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What makes a good blurb?
When you pick up a book at a bookstore or library, or read a blurb somewhere online, what engages you? What convinces you to open the book and scan the first page, or to take the book home with you?
The blurb is the equivalent of a movie trailer. Seen a fantastic trailer, only to find that the movie itself sucked? This is an important lesson: a good blurb or trailer can sell anything, and the whole product – whether it’s good, bad, or downright horrible – will always have enough ingredients from which to craft a compelling snapshot to hook your consumer.
The foundation of any good blurb – whether it’s for a novel or a nonfiction book – is that it’ll have a narrative thread that underpins it all and ties it all together. This is what we ride through it. However, a good blurb doesn’t let you realise you’re taking this ride. You simply become immersed in it, then want more.
Writing a good blurb is an artform. Obviously, there’s lots of different ways to write a blurb. If you’re somebody who struggles with blurbs, though, here’s a bit of a formula you can follow to get you underway …
|The vehicle which is going to take our reader on their blurb-ride is usually the protagonist of our story. Let’s use the example of The Hobbit. Bilbo Baggins is a Hobbit, a halfling who lives in the Shire, content with smoking his pipe, eating meals (and lots of them), and peace and quiet. But when the Wizard Gandalf arrives and starts talking about adventures, Bilbo’s idyllic little world is shattered. Here, we’ve introduced the protagonist, Bilbo, and his circumstances. This is important. We need to develop a visual of the character, and try to bond them with our reader. With that done, let’s get stuck into the plot. Gandalf introduces Bilbo to Thorin Oakenshield, the King of Dwarves, and his party of twelve Dwarves, who tell a tale of their kingdom, the Lonely Mountain, and their treasure, being stolen by the mighty dragon Smaug. Now the Dwarves are mounting a quest to reclaim what’s rightfully theirs, and they want Bilbo to join them. The plot itself doesn’t need to be oversold. Some plots won’t be packed with action and excitement. They might be slow boilers. Or simple family dramas. What’s important to capture here is the context: Bilbo, a contented homebody, is pitched into a quest where he seems impossibly out of his depth. That’s interesting, and this is what’s important: showing the drama that your protagonist will face. Next, let’s sum up Bilbo’s adventures, without – hopefully – giving up any specific, story-defining spoilers. Before Bilbo can pack a single thing, he’s swept out the door and faces many dangers with the Dwarves – hungry Trolls, bloodthirsty Goblins, angry, giant spiders, and other perils of the undertaking. There are enemies everywhere, and allies in unexpected places, but still waiting, at the end, is the seemingly unconquerable dragon, Smaug the Magnificent. Bilbo must find courage deep within himself that he never knew existed, but can he truly help the Dwarves reclaim their home and their treasure? Here, we’ve given up the gist of the quest, as well as the names of some of the creatures they face. But there’s no specifics – we don’t know how they escape the Trolls, Goblins, or spiders, whether anybody perishes, who does what, etc. But we see the conflict. We see some of the character growth. We see what our protagonist will face. The final paragraph usually sums up the book as a product: The Hobbit is a tale of adventure, courage and camaraderie which is sure to delight readers of all ages.||Usually, nonfiction (e.g. autobiographies, biographies, books on particular topics) can be treated like fiction. The same principle applies – just treat the subject as your protagonist who takes the reader for a ride through through the blurb. Where the blurb might differ is for something like a self-help book. You now not only have to immerse your reader, but empathise with them. Let’s say we’ve got a book about dieting. We need to establish a rapport with the reader immediately. Overweight? Open by questioning the reader. That might take the form of a single word (as it has here), a single sentence, or a paragraph full of questions. The point is to engage the reader and open a dialogue with them. They now have to answer the question(s) put forth to them. If it’s relevant to them, they will most likely read on. Then it’s time for the empathising. Do you struggle to resist sugary snacks or fatty foods? Or perhaps you stack on the kilos, despite what you eat. You’ve tried diets before, but without success. Here, hopefully, we’re getting on side with the reader. Yes, they might struggle to resist sugary snacks and fatty foods. Yes, they might stack on weight regardless of what they eat, and diets have been unsuccessful. If we’ve articulated legitimate concerns of somebody who might pick up a book like this, hopefully they’ll now be nodding their heads and thinking this book knows about their situation, is specifically talking to them, and might offer them hints that they haven’t encountered before. This is now where we sell ourselves and what the book’s about. Careful, though! We don’t want to give away the book’s secrets. Joe Blow has been a dietician for over twenty-five years, worked with thousands of patients, and has a PhD in Clinical Nutrition. Now, he’s come up with an easy 12-Step Program that’s guaranteed to see that you lose weight in three months. We’re not only selling ourselves here, but we’re also selling why we’re qualified to write about this subject. The reader has to feel they can have a reason – or reasons – to put their trust in us and, more importantly, in the book they’re now holding. The only actual allusion to the book’s content is the ’12-Step Program’. If your book has a particular formula (in this case the ’12-Step Program’), then sell it. Make no specific grandiose promises, though, e.g. You’re guaranteed to lose 25 kilograms! There’s no way you can guarantee that. The wording we’ve used here – ‘guaranteed to … lose weight in three months’ – is non-specific. Finally, as with the fiction blurb, we sum up the book: Lose Weight Quick is just what you need if you’ve tried all those other diets and failed, an easy step-by-step guide that will talk you through the process of how to lose weight and ensure you keep it off.|
Now neither of these blurbs are complete. They’re still early drafts. But they offer a framework that you can now flesh out. We can fine-tune details, as well as smooth out linkages.
Just remember, blurbs are meant to be short and concise. They’re not a report of your book. Nor should they give the content away so that it becomes redundant to read the book. Don’t waste words. A blurb sells your book. The goal is to get readers intrigued.
With practice, you should be able to blurbarize any book. The key is to find your way in. Once you do, the rest should come easily.
February 20, 2020
Not too long ago, one of my friends told me that she didn’t think horror was a necessary, or influential, literary genre. There’s too much blood, she said, too much gore, too many nasty details.
My gaze drifted towards the pile of books that were stacked next to my bed. Among them were my two latest purchases: Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep and The Running Man. I had been looking forward to the former novel after devouring its predecessor, The Shining, which told a haunting story of addiction and abuse.
I couldn’t understand why my friend believed that horror was a meaningless genre, because for me, it was an excellent way to discuss the darker side of human nature, as well as trauma and strength.
This method of storytelling dates all the way back to the eighteenth century, where it was known as gothic literature.
Some of you might think that classic literature has aged to the point where it is no longer interesting, but this is in no way true (unless you decide to read The Italian by Ann Radcliffe) when we read horror.
I have to admit that, although I have loved all things scary from a young age, my real admiration of gothic literature developed after reading Matthew Lewis’s The Monk.
Like many, if not all works of horror, The Monk has earned its classical status by working with tropes. Rain, thunder and lightning create a dark and gloomy feel to the novel while Lewis’s characters continuously faint before ‘sinful’ acts of witchcraft, betrayal and lust. His depiction of the supernatural is luxuriously detailed, even for the modern eye.
For instance, Lucifer is not, at first, a monstrous being, but human in appearance. While his feathery hair, athletic physique and calm temperament characterise him as a somewhat attractive and relatable figure, it is the fierce fire within his eyes that suggests he is a powerful, supernatural other. It is only later in the novel that he is portrayed as physically monstrous, and it is this suspense that grips us and motivates us to read the novel in its entirety.
Though Lucifer is a frightening figure, it is the evil that lingers within Lewis’s central character Ambrosio that truly shocks us. His greed, power and desire ultimately leads him to his demise, outlining how horror is a genre that is cleverly exposes the faults of human nature.
Something I have learned over the years is to look out for how the environment is depicted in gothic literature. The term ‘sublime’ was coined by Sigmund Freud to describe how the landscape reflects the tensions and fears of a novel, and this is a technique that is used in both classic and modern horror.
The Monk, for example, describes the height of great mountains that stretch up into dark skies and cold winds, much like how Stephen King illustrates the cold, snow-capped rocky mountains of Colorado. Both of these environments create a terrifying image of isolation and better outlines how individuals react to their surroundings, and whether or not they will fight for themselves or for others.
Clearly, gothic tropes of darkness, storms and the wilderness are still used in literature today, and have even been used in filmic adaptations like The Shining to explore how individuals react to traumatic threats against survival.
Unlike other literary genres, horror has the ability to explore not only supernatural terrors, but also psychological ailments. It might even combine these two features together to better reflect human nature and the concerns of specific decades.
For instance, Bram Stoker uses the horrific image of the vampire, a long-nailed, hulking and fanged creature, to outline his anxieties of foreign figures entering nineteenth-century Europe. Mary Shelley questions responsibility and technology through her depiction of a creature who is monstrous in appearance but moral in nature in Frankenstein. Robert Louis Stevenson similarly explores morality and duality in the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and encourages his readers to look inward and question their own motives, behaviours and desires.
Often, it is not always the supernatural creatures in these novels who cause trauma, but rather, who experience it at the hands of selfish and immoral humans.
These themes are also conveyed in more modern popular fictions. In his novel, Let the Right One In, John Aivide Lindqvist explores loss, the deconstruction of the nuclear family, addiction, adolescence and sexual abuse through vampirism. In Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game, protagonist Jessie Burlingame is forced to confront past-familial traumas, search for and grasp inner strength and push past her old, and current, demons. Trauma, grief and Gothicism go hand in hand, and it is for this reason that we continue to feel invested in the stories, however dark and frightening, that old and new authors have to tell.
The horror genre, due to its focus on threats against survival, expertly explores the moral and immoral aspects of human nature. For those of us who are lucky enough to have never faced such difficulties in life, it provides us with a great way to consider how we would respond to such situations; would we fight for ourselves, protect others, or flee?
Though it is brutal, bloody and sometimes plain silly, horror reflects the darker sides of the self and society, and because of this, it is so clearly an important and irreplaceable literary genre.
– Editing Intern
February 6, 2020
There are three ways that you can go about writing and publishing a book:
- Just blunder forth. Unfortunately, it’s extremely likely – if not certain – you’ll run into problems you don’t know how to solve. If you try to muddle through them, you’re likelier to stumble into (or create) bigger problems.
- Employ a hokey methodology. Enough so-called writers sell them nowadays. A book should be X chapters, Y amount of words, and it should have this and do that, etc. These are gimmicks. Your book – even if it belongs to a well-populated genre – is unique. While all writing shares certain precepts, your content drives the structure that should be employed.
- Learn. This is undoubtedly the best option. Once you know the landscape, you then know how to best navigate it.
In the broadest sense, this is what you need to consider for your book …
What’s your idea?
If I were to ask you to pitch it, could you? Or would you bumble around, unsure how to express it? If this is the case, then you actually don’t know what your idea is.
Your idea is your lighthouse: it keeps you to a course.
Make sure you know what you’re going to be writing about.
There are two types of writers:
- Planners: planners map out every single detail of their book before they sit down to write.
- Pantsers (known as such, because they fly by the seat of their pants): they make it up as they go along.
For something as big and meaningful as a book, though, I doubt there is a genuine pantser. Everybody must do some planning, even if it’s just to think about it in their heads. This acts as the framework.
If you do just make it up as you go along with little-to-no thought, you’re likely to become repetitive, overwrite, and lose focus.
It takes endurance to write a book. That’s because it’s an incredible commitment.
There are times you’ll doubt the quality of your writing, that you’ll fall out of love with your content, that it will all seem like a stupid idea, that others will make you doubt yourself, etc.
Compound that with issues such as time management, responsibilities, work, family, etc. Any of these can be discouraging. Next thing you know, you haven’t touched your book in months.
But you promise yourself you’ll get back to it.
The biggest reason people stop writing, however, is they hit an obstacle, and they just don’t know how to navigate it.
Once your manuscript is finished, what do you do with it?
Surprisingly, a lot of new writers don’t know. Some even believe that their book will simply be discovered, as if by magic. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.
The publishing landscape is always evolving. It incorporates:
- Traditional publishing
- Partnership Publishing
There are also subsets within each group.
Each comes with it’s advantages and disadvantages.
The problem arises that one of those options can involve predators who prey on the inexperienced, and will extort money from them by making promises that are impossible to guarantee, e.g. that your book will be a bestseller.
Nobody – nobody – can guarantee that. If there was a formula, the big, multi-million-dollar publishers would be employing it.
You really need to know what avenue is best suited for you.
Another misnomer is that once the book is published, people will buy it.
Why? How will readers know that your book is out there? Don’t forget, this is a competitive industry. Walk into a bookstore. How many books does it contain? Thousands? And more are being released daily. So why will people flock en masse to your book?
This is your responsibility. A traditional publisher might have a marketing plan that runs over a limited time – e.g. the first month after the book’s release – but they can only do so much. Also, they always have another author coming through.
More and more, it’s the author’s responsibility to create that awareness for themselves (as an author), and their book.
There’s a popular misconception that writing a book is easy, and that selling it is a given.
It’s hard work.
As we mentioned from the beginning, you can blunder forward and hope you can work it all out – and that nobody takes advantage of you in the process – or you can find a gimmick you think will work for you.
The other option is to learn.
It’s the foundation of our lives: you learn a skill so you can use it to move forward.
Writing, publishing, and marketing your book is no different.
Learn what you can.
Check out our Book Camp workshop on Saturday, 22nd February, 9.00am – 5.00pm.
January 23, 2020
What does it take to write a self-help book?
Lots of people blunder into it, thinking it’s just about getting everything out onto the page. Then that’s it. But this is tantamount to writing a novel without structure and direction. It’ll bore readers or be hard to follow. Readers will then disengage and put the book down. There you go: you’ve lost them.
With a self-help book, it’s worse because self-help authors are also working in the self-help industry. The book is a direct reflection of them and their practices. Release a shoddy book, and people are going to think that the author is shoddy. Now people don’t just disengage from the book, but will also disregard the author as a self-help practitioner. That’s two strikes. Most people don’t go back for the third.
If you’re going to write a self-help book, here are the fundamentals you need to consider …
Go to a bookstore and check the self-help section. What you’ll find is that most of the books are about the same size – about 25,000 – 50,000 words. Readers want help, and they want to digest it as quickly as possible. That’s not to say that a bigger book can’t work. But it’s going to have a harder chance of succeeding.
It’s worth scribbling down everything you feel your practice offers. Look at each item. Work out which item would deserve its own chapter (a main) and which item would be explored as a step in that chapter (a subordinate).
For example, if we were writing a book on improving health through diet and exercise, we might break it down like this:
Understanding Our Bodies
- Delineates that everybody comes into this from a different starting point
- Recognise and respect any physical detriments, like physical problem spots or injuries
- A caution: listen to the body – pull back if your body is telling you it’s not coping
- Have fun through this program
- An introduction to diet
- The right and wrong foods
- Explain that breakfast is the most important meal of the day
- Look at the best things to eat
- Offer some recipes
- Look at best things to eat
- Offer some recipes
- Look at the best things to eat
- Offer some recipes
- Supplemental Meals
- Snacks you can eat through the day
- Alternating routines, e.g. work the legs one day, work the arms another day
- Drawing up a program
- Charting progress
Just through this simple example, we can see what are the mains, what are the subordinates, and the relationship they share.
If you were to buy a television cabinet in a flat-pack, you’ll find that it comes with a set of instructions that show you how to build the cabinet. With each step, you’ll assemble another part of it. You would see it build up. By the end, you have a completed cabinet.
What you’re doing is no different. You’re effectively offering a set of instructions on how to fix or improve something.
So these steps need to be clear, actionable, and progressive.
There should be an order that these steps follow. What does the reader need to know first before they progress?
Going back to the analogy of the instructions, you can’t complete step 8 until all the steps before it have been ticked off.
Think about the best order for your methodology.
How do you sell your message? You will notice that many books in this genre have a certain amount of steps to achieve the goal, e.g. 7 Steps to Weight Loss.
It’s fine to wrap your methodology in some nifty presentation, but make sure it’s justified. Don’t say to yourself that your book is going to contain twelve steps and thirty-five thousand words, and then force the methodology to fit. That will show.
While writing observes, incorporates, and shares certain facets (e.g. structure, grammar), its form is still dictated by what the content is doing. The content should always drive the shape it employs.
Point of Difference
Think about why your message is going to sell, when there are undoubtedly others who are saying the same thing. This holds true to any genre of writing.
You need to find the why in why your content is different from what’s already out there, and how that will make it stand out from the competitors.
This might be any or all of the methodology, the presentation, who you are as an author, etc.
Want to be the next Tony Robbins, Wayne Dyer, Louise Hay, Eckhart Tolle, or Brené Brown?
It is guaranteed that you will not join this pantheon of self-help authors by simply regurgitating what they’re saying. If people want to read what Tony Robbins has to say, they’ll pick up a Tony Robbins’ book or go to his workshop. They will not go to your book.
There is also the matter of copyright. While it’s fine to quote another author, using their methodology or one of their exercises is an infringement on their intellectual property, and can result in legal action.
The reason people are coming to your book is because of what you have to say.
The writers who succeed are the writers who find their unique voice. They don’t try and sound like other authors. They don’t write exactly like other authors do.
They sell who they are uniquely, because that’s what stands out in a crowd.
Sell who YOU are to write the book you want to write.
If you’ve been thinking about writing a self-help book, why not attend our 3-hour workshop to get all the tools you need to write and publish it?
December 19, 2019
This is the last blog for 2019!
Busybird is closing tomorrow, Friday 20th December, at 1.00pm, and will reopen Monday, 13th January, at 9.00am.
During the break, we want you to think about your writing.
Did you write the book that you wanted to write in 2019? If so, great! Fantastic! Well done!
Did you contribute a sizeable portion to its development? Excellent! Good on you! Keep it up!
Or did it just sit there, leaving you to think, Oh well – next year I’ll write it.
As a writer it’s important to understand what holds you back from dedicating yourself to your aspiration.
Here’s some things to ponder …
Pitch your book (content) in one or two sentences.
It’s amazing how many people don’t have a clear idea of what they’re going to write before they sit down to write. It’s fine if your content evolves in a different direction as you’re writing – at that point, you need to redefine your understanding of what you’re writing. But you can’t do that until you have an initial idea of what you’re attempting.
What is your market?
Have an idea where your book would fit in the market. You might think it’s trendy to have the first horror-slash-erotic-sci fi-cookbook, but publishers will want to know exactly where it sits, rather than in some nonexistent hybrid genre. As will booksellers. If you can’t place it, it’s unlikely they’ll take the chance.
At least know how you could pitch it specifically. This will also help with the previous point – how you see your content.
Why didn’t you write your book in 2019?
If your answer is that you steadily worked on your book throughout 2019, and keeping up the same pace in 2020 will see it finished, then you have a pass.
If your answer to not being able to write is TIME, then you need to be brutally honest about where that time went.
You can have legitimate reasons: business, kids, dialysis, etc.
But you can also have excuses: watching The Voice, re-upholstering the couch that didn’t need it, or doing anything that could’ve waited.
That sort of behaviour needs to be eliminated.
The Mathematics of Writing.
If you can manage only one hundred words every weekday, that’s five hundred words in one week. That’s two thousand words in one month. That’s twenty-four thousand words in a year.
Now this is using an extreme case where you write very little regularly, but it shows that writing a little daily does add up.
Don’t ever dismiss a little block of time as not enough time to write.
Persevere … Regardless.
Make sure you know when you’re going to write, and stick to that schedule. There will be times you don’t feel like it for whatever reason: tiredness, wrong headspace, lack of inspiration, etc.
Again, these all fall into the realm of excuses.
If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never write a single word.
Think of it like a job: if you were tired, in the wrong headspace, or lacking inspiration, would you stay home from work? Likelier, you’d go and push yourself through the day.
Writing is no different.
If you feel you have shortcomings in your writing, get educated. Go study at a tertiary institution. Or do workshops. Or find a mentor.
All these are options where you’ll be exposed to stimuli that will fast-track your development – development that might otherwise take years, if it happens at all.
A book doesn’t get completed by talking about it. Sometimes, that’s all people do.
It’s understandable if you need research or some other contributing material, but sometimes you just need to sit down and go for it.
Identify whether you can’t go ahead because you need certain information, or if you’re just procrastinating.
Waiting for 2020 is just another excuse.
If you’re serious about writing, why wait?
And don’t forget …
… we’re running our Pitch to Publish competition!
Pitch your book to us and you could win a publishing package worth $12,000!
… the team here at Busybird Publishing would like to wish you all a Merry Christmas, and a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year.
See you in 2020!