraph down even further to

    Tim Ryan was trouble.He had his own personal poltergeist. His mother called him a changeling. After the fire, he’d been sent to live with his grandmother, a woman who talked to the fairies. And to make it worse she lived on a remote island off the coast of Australia.

  13. I’m not a hard sf kinda gal, so anything hard sf has got to come with a really good recommendation, or be by an author I adore, but won’t be picked up by me otherwise.

    Lecke — sounds too much like McCaffrey’s “ship who …” series, and without a strong recommendation from her (yeah, I know she’s dead) or someone enthusiastically comparing it to McCaffrey’s books, I’d pass.
    Addison — that plot’s been used in *so* many books (not just fantasy), what is so special about this one? I’d buy it if it came with a high recommendation by either a friend or a favorite author, but otherwise I’d pass.
    Butcher — I see “Dresden Files” and I buy (yeah, I’m one of those fans).
    Liu — I love the cover, but the description doesn’t seem to match, and it really doesn’t grab me (again, the “what’s so special?” hook is needed).
    Freer — the blurb you have needs tightening, desperately. That said, of all the books (other than Butcher), the premise sounds like something I’d like to read. If your other books sound that interesting, I need to start reading your stuff!

  14. eh. I can see I need an addendum. 🙂 CHANGELING’S ISLAND is YA (so not directly comparable) and the cover is not yet available. I’ve seen the art – it’s been up on Baen’s Bar, but I don’t have it.

  15. Liked the L’amour blurb, the Goblin book’s Three body problem and yours. the Anderson book seemed to have TMI issues and nothing about the characters. The Butcher book made it obvious that it was part of a series and quite frankly gave too much away. I don’t want to be told the whole plot before I open the book.

    1. On your blurb, you might want to lose the first paragraph and fold most of it into the second. With a blurb, brevity is gold.

    2. Re: Anderson: Issue is, the book is a multi viewpoint one with loads of characters. So the impact of any one character arc is maybe diluted. Meaning that the description perhaps serves that end as well as anything could.

      Re: Butcher. I really dunno that the blurb spoils so much. Did you read the sample chapters from his website while waiting to read the actual book?

      1. No, I haven’t. but then I’m not reading the Harry Dresden series for no particular reason. The purpose of a blurb is to get the reader to open the book instead of putting it back on the shelf and having that much story makes it easy to put it back.

        1. Okay, if you haven’t read the book, then that blurb doesn’t actually spoil the plot. It is a condensed version of the set up. (Folks who have read the previous books can extrapolate as much from Nicodemus and Mab.) Skin Game is the sort of story where, if you’ve read enough of the type, you can guess the twists if you stop and think enough in the middle. As usual, it relies on tension and pacing to pull you past where you can list out the characters, and calculate all possible permutations of backstabbing.

          1. Spoiler alert for Skin Game: I didn’t see the last twist coming. In fact, I had to go back to reread a few chapters to see why. I couldn’t see it coming even then, which made me wonder if Butcher cheated his audience by not even giving a hint.

  16. Like always, a great post.

    Forgive me if I missed it, but perhaps a post on titling would be in order. I see a lot of indie books with titles like Legacy of the Xarg: Chronicles of the Purple Sword: Book V of the Ka’vaelach Quintet* and I want to cry.

    *Not an actual title, but frighteningly close.

  17. To be perfectly honest, westerns never attracted me. The only Lamour I’ve read was a very well done story about a downed pilot escaping a gulag. That said, The first blurb was interesting. The second is much closer to standfard for ebook blurbs, and clearly signals “Western. Eh. Leave it.”

    Ancillary Sword really doesn’t sound interesting. I already would have hard time being interested as it was a sequel to a book I didn’t care for, and the blurb just… fails to excite. It certainly doesn’t overcome my “Oh, the first book was a Did Not Finish.” Part of that is the sheer passive voice: three’s nothing there to draw me in.

    The Dark… clearly signals epic SF, and epic SF that is for the fans of the series. It signals to me that I probably want to read one of the Saga of the Seven Suns first. But on the other hand, I may download the sample just on the strength of the author’s name, and see if it’s compelling enough to start there, or motivate me to find the earlier books.

    Goblin Emporer? Standard coming of age / chosen one fantasy. *sigh* That smack entirely of standard cliches, with a high potential of whiny angst (or, with a different cover, grimdark.) Entirely nothing to make me care about this particular underdof turned hero. The cover, by lacking a picture of the protagonist, leaves me going, “Ok, not signalling YA fantasy, not signalling grimdark… architectural elements usually signal epic fantasy. But the blurb isn’t epic at all. Does not match.”

    Jim Butcher – the cover promises action. The blurb makes me sigh and wish I could write ’em this well. Seriously, this blurb will, by the tenth or twelvth time I read it, have me get the book even though I stopped reading Dresden around book 3. Because it promises awesome, and a tight story that may reference the whole huge series, but a heist story is focused enough I’ll enjoy it without the background.

    The Three-Body Problem’s cover actually signals literary SF to me, and as such, makes me disinterested. The critical mistake in the blurb was telling me “The result is a science fiction masterpiece of enormous scope and vision.” That convinced me that it’ll be boring grey-goo literary navel-gazing in a SF setting, as books that are awesome don’t need to tell you that in the blurb. (See Dresden Files for an example of how to promise awesome.) Unless I consistently hear people whose tastes match mine rave about this, I wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole.

    Changeling’s island’s blurb takes too long to get to the core of the story and the conflict. IT makes me suspect there’s going to be a long meandering introduction-story-before-we-get-to-the story. But then, I’m fond of taglines, and keeping the blurb under 150 words so I can easily copy it into most promo website forms.

    — This is a rough draft after a very long shift, not meant to be finely polished anything. —

    Life doesn’t get any easier for a changeling when he finds his true home.

    Tim Ryan has come home to a place when his personal poltergeist and storm of troubles seem utterly at home. Exiled by his mother from (Their City) to a rundown farm on tiny island off the coast of rural Australia, he must learn to not only live by his grandmother’s crazy rules, but master challenges mundane and mystical. Becoming an islander requires getting milk from a cow instead of a carton, and spearing live fish instead of microwaving fillets. It also means learning to live with the faeries and avoid the selkie woman just offshore who wants to kill him.

    Tim’s found a place full of ancient magic, modern danger, sadness, triumph, murder, and survival. If he survives it, it’ll be just the place he was born to be.

    1. Please excuse the typos; rushing to get this out before the mandatory bedtime for long shift tomorrow doesn’t mean I make more mistakes, it just means I didn’t go back and fix them.

  18. Okay, we’ve had 120 km winds and power and then internet outages. So my replying got interrupted. And then my lock-knife didn’t (I now have a rather badly cut finger.) I will, weather permitting, try to get there…

  19. I would buy The Goblin Emperor if the first few pages grabbed me.
    I would not read Three Body Problem on the blurb. (I might get it from the library because Mr. Day recommended it and I’ve liked a fair bit of what he’s recommended over the years.)
    I wouldn’t buy Flint–taste issue–but I’d read it from the library.
    Ancillary Sword and The Dark Between the Stars, I’d read but I wouldn’t pay for.
    Skin Game: would not read. It looks like it’s a story of horrid characters being nasty, with maybe a side show of disgusting and horror. (And maybe this is why I have never read any Jim Butcher–I look at the blurb, go ew, and put it down. I like Corriea, I liked one Koontz, Watchers–gave up on him a decade ago–rough when the first book you read by an author is the only one you care for (I’ll get around to his Odd Thomas books someday because of Lars Walker’s recommendation), but I’ve got a horror boundary in there somewhere after which it’s too much.)
    Whatever the Freer book is–buy based on author’s name. Based on blurb, read the book, probably give to sons.

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