What do I mean by a blurb? You know— that one line or one paragraph description that instantly encapsulates what your book is about. When you're ready to submit your novel, a query letter may be the only chance you have to get an agent or publisher to request your manuscript. That means you have to get all the information they need on one page, including your bio, your plot, and your contact information. Anyone who has ever tried to write a one page query letter knows how difficult this is. And even if you are already published or intend to publish your book yourself, learning how to write this all-important blurb in a comprehensive and entertaining style is crucial to the sales of your books. These days, promotion is all. And you will be expected to do some promotion.
If you can get one, it’s a good idea to solicit an endorsement from a famous or, at least, an established author. For my most recent release, RAVENSTONE, I acquired a wonderful marketing blurb by Edgar award winning suspense author, T. J. MacGregor. This is what she said: "Intrigue, romance, duplicities, an ancient mystery: Ravenstone is captivating." — T. J. MacGregor, Running Time, winner of Edgar Allan Poe award 2003, Out of Sight.
How does one go about doing this? First of all, never burn any bridges. Although I don’t know Ms MacGregor personally, several years ago, when I was a feature columnist for Suite 101's Writing Bestsellers web page, I interviewed her. It was the year she won the Edgar Allan Poe award for Best Paperback Original. I remembered what a quick, insightful, and down-to-earth interviewee she was, and took the chance of asking her to read RAVENSTONE. To my surprise and my great pleasure, she said Yes. There was always a risk that she wouldn’t like the book, but luckily that wasn’t the case. The moral of the story is that you have to take the chance. You have nothing to lose except that maybe you’ll be disappointed.
But if you’re not ready to ask a known author or don’t feel confident enough to do this, you can write your own. Writing a short, sharp, concise synopsis that reveals not only your novel's plot, but its setting, characters, genre and tone is not impossible. So how do you condense 100,000 words into 50 or less?
If you have already written a longer synopsis, this job should not be too difficult. If you haven't written one, then now is the time to do it.
Summarize the salient points of your book. Ask yourself: What is it really about? Then isolate the most important things about the book. If you come up with too many points, rank them. Then look at what you've put at the top. If you're having trouble deciding what should be on top, then invite an objective reader of your book to rank your points. Then decide what makes your book different.
When you're finished this exercise, you should know concisely what your book is about, and you should be able to state it on less than one page. Here is an example of a description of one of my previous novels, WHITE RAVEN, and how I condensed it into one line:
Version 1 "It's a bad time for Jake Lalonde to visit Skidegate to search for his mother. All she left him is a picture of a totem pole that upsets everyone who sees it. The Queen Charlotte Haida are embroiled in a logging dispute. Dead animals are turning up everywhere, rekindling belief in the mythical Seawolf. And an Elder, Jimmy Sky, decides they must kill a seal to put an end to the talk.
Jake is troubled. Why does Susan Tom—now Susie MacPherson, a logger's wife, deny being his mother? Why is Henry Moon avoiding him? What does Thomas MacPherson hold over Henry's head, and why is Jake so desperately attracted to his daughter when he is seriously involved with Angeline? Only Jimmy Sky knows.
So Jake goes searching for his father, and the answers to a recurring dream. Resentful of his obsession, Angeline involves herself in the logging dispute. Lyell Island will be levelled if someone doesn't stop Thomas MacPherson. She agrees to testify at a hearing that will grant the island to the Haida.
The court date approaches. Jake heads out on the seal hunt. Jimmy Sky is stabbed. Angeline, who witnesses the incident, runs for her life, ends up a maniac's captive, only to escape into a harrowing race to save Jake's life. Henry's family goes missing. And Jimmy Sky is in the hospital with a coma. They converge in Skidegate Inlet. Tragedy strikes, and two men die. The dream, the totem pole, the Seawolf, all fall into place. And Jake realizes Jimmy Sky is his father."
This synopsis is too long and too descriptive. Anyone reading it would get bored and confused.
Version 2 "It's a bad time for Jake Lalonde to visit Skidegate to search for his mother. All she left him is a picture of a totem pole that upsets everyone who sees it. The Queen Charlotte Haida are embroiled in a logging dispute. Dead animals are turning up everywhere rekindling belief in an ancient myth. And an Elder, Jimmy Sky, decides that something – or someone – must die to put an end to the talk.
When Jake learns that his mother is dead, he goes searching for his father and the answers to a recurring dream. He risks all to discover the truth — even his love for Angeline.
A rollicking tale of archaeology with breathtaking Pacific scenery, White Raven brims with adventure, ancient myths and a bitter feud between environmentalists and loggers. A fast-paced novel alive with colour, romance, and suspense, it continues the saga of Jake Lalonde's search for his Haida heritage."
This version is shorter and more focussed but still too long for what most agents and publishers want in a query letter. For marketing purposes, it requires too much concentration from the reader. You want to grab them instantly.
Version 3 "A rollicking tale of archaeology with breathtaking Pacific scenery, White Raven brims with adventure, ancient myths and a bitter feud between environmentalists and loggers. A fast-paced novel alive with colour, romance, and suspense, it continues the saga of Jake Lalonde's search for his Haida heritage."
Even cut this short, version 3 retains a sense of time and place, mood, genre, and what the story is about. But it could be condensed even further into one line:
Version 4 "Set against breathtaking Pacific scenery, White Raven, the sequel to The Raven's Pool, brims with adventure, archaeology, ancient myths, and a bitter feud between environmentalists and loggers."
This was what I came up for a one line synopsis. And this is what I usually use to market my book. It's quick. It's short. And it tells the reader enough about the novel to help them decide if they want to read it or not.
Editing your synopsis from one page to one line is not an easy task. If your book was reviewed professionally, dissect the review down to its main point. This will give you an objective view of what your book is about and maybe give you some ideas on how to phrase it. Here are some salient points that I gathered from a recent review of WHITE RAVEN.
"When myth comes to life, no one is safe...This wonderful mix of mythology, tradition, mystery and even romance is a delightful read... A true storyteller. Her descriptive writing puts you right there...This fast-paced book is not one you will want to put down." – review by Heather Froeschl BookReview.com
The reviewer's assessment of my book identified some important points. 1)mythology, 2)mystery 3)romance 4)setting 5)fast-paced. Short of reviews to help you narrow down the most meaningful aspects of your novel, ask a friend or fellow writer who has read your book. It's amazing what their insight will tell you.
One last word. In advertising, short and punchy is best. For my latest book. THE PIRATE VORTEX: Elizabeth Latimer, Pirate Hunter, I shortened a one page blurb to this:
"Techno-savvy Elizabeth Latimer plunges through an oceanic vortex into pirate country and plays matchmaker to her pirate ancestors in this hip and hilarious adventure."
You can see the original version at http://thepiratevortex.wordpress.com/