Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Summing it up - Blurbs and Headlines

One of my favorite lines that I quote all the time comes from The Princess Bride. Westley comes back to life and needs to know what is going on. Inigo's response is "Let me explain....No, there is too much...let me sum up". That is the inspiration for today's post: Summing up your book.

It takes a ton of marketing materials to promote your book: Posters for books signings, bookmarks, postcards, ads, online postings. The list goes on and on. In all of these materials there are two things I use over and over again: Headlines and Blurbs.

The headline is probably the hardest to develop because you have a limited number of words. I suggest you limit it to 15. This needs to be short and snappy. It should be featured prominently in the design (Large lettering on a poster or at the top of an ad) and it needs to draw people in to find out more. There are two techniques that I've used commonly in my advertising career and they work well for books.

3 Sentence Technique
This is a great format because it can have a nice rhythm--a kind of meter that rolls of the tongue. The sentences need to be exceptionally short and to the point. We used this technique for "The Crown Conspiracy" it's headline is:

They killed the king. They pinned it on two men. They chose poorly.

Yes, it a bit of a play on Indiana Jones and the Lost Crusade but that's not such a bad thing. It also sums up the story pretty well as TCC is about two guys who are framed but ultimately catch the real killer. We have gotten a ton of people who have said "You had me at...." that headline so I think its proven to be a good one.

2 Sentence Twist
Another technique is the "2 sentence twist". This format uses a very simple straightforward statement and then has a twist that makes go "hmm". We used this for "Avempartha" it's headline is:

She hired them to save her father. The wizard had other plans.

This is designed to illicit questions. What did the father need saving from? What did the wizard want? How did he interfere with the original goal? This book is not out until April 2009 so we'll know if it works or if we have to adjust it as time goes on.

The blurb is a single paragraph (no not 2 or is 1) that you would typically see on the back of a book. If you were published through a traditional publisher your blurb is probably written for you...but don't feel just because they wrote it that you must use it. I've seen some pretty bad blurbs done by very large publishers. If you are fortunate enough to have a good blurb - your task is easy - enter it into your computer and have it easily accessible for copy and paste.

Keep the cat in the bag
Part of the problem with the blurb is you don't want to "give too much away". We toiled and toiled over the blurb for "The Crown Conspiracy" in it how the two main characters get out of jail is quite interesting. If we had "spilled the beans" on the back of the book we would definitely hook people...but they would also get a "spoiler" to the book and not come across this plot point on their own. In the end we decided not to put it in there but the temptation to "say too much" is tough and you should your best to not go too far.

Less is More
I recently finished a book by a new author (I try to support new authors whenever I can - something I encourage all other authors reading this post to do - we need to help one another) and after reading I went to the back of the book and read the blurb - Oh my God. It was a complete summary of the entire book! It's like some of those movie trailers that you see before the main feature and after watching you go - well good I saved $10.00 no reason to see that movie now. If you follow the first rule - 1 paragraph the likelihood this will not happen but since I've seen it happen too often it is worth pointing out.

Tease, please
The point of the blurb is to get someone to want to read the book. Sometimes the best way to do this is to end the blurb in a cliffhanger or to trail off. Ending in a question also works well. What you want to do is engage the reader so don't be afraid to leave the blurb with a bit of a teaser.

Learn by example
Writing a good blurb is not easy but there have been many of them written over the years and sometimes a trip to a library or a bookstore and reading the back of each book will help you to see patterns and develop a blurb that is compelling. Here are the blurbs we created for Michael's too books:

The Crown Conspiracy

Royce Melborn, a skilled thief, and his mercenary partner, Hadrian Blackwater make a profitable living carrying out dangerous assignments for conspiring nobles until they become the unwitting scapegoats in a plot to murder the king. Sentenced to death, they have only one way out…and so begins this epic tale of treachery and adventure, sword fighting and magic, myth and legend.


When a destitute young woman hires Royce and Hadrian to help save her remote village from nocturnal attacks, they are once more drawn into the schemes of the wizard Esrahaddon. While Royce struggles to breech the secrets of an ancient elven tower, Hadrian attempts to rally the villagers to defend themselves against the unseen killer. Once more, what begins with the simple theft of a sword places the two thieves at the center of a firestorm — but this time the outcome could change the future of Elan.

Think long and hard about your headline and blurb. Work them over and over and if you have one that doesn't work don't be afraid to revise it. They are the main tools you have to get the person to buy the book so invest in them wisely and it will directly effect your bottom line.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I actually spiced up my blurb by adding one simple sentence to it.

If he can be trusted.

My headline is "The story of a topless dancer who wants to be a cop and the sheriff's deputy who falls in love with her."

The blurb explains the drama which is going on with her fiance and the prostitution scandal at the strip club, and goes into how this deputy and her end up crossing paths and how he wants to help her.

But I thought that it seemed to happy la-la, and the story isnt all happy la-la, so I added that one sentence to grab your attention.

If he can be trusted.

I call it a power sentence. I think it is key to the blurb.