Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Monday, March 28, 2011
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.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
I admit I dislike writing blurbs almost as much as writing a synopsis. It's really difficult to distill that multi-plot story into a couple paragraphs. I found a simple soulution: when I read a good blurb, I save it into a file. When its time to write one I review the ones I've saved. The other blogs this month have gone over the contents of a good blog. Once you've read ten or twenty in a row the pattern becomes clear.
Here's the blurb for my May release, Ancient Blood. See if it makes you want to read more.
Lily Alban escapes a murderous stalker, but his vicious attack leaves her with the ability to see auras. She finds safety in the tiny hamlet of Rhodes End where a stranger stands out like a red light. Try as she might to deny her growing desire for Cole, she seeks his help but soon discovers the man she loves is not a man at all.
Werewolf Cole Benedict resists his attraction to Lily. A botanist researching the healing herbs to find a cure for Lycanthropy, he’s determined to protect Lily from her stalker as well as himself even in human form, but instinct takes over when he changes to his inner beast.
Together they must use their extraordinary gifts to catch Lily’s stalker before he attacks again, but revealing their secrets to one another could destroy their growing love or save them both.
visit me at http://www.barbaraedwards.net
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
You will use it to sell your manuscript to a publishing company. You will then use it to sell your book to the public. You want your blurb to catch the reader's interest, to make your reader anxious to read that story!
That's all well and good. But one question I'm often asked by other writers is this: "Where do I start? I've written 100K words. There are plots and subplots. I can't possibly distill this intricate masterpiece down to one or two sentences. You can't be serious!"
I am serious. And you can do this!
The first step is to get at the heart of the story you've written. In order to do that, I use this simple exercise:
The hero/heroine wants _____________ but can't ___________ because __________.
In the case of a romance, you'll do this twice:
The hero wants _____________ but can't ___________ because __________.
The heroine wants _____________ but can't ___________ because __________.
That's the bones of your story. And you wrote it in one or two sentences.
This is what I wrote for my upcoming mystery, FLOWERBED OF STATE.
Casey Calhoun wants to succeed as the White House's new organic gardener but can't focus on her job because a murderer is targeting her.
That quickly written sentence turned into this:
Free-spirited Casey Calhoun, the White House's new organic gardener, has a lot on her mind with her upcoming presentation to the First Lady outlining her plans for implementing organic practices on the White House grounds while preparing for the Spring Garden Tour and the annual Easter Egg Roll. But all her carefully made preparations begin to unravel after she's mugged in the same park where a Treasury accountant was murdered. Not long after that, she accidentally pepper sprays a Secret Service agent, a senator begins a campaign against organic gardening, and Wall Street's most eligible bachelor takes a sudden romantic interest in her. Not to mention the President's new puppy is constantly nipping at her heels and digging holes in the South Lawn.
The FBI and Secret Service assure her that they are on top of the murder investigation, but something isn't adding up. While they thwart a plot to assassinate the President, Casey follows the clues she’s found all the way to the Easter Egg Roll where she saves a senator from being killed by the Easter bunny.
I used this blurb along with two sample chapters and three short synopses to convince Berkley Prime Crime to offer me a three-book deal for the White House Gardener Mysteries.
Book 1 in the series, Flowerbed of State will be available May 3, 2011.
So now it's your turn. Using this exercise, take your latest manuscript and quickly distill your book down to one or two sentences.
Faith was looking for a one-night stand. What she got was an otherworldly hunk determined to make her his sex slave.
Dorothy McFalls/Dorothy St. James
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Monday, March 21, 2011
Destiny is rewritten for Michael Malone, a mystically enhanced vampire, with an outcome so unexpected that everyone in his world is stunned - Michael most of all. Suddenly mortal, he faces challenges unlike any he has ever experienced. Alana, his Guardian and soul mate, questions how the evil that lived within Michael was vanquished. Lukas, his human son, doesn't trust his father's heartbeat, and Michael himself has no answer.
The bonds of their love will face the greatest test of all when the ancient demon anchored within Michael for 317 years is discovered within an innocent human.
Can Michael, Alana, and Lukas destroy the evil unleashed in order to give Michael his soul to keep?
Now for a bit of shameless promo. His Soul to Keep releases July,22 2011!
Okay. Back to blurbs. I love to read them. Good ones make me open a book and sneak a peek. It's often difficult to grab readers with 200 words, but a good blurb will. I look for drama, a hint of action as well as emotion. Although a writer doesn't want to give too much away, you can draw a reader in.
Do good blurbs sell books? I'm not sure, but writing it tight, chock full of words that flow, sets the tone.
I'd be pretty irate if I was misled by blurb, excerpt or even cover art. Wouldn't you?
Angela Anderson's stunning talent does my novel justice and TWRP's blurb department really delivered. Gosh, I'm so proud to be a Black Rose in TWRP's growing garden!
Have a great day ~ Mickey Flagg www.mflagg-author.com
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
For me, writing blurbs begins with preparing to write my story. When I get a story idea, I write it out as a short synopsis or quick outline. This helps me when I write the story, something I can refer to during the writing process. I also use it as inspiration when I need to write out a full synopsis and blurb. After several (and I mean several!) revisions of those few lines of description, a blurb is born.
Here's the blurb for my brand new March release, The Witch and the Vampire:
Sebastian Collins should have left for London days ago. Now a snowstorm has trapped him with a woman who has come seeking protection, a woman who intrigues him like no other. And with each passing hour, his hunger for her grows…hunger for her kiss, her caress, and her blood.
You know, I really thought I’d be able to do it. Write my own back cover blurb that is. I’ve worked with copywriters, and it's always looked easy enough. This time the copy is for my own book. How difficult can it be?
Oh per-lease – what wicked little imp was sitting on my shoulder laughing his socks off when I thought that? You’d think it would be simple wouldn’t you? Especially for your own book; after all, who knows the book better than you do yourself? Hah! Perish the thought. There’s a word count to start with. Didn’t think of that? Well it has to fit onto the back cover doesn’t it? I should know that, I’m a book cover designer in my day job, and the bane of my life is trying to fit the copy onto a back cover whilst still making it look attractive. (More of that later.) But there’s so much to take into consideration – like how much of the plot to reveal, whether to give away any twists, or just hint at them, and yet still give the book-buying public an enticing taster of the story. All in under 150 words. No pressure there then.
The idea, apparently, is to sum up the novel in a few paragraphs, making it sound ‘unputdownable’ and a ‘must read.’ Somehow, the hero, heroine and protagonist must all get a mention. If it’s a romance, whether paranormal or otherwise, the prospective reader needs to know who (or what) the hero is, the object of his desire, and the problems he needs to overcome in order to achieve a happy ending. But I have made it sound a bit easy, and it really isn’t. If you found writing a synopsis difficult – try writing the back cover blurb! (Cue for slightly hysterical screeching here.) I have to say writing the whole novel was less problematic.
But I tried, honestly I did. I wrote and rewrote and then wrote it all again. Too long, too short, too linear, it went from not teasing enough, to giving too much away, and so on. I was beginning to despair of ever getting the blurb to resemble anything half-way decent, when Callie Lynn Wolfe, my lovely editor stepped in and sorted out my bumbling blurb in a matter of minutes. (Well it felt like minutes to me.) I collapsed in a grateful heap and then began thinking about the blurb as seen from ‘the other side.’
Here in the UK, publishers employ copywriters specifically to write cover blurb, I don’t know how it works in the US, but I suspect it’s much the same. Copywriting is an art, and the copy has to please everyone – and I do mean everyone – from the publisher to the commissioning editor and the sales and marketing teams – to the author, and all this before the copy even reaches the long-suffering cover designer. It’s always late too, and now I know why!
*Hands up* I will admit to a slightly biased agenda here. I am often plagued by the sheer amount of cover copy which has to be squeezed onto the back of an A-format paperback. So from my point of view as a designer, less is more. Oho, how different it became when the boot was on the other foot so to speak. That’ll teach me!
The back cover really needs to be almost as attractive and eye-catching as the front cover. Sound weird? I’ll explain. Most books in your average bookshop are displayed spine out. Very few are front out, apart from the well-known authors and obvious bestsellers. When Mr or Ms Book-buyer takes the book from the shelf to look at, he (or she) would (hopefully) have been attracted by the cover in the first instance, but what’s the next thing they do? Absolutely. Turn the book over to read the blurb. If the back cover is full of dense, small type, the chances are they will lose interest and put the book back. They really don’t want a lot of information, but they need just enough to see whether it’s their kind of book – or not – in a couple of paragraphs. (So that’s all there is to it, huh?)
Often (again, here in the UK) there are copious reviews which someone somewhere wants to add to the back cover. Reviews are usually preferred in bold type, which takes up even more space. As an author, I can appreciate any positive reviews are a massive bonus, but as a designer, do the general public really care whether Mr Pattinson-Smythe of Fly Fishing Weekly thinks a novel is ‘Wonderful?’ Very unlikely. Although if a quote from The New York Times says the book is ‘wonderful’ it would definitely go on the cover with great joy. (In huge type – probably bigger than the title.)
In these days of Amazon and e-book downloads, it’s the front cover which (hopefully) catches the eye of the browsing buyer, followed by a few lines of copy taken from the back cover. These lines have to really work and they don’t have long in which to do it. Admit it, you’ve often scrolled down through pages of your favourite genre in order to find something you like the look of, until either a cover or a particular clever copyline catches your eye. So the cover blurb is so very important and probably the reason I freaked and gibbered all over the place whilst trying to get it right. To my editor I can only say, “You rock.” It’s been a very steep learning curve for this ‘fledgling’ author.
So . . . here it is then, the approved blurb for my novel, with a lot of help from my friends!
Three-hundred-year old William James Austen has settled into a comfortable life of wealth and privilege. As the vampire Elder of London, the Machiavellian Will always gets what he wants. What he wants now is Elinor Jane Wakefield, but she’s human, and he hasn’t turned a human for centuries. His own city rules forbid it.
Enjoying a successful dancing career on the West End stage, Ellie’s life takes an unexpected turn when she is plunged into the terrifying existence of a fledgling vampire… The need for blood does not rate high on her agenda, and she doesn’t trust the one man who can help her through her transition.
Will is determined to win Ellie’s love and trust, but when his maker, Khiara, arrives in London, sparks really begin to fly. What hope can there be now for the eternal love Will craves?
Phew! And relax . . .
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Story type: action fantasy
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
(On a side note: it explains why I've never had a character wear a sports bra - my mind blocked out the horror - now, however, I can't wait to make them suffer. After all who doesn't want to make their characters go through something emotionally and physically demanding.)
Instruction: How to put on a sports bra.
1. Approach the sports bra with confidence, secure in the belief that you will wear it.
2. Holding the sports bra open by its bottom edge, peer into it and locate the medium-sized opening in the center of the cavity. This is your target.
3. Take a moment to ask yourself the following questions:
A. Am I naked from the waist up?
B. Have I removed my glasses?
If the answer to either is "no," make the necessary adjustments and return to Step 1.
4. Snake your right arm through the right armhole as far as it will go. Repeat for left arm and left armhole.
5. Assume power stance: feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Hook your thumbs into the sports bra's bottom-edge elastic and pull it out in front of you as far as possible. (Note: do not let go.)
6. In one, deft motion, pull the elastic toward you and over your head. If you have martial arts training, this would be the time to release your battle cry, or kiai.
7. You should now be standing with arms pointing skyward, the sports bra encircling you at chin level, binding your biceps to your ears.
8. Remain calm. Visualize yourself wearing the sports bra while engaged in a pleasant activity, such as not watching Jersey Shore.
9. Cross your arms in front of your face, grasp the bottom of the sports bra and begin tugging it down to your chest. This process should take 2-25 minutes and can be streamlined by the removal of one of your arms (advanced yoga practitioners only).
10. If you have followed steps 1-9 correctly, the sports bra is now strapped across the rise of your bosom, compressing the breasts downward to the point that you can see your pulse in your areolas.
11. Resume power stance (see Step 5). Holding firmly to the bottom edge of the sports bra, pull it away from your body in a downward arc until it grazes your kneecaps. Then, with a scraping motion, drag the sports bra upward along the front of your body, capturing all excess flesh in its path.
12. When the bottom elastic reaches the desired altitude on your rib cage, release it. Then, while holding the top of the sports bra away from your body with one hand, plunge the other hand into the sports bra to distribute and align its contents, which should include both of your breasts.
Note: If you are unable to locate two (2) breasts in the sports bra, do not become alarmed as they are likely nearby. Remove the sports bra (see "How to Take Off a Sports Bra") and return to Step 1 of these instructions.
Want to read about my characters not wearing sports bras, go here.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
A blurb is a promotional statement about a book. A two to three paragraph summary that tells the reader what the book is about. Pick up any book, look at the back, and you'll find the blurb. If it's a hardcover, the blurb will be written on the dustcover jacket. Blurbs are tools writers use to entice a reader to open the book. And it's a tool readers use to decide if it's the kind of book he/she would like to read.
But how do writers decide what to put in a blurb? What are the most important features of a blurb and how does one condense a two-three hundred word story down to a few paragraphs?
I like to start with a tag line or a hook and then expand from there. A tag line is a one sentence "zinger" that grabs a reader's attention. The blurb itself shouldn't be passive. And it should give the reader a description of the hero and heroine and their conflict or goals.
When preparing to write a blurb, a writer must first identify the hook. That's the tagline. Then, the tagline is followed by a brief summary of the story. I like to start with a paragraph for the hero and one for the heroine (not necessarily in that order) and end with a summary paragraph that gives the reader a sense of the conflict or danger and a hint of emotion. Think GMC: Goals, motivation, conflict.
Here research could cure his dark hunger if a covert government agent doesn't get to her first.
Vincent Maxwell is a vampire with a conscience seeking a cure to his dark hunger. But when a scientist looking to create vampire soldiers captures and kills a fellow vampire, Vincent seeks out Dr. Megan Harper, a research scientist who discovered a link between a genetic light sensitivity disorder and vampirism. Dr. Harper could hold a key to a cure and the answers to Gerard’s death. But getting close to the beautiful scientist could endanger both their lives.
When Megan meets Vincent she believes he suffers from xeroderma pigmentosum, the genetic disease that killed her sister. Sensing a deep loneliness within the handsome man, she offers friendship and access to her research files. But she and Vincent soon become more than friends and Megan learns the horrifying truth. She's entered the dark and unseen world of vampires and Vincent is her only hope of survival.
For my historical romance, Slightly Tarnished set for release on 6/3/11, I worked the book's title into the blurb. But my tagline isn't quite as catchy.
Tagline: Victorian romance laced with danger.
When a brooding English earl with a SLIGHTLY TARNISHED reputation marries his dead wife’s American cousin to save her from her uncle’s vengeful schemes, the sea captain’s daughter with a taste for adventure sparks desires he thought long dead.
Nicole Keller has always been headstrong and independent, but after a failed business venture and a sinking ship take her father, her home, and her childhood sweetheart, Nikki must support herself and her mother. But moving to England and marrying Chadwick Masters, Earl of Gilchrest isn’t what she has in mind. And falling in love with the mysterious earl could endanger both their lives.
Figuring out how to write taglines and blurbs wasn't easy. Besides the help I received from my local writer's group, Heart of Carolina Romance Writers, I took an online class on writing blurbs. And then I studied blurbs by reading movie summary's and taglines.
Now, here's an exercise. Go to this website: http://www.imdb.com/
The first line on the page describing the movie is the tag line: The aliens are coming and their goal is to invade and destroy. Fighting superior technology, Man's best weapon is the will to survive.
It's the same tagline that would appear on the back if this were a book.
Now scroll down to plot summary. (In a book, this would be the blurb): On July 2nd, communications systems worldwide are sent into chaos by a strange atmospheric interference. It is soon learned by the military that a number of enormous objects are on a collision course with Earth. At first thought to be meteors, they are later revealed to be gigantic spacecraft, piloted by a mysterious alien species. After attempts to communicate with the aliens go nowhere, David Levinson, an ex-scientist turned cable technician, discovers that the aliens are going to attack major points around the globe in less than a day. On July 3rd, the aliens all but obliterate New York, Los Angeles, and Washington. The survivors set out in convoys towards Area 51, a strange government testing ground where it is rumored the military has a captured alien spacecraft of their own. The survivors devise a plan to fight back against the enslaving aliens, and July 4th becomes the day humanity will fight for its freedom. July 4th is their Independence Day...
Further down, you'll find the plot synopsis. Okay. That's kind of self-explanatory but if you need help writing a synopsis, check out the synopsis for your favorite movie.
The "blurb" for this movie is a bit passive and a little long, but do this exercise several times and you'll get the hang of it.
Tagline: A pushy boss forces her young assistant to marry her in order to keep her Visa status in the U.S. and avoid deportation to Canada.
For three years, Andrew Paxton has slaved as the assistant to Margaret Tate, hard-driving editor at a New York publisher. When Margaret, a Canadian, faces deportation for an expired visa, she hatches a scheme to marry Andrew - he agrees if she'll promise a promotion. A skeptical INS agent vows to test the couple about each other the next Monday. Andrew had plans to fly home that weekend for his grandma's 90th, so Margaret goes with him - to Sitka, Alaska - where mom, dad, and grams await. Family dynamics take over: tensions between dad and Andrew, an ex-girlfriend, Andrew's dislike of Margaret, and her past color the next few days, with the INS ready to charge Andrew with fraud.
Since The Proposal is a romantic comedy, the blurb should end with a question or statement about Andrew and Margaret's growing attraction. But again, the exercise serves its purpose.
Now, try this yourself and let me know how it worked for you. Or, share your favorite movie tagline or the tagline from your latest release.