Going Indie For Dummies — But what is it ABOUT?
Yeah, I know I was going to give you a checklist today. I have altered the deal. Pray I don’t alter it agai–
Oh, what the heck, listen, I’m doing this for free and it occurred to me there was something I must tell you before we get to your checklist and putting your work up for purchase.
As we all know our very own Dorothy Grant, aka Fynbospress, is the crowned queen of synopsis (synopsidi, synopsides, synopsosaurus — whatever the plural is) aka “blurbs” for your novel on Amazon. I have just demanded she do a series of posts on them (what? Some days you wake up imperial! No, not imperious. I know whence I speak. Where is my crown? Footmen, bring the captive before me and make her write posts on blurbs. Ahem. Let me see, where was I? Oh, yeah) Until then you can start off with Dean Wesley Smith.
Selling copy is ENORMOUSLY important; as important as your cover is, in selling your book. People who see the title and the cover and think that this is something they might like to read, then go to the actual book page and read the description.
Several things about what this description should be:
1- it should be truthful. Remember when I whined (or was it on my blog?) that I’d bought a book thinking it was about star travel but it turned out to be about male pregnancy and kinky stuff? Yeah, you don’t make friends this way. This is why your blurb needs to tell us what the book is actually about and have the more controversial elements up front. You don’t want to “trick” people into buying your book. (But Sarah, Witchfinder doesn’t tell us one of the characters is gay! Oh, true, but since he’s not the main character and there are no sex scenes in the novel, nor is the theme “gay love as she’s never been seen before”, and since, whatever the people who WERE born yesterday say, gay characters are not that rare in SF/F,, it doesn’t necessitate a big flashing warning which would cause people to overestimate the importance of Gabriel’s romance to the plot. Of course I of course, I could be wrong. Mind you, if he were the main character I’d find a way to give warning in the blurb, without overemphasizing the importance of the relationship.)
2- Amazon takes your description and filters it for keywords to know where to put your story. This is why Sword and Blood is in horror. I didn’t put it there, because it’s not. It’s at best dark fantasy. But I only actually put it under “historical fantasy.” However, the word “vampire” is in the description, and this will put it in horror. (Um… Amazon DOES need to update its categories. It’s the one thing Barnes and Noble did better and, as a reader, I’m sick and tired of having to filter through ENDLESS paranormal romance to find a decent science fiction novel.)
3- It must be brief. And to the point. And as catchy as you can make it. Why? Because you don’t have a captive audience. First, if most people are like me, they have twelve tabs open, and are looking for ONE book to read that night. Second, because if you meander and get lost, and give them a ton of irrelevant details, they’re going to think your novel, too, is written like that. And having suffered through a lot of such novels, they won’t want to do it again.
So, it turns out most people don’t actually know what their novels are about or the relevant facts that someone needs to know about them.
I found this out years ago, while trying to get a friend to tel me about his novel, to get him to come up with an elevator pitch, and he started with “So, they’re on a train, and they’re going into the mountain, and she says to him.” He went on to tell us, with tears in his eyes, that there was this scene where “she slaps him.” Since I had no idea who “he” and “she” were, (Yeah, he’d given me names, but I still didn’t know who they WERE) and what the conflict was, I was somewhat flabbergasted.
I still get this routinely in the side line as a cover designer. I will get something like “So, it’s an adventure set on Mars. Here’s what my characters look like. Here’s the scene I think should be on the cover.”
Since my art skills are somewhat short of cover level, what I mostly use if altered free images. For that the character description is somewhat useful, as I might end up finding say an elfin blond wearing purple. It could happen. However, the scene is not useful at all, and I’m still missing the most important part of all: the feel of the book. Since it’s on Mars, I assume it’s SF. So, the sky will have a flying machine or two. But is it straight sf or steampunk? Is Mars Terraformed? And is it an adventure or a slow, pensive story about leaving the Earth. Because the cover should have the “feel” of the book.
But more importantly, a cover is not a REPRESENTATION of your novel, it is an advertisement for it. The image should fit in order Genre, feel, time period — and only after that worry about details. Because if you don’t match the genre and feel they’re looking for (and possibly the time period, particularly for mysteries) you’re not going to make that sale. And details should remain vague enough to fit in a cover — because the more you put in, the more likely you are to end up with a muddled image.
Why am I talking about covers? Because the process is almost exactly the same for blurbs. Only with words, instead of pictures.
First, you must signal genre, feel and time period. Second, you must tell us what the story is about, but NOT what the story IS (i.e. if you tell us the whole story right there, why buy it.) And third, you must not muddy it with details which will confuse the reader.
Sure, you can spend your time thinking about that scene in the middle where SHE slaps him, and which is SO important. And you know what? Once your readers et there and know the characters, it will be so important to them too. (I think. I was literally crying and had my nose running when I wrote the death scene in Draw One In The Dark, but I don’t know if I managed even a tear from readers. Writers are… closer to the characters.) BUT first you have to get them to read the d*mn thing. And going on and on about this scene is NOT the way to do it.
In another life, long ago and far away — and besides, the wench is dead — I wanted to be a journalist. This means that as part of high school, I took a bunch of journalism courses, and even worked for school newspapers. Even interned in a real newspaper at the end of 1979. Also, when I decided to take a writing course in the US I couldn’t afford the Writers Digest one, so I took the Writers’ Magazine one, which was geared to writing articles. (Yeah, okay, stupid.)
You should think of your blurbs as a journalist thinks about a news article. First and foremost it should answer the questions: Who, what, when and how. Only of course, the order these are in is different for every “genre” or slant.
I’m not absolutely sure I can EXPLAIN it to you, but I can show it. Let’s go with a story everyone knows. Erase from your mind the fact that you know precisely how Cinderella ends. These blurbs won’t give it away. Now, let’s suppose it’s a brand new story, and I just wrote it. Now I’m putting it on Amazon. Yeah, the scene where the prince comes with his slipper is REALLY important. And we all tear up when the Fairy Godmother makes it possible for her to go to the ball. But that’s not what your readers want to know. So I’ll slant it for several genres (more at request in the comments) and give you a general idea of what a blurb should look like.
Now, mind you, these won’t be perfect. I’d take the day to polish them if they were really selling blurbs. But they’ll give you an idea.
Fantasy: It’s hard to be an orphan in a fantasy world. You know you’ll be the ones who has to go out and find her destiny. Cinders doesn’t know how to do this when her stepmother and cruel stepsisters keep her in the kitchen, covered in rags, doing all the menial work.
But when the prince of the land sends out an invitation for all young ladies to come to a ball, Cinders’s fairy godmother appears to her for the first time. Now caught in the coils of magic and destiny, Cinders must learn to control her fate and meet her destiny.
Science Fiction: Cinders should never have left the Earth. However, the choice was not really hers, as her father decided to immigrate, then died shortly after arriving to Chimera5. Alone and working for the cruel colony governor and her two spoiled daughters, Cinders knows she can never get to meet the Earth ambassador and lay her case before him. Then the aliens come and propose a deal.
Thriller: Cinders almost managed to lay her case before the special investigator of the FBI, but knowing her crazy, mass murdering step mother was on her trail, she had to run off, leaving behind her shoe. Now, he’s trying to find her with the shoe as his only clue. Can she stay alive long enough and arrange to meet him, with proof of her stepmother’s crime?
(Cozy) Mystery: Who killed Cinders’ father? The old man was doing quite wll when he married the Widow, Mrs. Cruelstepomother. But within two days, he’d died leaving Cinders in the power of her new stepmother and step sisters, who keep her in the kitchen and doing all the housework, so that she can neither talk to the neighbors, nor find out who inherited her father’s fortune. And yet, she must investigate, before she too is killed.
Romance: How do you find love when you’re just a kitchen wench? Though Cinders is of noble birth, her father’s death made her fall in the power of her cruel step mother and stepsisters who keep her in the kitchen as a cook. It is not till she catches a glimpse of Prince Hotstuff that she realizes she must do whatever it takes to attend the royal ball and met him in person. But even should she manage it, can they overcome the difference in their upbringings and fortunes, and the mistrust of those who’ve been betrayed before, to find lasting happiness?
Those aren’t works of art, and they’d need to be polished, but you see that they’re to the point and hit all the clues, right?
Now: what’s your story about?