7 Suggestions for Writing Awesome Book Blurbs

The Problem:

Many writers struggle with writing the description for the stories they’ve just poured their soul into over the last few weeks/months/years.

Who am I to try and answer this question?

A few months ago I joined the launch of the Lei Crime Kindle World. (If you don’t know about kindle worlds, you should go look them up, after you finish this post, of course.) During that process, we exchanged our descriptions and offered them up for critique. I found that I enjoyed tinkering with those descriptions and trying to make them stronger.

  1. Open with a question or a short, catchy description.

You don’t absolutely have to use a tagline, but thinking up some taglines will help you later with Twitter posts. Besides that, it will prime your mind to write an awesome book blurb. If you can pare your story down to a tagline, then you’ll have an easier time of expanding that into a decent description.

  1. Focus on your main character(s).

A lot of authors throw in the names of extraneous characters. Having more than one or two names on the back cover copy can get confusing.

  1. Avoid giving a full synopsis of your story.

Oh, I think I’ve broken this one from time to time, but people don’t want anything that could be a spoiler to ruin their reading experience. If you plan to pitch to an agent or traditional publisher, you’ll probably need to do a 1 page synopsis at some point, but the back cover copy is not the same thing. Keep some things secret in the description.

  1. Stay focused on the major story arc.

It’s easy to go off into some of the side challenges the characters will face, but keep your description zeroed in on what really matters. There are a ton of additional details to be discovered in your actual story, but you have very little time to get your point across during the description.

  1. Be cautious about putting the title in the description.

It can be done but it often doesn’t look natural. Likely people will be staring at your book cover, so your title will be fresh in their minds. I wouldn’t worry about trying to work the title into the description.

  1. Keep the description relatively short.

The blurb, back cover copy, book description, whatever you want to call it is your baited hook to get the reader to check out your work. If we’re going with a fishing analogy, writing too much would be like trying to shove 6 worms on one hook. It’s wasteful and messy and might even do more harm than good for you.

  1. Keep your writing crisp, clear, and simple.

This doesn’t necessary translate to short sentences, but you’ll want to seek a certain flow within the paragraphs of your description. I don’t mean to sound harsh here, but the reality is that if your description falters or comes across as stilted, fewer readers will risk giving it a chance.

  1. Don’t be afraid to vary paragraph size.

I know in English class we’re taught to write 3-5 sentences to make a complete paragraph, but in your description, think suspense. Regardless of which genre you’re writing in, you’re a suspense writer when you put the description together. Keep the reader hooked. Short sentences that make up their own paragraph can be very powerful if used well, but don’t overdo them. It’s only riveting if it’s rare.

 

  1. Close with a question or with a statement about the stakes the characters face.

The job of your description is to get the reader to think, I’ve got to know what happens.

  1. Have somebody look over your description and give you suggestions.

This might seem obvious, but if you gave your description to a few trusted people, you’d probably get some great suggestions about what works and doesn’t work for them. As with anything writing related, you want somebody who can look at your work objectively.

TWO EXAMPLES:

Seal of a Monk by Eden Baylee – First Draft of Description
Kauai is ancient jungle full of travelers seeking unconventional experiences.

In SEAL of a Monk, Lainey Lee returns to Hawaii to manage a silent meditation course on the Coconut Coast. Twenty-five women are under her care for ten days in a remote location, separated from men and civilization. Lainey expects only inner peace on this trip, but four days into the course, one of the meditators disappears without a trace—her best friend’s daughter.

Did she leave of her own free will, or is she the victim of a plot to lure her away? Bound by duty and friendship, Lainey is desperate until an unexpected ally comes to her aid. Maxamillian Scott is a retired Navy SEAL with unique skills.

Together, they must find a missing girl, but in the process, can they also unravel the mystery of each other?

Comments: I like the beginning sentence. Title is superfluous here. I almost feel the retired SEAL part is too, but she seems attached to it, so I should keep it. We know it’s her friend’s daughter so the duty and friendship part isn’t needed. I like the idea of the end question. First part is strong, but the end seems too romancey.

My Suggested Rewrite for Eden Baylee:

The ancient jungles of Kauai offer the perfect place to seek peace.

Despite the terror she experienced on her last trip, Lainey Lee returns to Hawaii to manage a silent meditation course on the Coconut Coast of Kauai. The plan is to spend ten days in a gorgeous yet remote location teaching twenty-five women how to find inner peace.

Four days into the trip that plan changes when one of the meditators disappears without a trace.

Did the girl wander off or was she lured or forced away? Where is she? Is she in danger? Lainey’s frantic to answer those questions. As she reaches her wits’ end, she finds unexpected help in the form of a retired navy SEAL, Maxamillian Scott.

Now Lainey has two mysteries to solve: what happened to (enter girl’s name) and the case of her own heart. Can she ever trust a man again?

Eden’s Final Description:

The ancient jungles of Kauai provide the perfect setting for self-discovery.

Despite the terror she experienced on her last trip, Lainey Lee returns to Hawaii to manage a silent meditation course on the Coconut Coast. Twenty-five women are under her care for ten days in a beautiful and remote location. Lainey expects to find inner peace, but four days into the course, one of the meditators disappears without a trace.

Did the girl leave of her own free will, or was she lured away by a strange cult? Lainey is frantic to answer these questions. As her desperation grows, she finds help from an unexpected source—a retired Navy SEAL named Maxamillian Scott.

Now, Lainey has two mysteries to solve: what happened to the missing girl and the case of her own heart. Can she ever trust a man again?

Torn Roots by Scott Bury – First Draft of Description

Hawaii is volcanoes, jungle and rocky shores. An irresistible magnet for people and money.

Detective Pono Kaihale has just accepted a six-month term as Acting Lieutenant in the fabled town of Hana on Maui’s rain-forested coast. He’s anticipating a quiet period in his career, dealing with nothing more challenging than lost hikers and maybe the occasional domestic dispute. In his second week on the job, a brilliant geologist claims to have evidence about who started a forest fire on the slopes of Mount Haaleaka, Maui’s volcano.

That begins a series of baffling events. A beautiful environmentalist stages an illegal protest against a luxury development on the fragile shore. That night, an arsonist sets the same development site ablaze and a violent woman disappears. A Homeland Security helicopter chases the environmentalist across the island and a new FBI agent shows up at his office early in the morning.

When Pono’s hunting buddy gets into the middle of this storm, Pono knows this case will be worthy even of his former partner, Lei Texeira.

Comments: I like the opening but it seems choppy. Why does it matter that it’s a six-month term? Why do we care what his title is here? Setting is great info. The transition to the geologist and forest fire evidence is jarring. When the FBI agent shows up isn’t necessary. We know this will be part of the Lei Crime Kindle World, but the mention of Lei here is distracting.

My Suggested Rewrite:

Hawaii is known for volcanoes and sandy beaches. Beauty and danger reign.

Ready for a quiet period in his career, Detective Pono Kaihale accepts a short-term position as Acting Lieutenant in Hana on Maui’s rain-forested coast. After (insert something about prev crazy assignments…ie dealing with murders on ___) he’s looking forward to redirecting lost hikers and moderating mild lovers’ spatz. But by his second week on the job, he gets the feeling the trouble here might run deeper and come in unexpected forms.

Truth hunters, protesters, arsonists, kidnappers, and FBI agents cross his path, making him feel like the eye of a brewing storm. When an old hunting buddy gets sucked into the storm, Pono realizes the stakes are much higher than the island’s natural beauty.

Lives could be lost—and likely will be lost—if he doesn’t solve this mystery quickly.

Scott Bury’s Final Description:
Hawaii is known for volcanoes and sandy beaches. Beauty and danger reign.

After breaking a case of murdered poachers in Maui’s national park, Detective Pono Kaihale accepts a short-term position as Acting Lieutenant in Hana on the island’s rain forest coast. He is looking forward to redirecting lost hikers and moderating mild lovers’ spats and enjoying the natural beauty of the southeast coast. But by his second week on the job, Pono finds trouble here comes in unexpected forms.

Environmentalists, property developers, protesters, arsonists, kidnappers, and a rogue Homeland Security agent converge on his new post, Pono feels like the eye of a brewing storm. And when a new FBI agent gets involved, Pono realizes the stakes are much higher than a quiet period in his career.

Lives will be lost if he doesn’t solve this mystery quickly.

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10 Reasons a Reader Might Hate Your Fiction Book …

And what that says about your story.

Introduction:

Hate might be a bit too strong for my meaning, but it was much quicker than saying “dislike/loathe/have an aversion to/ can’t connect well with/ grew bored with/ etc.” These are in no particular order within their groupings, but I believe there are neutral, bad, and good reasons people don’t connect to your story.

Bad Reasons:

  1. Too many grammar mistakes – Oddly enough, poor grammar doesn’t bother everybody. The writer in me cringes at that notion. Since I’m guessing a lot of you are writers too, I think we can all understand this one. Typos are often the bane of our literary existence. Yes, they happen to pretty much everybody, but that’s why there are advanced readers, editors, and conscript-able family members. That said, be cautious relying solely upon the last one unless your significant other is an editor or a writer. Lay family members also have a vested interest in remaining on your good side, so they may not be able to offer an unbiased critique of what can make the story better.
  1. Confusing plot – There’s a difference between “complex” and “confusing.” Complex is good. As writers, we strive to create a world that’s intricate enough to enthrall the reader. In many genres, part of that entails keeping the reader guessing what will happen next. It follows that confusing is bad. There are definitely times to lead readers on fantastic journeys to far-off lands, but you don’t want to leave them stranded there somewhere with no idea how to return. Strive for detailed, but don’t lose the reader.
  1. Blah characters – This is a tricky one because every reader comes with their preconceived notions of what makes a character interesting. For me, the key lies in the question: does this character contribute to the overall plot? Is s/he useful? For example, it annoys me when a princess is a cardboard character who only exists for the purpose of being rescued. Give her some personality. If her life being threatened is integral to the plot, then you’ve got to make us care about her first.

Stock characters have their places. There’s simply not enough time or page space to make every character a main one, but choose the few you flesh out wisely.

Neutral Reasons:

  1. Style preference: first person vs third person – If I had to guess, I’d say the vast majority of fiction works are written in the third person style. Third person generally allows the author a little more leeway with revealing details. It’s easier to be omniscient in that style. First person usually allows one to really get inside the head of the main character and/or the narrator. Often the narrator is the main character but that’s not always the case. I’ve done both styles, and I think they work well in the respective series. Yet, I completely understand not liking first person narration.

The main question that comes up subconsciously is: “Do I believe in this character’s voice?” That question is closely followed by: “Do I like this character’s voice?” In a book told in the first person, the reader’s going to be trapped inside the head of the narrator for all two-three hundred pages of your story. If the reader doesn’t particularly like the voice they’re hearing that whole time, it’s a tough thing to overcome.

  1. Writing style: general – As a reader, I just don’t connect well with how some people write. That’s the nature of the beast. I’m filing this under neutral because this reason is nothing you should automatically seek to change or question yourself about. Chalk that up to “you can’t win ’em all” and move on.
  1. The genre isn’t the reader’s favorite – This is probably one of the most common reasons I can cite when I identify a book I’m not connecting well with. You might ask why I’d bother reading a book in a genre that’s not really my favorite. It’s a fair question. The answer usually is that I was asked to read the book by the author. Also, I’ve read plenty of great books in genres I don’t consider my favorite. Every book is different, and you won’t really know unless you’ve tried it.
  1. Tone – Some people love humorous books, but often, when things veer into the ridiculous, I turn off as a reader. I love when there’s a lighthearted tone even about serious situations, but if everything’s a joke, then I can’t take the story seriously. The same could be said for a story being too gloomy. I don’t do well with tragedies on the whole.

Good Reasons:

  1. Characterization is so good that the reader ends up annoyed because they hate the bad guy. – While I’m sure we’d all love every reader to absolutely adore the story we’ve poured our heart and soul into, there is such a thing as making something too realistic. I know I’ve watched movies and read books that I mostly enjoyed but disliked because one character drove me crazy with their cruelty, injustice, or stupidity.

In an odd way, it’s a testament to your skill, but it’s also something to be aware of as you craft your next antihero or villain. Does the villain have any redeeming qualities? Is there something respectable about the antihero?

I guess one should be cautious that the characterization isn’t just bad, but then again, there are real villains in the world who ought to be hated and/or feared. I’m not saying you should congratulate yourself for annoying your reader, but I wouldn’t worry too much if one or two people cite this as a reason for not enjoying the story as much as they would have liked.

  1. Tone – Some people love humorous books, but often, when things veer into the ridiculous, I turn off as a reader. I love when there’s a lighthearted tone even about serious situations, but if everything’s a joke, then I can’t take the story seriously. The same could be said for a story being too gloomy. I don’t do well with tragedies on the whole.
  1. Outrage over a plot point/ ending – I think this one could easily cut both ways, as in be a good thing or be a bad thing, but I’m going to focus on the good here. If you can evoke very strong emotion in a reader, you just might be doing your job. Hopefully, you’ve intended for the reaction and aren’t being blindsided by people freaking out unexpectedly. Although this could be another sign of your skill as a writer, be cautious. You want readers to be on your side. Evoking emotion is good, but provoking a reader beyond reason is not good. Try to find that nice balance point.

Conclusion: Writing is an art and a skill. One of the aspects that I love most about writing is that it can be improved over time with practice. Some writers are afraid to share their work, but if you want to make it the best it can be, you’re going to have to let other people critique your baby along the way. If they truly have your best interests at heart, the people who critique the work will be open and brutally honest. Some of what they say may sound harsh, but take it with good grace. Remember, it’s not an attack on you. I’ll share more of my thoughts on what to do with constructive criticism later.

Thanks for listening.

-Jules

Journey to BookExpo America/BookCon 2015 – is a similar journey for you?

Dear Reader,

Thank you for taking the time to check out my blog. I’m trying to make it more useful to people, so I thought I’d start out by sharing some of the journey to BEA/BookCon 2015. This year it was held at the Javits center in New York City.

Who should care? (Who is this aimed at?)

A lot of writers dream of showing off their works at a large conference, but they may not understand what’s involved in becoming an exhibitor at a show like BookExpo America. I know I didn’t when I started the process. Hopefully, this will help ease you through some of the pain if you’d like to try it someday.

Why do people want to attend conferences like this as exhibitors?

There are many reasons/goals, but here are a few and my thoughts on them.

  • Make money – Unless you’ve got a lot of things to sell, this might not be the most realistic goal. I have seen children’s books being sold by indie authors, and that’s cool. I think they did fairly well, but I suppose it depends on what you’re selling and who’s coming to the conference.
  • Gain exposure – This was probably my primary reason for getting in gear enough to be there. I wanted to meet people, and I took the opportunity to start an email list. I gathered about 600 names and about 120 either didn’t work or the people unsubscribed immediately. That’s fine. I don’t want people on my list who don’t wish to be there. That can’t be good for anybody.
  • The cool factor – Not going to lie, it’s a very cool thing to be able to say, “I had a booth at BEA.” However, if that’s your only reason, I suggest finding a cheaper way to gain your cool factor. It takes a lot of time, effort, and money to get to a conference like this.
  • Life goal – This can tie into “the cool factor” and make that more legitimate as a reason for putting yourself through all this.

How do I sign up for a booth at BEA 2016?

Check out the official website for more details. Although I’m sure they’d be willing to book you at any time, they don’t have their gold rush on booth space until December/January. So you have some time to think about the commitment involved. Make a list of questions and call them. Their customer service is decent.

My Questions and Their Answers:

Question 1: How much does a booth cost?

Answer 1: It varies by year. This year a 6×8 booth costs $3643. This booth is furnished and has 2 chairs, carpet, a table, a garbage can

Question 2: How do you pay?

Answer 2: By check in installments. (They mail a bill out. I believe I made three payments.)

Question 3: What are the dos and don’t about swag?

Answer 3: You can give away candy and run raffles from your booth, but you can’t walk the aisles or interfere with the booths around you.

Question 4: Can you autograph from the booth?

Answer 4: You can sign up for an in-booth autographing session. (They put a note in the official booklet about which booths have signings. This privilege costs $95 (as of this year – I expect that to rise next year), and I’d probably skip it next time, but it was good to do for the first time. That’s the cheap option. The formal autographing lines cost more than double that.)

Question 5: What are the shipping costs and other fees to get books and booth materials to your booth?

Answer 5: Freeman handles all that?

Internal thought: Huh?

Answer 5 continued: Freeman is the official contractor. You’ll have to contact them about the prices. (I believe it came to $406.50 for them to take my almost 200 lbs of stuff to the booth. I conscripted help from many friends to haul the leftovers back to the train for me.)

*Please note, you should call them for yourself with your own list of questions because the answers may vary for your specific situation.

 

Insurance, Supplies, and Other Costs:

  • BEA insurance = $75.00. It seems like a waste, but I’m sure if somebody walked off with all my stuff, I’d be singing a different tune.
  • Books to take to sell and giveaway = $924.40. Using this year as research, I would definitely change up how many of each book I got and which books I stocked, etc. You can’t actually sell during BookExpo America, but you can sell at BookCon.
  • Booth supplies = $502.04. Now, this includes things like the banner I commissioned a friend to make. The bulk of this was to GotPrint to make postcards of the various books I have. I have about 10 titles, so this was a lot. Plus, I have a ton left over, so next year, I may not have to order any bookmarks or postcards. It also includes things like packing tape, sharpies, candy, nameplates, etc from Walmart. I also bought pencils and wristbands with one of the book titles. While these things enhanced the cool factor of my booth, they’re not necessary and they do add up.

* Keep in mind, you’ll need to factor in travel and accommodation expenses. I won’t put in my numbers because they won’t help you.

* My total budget came to about $8000. Now, you can do it for much less. Next time around, I probably will do it for much less, but I wanted all the bells and whistles I could get for this first show.

 

Points of Irritation:

  • The state of New York requires that you have a certificate of authority to collect sales tax if you’re going to sell anything within the state. I found that lovely little fact out about business days before the show. To be fair, my certificate did indeed arrive in time. The signup process wasn’t terribly intuitive, but if you’ve ever filled out something as arduous as the FASFA or obtained a fishing license from your state…you’re probably good to go with handling the online runaround.
  • I forgot that my booth had carpet, so I ordered some through Freeman. They were super nice about refunding that though. High marks for their customer service. There was also another snafu that I had no control over. I send the books/materials by 1 day priority mail because it was about $25/ box. For some reason 5 arrived two days later and 1 arrived in 1 day. So, Freeman sent me two bills. I got it sorted with them though, and again, their customer service was top notch.

Helpful websites:

Official website of BookExpo America – This site is great for background information, but it’s tough to get straight answers on prices. I suggest calling them first. If they sense you’re likely to book a booth with them, they will get back to you in a timely manner.

Freeman – official contractor

Would I do it all again?

In a heartbeat. However, I’m undecided on joining BEA in 2016 as they’re moving it to Chicago. While it would be great to hit a new audience, I live much closer to NYC. I believe I could keep the budget about the same in total by shuffling around priorities, but it might be good to take a year off and check out a few smaller conferences instead.

Thanks for listening. Hope you found this useful. Have a great day.

Sincerely,

Jules

Let’s Try Blogging – Take 8

NeverAgain_final 2 in

Let’s see, it’s been about a decade since I first started blogging. I think my number of posts is still well below 100. I wonder how long this kick will last. So far, I like wordpress a little more than blogger, but it could just be the “new toy” glow that has yet to fade.

Oohh, look, the picture thingy works. Great. I would put up a new cover, but I might have already asked somebody to do a cover reveal for me.

Stay tuned.