Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this. When people find out I write books, the first thing out of their mouths is, “Oh, you wrote a book? What’s it about?”
And suddenly this feeling washes over me as if they had said, “Oh, you’re wearing a bra? Can I see it?”
They’re trying to be nice, I get it. But it’s such a personal question. That’s not something you ask in public, when the conversation is so light and … well, there are people around.
It’s not their fault, really. It’s ours. Because there is another reason this question makes us uncomfortable. I’m going to be honest with you, and it may sting a little. It’s because most of the time, we don’t know ourselves.
“Well, it’s about this girl who goes to this place and meets this guy, and they fall in love, but then something bad happens, and I don’t want to say anymore because I don’t want to give it away.”
So … anyone want to see my bra?
Guys, the topic of your book is a legitimate question. And guess what else? One day, an agent or publisher or book critic is going to ask you the same thing. And if you want them to love your book the way you do, you’d better have a damn good answer. You’re better off showing them your bra than stuttering over that girl-meets-boy garbage.
So what goes into writing not only a formulaic blurb, but also a catchy one?
Imagine walking into Barnes & Noble. You look around. Books. Thousands of them. Shelves and tables and floors of books, all vying for YOUR attention. Blurbs are scrawled across the backs of every single one. All designed for YOU to read. Created with YOU in mind. Praying for the day when YOU read it and YOU ultimately purchase that book.
So you pick one up with the prettiest cover and the snazziest title, and you turn it over and read: One day, Little Miss Felicia McBoohoo runs into serious trouble. It just gets worse and worse. Will she ever make it out alive?
You know what? Screw you, Señorita McBoohoo! You know who’s in serious trouble? Me! My dog just vomited on the rug and my kids are literally breaking bones in their hands from punching each other in the head. That’s trouble, and you just wasted twenty seconds of my life that I’ll never get back.
So much for the pretty cover and title—she failed to hook me with the blurb. But let’s talk about what Fraulein McBoohoo did right. She followed the basic storyline:
Something bad happens to our main character. She tries to fix it, but she manages to make it worse. Something in her has to change in order for her to defeat the antagonist in the end. Can she do it?
Obviously, that’s as basic as it gets. There are many more points on the arc or the circle or whatever you use to plot your stories (side note: if you can’t plug your plot points into that basic storyline, STOP. It is stupid important to understand how to plot a story before writing one. I’m not saying you have to know exactly how it’s going to end, but you should have a pretty clear-cut idea on what the MC’s ultimate quest is. More on this in future posts).
Just as you get uncomfortable when people ask you about your books, you should make them uncomfortable when they read your blurb. You need to drag your MC through the mud! By the time I finish reading your blurb, I should feel so agitated that I just have to buy this book in order to see how in God’s name your MC gets out of this situation that both sucks and blows simultaneously.
Generic statements aren’t going to do that.
Start your blurb with a specific, punchy sentence packed with fireworks about what sort of trouble MC is in. I don’t want to read, When tragedy struck Layken’s young life, she was destroyed. Nope. Not specific, and it doesn’t stand out from other blurbs.
Following the unexpected death of her father, eighteen-year-old Layken is forced to be the rock for both her mother and her younger brother.
Dude. That is A LOT of information that the previous sentence didn’t tell me about her, and suddenly, my puking dog and asshole kids have nothing on Layken. I’m uncomfortable. I keep reading.
Layken meets her attractive twenty-one-year-old neighbor who has an intriguing passion for slams.
And now I’m fascinated, because enter hot, sexy guy. But how do we know he’s hot-n-sexy? The blurb doesn’t even use those buzzwords, not even close. The only indication of his appearance is the word attractive. But that’s not even what hooked me – he has a passion for slams. What the what?! This sets him apart from all the other cookie-cutter dreamboats on the other book jackets. So Layken’s life sucks and now there’s a hot poetry guy—what could go wrong?!
The author has staged the perfect fail. Remember—the higher you raise the stakes, the harder the fall. Now we have enough specifics to tease the reader; now we can be vague.
Not long after their first date … a shocking revelation forces their new relationship to a sudden halt.
And that’s the recipe for disaster. I don’t need specifics at this point; no need to spoil the ending. As long as you paint a clear enough picture of the struggle in the beginning, your reader will be hooked long before the last cliff-hanger paragraph.
So don’t be scared to give away too much information! You’re not going to spoil any surprises, I promise. Those details are what’s going to make your book stand out and infuriate me enough to make me want to read it and then tell my friends to read it and then stalk your Facebook and your mother’s Facebook and name my child after your dog.
Lastly, you don’t have to follow Madam McBoohoo’s formula perfectly. Obviously, not all blurbs are fill-in-the-blank Mad Libs. Be creative and use your own voice, as long as you stage the perfect fail.
Questions? Comments. Go.
And lastly, if you can tell me which book I described above, I’ll show you my bra.