The Writer & Author

Writing a Blurb for Your Book Cover

“Blurb” is such a funny word to say, but it’s a word that writers everywhere should know, because the blurb can have so much influence on who and how many people buy or download your books. According to Wikipedia (not the best source I know, but it’s quick and convenient, so what are you going to do?), a blurb is “a short summary or promotional piece meant to accompany a creative work.” In the context of a book, a blurb is usually the summary text on the back of the book describing the story, but it can also refer to reader reviews, promotional taglines, and author biographies. For the sake of brevity, I’ll focus on the summary text on the back of a book, since that is what often plays a role in any reader’s decision to buy a book.

Generally blurbs are at most a paragraph or two, and give a brief idea to the reader what they can expect before they open up the book to read it. This brief idea is given in three parts: the explanation, the mystery, and the promise. Here’s what I mean:

Nathaniel is a magician’s apprentice, taking his first lessons in the arts of magic. But when a devious hot-shot wizard named Simon Lovelace ruthlessly humiliates Nathaniel in front of his elders, Nathaniel decides to kick up his education a few notches and show Lovelace who’s boss. With revenge on his mind, he summons the powerful djinni, Bartimaeus. But summoning Bartimaeus and controlling him are two different things entirely, and when Nathaniel sends the djinni out to steal Lovelace’s greatest treasure, the Amulet of Samarkand, he finds himself caught up in a whirlwind of magical espionage, murder, and rebellion.

The Amulet of Samarkand, US edition

This was the blurb on the back of The Amulet of Samarkand, the first book of the Bartimaeus Sequence by Johnathan Stroud. I was maybe ten or eleven when I first read this book. I was just coming out of my Harry Potter junkie phase and wanted something new to read. I wasn’t at first really interested in the book, but then I saw the blurb on the back and I was immediately hooked. I ended up reading the entire trilogy and the prequel, really enjoyed them, and I’ve been influenced by it ever since. And just based on that one blurb it got me to read the first book.

Let’s look at this blurb using the parts I named above. First, we have the explanation, which tells us what the novel is about. Judging from that, the reader learns that the main character is Nathaniel, he’s a magician’s apprentice, and he decides to send a djinni named Bartimaeus to get revenge for him by having him steal an amulet from Nathaniel’s enemy. The explanation stops at telling us what happens next and how it leads into “a whirlwind of magical espionage, murder, and rebellion.”

That’s what the mystery is for. The mystery’s purpose is to say that although a little bit of the story has been revealed to you in the explanation, the rest of it you’ll have to read the book to find out. All we can tell you is that there’s a lot of cool stuff there, in this case magical espionage, murder and rebellion. Usually the mystery is held off until the last sentence, meant to leave the reader intrigued enough that they’ll open the book to find out more.

Last but not least, the promise is found throughout the blurb, and it is as it’s called: a promise. In this case, the promise is telling us that this is an awesome story geared for readers just like the person reading the back cover, and that they will miss out if they do not open the book. This should be the main goal of the author when writing their blurb.

Of course, there are some things you should and shouldn’t do when writing your blurb. For instance, it may be tempting to make it seem like your book is the greatest thing that’s ever been written. For all I know, it has. But if the message from your blurb is “It’s new! It’s great! You should read it and make sure everyone else around you reads it!” and that message is too obvious or strong, it might turn away readers rather than make them want to read more. We want people to read our works of course, but coming on too strong never got anyone anywhere.

The best way to do is let the blurb and the story it’s summarizing do the talking for you. Instead of coming on strong, let the blurb subtly entice the reader into wanting to check out the story and find out more. Another way of looking at this could be like thinking of the blurb as a free sample in a grocery store or shopping mall. You get a small taste to begin with, but if you want more, you’re going to have to buy the whole product.

Another thing to keep in mind is not to put too much information in the explanation part of your blurb. Give them just enough information to form an impression, maybe give them a few images in their heads, but not too much that they’ll have a basic idea of where the story is going to go and what will happen, so why bother picking the story up? Make sure to leave some room for the mystery in the story to hint at what’s to happen so the reader will be intrigued enough to open up the book to page one.

And finally, try to do all this in as few words as possible. The blurb above is less than a hundred words and still manages to grab your attention. You should aim to write an effective blurb around a similar length that does the same thing. This isn’t just because keeping it brief is good for giving hints and mystery, though that’s part of it. It’s also because practically speaking you only have so much room on the back of your book, so you should try to keep the word count around one hundred so that the printed summary doesn’t feature tiny, tiny letters that make it difficult to read. And if the reader has difficulty reading the back cover, what are the chances they’ll want to read what’s on the inside?

What tips do you have for writing blurbs?

Categories: Book Covers, Book Promotion, General Writing, Marketing & Promoting, Psychology of Writing & Publishing, The Reader, The Writer & Author | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Following Up on Submissions

The last time I posted an article, I wrote about submitting a short story to a magazine. And as promised, I’m following it up…with an article on following up on those submissions when a lot of time has passed.

Most magazines promise on their websites that they’ll get back to you on your submission in 2-6 months. What they don’t tell you is that work and submissions tend to pile up, especially when the magazine may be an operation run by only a few or even just one person. And imagine getting several submissions at the very least every month for short stories, articles, art pieces, and just about everything else under the sun. Your submission could be lost underneath all that.

So if you find a magazine has been taking its time getting to your submission, it can be helpful to send them an email and ask politely if your story has been looked at yet. Here’s what I normally put down in an email when I’m following up on a submission:

Dear [Insert magazine name here],

I am writing to follow up on my submission [insert story name here] which I sent in [insert how long ago or date you sent it in] to see if it is still being considered for publication. If you could please get back to me when it is convenient for you, that would be great, and thank you for your time and consideration.

Hoping you are well,

[Insert name, pen name if applicable, and contact information]

It’s also a good idea to attach your short story to the email in case it got lost somewhere among the submissions.

Normally a magazine will get back to you pretty quickly after this sort of email is sent. Even then though, it may take some time for the magazine editors to get back to you on your short story. If that’s the case, it may work in your favor to send an email every month or so inquiring about the status of your short story. That way it’ll stay in the forefront of the editors’ minds.

Also, remember to always be courteous and polite in your emails. They could just send you a form rejection letter right away, so the fact that they are taking the time to actually look at your story, no matter how long that time is, to possibly publish it is worth staying on the magazine’s good side. And when the magazine finally does take a look at your short story, no matter what the result is, be courteous and thank them for the time they took to read the story you sent them. That way, if you send them something in the future, they’ll be inclined to work with you and show you the same kindness and understanding you showed them.

Do you have any tips on following up on submissions?

Categories: Business Plan, Digital & ePublishing, General Writing, Marketing & Promoting, Psychology of Writing & Publishing, Publishing Basics, Short Stories, The Writer & Author, Traditional Publishing, Writing as a Business | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

“Success” Doesn’t Guarantee Happiness…Your State of Mind Does

Success (however you define it) isn’t going to guarantee happiness.

© Icefields | Dreamstime.com - Happiness Formula Photo

© Icefields | Dreamstime.com – Happiness Formula Photo

I understand how lack of sales, lack of positive reviews, not winning an award, hateful email, and other things we deal with as writers can bring us down.  This is normal.  We’re in a roller coaster business.

But the opposite isn’t going to “finally make you happy”… at least not longterm.  You might get a boost from it.  There is a certain high in reaching a goal, especially if you did even better than the goal you set.  But the high doesn’t last.  It peaks and then fizzles.  The high, just like the lows, are like a roller coaster.  Often right after going through a couple days of a “wow, I did it!” high, I find I spend a day or two feeling down in the dumps–and there was nothing bad that happened to make me feel bummed out.  I think this is the body’s way of leveling out our moods.

My point is that there is no external thing in our lives as writers that will truly satisfy us in the long run.  No matter how many books you sell, you can always sell more.  If you made it as a NYT or USA bestselling author with one book, you want to make it there with another one.  If you win one award, you want another one.  If you get one great review, you want another one.  It’s normal.  Once we get a taste of something, we want more.

If we don’t get it, we’re disappointed.   Why?  Because these things don’t sustain us.

You could have everything you’ve ever dreamed of as a writer, but that doesn’t mean you will be happy.  Happiness is something that comes from within.  It’s a state of mind.  The good news is, this is one area you have control over.  You decide how to respond to things that happen around you.  The older I get (I’ll be 40 in October), the more I’m convinced that the way you think has a huge impact on how you feel.

A quick disclaimer before I continue: you will not be happy every single day for the rest of your life.  There will be days that suck.  But overall, there could be an underlying sense of joy in your life if you start focusing on the positives.

Okay, now to continue…

You reap what you sow.

Focus on what you can control.

If you focus on things you can do (realistic goals such as improving your writing or getting a little more writing in during the week), you are more likely to find contentment than if you’re running all over Facebook and Twitter to promote the heck out of your book with the hope you’ll hit a certain number of sales.  Why?  Because you can’t control if someone buys or reads your book.  That is out of your control.  And if you’re looking for other people to do something to make you happy, it’s not going to happen.  It might give you a boost (and you should enjoy the boosts when they come), but it won’t sustain you.

Another principle of reaping what you sow…

The way you treat others ends up coming back to you somehow.

I don’t fully understand why this works out the way it does, but time and time again, I’ve seen people get what they’ve given.  Generous people seem to get more than those that are stingy.  People who reach out and help others often end up being liked by a large group of people.  I think it’s because positive attracts positive and negative attracts negative.

In regards to writing, I would say treat your fellow authors and your readers with respect.  That doesn’t mean you have to be a doormat.  There are times when you have to say no.  You can’t do it all.  But you can be positive when you engage with others.  Save the “I’m bummed out” for your close friends and family who go through life’s ups and downs with you.  Publicly, be happy.  When you are happy in public, it has a tendency to lift your spirits.

***

If you can get to the place where you’re content with your life, I think it’ll go a long way in being a better writer.  You’ll have more creative energy and enthusiasm for your work.  You’ll be more passionate about it.  You’ll naturally do better without consciously trying to.

And if you do hit an accomplishment you have no control over, like selling X number of copies in a month, you will be grateful for it, but you won’t base your self-worth as an author on it.  You’ll be humble about your accomplishments.  When good and bad times happens, you’ll bounce back a lot quicker, and you’ll level off easier to an overall sense of joy.

Categories: The Writer & Author | Tags:

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