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Posts tagged ‘Blurb’

On Covers and Cheating

The Internet is a glorious thing. Recently I was mourning the loss of a treasured paperback, an edition of Northanger Abbey dating from the heyday of the ’70’s Gothic romance. But all I really wanted was the cover — the text was, after all, exactly the same as it is in my three other editions of the book — and a quick Internet search supplied that.

The back cover blurb seems to be artfully composed of very carefully chosen passages from the scene where Catherine discovers the manuscript which will, by daylight, turn out to be an inventory of household linen:

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Adding the Sizzle

Grilled lamb with medjara rice

My job as a publisher is to make your mouth water over that book even before you’ve opened the cover. As a writer, it’s my job to make it taste as good as it looks.

There was an advertising saying somewhen, I don’t recall where I first heard it, that you aren’t selling the steak, you’re selling the sizzle. Needless to say, making books smoke and sizzle isn’t the way to sell them, but adding some polish is.

To return to the metaphor I started exploring last week, of books being marketed not in a monolithic marketplace, but in a bazaar, a fair full of fantastic wares full of shoppers who are on visual overload – how do you make your book stand out? One of the first things I can tell you is that it’s not all about the writing.

Don’t get me wrong: I am NOT saying the story doesn’t matter. It does. It’s vital. If that steak comes out of the kitchen sizzling merrily and smelling great, the reader’s eater’s mouth starts to water. But the plate is plunked in front of him by a surly server who grunts something about gender inequality and then disappears for the rest of the meal (or worse, hovers and critiques the eater’s taste in food, apparent privilege, neo-nazism, and so on). On the plate is a paper-thin cut of meat, cooked until it’s grey all over, maybe a hunk of charcoal on one corner, and it tastes like cardboard. You can bet that eater isn’t coming back unless there are no other choices.

Fortunately for readers, there are other choices. There are books that have been edited with care, wrapped into professional-looking covers, with proper layout and design throughout. It’s the equivalent of walking through that marketplace and being offered a really great taco from a street vendor. It smells wonderful, it tastes great, and you don’t have to pay for the expensive meal with the disgusting steak.

Tacos

If you’re ever near Mason OH I can tell you where to find the place…

Don’t like tacos? Or steaks? You have choices as a reader in the new marketplace. As a writer, you’ve got the readers headed toward you hungry and looking. What are you going to do?

  • Either learn how to be, or hire, a professional cover artist. No, wait, let me explain. You don’t want an artist (well, you do, but I digress) you want a designer. Beautiful design will make up for lacking art.
  • Have your book edited. Structural edits if needed, proof edits for sure, and as I mentioned last week, you can either hire someone, or you can barter for services. The book might look beautiful but if it leaves the reader with mental indigestion they won’t be coming back.
  • Learn how to make keywords work for you. Readers don’t just browse the marketplace, they search out what they want. If your wares are with, say, the taco vendors when the readers are looking at silk scarves, you’ll be left wondering why your sales are so dismal.
  • Spend time on crafting your blurb, or find someone to hire/help you with that. The MGC commenting community has been helpful to folks with this in the past, so today if you have a blurb, put it in the comments for critique.
  • Don’t make your book look too different. Readers use certain cues, often unconsciously, to assess the worth of the product in front of them. Take the time to look at the top sellers in your specific sub-genre and break apart the components which are similar, dissimilar, and then look at your book to see how you can both signal “this is a zombie romance” and still look new, different, and you.
  • Chicken Satay

    Perhaps you prefer your meat on a stick for ease of eating on the go? (click on picture for recipe)

    Don’t offer just one thing. Yes, I know everyone has to start somewhere. But be ready to keep writing once you put that first book out there, and be prepared to not sell much until you have enough to make your booth look interesting to readers who prefer to know there’s more where that came from.

  • As a corollary to that last, make your series look coherent. Covers should have a common design thread (typography and similar art styles are good ways to accomplish this). Somewhere on the book, indicate that it is part of a series. Somewhere on the sales page, let the reader know which book in the series it is – most readers hate to pick up book three and feel totally lost in the story. Amazon has gotten very good at pulling series together and offering them as a bundle, but you must make it clear in your set-up or this won’t happen.
  • Do some active marketing. It need not be time-consuming or expensive. There are many different options from blogging to buying slots on promotional mailing lists, and we have talked about them here at MGC a few times!

Once you are up and running in that virtual marketplace, other options become available. You can ask your regular customers what they’d like to see you offer. I did that earlier this week on my blog, asking if there was interest in an omnibus version of my completed Pixie for Hire Trilogy. You can offer wares directly from your website for more personal touches, as I’ve started to do with signed books and original art. Now, I’ve gotten some interesting suggestions, like the requests for coffee mugs and t-shirts with my artwork on them. And I have thoughts on what may be marketplace mistakes (a coloring book?). But you don’t know what will work until you try.

You can also talk to your fellow vendors. Sure, just like in a real fair environment, some of them will be paranoid and suspicious and assume you’re trying to steal customers from them. Others will be gracious and helpful, and you’ll find yourself doing what I used to do: “Oh, yes, it is a beautiful scarf, isn’t it? And so warm! You’ll find them at the book an aisle over and four booths down. Enjoy!” Only now I acquire, read, and review books I think my readers will like. I know I can’t possibly write fast enough to keep even the slowest of my fans amused all the time. So I make sure they are happy by sending them to other authors too. I’m also doing this quirky thing called Eat This While you Read That, where I highlight an author’s food suggestion along with a book to read while the meal is prepared/eaten. It’s been fun!

Your fellow marketers can also help with finessing your set-up and delivery. That’s part of our mission here at the Mad Genius Club. I can’t speak for the others, but for me, I do this to pay back, or forward (longitudinal diffusion – it goes in every which direction!) the help that has been given to me over the years. I like being helpful. Plus, in the principle of ‘see one, do one, teach one’ I am in the teaching stage, and learning as I go. It’s all good, and the new authors who come comment here make it a joyful and fulfilling experience.

Huh. I wandered a bit off track there. Ah, well! See you in the comments.

Get a Blurb

Blurb always sounds to me like an onomatopoeia. This is a word that should mean something like the last sound you make as you are drowning, as the bubble of air leaves your lungs and breaks to the surface… blurb. Instead, it’s not that bad but it feels that way. I can’t count how many times I have been told by my fellow authors that creating a blurb is so much worse than writing the whole darn book (coming up with a title seems to run neck and neck with this). However, a blurb is essential to a successful book. We’ve written up blurb workshops here at the MGC before, you can find one here. There’s another one here.

A blurb for an ebook goes onto the sales page for the book (and many other places). On a print book, it either goes on the back of a paperback (whether trade or mass-market sized) or the inside flap of a hardback. Since I’m dealing with trade paperbacks in this post, we will concentrate on the back cover blurbs, but there is no real difference from the hardback book requirements. A blurb is your second chance to hook a reader. The first was with the cover art, which for my purposes includes the first text they read, the title. In fact, if we are talking about shoppers in a bookstore, sometimes the title matters more than the cover art as it’s the first thing they see. Remember, spines are important too, as we discussed last week. So once you have intrigued them with the title, attracted them with the art, now is the time to sell the book.

No pressure. You have about, oh, 50-150 words to pitch your whole idea that took you a thousand times that many words to express in full.

I’d suggest you go look at the links above, and remember: no passive voice here. Also, you can put your blurb-in-progress in the comments, and I will try to help, as will your fellow commentors (gives them the mom-eye, you will share, right? Ahem…)

Now that you are working on the blurb, let’s move on to the rest of the layout of a back cover.

Guidelines

 

As you will see on the back cover for Dragon Noir, I have a tagline, a blurb, pull-quotes from reviews, an author photo, a call to visit my blog, a graphic element, and a QR code. I know, that is a lot of stuff going on in a small amount of real estate. All that, and you will note I avoid the barcode location, which is inserted by the printer, not you.

A tagline is a short, catchy sentence or sentence fragment you can use to catch the reader’s eye and pull them into reading the rest of the blurb. Think of it as a headline for your blurb. Writing headlines is an art unto itself, but if you have ever done it, then you are all set for this. If you haven’t, take heart. Headlines need to be punchy, but also say something about the content. Look at the headlines I used for this mini-series. Get a Spine, Get a Blurb: they both play off “get a life” but they don’t say that, and when a reader sees something unexpected, they look further. You want to keep this short.

Pull-quotes from reviewers is tricky if you haven’t got any. In my case, I’m using pull-quotes from the release of Pixie Noir, the first book in the series, and making it clear next to them. I sent Pixie Noir out to a number of places and people for review, but in general you don’t do this with every book in the series and it’s acceptable to carry the quotes through the series. Don’t, for goodness sakes, use Amazon reviews on the book cover for pull-quotes. I took some photos of back covers, and as you will see, some books later in a series, or non-fiction, eschew a blurb altogether in favor of pull-quotes.

Book Backs

Book four in John Ringo’s zombie series, and a non-fiction book: both are hardcovers.

I wouldn’t recommend this approach. Hardcovers as I illustrate above, have the inner flaps, where convention places the blurb at the front, and a short author bio at the back. We’re only working with the back cover to get all that in.

book backs

Don’t leave the cover blank.

If you leave the back cover blank, not only are you wasting all that lovely real-estate that could be promoting your book, you are making it look like it’s not a sale-ready copy. The black cover you see above is an uncorrected page proof that was sent to advance readers. I picked it up in a used book store along with several others like it – someone was cleaning their shelves off, and I made out! I wanted to show you the back of Pixie Noir, because I did a couple of things here. I used the graphic elements of the two guns to visually separate the blurb from the pull quotes. They also create a bit of negative space that reduces clutter and eyestrain. You do not want to pack your back cover full of stuff, the readers will go cross-eyed and put the book back down. I also put each quote in a different color to separate them, but this is not necessary, and can go very wrong if not done right.

Moving on to the final but very important elements: Author promo.

books-3

You do not have to put a photo of yourself on the book. There is no rule that says you must. However, if you do, then choose a professional headshot, well lit and with good contrasts, or a crisp photo as I have chosen above, with a little action in it. I will be changing this out on the next book, but I wanted it to be consistent through the series. Do not use a cell-phone shot, something that is blurry, dark, or full-length. Just your face is usually best (again, the one I’m using pushes that). You are talking about an image that will be a mere 1 1/2″tall. Do not use a photo of a pet, unless this is a book about your pet (or by your pet!) and then, if you do, same rules apply. If you don’t have a good photo, leave it off.

I don’t think you can read the text for my author promo, but it simply reads: “Find Cedar at her blog. Scan the code or go to http://www.cedarwrites.com” A QR code, that square futuristic-looking thing, is a very handy tool. You can generate them for free and very easily. I’ve been using QRStuff for mine recently – and make sure you check the graphic file, I was using another site and discovered it wasn’t rendering correctly. All you do is type in a URL and download the graphic file. Then your reader can scan with a smartphone app, which zooms them right to your website, Amazon Author page, or what-have-you (I use one on promotional material like bookmarks and postcards as well, and sometimes send the scanner code straight to a book for reading sample and buying).

Whew. Long post today! Ok, questions and blurbs in the comments, and I will talk to you all there.