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Posts tagged ‘blurbs’

Ad Copy Is Not Rocket Science (Blurb Workshop IV*)

I should know; I flunked out of rocket science as a major, but I manage to do okay at writing blurbs!

Consider the following a basic primer in blurb writing; I am no master or guru, but while all my author friends are putting out their 5th or 15th story, I am putting out my 35th blurb attached to it. And with enough practice, you can get skilled at something. Read more

Blurb Clinic

Okay, a bunch of you requested blurb clinics. And I was innocently sipping my coffee when I looked up and saw a swarm of fingers pointed at me, including one from Sarah as she rapidly ran away. I get it, I get it. The other people on this group blog write actual, y’know, books, and then try to write a blurb once a book. I write blurbs, and only every now and then try to write a book. So, blurb clinic!

To start with, I’m going to repost the text from the last blurb clinic, with three added notes:

1. Readers like characters with agency. This means the characters go places and do things, they don’t just have life happen while they’re there. Blurbs must reflect this agency – they must show your character going and doing and plotting. The shorthand for this is “Don’t use passive voice”, because nothing kills agency faster (and adds length) than putting the action verb on something other than the character. But it’s not solely grammar. “Bob had survived the war, and was hiding on the sidelines as conspiracies rose in the court to entangle him” is very passive. “After surviving the war, Bob is hiding out as a mere florist in the court’s staff. But when he uncovers a new conspiracy…” that has agency.

2. The first person introduced is assumed to be the hero. “In the house of Rlyeh, Cthulu lies dreaming until Captain Carter disturbs him while searching for lost treasure!” If the readers don’t know Cthulu, that makes Cthulu sound like the protagonist, and possibly hero. “After finding lost civilizations on six continents, Captain Carter is close to solving his biggest mystery yet: the location of the lost temple of R’lyeh! But dread Cthulu lies inside, dreaming…” Makes Captain Carter the protagonist.

3. Lead with your protagonist. No matter how interesting your world, people won’t care until you give them a person to care about. This is one of the essential paradoxes of science fiction and fantasy: people are attracted to the genre for the setting, but they stay and come back for the characters.
“After two hundred years at war, the Empire of Man has come to a stalemate with the Scourge. Each side is deadlocked, seeking some advantage, and sending teams to scour dead worlds in search of lost tech left behind by the forerunners. Blah blah setup setup infodump….” is not how to start a blurb.

instead, try “Captain James Carter of the Go Lightly is scouring the ruins of dead races in search of any lost technology that could turn the tide of interstellar war. When he contracts the virus that killed an entire race, Command orders him to become a suicide bio-bomber! Will one man’s search for survival put all humanity’s star systems at risk?”

Links to prior blurb clinics:

https://madgeniusclub.com/2016/05/22/blurbs-ad-copy-and-cover-copy/
https://madgeniusclub.com/2016/01/10/blurbs-short-and-sweet/

Blurbs, Ad Copy, and Cover Copy: A blast from the past and present-day Blurb Clinic

First, let’s establish terms, because they’ve gotten muddled. “Blurb” used to mean a pull quote on the cover of a book. “This is the greatest thing since sliced bread! –Famous Author in Same Genre.” Pull quotes are a journalistic device of lifting selective quotations out of an interview, article, or review, and highlighting them to make the article or item being reviewed sound really juicy.

Now, “blurb” has become a term for the Ad Copy, or Cover Copy, which means the one to three paragraphs of “What’s it about?” on the back of the book, on the website under description, and right next to the cover thumbnail on promotional emails.

Sarah tackled this subject, under https://madgeniusclub.com/2016/05/18/going-indie-for-dummies-but-what-is-it-about/. And then she tackled me, and said I had to explain how I do the voodoo that I do so well.

Now, I personally feel that’s about like asking all y’all “how do you write stories?” There are a lot of guidelines, but no hard and fast rules beyond it must be truthful about the contents, and hook the reader’s attention.

Interestingly enough, those of you who have written poetry will be at an advantage here, because you’re familiar with making every syllable, much less every word, count.

Like haiku, there are length constraints. Some promotional emails are very specific about the character limit (letters and spaces) you may use. Other places, like Amazon, will let you ramble on and on, but they cut the “above the fold” that browsers see to only 3-4 lines.

I recommend that you try to keep your blurb to the promotional length, so that you don’t have to come up with a new one for every promotion you want to run. Functionally, this means you’ll want to keep it within 300 characters. This will also force you to write long, then cut it down to something short enough to be exciting, picking and choosing each word for best effect.

Now, what words do you write?
First, We’re going to go to the heart, the core of your story, and break it down.

1.) A Character
2.) wants something
3.) But something opposes them.
4.) The stakes if they fail are: —-

Note: This should all be information the reader will have by Chapter 3.

But, you say, I have three people, and this one wants this, and that one wants that, and this other wants… Yes, true, most stories have more than the protagonist and the antagonist. However, unless you’re doing an epic fantasy, there’s one (or at most two) central protagonists whose actions and choices drive the plot. As Harlan Ellison says: Who does the story hurt? That’s who it’s about.

Epic fantasy breaks this guideline, because it generally has three to five separate viewpoints and storylines, not necessarily going on at the same point in history. Thus, you’ll end up doing a one-sentence-per-storyline to keep it in the limit.

Returning to that list, sometimes you’ll also add:

5.) What is the first plot twist?

And, especially for SF/F stories:

6.) What are the 3-5 most important unique names involved? Use 3 of them.

(This is because people tend to tune out after 3-5 unfamiliar terms. So, if you start with “Xaarath Fthagn of Marakis Prime is a gleeple of the Tuurathi”… you’ve already lost a chunk of readers.)

Finally, the best piece of advice: when you think you have a good piece of ad copy, try reading it out loud, and then saying it like you’re answering the question “What’s it about?” at a party.

You’ll probably find yourself hesitating before words, dropping them, changing phrases, possibly even skipping and combining entire sentences. This is normal and good. Write down the spoken version, and it’ll be smoother on the reading as well as the delivery.

Now, on to examples. Riffing on Sarah’s post, these are all Cinderella variants. I warn you, they’re going to be rather rough, because composing a blurb usually takes me two to three days, and I need to get this done by Saturday night for the post to go up.

Fantasy:

Ella’s sheltered world died with her father, leaving her a refugee on her step-mother’s estates. Now exiled to kitchen servitude to hide the reminder of the unpopular and doomed marriage alliance, she must dodge her increasingly paranoid sisters and parlay old ties with the Fae to win back her rightful place in the palace. Unfortunately, every gift from the Fae comes with a cost, and midnight is coming all too soon…

Science Fiction:

It’s just a temp job, right?

Stranded on Chimera5 among the indentured servants, Ella and her shipmates must cater to the increasingly bizarre demands of the galactic upper class, while seeking a new captain, contracts, and alien allies to find a way back to the stars!

Romance – Science Fiction

Stranded on Chimera5 among the indentured servants, Ella must move among the galactic upper class while avoiding being fined . Getting back to the stars never seemed so far away, until a favor given freely to the local aliens is repayed in the oddest way. In the middle of a ball, Ella’s won not just the prince’s assistance, but his heart.

With freedom in her grasp, she must choose between the stars, or love…

Thriller:

Time is ticking away…

Caught between a malevolent murderer and an enigmatic conspiracy, Ella must find out who killed her father. All signs point toward something happening at the palace ball, and the prince may be the author of the conspiracies – or it’s next victim!

A few notes – if you’re going to have more than four lines of test, break it up into multiple paragraphs. When viewed on a small screen (kindle fire, iPad, phone…), even a normal-looking paragraph becomes a wall-o-text.

Taglines- sure, knock yourself out.

I’m at work today, but I’ll be checking in. What are your blurbs?

(And if you want to read something pretty nifty, Holly Chism has modern gods working together to stop Loki after he lost the last of his sanity! https://www.amazon.com/Godshead-Holly-Chism-ebook/dp/B00AGI1AGY/ )

What is . . . .

Last night, I was talking with Kate and some of our regular MGC readers about what I should write about today. We discussed several different possibilities but we kept coming back to a single topic and I signed off the internet, satisfied that I had my topic for this post. I finished editing the chapter I’d been working on and went to bed, knowing I’d be up early enough this morning to write the post. Then morning rolled around and after having a dearth of ideas last night, I find myself hit over the head with several new ones this morning thanks to a quick look at Facebook.

The first is thanks to our own Brad Torgersen. He linked to this article from Barnes & Noble about books publishers and editors want us to read in 2016. Brad’s question relating to the article had to do with the covers for the books from Tor. Take a look at the covers. Do they signal science fiction or fantasy to you? To me, they don’t. Two of them “read” literary. One reads as possible horror and the third has a simple contemporary fiction feel to it.

What struck me about the article even more than the covers was how different the editors from Tor described their recommendations when compared to the other recommendations on the list. Of the seven books on the list, the Tor editors start three of their blurbs with mentions of the awards the author has been nominated for or has won. One then goes on to talk about the “decorative blurbs” from other authors — before discussing what the book is about. Another starts with “For the discerning speculative reader and mainstream fantasy dabbler”. Huh? Again, this is before discussing the plot of the book in question.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but if someone is recommending a book to me, I want to know what the book is about and what genre it happens to be before knowing if the author is award-winning, etc. When I see things like “discerning speculative reader”, my first inclination is to move past that book unless I’m in the mood for something literary. I have nothing against literary fiction. I enjoy reading it from time to time. But it is only one part of my reading and even it needs to entertain me. This is something so many people seem to have forgotten. Literary doesn’t have to be boring. It can be thought-provoking even as it entertains. It can have a message — heck, any fiction can — without preaching. Most of us read for entertainment and for publishers to continue to survive, they need to remember that and quit thinking that those who are buying they books give one flip for how many awards the author has been nominated for.

Then came this article about Star Wars: The Force Awakens. No, this isn’t another opening salvo in whether Rey is a Mary Sue character or not. We can continue to debate that if you want on Saturday’s post. Actually, the article itself wasn’t so much what drew my attention as some of the comments I saw associated with it. I don’t remember who showed up on my FB feed with a link to the post but what made me follow through to it was their assertion that the problem with the movie was that, while entertaining, it didn’t go far enough to make us think. You see, it’s not enough to cast a female in the lead role or to have a person of color as a secondary lead. It wasn’t deep enough, intellectual enough. Apparently, it isn’t enough to have an entertaining movie any longer. It seems that is “dumbing down” our country.

What strikes me by comments like this is that those making them comes off not only as an intellectual snob (and I don’t doubt that most of us here at MGC have more letters after our names than many of these commenters) but they also suggest entertainment is not a good thing. This has been and still is one of the basic differences between the Sad Puppy supporters (I can’t and won’t talk for Vox and his supporters) and the Puppy-kickers. Despite what has been said by the other side, Sad Puppies are not against fiction having a message. We just want it to entertain us as it makes us think. If we — or any other reader — gets bored, we aren’t going to continue reading (or watching). But entertain us, subtly wrap your message in with your plot and character development and we will think about it, talk about it and enjoy it. And isn’t that what we, as authors, want? Don’t we want people to be entertained by our work, to think about it and talk about it?

Finally, we get to the topic that I was going to focus on when I sent to bed last night.

In one of the groups I belong to, someone posted a link to this article. Even though the headline for the post is “The Main Difference Between Urban Fantasy and Horror”, the actual thrust of the article is about the difference between the protagonist in UF vs Horror. According to the article, the difference is simple. An UF protagonist takes the supernatural in stride while the Horror protagonist doesn’t know how to react.

Urban fantasy characters generally take vampires and zombies in stride and react as competently as the reader would like to think they would do in similar straits.

Horror characters, on the hand, tend to freak out, panic, doubt their sanity, make unwise decisions,, or even descend into gibbering madness—which is probably the more realistic approach!

I happen to agree with the above explanation. In Urban Fantasy, the fantastic is part of the world and is usually known to the mundanes. Oh, the main character might not realize at the beginning of the story that the next door neighbor turns furry with the full moon or has a dietary need for hemoglobin but, once they get over their feelings of shock or betrayal, they accept it and move on. Why? Because that is the way the world of UF is built. Horror is different. For those characters, the supernatural is not a part of their world. It is something they might have read about or watched in the movies. But it wasn’t real — until it stood up and spat in their face.

(Now, I’m going to be vague here because the discussion took place in a private forum. I am not going to name names nor be specific about what was said. I ask that those who are members of that forum remember the rules and not be specific with your comments. Forum rules still apply.)

Horror strikes people differently. Some readers love it. Others can’t stand it. Some want to read it because it gives them an adrenaline rush. There are those who won’t read it for religious reasons. Others feel it is too depressing while some see it as glorifying the tenacity of the human spirit. Like any other genre, it has its fans and it haters.

However, one thing I will say is that any author writing good horror is anything but lazy. I can think of no other genre that requires more emotional manipulation of the reader than horror. The horror author has to pull the reader in, put his hand on the virtual heart of the reader and tug it, even as the other hand is wrapped around the reader’s throat, squeezing slowly and inexorably. The author has to create characters we want to see survive and win out over the supernatural threat, even as we hope at least one person gets eaten by the big bad.

Is horror depressing? It can be. But beyond that sense of helplessness the characters feel from time to time because they are so out of their depth, good horror includes the need to survive. There are often heroes who are willing to sacrifice themselves to save the others. As with any good fiction, you see the good and bad of humanity in the characters. This isn’t Buffy who suddenly learns she is the Chosen One sent to save the world. These are Everyday Joes and Janes thrust into a situation straight from their worst nightmares. Some will fall and fail. Some will go mad, unable to adapt and deal with what is happening to them. Some will prevail. Just as would happen in real life (at least I hope so).

So, is horror lazy writing? I don’t think so.

Is entertaining in a book or movie a bad thing? I don’t think so.

Is it necessary to make people think when reading your book or watching your movie? No, but if you can slip your message in in such a way that you make them think and still manage to entertain, cool.

Is it important to readers that authors are nominated or have won awards? Nope. Most readers don’t know what the Hugo or any other literary award is.

What is important to readers? In my opinion, a book that draws them in, keeps them entertained (if they are reading for entertainment) or holds their attention (if reading for any other reason) and if it makes them think too, all the better.

So, what do you think?

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.

 

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).
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.

CHANGELING’S ISLAND

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 :-).

A short rant and a recommendation

It’s Tuesday and I’m at a loss for what to write about. Part of the reason is that my body is sore, very sore, after moving furniture, breaking down furniture, etc., for a good part of yesterday. With my son about to move home for three months to do his internship prior to graduation and a need to rearrange my workspace (something I have to do periodically to keep the creative juices flowing), I decided it had to all be done yesterday. Yes, I temporarily lost my sanity and thought I was in my 20’s and able to do it all by myself and I’m paying for it today. But another reason why I’m at a loss for what to write about is that my head is fully occupied with my latest work in progress as well as some new goings on at Naked Reader Press (which will be announced tomorrow). So, I have been trolling the interwebs this morning looking for something to spark a blog post.

Like most of you, I have a number of blogs and sites I visit regularly. Some are pro writer, others are pro established publishers and still others try to walk the line and be unbiased reporters of industry news. The problem is that right now a lot of the industry is still recovering from RWA’s national conference or preparing for upcoming conferences. Others are holding their collective breath to see what happens in response to the Department of Justice’s motion to have the proposed settlement approved.

So, I went to the one location that almost always gives me fodder for a blog post. I went to the kindle boards over at Amazon. Sure enough, within five minutes, I found a couple of things. Both leave me shaking my head and wondering who let the inmates out. Both are cautionary tales of what NOT to do if you want to win over or keep readers.

For those of you not familiar with the discussion boards at Amazon, you can find the kindle discussion boards by going to any of the kindle links and simply clicking “Discussion” at the top of the page. It’s an active and vocal community. Like most online communities, there are the occasional flame wars. But, on the whole, the discussions are more than civil — especially compared with some I’ve seen.

Anyway….

I followed one of the links to the romance boards and a discussion about authors behaving badly. This isn’t a new topic. It’s one I’ve discussed here before. But it is something that bears repeating, in my opinion. But a little background. This discussion began in response to authors who either responded negatively to reviews of their books that they didn’t think were warranted, often attacking the reviewer, or who spammed the different discussion boards with promotions for their books. This became such a problem on the kindle boards some months ago that Amazon created a new forum, “Meet Our Authors”, where authors could promote their books and interact with their fans.

What happened with the romance community thread is that, as readers commented on the topic, several authors hijacked the thread, spamming it with everything from angry spews to jokes from joke books, anything to derail the comments. Amazon finally shut down that thread and a new thread was opened, with much the same vitriol occurring.

I’m the first to admit that it’s hard to accept negative words about books we write. But it doesn’t help anything to go flying off the handle and responding to the negative reviews with attacks. If you have to respond, simply do so with a thanks for reading, sorry you didn’t like it. Then look to see if there are others who had the same problem with the book. If they did, maybe it’s something to be considered in writing the next one. If not, then forget about it. Don’t obsess and don’t go looking for your metaphorical stick to beat the reviewer over the head with.

But what bothers me more are those authors, and they are too often self-published authors (and that gives all of us who do some indie publishing a bad name), who go on the attack on discussion boards or who think it is their right to take over a discussion thread by hijacking it to talk about our book. That’s not only bad form but it is a sure way to drive away readers. The truth of the matter is, those folks who take part in these discussion boards aren’t afraid of letting people know what they think. They will respond to your hijacking or spam not only on the board but in their reviews of your work. Even if they like your book, they will not in the review that you were an ass and that is why they won’t buy anything else from you.

But there is a more long-reaching response your spamming of the boards or hijacking of threads can have. Amazon — and the owners of other boards where this sort of behavior occurs — can and will suspend your accounts. This is not something you want to have happen. So, please, read what you write in response to a review or a comment on a thread and then read it again before you even think about hitting the “enter” button.

The next thing that got me going this morning was the title of one of the free books on Amazon. Again, this is something we’ve discussed before. You know I have issues with books that have titles like “X kills Y, a mystery”. I should be able to tell what the genre is by the description of the book, the meta tags associated with it and even by the cover. If you have to tell me what it is in the title, then you’re doing something wrong. It is, in my opinion, a flag that you are new to publishing and screams “amateur”.

So imagine my reaction when I came across a title this morning (and I’m not giving the full title because I won’t give the author any direct promotion) that included “WRITTEN BY THE MASTER OF THE ROMANTIC THRILLER”. Yes, the first thing that got to me was the fact the entire title was in caps. Then the self-proclaimed tag on the title that the author is the “master of the romantic thriller”. Oh, btw, I’d never heard of the author so I clicked on their author page and, gee, I could count the number of titles the author has out on one hand. Hmm….”master”?

Then I read the description. Or tried to. And found myself hoping that the author had a better editor for the book than they had for the blurb. While I admit that writing blurbs isn’t my strength, I know one that works. This one didn’t. At least not for me. It was confusing and, worse, didn’t show the level of writing I’d expect from a so-called master of any genre.

A blurb should tease the reader with just enough information about the plot to get them to buy the book. The genre should be clear in from what’s in the blurb. The main characters should be introduced. The voice of the book should be there as well. But, most of all, the blurb should be well-written, as well-written as the book itself. This is the reader’s’ first introduction to the book, just as it is quite often their first introduction to the author.

I guess what I’m trying to get at here is this: if you want to call yourself a writer, you need to remember that writing is your profession. You have to act about writing like it is your job. If you work as a teacher or an accountant, or as anything else, you don’t go onto your boss’ blog or discussion board and act like an ass. At least not if you want to keep your job. If you turn in a report, you make sure it is well-written and accurate. You need to do the same as a writer. Take pride in your work but understand that not everyone is going to like it. Make sure you what you put out is well-edited and formatted. Most of all, remember that anything you say on the internet is there to be found, even if you take it down. Remember that before hitting “enter”.

Okay, stepping off the soap box now and pointing everyone over to Kris Rusch’s announcement of new workshops, including some online ones, for those who are interested. I’m off to see what I can juggle in my financial commitments so I can take at least one of the workshops.