Want a shot at winning a book blurb? Then enter this giveaway!

writingwithjoygiveawayfbposterYou’ll need to visit Bethany Jennings’ blog — THE SIMMERING MIND –and enter there. She’s launching her freelance editing business, and we’re helping her celebrate with goodies for y’all.

The poster above specifies the two prizes I am offering. One is the creation of a blurb, with one option for revision.

Good luck!

THE NIGHT BIRD–book blurb for the #1 Kindle Book at Amazon today (1/13/17)



That’s kind of a cool cover, mostly greyscale, some brown, that pop of yellow. A woman, her hair merging with a flock of birds. There’s a sense of something ominous in the misty/smoky texture and that grey/black predominance.

This is today’s top book in the Kindle store.

Why did I pick this? Because of all the books offered to Prime subscribers as their Kindle First selection for January, this is the one that snagged my purchase. The blurb worked better for me than the others. (Well, personal taste played its part, too.)

Here’s the blurb on the item page at Amazon:

Homicide detective Frost Easton doesn’t like coincidences. When a series of bizarre deaths rock San Francisco—as seemingly random women suffer violent psychotic breaks—Frost looks for a connection that leads him to psychiatrist Francesca Stein. Frankie’s controversial therapy helps people erase their most terrifying memories…and all the victims were her patients.

As Frost and Frankie carry out their own investigations, the case becomes increasingly personal—and dangerous. Long-submerged secrets surface as someone called the Night Bird taunts the pair with cryptic messages pertaining to the deaths. Soon Frankie is forced to confront strange gaps in her own memory, and Frost faces a killer who knows the detective’s worst fears.

As the body count rises and the Night Bird circles ever closer, a dedicated cop and a brilliant doctor race to solve the puzzle before a cunning killer claims another victim.

First, let me point out a grammatical error: It should be “a series of bizarre deaths rocks.” The word “series” here is used as a set, hence, singular. A series rocks, not a series rock.


Blurb Analysis

Two brief paragraphs and a final single-sentence paragraph. That’s short, but not too short.

First paragraph: Hook them.

We start with the who, or rather the whos. Homicide Detective Frost Easton is the protagonist–mentioned first, also. This person needs to solve the criminal problem set forth. We have us a detective story. (Genre) The next named who is the psychiatrist, the deuteragonist, and it’s her patients going berserk and killing. (The What). The audience that will enjoy crime fiction knows right off the professions (detective, psychiatrist) and the crime distinction (female psych patients killing).

I find that setup pretty intriguing. It’s “hooky.”

Second paragraph: the antagonist and escalation

Another who emerges in an apparent antagonist: The Night Bird. That moniker is intriguing and the reader will be wondering why it was chosen, what it means. It’s a mysterious thing, and that’s a plus in detective fiction, because it raises one more question–the other big one raised being why the women are going bonkers and killing. Make them want to find out why and that makes them buy.

In this paragraph, we see clear complications–the escalation of conflict. We want things to get WORSE in this genre, much worse, before it resolves. More victims are dying (urgency to find solution) and the investigators themselves are dealing with their personal issues. Internal and external conflict both heat up.

Closing paragraph: Emphasize the stakes, promise the suspense.

You see a sense of pressure at its highest and that the main players are are going to have a hard race to the culmination (needed in this type of fiction).

This one-sentence paragraph also is giving us some characterization–dedicated, brilliant, cunning.

Button-pushing, key words and phrases emerge early and accrue to nab the interest of the browsing reader who likes detective/crime fiction: homicide, detective, psychiatrist, bizarre deaths, psychotic breaks, controversial therapy, terrifying memories, victims, dangerous, secrets, cryptic messages, strange gaps in memory, worst fears, body count rises, brilliant, puzzle, cunning killer.

Strengths: Most are mentioned above in the key words, but I’ll add that for me the women going berserk and the cryptic messages were very strong “clinchers” in the blurb. I want to know why the patients are losing it violently and I want to read those cryptic messages. Don’t you? Well, to find out, I have to read the story.

There it is: the blurb worked on ME.

Weaknesses: I would have liked some hint at what the detective’s strength or weakness was, not just the “worst fears” phrase. I also would prefer  a sense of what the particular therapy was–medication or regression or behavioral or what.

I like quirky detectives, and while “dedicated” is a good-guy term (hero term), I would have preferred something more colorful, better at showing us the distinctiveness (if any) of this cop.

For example, Monk was obsessive-compulsive, and Sherlock describes himself as a high-functioning sociopath in the MASTERPIECE series version. Those are highly intriguing, specific ways of describing a character. “Dedicated” is bland. Really bland. If you had a choice between a narcoleptic detective or a dypsomaniac detective or a Sufi mystic detective or a mysophobic detective or a gambling detective or a transgender detective or a PTSD detective versus a “dedicated detective,” who would you choose to read?

Same with the psychiatrist: Even though I do find “brilliant” a key term–we like those who are supremely bright and competent in fiction, don’t we?–I would have preferred something more enticing and more uniquely characterizing.

This blurb did a lot right. (Sold me!) But it could have done better.

Tip: Think of vivid, intriguing ways to describe your character. Don’t rely on bland adjectives. Brainstorm those key descriptors.

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 





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.


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:


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

How To Start Organizing Information For Your Book’s Blurb

Fine, you now are very clear on what a blurb is and what it’s used for.

Now, you want to write one. It could be for your book or a friend’s book.

How do you start?

Blurb for Diving foro the Damsel Blurb Babe Second post 2-1-16Get something to jot down information, electronic or old fashioned pen and paper. You need to extract the core items of the book.

Or you can download a book blurb template from some website. They are out there. Google the term, click “images,” and browse any templates that come up and format your notes accordingly.

Here’s one a friend of mine who writes YA novels found helpful: Deconstructing Back Cover Copy.

But a bare bones one to get you thinking about what the story/book really is about could be like this:

Who is the book about?  This is your main character. Protagonist.  Jot down the name, age, gender (or transgender), and what makes them “them”–their occupation or special talent (psychic or world’s best embroiderer) or status (genius, rich, poor, ex-con, homeless, divorcing) or anything that is intriguing, especially if it’s genre-specific. Do they have quirks?  Think of strong adjectives!  How would you describe them in two or three words if you had to? Hermit theologian; cowardly army sergeant; alcoholic pilot; autistic schoolboy; kickboxing nun–all of these would catch my attention in a blurb.

What do they need/want and why? This covers the protagonist’s goal and motivation.  They must have one big one (and probably lesser ones). Katniss first wanted to save her sister by substituting for her in the Hunger Games; then she wants to save herself and Peeta: survival!

Where is the story happening? Setting. This is very important for some novels and non-fiction books, so important that the title may derive or include the setting, such as with Dune or Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee or The Bridges of Madison County.

What is the story problem? If it’s a novel (I mostly discuss novels here, so expect that as my default), you must have conflict, a problem, an obstacle, trials, enemies or villains or something in the way of what the protagonist wants (be it internal or external, or, ideally, both). There may be many conflicts and issues, but what is the main one that propels your tale.  If it’s non-fiction, what is the problem the book solves: how to simplify a complicated life; how to stop overspending; how to find a mate; how to stop overeating; how to write a book when you don’t know where to start.

Who or what is obstructing or antagonizing the main character? You may have already named this in answering the previous question. It could be the serial killer taunting the homicide detective. It could be cancer killing the protagonist. It could be the hostile environment of an alien planet making survival difficult. It could be an evil cadre of powerful lawyers out to ruin the rookie lawyer-protagonist’s first big case. Name the nemisis, villain, obstacle.

What are the stakes? If the character fails, what is the consequence? It might be that the man she loves gets away or the aliens win the war against the humans or the defendant goes to prison for life or  a he loses his family’s farm or she dies in the imperial games. Stakes. Consequences.

Who are the allies or other important characters? You can’t think of Katniss without Peeta, Romeo without Juliet, Bella without Edward and Jacob, Bridget Jones without Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet without Mr. Darcy,  or Clarice Starling without Hannibal Lecter. Most novels have important secondary characters who assist the main character or who are intricately involved in the progress of that character–as they affect each other.

What is the genre and tone of the work, and its audience? Is it a YA Fantasy Romance? Is it a Dark CIA Thriller? Is it an intellectual science fiction adventure for adults? Is it a religious romance aimed at Christian women who don’t want sex scenes?  Is it a literary novel about a group of chess players in Central Park, all former vets dealing with regrets and traumas through game strategy? The tone of the blurb ideally should relate to the tone of the book–whether suspenseful, funny, youthful, or wise. And you would likely use different diction for one aimed at teens than one aimed at an older audience.

What is the story question?  We’ve all seen blurbs that end with questions–seen that a lot. Blurbs don’t have to end in questions or ever have any question within them. But this really is a natural feeling strategy. Only reading the book will answer that question. It’s bait. They are too useful to be discarded as old school. Will Katniss win the Hunger Games? Will Clarice capture Buffalo Bill? Will the kids from The Glade make it through The Maze alive? Will Romeo and Juliet be able to live happily ever after? Will the astronaut on Mars survive? (And yes, The Martian back cover copy ended with a question about survival. It didn’t hurt sales, huh?)

What you don’t need:

The ending–You aren’t going to give it away.

Secondary plots–That’s not what’s going to nab the reader. The main storyline is.

Names of characters who aren’t very important–Plot movers and shakers only.  In a romance, you have a hero and a heroine (though you might have an antagonist to name in a romantic suspense). In some blurbs, you’d only name one character: the protagonist.

Most of the middle and latter part of your story–I’ve seen recommendations from some editors to gather blurb material from the first 15% of your book: act one. I won’t say that applies all the time, but that’s the part of the book that you’ve shaped to hook a reader. It makes sense that it’s where you find most of your blurb: your  character (ordinary world), inciting incident, perhaps main ally and antagonist, the big need or goal, the story question.

There you go. You’re ready to begin scribbling down the preliminary notes for your blurb’s first draft.

I recommend you do this too: grab some books from your personal shelves or head to Amazon and bring up the pages for ebooks you’ve bought. Read the blurbs. Get a sense of the forms used, the tones,  and notice the key elements that sold you.

Now, go write one.

Coming next:

A Picture with Fewer than One Thousand Words