Poetic License in a Book Blurb: MILK & HONEY by Rupi Kaur

NOTE: The Giveaway is still ongoing. Click here for information on how to get a chance to have a blurb created by me (or an edit by me or a bunch of other cool editing prizes).

This one is especially fun. I have loved poetry since childhood, have many volumes of it, have written some, won a few contests, published a couple. So, let’s take a look at a crazy mad bestselling poetry volume by Rupi Kaur: Milk & Honey.

Poetry books are not expected to be runaway bestsellers. How many book covers or blurbs do you remember (if you’ve ever been inclined to browse or purchase some). I still have vivid images in my head of some faves of mine.

Milk & Honey has a very simple cover design: black background, white bees and text. It stands out for its low-key design in high-contrast B&W. But let’s take a look at the back cover blurb:

milkandhoneyback

 

That’s right. A poetry book with a poetry blurb. How absolutely perfect is that?

Analysis: The back cover description is a short poem. It’s in the poet’s own voice telling you, the book browser, the tone and subject matter–very personal–of the poetry found inside.

It’s also utterly accessible. The audience knows they won’t have to tackle the sometimes indeciperable, complex, modern poems that put many off poetry.  The voice reads as honest, genuine.

The text is accented by a bee illustration. No deviation exists in the black and white cover design with black and white text and drawings from front to back: it’s consistent.  Tone matches art: an individual voice with a single bee (echoing how personal this is, one person’s singular voice in verse, and referring to the title, as bees make honey.)

Even the bar code cooperates beautifully–lines of code, lines of poetry.

It’s harmonious.

Inside, you find this same simplicity but reversed:  illustrations in black on white, black text on light pages.

Key words: Strong, emotional key words draw in the sensitive reader or one whose life has had pain and required healing. That’s kinda universal, yes?  They are these: journey, surviving, poetry, blood, sweat, tears, heart, hurting, loving, breaking, healing.

Conclusion: The genius of the back cover blurb is that it offers you the book information (genre, theme) with a taste of the contents (style, voice, look) in exactly the form  you’ll find inside: stanzas, not prose paragraphs, with drawings, in B&W.

I think they did an amazing job presenting this. A totally successful poem-blurb.

Blurb Exercise: Can you echo in your blurb what’s in the book? I think you probably can. Ask yourself this: How can I present on the back cover or Amazon page or promo copy what’s inside in such a way that the browser actually experiences the content style and voice in the format of the work itself?

Take your recently completed manuscript–or WIP or already published book–and see what you can do. This should be fun if your book is not the usual novel or novella or straight prose work: a poetry book, a play, a picture storybook, an illustrated travel diary, an email-format memoir, a how-to with photos, a coloring book. Harmonize the outer with the inner.

If you wish, please share in the comments. I’d love to see what you came up with.

 

ROOM by Emma Donoghue and another book: When the Narrator is Really Different

Allergy season killed me this year. I’m entering my third month of lots of medications, using the nebulizer, steroids for the asthma that accompanies allergies. Haven’t been this bad, this long, in a lot of years. Like 1999? 2000? So, I have been absent here. Still not 100%, but I felt up to doing a double-title post.

Today we look at two major bestsellers, one with a movie behind it.

What makes these connected is that the narrators are minors. One has a very young child as the first-person POV storyteller. And both have unusual situations of life.

Here’s the back cover blurb (sandwiched between review blurbs) for the first, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time 

 

book-the-curious-incident-of-the-dog-in-the-night-time-012

 

 

It really is no wonder the book caught on. That’s an amazing premise. A murder mystery solved by a teen with autism.

If you’ve read the novel, you’ll notice that the middle part of that description reads a lot like the narrator: short clear sentences. It tells you about the narrator in the narrator’s voice.

There are key words/phrases that will nab a reader, promising an adventure.

**”never gone further than the end of the road on his own” (now he will step out of comfort zone and go solve this canine murder)

**”terrifying journey”

**”whole world upside down.”

So we have an interesting, different character. A young one. He goes on an adventure that will affect him (character’s life will change). Conflict implied in all that. Especially “terrifying.”

What the description left out that I would not have are other hooks for readers: that the boy uses Sherlock Holmes as an inspiration for solving the crime; that the boy was initially wrongly accused of being the culprit behind the dog-killing.

A cultural icon = hook

False accusations against the innocent = hook

The second one above gives us his motivation and makes him sympathetic: who would want to be thought capable of such a horrible crime?

That book description got  me to buy the book, btw.

Here’s a current bestseller with a child narrator:

Room Emma Donoghue book description not back cover

The back cover I saw was all reviews, so I took this book description (almost identical to the Amazon book blurb, except for the last paragraph).

Room is a top ten NY Times Bestseller right now, #3 in paperback trade fiction. Maybe you read it. I have not. But this blurb tempts me.

The very first paragraph gives you a snapshot of the setting (a room) and that these two (Ma and the boy Jack, 5-year-old narrator) are living a life that is not normal.

Not normal = a hook.

In this case, they live in one room and the boy sleeps in the wardrobe. All sorts of questions are raised in the book browser’s mind by just that. WHY one room? Why only two of them? Why does he sleep essentially in the closet?

Raising questions in the first paragraph of a blurb is a great way to keep the browser READING and not skipping off to another book.

So, unusual situation, unusual narrator: hooks.

The second paragraph answers some of that. We learn that the narrator’s mother has been imprisoned in that room for seven years (two more than the boy’s age), so she gave birth there, presumably. The child is probably her captor’s. And that mom has now planned an escape, one that relies a lot on the boy (he’s FIVE, but it relies on HIM).

Danger is up ahead: hook. A change in situation: conflict is sure to arise.

And we get some of the child’s perspective and voice in there: Ma, Old Nick. This is his way of seeing these people. His names for them. It echoes the first person perspective, even though this blurb is not written in the boy’s voice.

Both books have commonalities. One clear one: a boy must go out of the world he’s known and into a strange environment to solve a problem.

The first is a quest to solve a mystery: who killed the dog?

The second is an escape journey: get out of the room and be free!

Both are adventures. Both contain crimes.

Adventure = hook. 

Crime = hook.

Peril for a protagonist is also a reader hook.

Both have a danger factor, these novels. In the first, the boy may find that whoever killed the dog does not want to be exposed, and so might hurt the boy (I won’t say what it actually is–read this terrific novel). There is also danger in an autistic teen encountering a world where interaction is difficult.

In ROOM, although I have not read it, it’s clear someone dangerous and criminal and maybe unhinged has kept a woman prisoner, likely raped her repeatedly, and has now kept the child a prisoner as well. He might be able to murder one or both to keep his secret or get the mother back.

The last paragraph tells us qualities Jack has that add to story: energetic, pragmatic. This tells us he’s not flighty, and he is a boy of action. He’ll get things done. And that it speaks of a central theme: the bond of mother-son. People who like to read stories of parents and children (in any situation) will find that a hook, as well.

The main lesson here, however,  is that if your first-person POV narrator is unusual in some way or several, highlight that.

Is your narrator/protagonist of an unusual age? (Very young, very old)

Is your narrator in a strange or unique situation?

Is your narrator in some danger?

Do you use a cultural icon as a device?

Do you have some element that draws immediate reader sympathy to your character?

Use your difference.

Use your hooks.

And if you can replicate some of the narrator in the blurb, such as the first one did, why not? The reader may not realize they already had  a foretaste until they sample the first pages, but it will still tie it together in their mind when they do. It will prepare them for a different style.

Until next time.

 

 

The Book Blurb for Today’s #1 Kindle Book (Paid) at Amazon: Ghost Gifts by Laura Spinella

On a whim, I decided to check what was the #1 Kindle (paid, not free) book today. Right now. 2/17/16 in the morning. It’s #1 in Kindle suspense, books/romantic suspense, and  books/ghosts.

Here’s the blurb for Ghost Gifts by Laura Spinella:

All Aubrey Ellis wants is a normal life, one that doesn’t include desperate pleas from the dead. Her remarkable gift may help others rest in peace, but it also made for an unsettling childhood and destroyed her marriage. Finally content as the real estate writer for a local newspaper, Aubrey keeps her extraordinary ability hidden—until she is unexpectedly assigned the story of a decades-old murder.

Rocked by the discovery of a young woman’s skeletal remains, the New England town of Surrey wants answers. Hard-nosed investigative reporter Levi St John is determined to get them. Aubrey has no choice but to get involved, even at the terrifying risk of stirring spirits connected to a dead woman’s demise and piquing her new reporting partner’s suspicions.

As Aubrey and Levi delve further into the mystery, secrets are revealed and passion ignites. It seems that Aubrey’s ghost gifts are poised to deliver everything but a normal life.

This is the longer sort of back cover/book description blurb. No fancy style or font or color use.

Here’s how it looks on the back cover of the paperback:

GHOST GIFTS back cover

The text is superimposed on a dark background where the long hair of the gal on the cover carries over, blown by the wind. A sprig of violet flowers adds a touch of color (and hope?) at the top. It’s a very plain and serviceable back cover. The look isn’t particularly eye-catching, but what about the blurb itself?

First sentence: All Aubrey Ellis wants is a normal life, one that doesn’t include desperate pleas from the dead.

What the main character wants, and what the character has. Her ordinary world and her goal, and the thing in her “ordinary world” that offers conflict. She can sense the “desperate pleas” of the nonliving. Ghosts. A gift. A gift that assures a lack of normality.

That’s a good opening line.

Next we find out what that gift cost her (backstory, wounds, past conflicts)–an unsettled childhood; a destroyed marriage.

Then we get what the character does (real estate writer) and how she copes (hides her ability.)

Then the inciting incident: an assignment on an old case when skeletal remains are found.

Ah, a mystery that needs solving. And we have a character with the kind of gift that can solve it. Plot points.

She is then partnered (other important character) with a reporter. Romance will ensue (as the last paragraph hints). The stakes: will her ability, her secret, be revealed along with others, causing her life to be unsettled again?

There are hints of other stakes: dangers that come with revealing secrets and engaging in a passionate relationship.

Story questions: Will the mystery of the murder be solved? Will her relationship work out? Will her life become better or worse as she involves herself in this case? Will her partner accept her Ghost Gifts? Will she ever have a normal life?

It’s not a never-been-done in fiction ability, that of hearing/seeing ghosts. It’s a trope we’ve seen before.

But it’s still a compelling plot premise. And the promise of romance is a hook for certain readers (romance /romantic suspense fans). It has a mystery for mystery fans. It  has paranormal stuff for paranormal fans. All those are hooks (genre ones) that are worth including in blurbs.

It hooked me. I chose it from all the Kindle First offerings this month.

Does this blurb work for you? How would you make it better?

You may purchase the novel here: Ghost Gifts

Next time:

Well, come back and see.

 

How Numbers Work In the Blurb for the Bestselling Mystery Novel of All Time

For our third and final example on using numbers in book blurbs, let’s take a look at the #1 mystery novel ever: Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. While you  may think there isn’t a number in the title, there is: none. None is equivalent to zero.

But an interesting fact is that this is not the original title. The original title contained a vulgar word we don’t like to use anymore in modern society (a good thing), one beginning with n and ending in r. You can Google it up. In the US, it was changed to Ten Little Indians. Still not PC, but more acceptable than the original.

As you see, the number that is key to the novel is 10.

Here’s a back cover:

 

And then There Were None Christie back cover

There are several things to recommend this exceedingly well constructed back cover–both in blurb and design.

First, notice the top right exclamation. If you ever studied journalism or just are aware of how those front pages are constructed for print papers, you know that top right is where you place the thing you consider priority–the lead story. The eye automatically goes to the top of a page first. Put something important at the top. If it’s a key recommendation or statement or story question, that’s a good place.

Top right on this back cover has a clear, all-caps, exlamation-point statement that will nab the attention of any mystery novel lover (or any reader who enjoys fiction, period). THE WORLD’S BESTSELLING MYSTERY!

That’s a pretty emphatic statement that has to make any browsing reader curious.

Now we get into the countdown. Starting from the key number 10.

In the novel, there are serial killings, countdown killings, in an isolated location. (See image on top left that gives a sense of an isolated island residence.)

Notice that the countdown doesn’t go on to the end. Just enough to get a count going, leaving it hanging–which is also effective, isn’t it?

Each countdown in the blurb gives a story element. Key terms that ignite interest when it comes to mysteries: strangers, isolated, guilty secrets, haunted, violent storm, begin to die, dead.

And the question finale, the story question itself: Who among them is the killer and will any of them survive?

Being in an isolated location, taunted by a nursery rhyme, dying one by one, and the killer in their midst–that’s a fabulous, “hook-ish” set-up.

The countdown always adds suspense and dread. (Just as in the previous novel, where you know if they got the number ahead of you, you’re next.)

The final recommendation blurb by TIME–an established and well-known journalistic entity–gives the final “read me” nab to the browser, assuring them this mystery is an “ingenious thriller.”

Even if you don’t have TIME or famous writers giving you rec-blurbs, you can use key imagery on your back cover and, if applicable, a clever countdown or numerical motif for all your types of blurb uses.

Next Time:

Well, wait and see.

When Numbers Add Up In A Book Blurb

Wondering what numbers have to do with something so focused on words as a blurb?

A blurb can have a special form, as we saw with Divergent‘s. That means it can be balanced or assymetrical. Lines can be counted. Words in a line.

Balance often depends on counting–inches left or right, number of stripes of dark vs light, three vases on the left and three on the right of the mantel’s center. Balance.

If a story has numerical significance, numbers may take on another function: a reflection of the story. (We saw some of that even with Divergent.)

Here’s another YA novel, this one sci-fi:

I AM NUMBER FOUR back cover

 

Story Questions raised: Who are these mysterious, anonymous ones called “we” in the blurb? Who is this “last stand” against? Who is the “you?”

The stakes: everything. “If we  lose, all is lost.” “You” can only be saved if the “We” win.

The tone: suspenseful, cautionary.

This blurb, like Divergent‘s, gives no names of characters. Only the sense of huge stakes and a group that can make a difference for life or death. The “we.”

Count up the “we’s.”  Nine.

This is the blurb for I Am Number Four.

The series of which I Am Number Four is the first novel is full of numbers. The main character is one of nine gardes who have travelled to Earth. They are aliens living as if human among humans. Three are killed, and the book tells the story of the fourth one, Number Four, as he struggles to stay alive.

And numbers matter, too, because of the order in which the gardes are killed: they must be sequential. The assassins must start with one and work up or there are consequences.

“You” = humans on earth.

Reviews were not unanimously positive, but one thing they seemed to agree on: the storytelling was fast-paced, “propulsive.”  So, again, we have back cover that reads along quickly, not a lot of filler text. Pace of blurb reflecting pace of story.

The numbers add up on this one, don’t you think?

They add up again on this sequel:

POWER OF SIX sequel to I AM NUMBER FOUR back copy desc

 

This is the blurb for The Power of Six. Let’s count again:

The Balance: THEY used four times to start sentences. WE used four times.

In between, like some protective barrier between killers and prey, one all white, all caps line (of two sentences) starting with I, who self-identifies as number SEVEN, one of SIX left alive, since THREE are dead.

Now squint at that blurb.

Do the lines of white text form a roughly angular six-like shape to you?

They do to me.

The blurb fills us in on the plot’s progress. THEY, those killing the nine, have learned some things (the charm, the legacies) and succeeded in killing three. One side of that balanced equation.

The other side, WE, the same we from the first novel,  is growing stronger, coming together, and ready to fight.

We still don’t have names, and we don’t know the particular powers they are talking about, but we know it’s heating up and getting more dangerous for the protagonists (the numbered ones).

Of course, this book has a special connection to numbers. But maybe yours does, too.

I recall some titles that had numerical associations:  THE LIST OF 7; A TALE OF TWO CITIES; and THE FIVE.

If yours has something numerically significant–triplets, a poet who always writes in four-line stanzas, an OCD character who has to count to five before making a decision, a kingdom divided in civil war with two kings and two queens, a detective agency called the Six Solvers, etc–maybe you can make that work in your blurb.

Think about it.

One more example of the numerical blurb to come with the next blog post–for mystery fans.

Get today’s book here: I Am Number Four (Lorien Legacies)

Next Time:

How Numbers Work In the Book Blurb for The Bestselling Mystery of All Time

Diverging from the Standard Form

If someone asked you to explain what a standard back cover descriptive blurb is, you’d probably say this: “Two or more paragraphs in normal prose style with the book’s hook and main points. Maybe a question or tantalizing phrase to close it up.”

That’s standard.

But you may…diverge.

Let’s take a look at one such cover.

DIVERGENT back copy

Twenty-seven words.

Take a look at the first line of two words, larger and eye-catching: ONE CHOICE.

There it is, the story’s inciting incident and the core of the main character’s conflict.

Next you scan a string of couplets of two words in the first line and three words in the second. This gives us the plot.

The shadowing behind the  words give an ominous feeling.

This is a YA dystopian novel that became a bestselling phenomenon, plus a film series. Note that first detail: Young Adult.

I think one can be choppier, punchier, and more playful with blurbs aimed at younger audiences. If your book is action or aimed at a young audience, playing with forms is a good idea. Since the main character is “different,” she should have a divergent blurb. 🙂

It’s particularly smart to use that style for another reason.

Here are a few sentences from the opening of DIVERGENT:

DIVERGENT OPENING

Notice the short sentences.

This continues as you read. It’s part of the novel’s style.

So, the blurb echoes something about this character’s POV voice. It emphasizes the importance of a person’s choice (it can change everything as the sequence shows). It implies  a heroic character (one who chooses, sacrifices, and battles).

Plot is a cause and effect string of character decisions and actions in a story. This blurb emphasizes that sequence by its verticality and brevity. Because of the shape, you get a sense that things will happen quickly–hinting at a fast pace. YA readers, say authors and editors I know, like a fast pace. Visually, this blurb style is saying: this is your kind of read.

The stakes: possible destruction. The biggest stakes you can have.

You don’t spend a lot of time skimming through 27 words in a narrow column. But you get what you need to decide to look at the first pages or not.

Millions chose to look. Were you one of them?

Another winner of a blurb.

Is your book aimed at a younger audience? Think what different blurb form might suit your target readership, a shape that echoes elements of the character or the story.

I’d love it if you left a comment telling me what cool new form you tried, especially if you blog about it. Link me up.

Get the book: Divergent (Divergent Series)

Next Time:

When Numbers Add Up In A Book Blurb

A Picture With Fewer Than One Thousand Words

Your blurb paints a picture in the reader’s mind.

To play off a famous phrase: fewer than a thousand words to paint a picture.

Or: a picture from two-hundred words.

This is why advice on blurbing will generally advise you to use strong nouns and vivid verbs and put some passion into it. Paint the picture of the book with those words.

Here’s the back cover copy with both kinds of blurbing– the description blurb and the recommendation blurb–for a novel that ranked #5 overall in fiction bestsellers of 2015 according to PW.

Does it put a picture in your mind?

THE MARTIAN back cover copy

 

Did you notice it actually has TWO description blurbs?

Yes, it has the abbreviated one made up of three sentence fragments in eye-catching Mars red text larger than the type that follows.  That is actually a very brief blurb. The sort you can use in promo materials that don’t use much text.

A MISSION TO MARS. A FREAK ACCIDENT. ONE MAN’S STRUGGLE TO SURVIVE.

The micro blurb. 😀

It tells you the who, the where, the what happened, and the stakes. It tells you the genre. It even hints at the emphasis on the single character. A reader who enjoys science fiction, alien world, survival tales will definitely read further.

The second blurb, the longer one, gives us details of who “one man” is and how he found himself in that life/death struggle. But that first one is the hook. It takes maybe two seconds to read and tell a browser what they need to know to flip to chapter one or go to the register and buy. Or to move on to the next book.

A whole lot of folks bought THE MARTIAN.

The sentence fragment format also feels more like “action.” It implies a story with “breathless” tension. Do you speak in complete, long sentences when you’re running out of air, sprinting to shelter, or scared out of your wits?

The longer blurb is enticing. We see how complicated the situation is–the gripping problem is compounded, the odds “impossible.” And we learn what makes him special–his profession (astronaut/engineer), his particular skill (resourcefulness) and personality trait (gallows humor).

The review blurbs from well-known periodicals carry authority and emphasize both that there’s lots of humor and that it’s super suspenseful.

Did that hook you?

Did you get a picture from those words?

I saw a space-suited man on red soil–dust storm in the distance– all alone but with dark sky above and determined eyes staring out of that helmet.

What did you see?

This is very well-crafted back cover copy with two descriptive blurbs–micro, standard–for multiple uses and two recommendation blurbs.

A winner we can learn from.
Want the book? Get it here: The Martian

Next time:

Diverging from the Standard Form