Read any good BLURBS lately?
Has your schedule shifted in the past year? 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.
Two novels and a long list of blurbs for future stories later, it turns out that what worked for me as a reader worked for the writer in me, too. Here is the very rough, original blurb that got me started on my first book, AppleJacked, which, thankfully, has evolved since its 2012 inception.
WRITE THE BLURB FOR THE BOOK YOU WANT TO READ.
Welcome to Rattlesnake Alley… Anastasia “Ana” Campbell, is the headstrong principal of Mangrove Elementary School located in Rattlesnake Cove on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Flanked by a sleepy Air Force Base and an aging industrial seaport, Ana knows Rattlesnake Cove is a poor town with a big heart. In the third year of her hard-fought effort to turnaround the failing school and by default, the flagging community, a shocking murder occurs on the campus of her small elementary school. Amid neighborhood tensions and school board politics, Ana is thrust into an unwelcomed alliance with the abrasive parent of the nine-year-old boy accused of the crime. As she attempts to solve the murder and take the national spotlight off her campus, Ana finds out that while it may take a village to raise a child, it may also take your life.
Admittedly, it’s rough, but did it mash any of your reader buttons? In short, I wrote the blurb for the book I wanted to read, before I wrote the book.
Here’s where that blurry blurb took me as a new writer: AppleJacked placed third in the 2015 Royal Palm Literary Awards and after many agent rejections and further story timeline revisions, my traditional mystery is a 2021 Daphne finalist. Crossing my fingers!
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.
QUESTION> What if you had the power to turnaround a failing school, but before you could claim victory, a teacher was murdered on your watch? What if the only way forward was to face disturbing childhood secrets and a murderer intent on making you the next victim?
MAIN CHARACTER + GOAL + LOCALE>Ana Callahan Campbell returned home to Moccasin Cove to fix the failing elementary school of her childhood. Two years into her hard-fought effort, she is a blissful newlywed poised to claim another career victory. Then her grand plan hits a snag. PROBLEM>A teenager goes missing after a teacher is murdered on Ana’s campus during the tour for a coveted grant award.
PROBLEM>News of the murder goes viral. Moccasin Cove is flooded with nosey news crews. And an abrasive rookie detective has her sights set on all the wrong suspects, including a school parent. STAKES>If she can’t get the negative spotlight off her school, her grant chances are sunk. AMATUER SLEUTH>Grieving over the teacher’s death and frustrated with the myopic detective, Ana uses her grit, wit, and some good-natured southern arm-twisting to investigate the crime. Then, her discovery of a body on the beach lengthens her to do list and pins a bullseye on her back.
STAKES>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; EDGE/HOOK> it takes a village to raise a child, but it may also take your life.
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)