Friday, 10 May 2013

Getting the blurb right

The 'blurb' is the name given to the fairly short description of a book that the publisher/author writes.

It's hard to quantify how important the blurb is for attracting new readers, but I do think it matters quite a lot. When I'm considering buying books I usually check the blurb before reviews, and, whilst a description's unlikely to immediately persuade me to buy a book, a bad one (or one which paints a picture I dislike) could put me off.

For Bane of Souls, my first book, I had one put together but had to mangle it a little so that it would fit within the character count (Smashwords has two lengths, 400 characters and another which I think is unlimited).

Here's what I came up with:
"The trade festival of Mascezad is normally a time of plenty for Horst and his trader uncle, but when they visit Highford Horst finds himself conscripted by the city’s mages. Unable to return to his own people and abandoned by his uncle, his fortunes go from bad to worse when he discovers that the city is being terrorised by a spate of murders, and the killer has a particular taste for dead mages…"

I think the painting of the premise is sound, and the ending's nice, but the start could be rather hookier. Primacy and recency effects are something authors should consider for their books as a whole and also for the blurb in particular. Essentially, people pay most attention to the last and the first things that they hear or read. That's not to say the middle's unimportant (if the middle of a book is rubbish the end won't be reached) but that more weight is given to the beginning and end.

Because I tried to get some of the donkey work for Journey to Altmortis done ahead of time I wrote the blurb (a few versions) prior to releasing the book. I found it quite useful to check some bestsellers (I looked at books by Joe Abercrombie, George RR Martin and Scott Lynch) to see if any patterns emerged from the way they'd written theirs.

Happily, there were some pretty basic lessons to learn.

1) Have a hooky start. A single line can work well, something to pique the interest of the potential reader.

2) Have a dangling question/precarious situation at the end. Again, a single line can work or it can be a smidgen longer. This should try and make the reader wonder how the storyline of the book develops beyond the basic premise. And, whilst not essential, an ellipsis can be a good way to end…

3) Concisely set up the premise in between the hooky start and hooky end. If there's no overriding protagonist then this might explain the world/general situation, but if the story revolves around an individual or group it should probably focus on them. Don't try and explain too much. If you have a character limit then that'll be impossible anyway, and even if you don't an info-dump probably isn't the way to go. It's all about the basic premise of the plot, and trying to make it interesting. Spoilers can sometimes be tricky (Bane of Souls was especially hard in this regard because the plot is quite twisty and I didn't want to give anything away). I'd guess a good rule of thumb would be that anything in the first few chapters can be given away (it'll fall within the sample section anyway) but later stuff should be kept hidden.

4) Quotes from reviews can be a nice addition, but ask permission first. For the Amazon release I included a couple of quotes from reviews (with permission). Obviously if you happen to have one from a big organisation (say, a national newspaper) or a big name author that's the best.

Enticing readers can be tricky, and the blurb can work well. Or, it can put off readers if it's written badly. Here’s the longer blurb:
“Never steal from a thief.

Years ago the Brothers Whitworth stole priceless heirlooms from Thaddeus and Lynette Falchester, but when the siblings learn of their whereabouts the hunt is on. The Whitworths have broken into the dead city of Altmortis, rumoured to hold the ancient treasures of the Kuhrland.

Accompanied by assorted ne'er-do-wells, they brave the harsh Kuhrisch winter, a forest dripping with blood and a village of monstrous demons to reach the remote city.

But when Thaddeus and Lynette delve into the depths of Altmortis they find more than robbers lurking in the shadows…

What reviewers said about Bane of Souls, the first novel by Thaddeus White:
"An excellent Fantasy Novel… As a read it is fast paced, fun and entertaining. What more could you want?" - Perpetual Man (Goodreads and Amazon)

"I hear tell from the author that the next book will have a lot of focus on the Kuhrisch, so I will definitely be checking that out. For this one? 4 stars." - Bella at Boom Baby Reviews”

Incidentally, as well as Smashwords and Amazon, Journey to Altmortis is now out at Diesel, where you get $0.50 (apparently) for writing a review, cutting the price to effectively $2.49.

The XK87G code (for use at Smashwords) expires on 14 May 2013, and cuts the price there from $2.99 to $1.02. It’s been granted premium status at the site, which means it’ll be (over the coming days and weeks) shipped to a variety of online retailers.


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