A Marketing Handbook for Writers: Part Eleven - Blurbs, Your Attention-Gathering Grenade


In an earlier article, we learned that Bluma Wulfovna Zeigarnik discovered the Zeigarnik effect by studying memory in relation to incomplete and complete tasks. Incomplete tasks, she found, are easier to remember than successful ones.

We learned that, related to this, if you want your reader to be attracted to a character in your fiction, you want that character’s life to be full of holes, gaps, threats, missing people or things. Characters, to be attractive, need to be incomplete.

We learned that the same prinicple is at work all around us: incompletenesses sap our attention; things that are whole or complete do not. If you want readers for your book, you should be thinking in terms of incompletenesses.

As an example, below are the blurbs for three of the top bestsellers for 2017 from Amazon’s list. No claims are made here as to whether these books are ‘good literature’ or not - I’m merely using them as examples of how incompletenesses are used effectively in marketing:

Example # 1:

The Kicking the Bucket List

Meet the daughters of Iris Parker. Dee; sensitive and big-hearted; Rose uptight and controlled and Fleur the reckless free spirit.

At the reading of their mother’s will, the three estranged women are aghast to discover that their inheritance comes with strings attached. If they are to inherit her wealth, they must spend a series of weekends together over the course of a year and carry out their mother’s ‘bucket list’.

Look for incompletenesses: by juxtaposing the three daughters in the first sentence, we see the ‘holes’ between them: the ‘sensitive and big-hearted’ Dee is quite different from the ‘uptight and controlled’ Rose who in turn differs wildly from the ‘reckless and free-spirited’ Fleur. If all three daughters had been the same or similar, there would be no sense of incompleteness and our attention would have drifted away. Then a story premise is outlined in which, in order to ‘complete’ their inheritance, they have to do a series of things which will highlight the differences between them.

This has been reduced down into a blurb with high ‘vacuum power’ - in other words, our attention is drawn to it because of the holes in the scenario.

Example # 2

New York, Actually

Meet Molly

New York’s most famous agony aunt, she considers herself an expert at relationships…as long as they’re other people’s. The only love of her life is her Dalmatian, Valentine.

Meet Daniel

A cynical divorce lawyer, he’s hardwired to think relationships are a bad idea. If you don’t get involved, no-one can get hurt. But then he finds himself borrowing a dog to meet the gorgeous woman he sees running in Central Park every morning…

Molly and Daniel think they know everything there is to know about relationships…until they meet each other that is…

You can immediately see the same principle at work as in the first example: we as readers are told exactly what the incompletenesses are in relation to the lives of Daniel and Molly. And we are given a similar premise to the first example too: these two incomplete people are going to be forced together by the premise of the story, and we will be amused as their failings aggravate each other until, of course, completeness arrives - at which point, as in all stories, the story ends.

Again, this has been distilled down into as few words as possible to form a ‘blurb’, your ‘attention-gathering grenade’.

Example # 3:

Just For Christmas

When Alex Munro learns that the love of her life is getting married to another girl, all she wants is to be alone – and as far away from Edinburgh as possible.

Moving to a Cornish cottage, which comes complete with the world’s scruffiest dog, Alex finds that her new neighbours are determined to involve her in their madcap Christmas festivities.

Then she meets her sexy neighbour Ruan – and somehow Alex doesn’t want to be alone this Christmas after all. But having lost one fiancée, Ruan has no intention of letting anyone get close to him again…

You probably don’t need an explanation by now. Alex Munro’s life is all about incompleteness until he meets Ruan, whose life is all about incompleteness…

…and so on.

These examples were taken at random from Amazon. Any piece of successful fiction, film, book, play or whatever, will be about incompleteness, and its ‘blurb’ with be the concentrated form of that.

Take a look for yourself.

Now frame your own story as a set of incompletenesses: what is your protagonist missing? What is your plot attempting to complete?

You might be thinking of a re-write, or you might suddenly see your own story in whole new way - all such ‘eureka’ moments are, by the way, moments of completion, when things come together in your mind, often with emotional results.

But this is about marketing.

Take another look at how you are marketing your book.

How is your book blurb a description of a concentrated incompleteness?

Stay tuned for more…

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