Writing a Back Cover Blurb that Sells

book cover blurb, blurb, copy, writing, novel, book, book marketing, marketingAh, yes. The infamous back cover blurb. Something that tends to lurk out of sight in the very back of our minds until we’re done with our book. It always seems to come as an afterthought, and always seems to be one of the more dreaded tasks for writers.

There’s a fine line between writing copy that sells and sounding completely cheesy and over the top. A quick Google search reveals hundreds of articles about writing back cover blurb, but there some common threads found in many of them.

  • Don’t wait until you’ve finished the manuscript to write your synopsis.

Don’t get me wrong. Things that you’re looking to put on your back cover copy, like testimonials from other authors or reviewers, can’t be obtained until your manuscript is totally, completely polished (which I’m now offering editing services here!). But writing your teaser blurb may just help you finish your manuscript.

What we’re talking about here is the synopsis of your story–that tantalizing teaser that should make potential readers want to invest their time in it. You should be able to pitch your story in a paragraph or two* (no more than three at the very most) without giving away the entire plot, using this fairly basic, boiled down formula:

1. Hook
2. Meat
3. Payoff

It should be noted that not every blurb will fit neatly into an exact formula. Romance is one of those genres that, generally, won’t fit into this type of formula. Women’s Literature is another that may not always fit.

According to Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, the back cover blurb should fall right around 150, and should be spaced out–not squashed together. It’s visually easier on the eyes to have more space in between paragraphs.

*(I just want to note here that by paragraphs, we’re looking anywhere between 4-6 lines of text that fit on the back cover of a book. Many times you’ll see big chunks of text broken up into smaller lines, simply for aesthetic purposes. I’ll touch more on that shortly.)

The Hook
The hook should be able to tell potential readers four main bullet points:

  • Who is your protagonist?
  • What is it they want/What is their goal?
  • When/where does the story take place? (i.e. What’s your setting?)

The Meat
The meat is made up of what obstacles stand in your protagonist’s way of whatever it is they want.

  • What obstacles stand in the way of what they want?
  • What is the main conflict?

The Payoff
The payoff is the reason potential readers should care. The stakes should be high enough that potential readers want to know what happens.

  • What are the stakes?
  • What happens if your protagonist fails to meet their goal?

Many synopses end with some type of teaser question. Next time you’re in your local bookshop, browse your genre of choice and peruse the back cover copy of the bestsellers. According to Jane Friedman, “what you’re trying to get across is an intriguing story premise.”

Typically found beneath the synopsis are testimonials or quotes from reviewers (besides Mom). If you don’t have either, don’t fret. You can always update your cover down the road. I won’t get into testimonials here.

In general, try to:

  • Limit the amount of text. If you’ve whittled down your synopsis but still have a lot of text, consider not having reviews or testimonials. Perhaps, instead, move them to an interior page just inside the front cover.
  • Avoid clichés and overly hyperbolic vocabulary.
  • Research back cover blurbs of bestsellers in your genre.
  • Include a small, brief author bio (and don’t forget your headshot!)

 

What tips or tricks have you used on your back cover copy?

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Beta Readers: How to Utilize the Power of Readers

What exactly is a beta reader? Simply put, it’s an average joe reader who gives feedback for an unpublished manuscript.

betareaders

(It’s a betta fish…get it?! …I thought it was funny…)

Betas give feedback and offer suggestions for “suspension of disbelief”/believability, continuity and general flow of the story, any possible plot holes, characterization, etc. Betas who are not writers themselves can make some of the best beta readers, as they tend to not over analyze every minute detail of the story like writers. They can take in the story as a whole and get a better view of the big picture.

Should you consider looking for beta readers? Yes! After working on a manuscript for what seems like an eternity, it’s hard to look at our own work objectively. Betas can read your work with fresh eyes and a completely new, unbiased take on it.

There are some important things to remember when working with beta readers:

  • Be up front and clear about what you are and are not looking for. What kind of feedback are you looking for? Characterization? Plot holes? Descriptions? Voice? Flow? Recurring grammar faux pas like dangling modifiers?
  • Know your target audience. If possible, find beta readers within your target audience. Is your story intended for young adults? 18+ adults only? Businessmen? Stay-at-home moms who need a break from the kids? You’ll get the most useful feedback from betas roughly within your target audience and, in turn, gauge what kind of revisions you may need to make. Avoid having family and friends beta read for you. As much as they insist that they can give you helpful feedback, the fact that they know you personally can influence how they see the story.
  • Edit your manuscript to the best of your abilities. Yes, it’s still an unpublished manuscript, but it’s important to give your betas the most polished writing you can give. Even if it hasn’t been to a professional editor yet, revise and edit as much as you can. Take your time with edits, and don’t rush. Remember, some of these beta readers may end up recommending your upcoming novel to people they know — or worse, telling them to steer clear.
  • Have several file options available. Some authors think it’s all about them, when in reality, it’s about the readers. Make it as easy as possible for them to read your work. Ask your betas if they have a preference for file type and, inversely, let them know what types you’re able to provide, such as .pdf, .mobi, .docx.
  • Be considerate of their time. This goes both ways. Authors, remember that betas are taking time out of their day to read your work. Don’t expect them to read and have their comments/notes written within 24 hours. Also, refrain from asking someone to beta for you until you’re absolutely ready for beta readers.
    Readers, remember that authors may have a timeline they’re working on. Don’t dilly dally or put off reading the manuscript for weeks at a time.
  • Get some thick skin. It sounds harsh, but remember to not take feedback personally. Be prepared for both positive and negative feedback. Never lash out or defend yourself against something a beta reader says. Even if you don’t agree with their critique right off the bat, give yourself some time to consider their suggestions. Again, don’t become defensive. Just be gracious for their time and remember to thank them.

 

There are many places to find beta readers — even sites like the Goodreads forums and Tumblr. I also offer more in-depth editing services such as developmental and substantive editing. You can check out pricing info here or email me at allison@thesentrancedwriter.com.

 

 

Naming Your Characters ~ A Few Things to Consider

characternames

Naming your characters doesn’t have to be overwhelmingly complicated. (Cue the stereotypical Shakespeare quote here.) Some writers spend days upon days researching the etymology of different names and words for their characters. It’s totally OK if you don’t find names the same way.

However, you should put at least a little work into naming your characters. The kind of names will, for obvious reasons, have vast differences from genre to genre — such as high fantasy versus contemporary romance.

Here are some things to consider when it comes to naming your babies. …I mean characters.

  • Heritage/Time period/Geographical/Background
    I’d like to believe that taking your character’s background into consideration for a name would be a self-explanatory step, but… no, it’s not. No matter the genre, some names are completely out of place. A reader will be completely thrown off by stumbling across a character named “Billy-Bob” in a medieval fantasy, or “Caligula” and “Eudoxia” in a contemporary romance that takes place in Podunk Town, Missouri, unless, of course, there’s a damn good reason for it.Your character’s name should make sense with the story and with their own background. Research common names for that time period (or, if it’s a more contemporary story, you can research the most common names for the specific year your character was born in).
  • Readability and Pronunciation, Same First Letter
    Avoid names that have difficult spellings or pronunciations. Also, avoid having two character names that start with the same letter. It’s harder for our eyes to differentiate two names in the same scene that start with the same letter.
  • Spelling
    Stay away from odd/weird/”hip” spellings of common names. It only makes it harder on your reader.
  • Contrived names, obvious names
    Some writers like names that sound clever or cute or witty, like naming a wise, old man Sage, or a peace-keeping girl Serenity. Depending on the story, they may sound contrived and come off as corny. Keep your genre and target audience in mind — what sounds goofy for an adult romance may work well for a YA novel.
    This isn’t to say that names derived from everyday words can’t work. A clever name, however,  won’t make your character memorable. A well developed, fleshed-out, sympathetic character is memorable.

It’s good to have a rough idea of who your character is before picking out a name. If you decide to start writing first, use a placeholder, such as [NAME], instead of a temporary name. It’s harder to go back and change from a temporary name, as you may get used to it.

Baby name resources, from websites to books (besides writers, does anyone even buy baby name books anymore…?), are your best friends when it comes to names. Here are some links to helpful resources!

Behind the Name — Offers the etymology and meaning behind thousands of names. You can even search by language, country, or even Biblical and Medieval names.

2000-Names.com — Another great resource with thousands of names, searchable by region/language/time period/etc.

BabyCenter — Good if you’re looking for a name that’s more contemporary or modern. They have some cutesy categories, such as Old fashioned and Nature.

Social Security Administration (SSA) — This is your best resource to search the most common or popular names by year or decade (for the US, at least).

Two additions for Fantasy and Sci-Fi writers, thanks to Matt (be sure to check out his blog and writing!) :

donjon — Gives a few options to create different combinations for name generation.

Fantasynamegenerators.com

 

 

Editing Your First Draft: Watch Out for These 5 Grammatical Errors

5grammarerrors
When deep in the midst of writing a first draft, using perfectly proper punctuation and grammar is probably the last thing on your mind. However, once you move on to the editing stage, it should definitely be in the forefront of your noggin.

I’d also like to make a note here. I’m all for breaking the rules and being rebellious when it comes to creative writing, but you have to know the rules before you can break them.

But where should you start when it comes to editing for grammar? There are some glaringly obvious ones that any self-proclaimed grammar nerd will eagerly correct you on if you make an error in an online forum (they’re/there/their, to/two/too, etc.) To start, let’s look at some common (but not always commonly thought of!) mistakes made by writers.

Subject-Verb Agreement
This one probably seems like a no brainer, but it’s actually a pretty common error. Slip-ups are so frequent in spoken English that we hardly ever think about it. Some nouns working as the subject of a sentence can be a bit tricky, such as nouns that mean a group of people or things, but the word itself is singular.
Wrong: The cast are going to a party after closing night.
Right: The cast is going to a party after closing night.

Dangling Modifiers
A dangling modifier is a clause that is ambiguously modifying the wrong noun in a sentence. While it may make sense in your own head, it may actually be grammatically incorrect.
Wrong: After ringing nonstop, Lauren had no desire to answer the phone.
Right: Lauren had no desire to answer the phone that had been ringing nonstop.

Em Dash (—) vs. En Dash (–) vs. Hyphen (‐)
When I first heard these terms back in my English classes in high school, I’m sure I had question marks for eyes. The em dash is the longest, followed by the en dash, and finally the hyphen. Computer keyboards are not well-equipped to differentiate between an en dash and a hyphen, but most word processors should have an option to insert special characters.
Em dash: Used as parentheticals and can take the place of commas, parentheses, or colons for more emphasis or better readability. Example: John had to do something–crazy or not–to save her in time.
En dash: Slightly wider than a hyphen. Used to denote a span or range, such as a span of years, a score in a sports game, and to denote direction or connection. Example: We hold meetings on Saturdays, 8:00-9:00.
Hyphen: Used when two or more words make one collective word. Example: Wizards using “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” instead of using Lord Voldemort.

Comma Splices
A comma splice happens when a comma is used instead of a period or semicolon. Example:
Wrong: He didn’t like her, she was too loud.
Right: He didn’t like her; she was too loud.
If the two thoughts (in this example, the two thoughts are “He didn’t like her” and “She was too loud”) can stand alone and still be complete sentences, then they should be separated by a semicolon or period. You can also correct this particular sentence by adding because: He didn’t like her because she was too loud.

Introductory Elements
To keep it short and sweet: Introductory words or elements require a comma after them.
Example: Luckily, we were able to get tickets before they sold out.

Sure, there are about a million more grammar faux pas that could be lurking in your first draft (okay, okay, maybe not a million, per se, but you know…). These five, however, are some common mistakes. If you’re self-publishing, I do suggest working with an editor once you’ve cleaned up your manuscript to the best of your abilities.

For more grammar faux pas, sign up for our monthly newsletter!  Sign up by 4/14 to get the April edition — all about commas!