Read Any Good BLURBS Lately?
(This is an updated post from May 2021.)
Has your schedule shifted in the past two years? Does less time commuting mean more time for reading? Gee, I hope so. If you’re like me, when you have a spare second, your thoughts naturally run to books. So many books and suddenly, a little more time, right? According to the website PublishingPerspectives.com, in 2020, trade book sales were up close to ten percent and audio books made a sonic leap in sales to over 16%.
If you find yourself in the catbird seat of the reader with a little time to spare, how do you choose what book you’ll read next? Do you check out the online reviews, front cover, first page, or the back cover blurb first? Whether you head to the Amazon to search virtually or venture out F2S (face to stacks,) most folks have a go-to routine for zeroing in on the next occupant of their e-reader or trusty nightstand.
My style? I thought you’d never ask. My well-honed, Five-Step method is guaranteed to work in any venue-real or Memorex.
1-Loosen up--crack your knuckles, roll your neck
2-Front cover glance
3-Read the back cover blurb
5-and, if it makes the cut, the first page. No wait, in all honesty, the first paragraph.
While this selection method may be helpful to readers, how can it be a boon to writers? That’s where my decades suffering the trenches of education finally paid off--for you. You’re welcome. An oft maligned catchphrase of afterschool faculty meetings is “begin with the end in mind.” Essentially it means, plan the learning goals and assessments before you plan the lesson. It is a solid method for teachers, but what about writers?
Switch it up: “Begin with the BLURB in mind.” The blurb is the name for the two or three paragraphs on the back cover. The teaser that consumers read to determine if they want to fork over their cash for your book. Most writers tackle the blurb at the book production stage, well after the story itself has been put to bed. That’s not how it worked out for me.
When I first dreamed up the concept for my Moccasin Cove Mystery series, I had never written fiction and had no formal training. I had a nugget of an idea and no knowledge of how to flesh it out. What I did have was years of lesson planning experience and years of selecting just the right next mystery to read. Kismet. Instead of worrying through the creation of an intricate outline or scene by scene breakdown of my story, just to test out my plot premise, I wrote the blurb. It was almost intuitive. I have discovered that if I like the blurb, I’m ready go to the first page to start writing the story. Then my hybrid plotting method takes over for the nitty gritty, but that’s fodder for another post.
Here’s where my blurry blurb took me as a new writer, starting in 2012: AppleJacked placed third in the 2015 Royal Palm Literary Awards and after much query feedback and further story timeline revisions, my second traditional mystery was a 2021 finalist: Daphne Du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mainstream Mystery/Suspense.
So, what goes into a story-inspiring blurb? My short answer: Everything but the ending, in three paragraphs or less. Yeah, well, sort of.
Hit all of what I call the teaser points: a question, main character, problem/goal, stakes, locale (if that’s a draw for your genre) and end with an edge and/or the series hook. I’ve annotated my most recent blurb of AppleJacked, which is set to be released this summer.
INTRO> Elementary principal Ana Callahan knows a thing or two about flipping failing schools, but she’s discovered the learning curve on solving murders is steep.
MAIN CHARACTER + GOAL + LOCALE>Now in the second year of her school-rescue plan in Moccasin Cove on Florida’s Gulf coast, Ana is on the verge of winning a prestigious grant award. The funds will go a long way toward restoring her hometown school’s academic credentials. Then her grand plan hits a snag.
PROBLEM>A campus murder and a missing teen eclipse the progress she’s made and stall her chances of winning the pivotal award.
PROBLEM>News of the murder goes viral, bringing a media deluge to the Cove. Angry parents add to the chaos and an abrasive rookie detective has her sights set on all the wrong suspects.
STAKES>If she can’t get the negative spotlight off her school, her grant chances are sunk.
AMATUER SLEUTH>Ana can’t get the negative spotlight off her school, her grant chances are sunk. Grieving over the teacher’s death and frustrated with the myopic detective, Ana must investigate. Then her discovery of a body on the beach lengthens her to do list and pins a bullseye on her back.
STAKES/HOOK>In her quest to solve two murders, locate the missing student, and not lose the grant, Ana unintentionally unleashes a riptide of childhood secrets that force her to learn a hard lesson; it takes a village to raise a child, but it may also take your life.
INVITATION>If you like your mysteries with a cozy edge, a hint of Southern snark, and always a happy ending, this series is for you.
There it is. Write with your inner reader in mind by starting with an exciting blurb for the book you want to read. It is a fun and exciting process. Most importantly, this method helps me shorten the premise development stage to get to the plotting faster. Then, any semblance of control is totally out of my hands.
Retrieved 10 May, 2021 AAP StatShot: US Book Sales Up 9.7 Percent for 2020 (publishingperspectives.com)