In Ireland and the UK, we call them ‘blurbs’ – the text, usually a couple of paragraphs, on the back of a book designed to make you want to buy it. On my ebook release, you’ll find it in my listings. When I do a paperback release, it’ll be on the back cover.
I’m a novelist and I write professionally (sometimes). How hard can a couple of paragraphs be?
Excuse me while I tear some of my hair out. I wasn’t using it anyway.
I’m polishing mine today ahead of sharing it here on the blog tomorrow. I’m nervous about sharing my cover copy/blurb/teaser- it’s the first baby step in the process of sharing my book, which is a terrifying journey. Tomorrow will be my first time revealing what the book is actually about. I’m also hoping some kind souls might offer some feedback on how to improve it, ahead of slapping it on my book prior to release.
In the meantime, here’s the method I used for writing it:
1. Check out other blurbs in the same genre.
I quickly discovered that erotica blurbs come in three varieties:
– Dark, adjective and adjective, he was the only man that could satisfy her. Torn, adjective and adjective, she is powerless/must surrender/must not surrender/other disturbingly war-like phrase.
I wasn’t nuts about these, because I like some character traits to cling on to, and this told me a lot about how people were feeling but not a whole lot about why I should like them or give a crap. This works for a lot of readers, but it’s not really my thing.
– Really, really long blurbs. Like, five paragraphs.
I found one of these on the listing of an excellent self-published erotic novel that I had read and enjoyed. Even though I’d read the book (and count it among my favourites), I couldn’t get through the blurb because it was so. Freaking. Long (as opposed to so long freaking, which I could handle). There was a little bit too much character to cling on to – by the end of the listing I figured I could skip the book.
– Regular blurbs with some sex in them.
I liked these ones best.
As I’m new the genre and the conventions of the genre, I decided to go model my blurb on the ‘Regular blurbs with some sex in them’ (because they appealed to me most, and they are the books I was most likely to buy, and I imagine my future readers – please God I have some – will probably have some tastes in common with me). However, I also incorporated some elements of the ‘Dark, adjective and adjective’ blurbs – a lot of erotic bestsellers have these, and while I’m not setting out to ape bestsellers in the hope of becoming one, I figure bestsellers are probably bestsellers because they are delivering what their readers want. And although I found the adjectivey blurbs a little light on character, I didn’t find a single one that wasn’t at least slightly evocative.
2. Figure out what the conflict is
What’s the problem? Why is there a book? Why can’t the main character just have what they want? That needs to be in the blurb.
Harry Potter has to defeat his parents’ killer. Frodo has to destroy the One Ring and some folk would rather he didn’t. In romance novels, something is causing the course of true love not to run smoothly and in erotica, there may be something that keeps the lovers apart, or something that forces them to confront uncomfortable realities when they’re together – that’s the heart of your blurb.
Your conflict will give you some clues about your character too. Why can’t Harry just say ‘Sod this, lads, I’ve no parents. Yizzer on your own. I’m off for a Butterbeer’? Because that isn’t Harry. Why can’t the heroine of any romance novel ever say ‘Meh, plenty more where he came from!’? Because that’s not who she is (and if it is, you don’t have a book. . .).
Now you have your raw materials – an idea what a blurb looks like, the conflict that needs to be included and a sense of the character traits that need to come through. So we’re ready to start putting the whole lot together.
3. Establish the status quo, the thing your protagonist wants and the thing that turns it all upside-down – not necessarily in that order.
Where is your protagonist when we start? What do they want? (Very often, the answer to this is either ‘a quiet life’ or ‘to stay in the mildly unhappy rut they’ve carved for themselves’ – but make it sound more interesting than that if you can!). For my main character, as you’ll see tomorrow, the thing she wants the most is ‘not to screw up anything else.’
But we wouldn’t have a novel if our protagonist got what they wanted too soon. . . so something happens to turn things upside down.
4. Establish the consequences of the turning upside-down.
Isn’t it happily ever after for Harry when he arrives at wizard school? Why is it so bad that this tall, dark and dangerous guy has rocked up to change our heroine’s world? What is so catastrophic about two people having a shag? Tell us without spoiling the ending.
5. Reinforce the conflict
Amy Temple is a mild-mannered bookish sort who is happiest with a bottle of Prosecco, a dog and a pile of Hannibal DVDs while she dreams of south Dublin home ownership (status quo). Until Self-Publishing rocks up on her doorstep and sweeps her off her feet, convincing her to take risks she never dreamed of (upside down).
But Self-Publishing isn’t all Konrath-level sales and seven-figure print-only deals. As Amy is drawn deeper into the world of Self-Publishing, she discovers that formatting, publicising her work and incisive edits are an unavoidable consequence of her new, exciting passion (conflict). Can Amy pursue her new love without losing herself in her KDP sales reports? Is Self-Publishing all that zie is cracked up to be? (reinforce the conflict).
Tomorrow you can take a look at how this worked for me in practice. I’m off to find a dog and some Prosecco first, though.