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Friday, 3 June 2011

Hook Those Bitches and Bastards






Yes, of course I mean the readers. I stopped by the local bookstore today (WHSmith), curious to see if there was anything new and interesting. Quckly, I realized that most of those books on the main shelves, on promotion, on the back shelves, and genre shelves all captured my attention in a different way. However, most did not capture it one bit.


How are we supposed to judge and pick out new books to read? Do we trust the reviews? I don’t. Do we judge by the blurb? I hope not, seeing as most blurbs are incredibly dull and predictable. Do we judge by the cover and/or title? I know I shouln’t do that but those are the first things I see, so why not? (Today the award for most creative title at the bookstore went to When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman. Isn’t it wonderful?)

In fact, here’s what I do: I see a pretty design, pick up the book, turn it around, and read the blurb. Boring first sentence? Back on the shelf it goes. I guess the author is not to blame for that, as the marketing department of the publishing house is supposed to make those decisions, but… I think the author should be more involved because a) he or she has the most understanding of his/her book after all, and b) a blurb is only good, I’ve discovered, when it mirrors the style of the book, and who better to match those than the author?

Furthermore, I was appalled by some attempts at blurb-ing. See, when I read a blurb, I want to be engaged. The story doesn’t need to be earth-shattering or new, but it has to be summed up in a way that makes me want to read more. However, I noticed today that very few blurbs even tried to get me hooked. It’s like they followed some guidelines I did not know about, which left little room for actual creativity. Pity, that. And while a few of them hinted at the plot and left me asking questions, most revealed too much. I mean, if you’re just going to slap on the main scenes of the story in the same order as they appear in the book, why bother including the damn thing at all?

What is more, today I happened to come across one too many ‘typical’ blurbs (mainly in the crime thriller/bestseller section), which can pretty much be summed up in the following sentence: Some people have died in a shocking way (going for the shock value alone does sell books, unfortunately) and Mr. Detective-in-Chief is trying to find out who the next victim of the killer is going to be, while the protagonist knows the victim or is the victim, and all embark on a goose chase, and lots of people die, etc. Is it any wonder I won’t read the book? It just sounds like a cliché. Where’s the mystery?

Play a little, people! Unlike playing with your food, playing with words is not only fun but also useful. It’s what sells the darn book, and believe you me, if I read ‘The zombies came, ate, fucked, and populated the Earth. The End.’ on the back of a book, I’d laugh, and then I’d open to read those first sentences. Why? Because it defies my expectations.

And instead of following some safeguard guidelines, why not just showcase the book’s strengths in the blurb instead of adding your book to my boring-blurbs list? (Provided that you have a say in what blurb goes on the back of your book, that is.) For example, if you’re writing a paranormal romance, don’t say that they are in love or that it is a forbidden love, for the love of God, please! Just play at the plot’s strengths. If the consequences of such love are shocking, include that. If the world is interesting, use those bits to give the readers a free taste, making them pay for the rest. And if the plot is filled with suspense, don’t say it’s filled with suspense or try to sound unnecessarily dramatic in the blurb. Instead, you can write a blurb that mirrors the book’s style, which can effectively act as a sample and a hook.

Better yet, entice the reader with some hints here and there that will make them ask questions; make them beg for those answers. For example, I remember that I absolutely loved the blurb for Horns by Joe Hill, Stephen King’s son. Unfortunately, it turned out that his style was not my cup of tea, genius father genes notwithstanding. However, the blurb alone had me buy the book, as I was desperate to know how it all turned out. See for yourself:


Ignatius Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things. He woke up the next morning with a pair of horns growing from his temples.
At first, Ig thought the horns were a hallucination, the product of a mind damaged by rage and grief. He had spent the last year in a lonely, private purgatory, following the death of his beloved, Merrin Williams, who had been raped and murdered under inexplicable circumstances. A mental breakdown would have been the most natural thing in the world. But there was nothing natural about the horns, which were all too real.
Once, the righteous Ig had enjoyed the life of the blessed. But Merrin's death damned all that. The only suspect in the crime, Ig was never charged or tried. And he was never cleared. Nothing Ig can do or say matters. Everyone it seems, including God, has abandoned him. Everyone that is, but the devil inside. . . .
Now Ig is possessed of a terrible new power—a macabre talent he intends to use to find the monster who killed Merrin and destroyed his life. It's time for a little revenge . . . it's time the devil had his due . . .


I thought it was such a neat idea! He had me at woke up with horns, lol. But seriously, you don’t have to have such a plot for your story. You simply have to know how to present it. So what’s Ig’s dark talent? Who is that devil inside? How can one even begin to feel about waking up with horns on their head? I want to know! See, those are the elements that matter, and that bring out both shock value and mystery. Those will sell the book.

I know I’m no expert on publishing or even writing, but I am a reader, and as such, I can tell you that the only way I’ll buy the darn book is if I see the effort behind the whole package, not just the safety-net surrounfing the modern best-seller-types.

To wrap this up, I invite those who made it this far to share your own experiences and opinions of the mystic art of blurb-ing. 

2 comments:

Ava Jae said...

Well, it's no mystery that the blurb can make or break the decision of whether or not to read a book.

I think your point that some of the best blurbs are those that catch the style or essence of the story. I never really thought about it before but...come to think of it, you're right. My favorite blurbs do indeed capture the style of the novel.

I think the blurb is just as important as the first sentence, which is really terrifying for the writer to think that after all that work they've put into their book, someone may not even try the writing if they don't like the blurb. Yikes!

That's why when you're writing up a blurb, it's SO important to make sure it's the best it can be. You put all that work into a manuscript, don't let a blurb mess it up! Make it shine!

Lyn Midnight said...

Mhm, exactly. It is scary because I saw my own blurbs the other day (the ones I have for my WIP books) and they suck! Lol. Hopefully, when I decide to publish, I'll be able to fix those or ask for help... Anyway, thank you so much for reading this entire monster of a post! You're the best. <3