“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.”
“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.
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….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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)
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.
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.
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.
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 :-).