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The Importance of Blurbs

Discussion in 'Marketing' started by Philip Overby, Dec 7, 2013.

  1. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I was thinking this the other day. Oftentimes when I pick up a book, it has a lot to do with an interesting blurb. This almost always has something to do with some kind of concept I really like that is mentioned. For example Jay Kristoff's "Japanese steampunk " would attract me more as a modern reader than "a fantasy adventure." I'm not sure why that is, but concepts that are different to me in some way often attract my eye when I'm looking for new books.

    I often hear people say on the forum that they don't mind so much being original and that they want their writing to speak for itself. I believe this is important of course. But I'm just curious, how do you get people to read your writing without a concept that can hook them first?

    I was just looking at something posted yesterday about the Top 12 Books of 2013. Based on short descriptions of some of these books, I already want to read them. Some of this has to do with words that "pop" to me. This could be a genre name, a creature, a type of character, whatever.

    For instance if I see "steampunk," "berserker," "centaur," and "stock market" all in the same book description, I'm going to say "What in the hell is that?" This, for me, is a good reaction. However, if I see the words "adventure," "destiny," "magic," and "sword" it just doesn't evoke the same feeling from me. The second novel may be the superior one and the first novel may be a jumbled mess. But something about certain words just catches my eye. Like The Golem and the Jinni. I'm interested in this book based on the title alone, but the blurb is equally interesting for me:

    Lots of words pop out at me here. "Golem," "Kabbalistic magic," "jinni," "Syrian desert," "New York harbor 1899." I just wonder if other readers approach books the buy in the same way. And how as writers can we make our blurbs showcase our writing to the best of our ability?

    Should your blurb show what you have different to offer in order to hook new readers or is a more "economical," straight forward blurb good enough?
     
  2. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Short answer: yes.

    Longer answer:
    The other day someone asked about a story idea they had and wondered if it sounded too cliche. Without thinking too much about it I answered, as I usually do, that it doesn't matter too much if the basic story isn't all the original and that it's the way it's told that's important. I'm sure you've heard that before in one way or another. I do, quite firmly, believe that that's true.

    However...
    Something about the question stuck in my mind. With a short description like a blurb it's really hard to communicate the essence of the story and explain what makes it different from other stories just like it. You can say what you will about originality of plot not being important (and I will), but if the blurb makes the book seem like just every other book I've already read, then I probably won't bother with it.

    I'd say that when writing the blurb you really need to push the unique aspects of your work, even if the story itself isn't all that different from anything else.
    I haven't put much thought into a blurb for my own WIP, but a short and to the point explanation of what the story is about probably wouldn't sell many books:
    I could probably spice that up a fair bit, by adding in some parts that might make the reader curious about different aspects of the book:
    - It's Enar's first vacation since his mother died.
    - He's going to the anetacht to live in the traditional way of his people, seeking his roots (or something)
    - He meets magical creatures (wind sprites) and colorful locals (Hasse and Rosalove)
    - The woman he falls for is an "outsider" with a dark past

    Okay, so that may not be all that exciting, but I think that with some time and effort I could introduce that into the blurb in a way that would sell the story a lot better than the first quote.

    I guess that what I'm trying to say is that if you're short on space and are trying to cram in too much cool and awesome into it you'll end up sounding a bit silly.
     
  3. GeekDavid

    GeekDavid Auror

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    Not to hijack the thread, but wouldn't this fit better under Marketing? Blurbs are part of your book's marketing, and I don't think most authors even think about the blurb until the book is nearly completed (I don't).
     
  4. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    I guess I didn't consider that. I consider ever aspect of my writing as I'm doing it. Sure, it may be jumping the gun, but it can't hurt to do so.

    However, I think this is something that ties into writing questions as I think it connects straight forward writing with the right kind of tone for a blurb. Perhaps if I focused more on this question, it fits more: If a writer is not worried about being original with their actual story, then what about it will get people to read it in the first place? So what I mean is by writing a rather straight-forward story, does your book risk getting ignored if it sounds like a lot of other stories already out there?

    I don't think it is has to be cool and awesome, but doesn't it need to be eye-catching in some way? If the strength of your story doesn't shine through in the blurb, then how are people supposed to be interested in picking it up in the first place?
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2013
  5. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I don't understand what you mean by economical. If your book is different, won't that show from the "straight forward" blurb?


    This is a great blurb.

    What I've done above is Italicize the concrete sections, bold the abstract ones, and underline the thematic section. Some day it might be interesting to look at a few blurbs to see how that breakdown holds up. But notice that the concrete sections are entirely about establishing the character, while the abstract ones hint at the plot. That's the pattern I've noticed consistently in the blurbs I've looked at.
     
    T.Allen.Smith likes this.
  6. GeekDavid

    GeekDavid Auror

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    You're making my point for me. These are marketing questions.

    Catching someone's eye is marketing. Enticing them to read a book is marketing. Making sure the book itself is crafted well is writing.
     
  7. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    If it's all the same to you, I would like to move this thread to Marketing in a few days, after it's gotten more visibility here.
     
  8. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    By economical, I mean something like "A young man goes on a journey to battle the forces of the evil Dark Lord Jazarath. On the way he experiences love, betrayal, and loss."

    It doesn't really say a lot that is really clear and is rather vague. However, I've seen blurbs that resemble this. Even if this is a great book, I wouldn't pick it up because it feels like the writer may be relying too much on the idea that "my book is well-written." If the idea of the book doesn't sound exciting or different in some way, I don't understand how I'm supposed to find out it's a good book or not. Opening it and reading it is the obvious answer, but I find nowadays a really striking blurb is one of the key ways to get me to find out if it's good or not.
     
  9. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

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    It's both a marketing and a concept question, I'd say.

    Concept: it's the old "trendscendent" idea of the best balance between familiar and new. And having something new in your combination is more important than ever, since with the modern market almost nobody can compete with thousands of other authors lumped in the same genre-- you want people to notice you for something more specific.

    But the question might come down to, how important is it to center a story idea around an attention-getting, "blurb-worthy" idea from the beginning (what's best known as "high concept"), versus knowing how to distill a good blurb and marketing plan out of less flashy concepts?
     
  10. Philip Overby

    Philip Overby Staff Article Team

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    OK, I moved it.

    I like this exercise of analyzing blurbs and talking about what makes them work or not. Does anyone have any blurbs they think hit them in all the right places to offer up? Why do you like this particular blurb?

    Edit: @wordwalker Yes, that's why I put it in Writing Questions. I didn't really feel like what I was trying to ask really fits only in Marketing.

    I think this is what I was getting at. I may do this actually from time to time. Come up with a "blurb-worthy" idea and then try to pull a story out of it. Something I think would be eye-catching or interesting to people. What some may refer to as "high concept." I originally wanted to call the thread "The Importance of High Concepts," so maybe that's why what I wanted to say felt like it was blurring between a marketing standpoint and a writing one.
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2013
  11. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Like I was saying above, the concrete sections tend to establish the character, and the abstract the plot. So what you might be picking up on with a blurb like this is a poor job presenting the characters.
     
  12. GeekDavid

    GeekDavid Auror

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    For what it's worth, the blurb I have in mind for Librarian goes something like this:

     
  13. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    I think you'd do better to focus more on the character, especially for the opening line.

    When a mysterious book baffles the royal scribes, the Librarian's guild sends GeekDavid to answer their desperate plea for help, despite his crippled leg.

    Just a thought.
     
  14. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    A blurb doesn't have to be cool and awesome, but it does have to have something that stands out - like you say. I think cramming in too much into it will be dangerous though. You will need to put in enough to get the reader curious, but not so much that you scare them off.

    I'm pretty happy with some of the ideas and concepts I have in my setting/story, but pulling them out of context just to show off how original I am may very well put readers off instead of making them intrigued. For example, I would stay away from going into the different ways in which anfylk women braid the hair on their legs, even if I do think that that's a pretty original concept.
     
  15. GeekDavid

    GeekDavid Auror

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    Here's one that worked well to get my attention:

    Or this one...

    Or, for a third example:

    (One quibble with #3... the superior that Honor embarrasses is a woman, not a man. But the blurb still works.)
     
  16. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Auror

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    A blurb also commonly refers to a commentary/statement/assessment (promotional) that an author, an author's agent and/or publisher requests from other authors or similarly 'respected' individuals to provide. Often it's used on the back of the book's cover, or on the inside and also for promotional purposes, including Amazon listing info, website info, etc.

    In my experience, watching potential readers at book signings (both those considering my works and works of authors seated nearby), these can sometimes be important, and even more important than the book's teaser or description on the back.

    But if you asked me the order of importance:

    1. Cover is first (attracts the readers attention)

    2. Then most turn to the back, but some turn to the first page (and a small % to the middle of the novel), and then the back to read the description and/or blurb(s).

    Rarely (10% or so) never look at the back of the book. That goes higher if I am not there to describe the novel in being considered and answering the potential reader's questions.
     
  17. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    Man, David, those make mine seem pedestrian by comparison...

    Does this need to be punched up a bit?
     
  18. GeekDavid

    GeekDavid Auror

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    I dunno, if I was more of a fan of urban fantasy, I'd pick yours up... as long as you weren't charging an outrageous price for it.

    That's another point to consider in this whole discussion... even if the blurb is the greatest ever written, if your price point is way out of line, people are gonna balk.
     
  19. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    We're shooting for traditional publishing - well, hybrid, if you want to get technical - so a lot of the pricing is going to be out of our hands.
     
  20. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Yes. I think your blurb may need some attention. The second sentence runs on forever, making it cumbersome to read, which probably isn't something you want in a blurb meant to catch the attention of the reader. The third sentence is also very long, but not quite as much as the second one.
    Then there's the "fractious preternatural population" which is a bit of a mouthful to gobble up.
    I'm interested in your work and in your story and I do read urban fantasy. I'll buy your book once it gets released no matter what it says on the back, but that's because I know you. This blurb wouldn't sell the book to me.

    My advice - as an amateur who's never written a blurb or a novel in his entire life - is to split the text up into shorter sentences and to write them in such a way that you avoid too many too long words in a row. Give the reader some breathing space.
     
    A. E. Lowan likes this.
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