Monday, March 28, 2011

Blurbs & Tag lines & Hooks, Oh my!

Blurbs, tag lines and hooks are just plain scary. How can an author reduce the manuscript to one high-concept, one-sentence tag line, followed by a couple of paragraphs introducing the hero, his conflict, the heroine, her conflict, (essentially, the blurb) and ending in the “hook” – a two-sentence tease to entice the editor or agent to ask for a partial?

For my Wild Rose Press title, Sacred Guardian, I froze. I'd done okay with my short story for Words of the Witches, so why oh why couldn't I do this? It took fellow Wild Rose Press author and then President of the San Francisco Chapter of Romance Writers of America, Sophie Littlefield, as well as our SFA-RWA link group to help me translate my "Lakota-marine-steps-on-a-mine-in-1968-and-though-he-has-been-dead-for-a-while-falls-for-a-punk-single-mom-who-accidentally-overdoses . . ." book into a blurb, tag line and hook.

One would think that after years of writing book reviews for ForeWord magazine, which required a two-sentence synopsis of the book you were reviewing plus a review, all within the 400-word restriction on review length, and many workshops at San Francisco Romance Writers of America monthly meetings, I wouldn't still feel like a deer in the headlights about this, but the fact is, I do. However, there are some things that make it easier.

First, it helps to step back. If possible, after you have completed a book, set it aside before you tackle the blurb, tag line and hook.

Second, call in some help. Though this is not always the case, it is often better to go outside of your circle of family and friends, even outside your critique group. Anyone who has been with you since page one could be too close to your book as well. Someone who is fresh, who likes to read the genre, and has not read the book yet can often yield a snappy one-line summary.

Third, if you have a local Romance Writers of America chapter that meets regularly, ask if they would mind having a "pitch" session after the meeting where you can do your best to pitch your book and the group can ask questions about it to help you clarify your approach. I've gotten great ideas while helping other authors pitch their own books.

Fourth, pick favorite movies in your genre and see how the studios have marketed them in promotional materials. You might find that you disagree with how a movie you loved was promoted by the film industry. This is valuable as well, because if you really love a movie, you may be too close to it. You could try to come up with a better high concept tag line. Just play around with it and see.

Finally, if you are already working with an agent or editor, please listen to them. They have professional distance from your book, and are uniquely placed to know what would entice the audience. For example, here is the blurb for Sacred Guardian, a joint effort between my Black Rose editor, Eilidh MacKenzie and me:

Three Rules governed Joe Littlehawk's existence as a Sacred Guardian: never interfere, never let them see you, and NEVER touch. Before he watched over Alena, he'd never broken any.

Young single mother Alena Morgan has no time for anything remotely paranormal. Yet when she suffers an accidental overdose of powerful migraine medication, she can't deny the glorious Native American dude who appears and saved her.

She tries to write it off as a near-death hallucination, but she has no explanation for the Voice that only she can hear and the flowering of her heart as she lets this otherworldly Being into her life. When Joe enters Alena's dreams where they can touch one another, neither of them realizes the deadly consequences of their love.

Happy writing!


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