A Marketing Handbook for Writers: Part Fourteen - More About Blurbs
To sell your books, you need to make maximum use of the idea of incompleteness.
Firstly, you need to reduce your story or novel down to one sentence.
Try to craft a sentence which contains a contrast between a settled, ordered state and a messy, disordered alternative. You need to begin with familiarity and then swiftly introduce obstacles or threats to that familiarity.
A very basic one sentence pitch is:
‘When a big threat of incompleteness happens to a particular character, they have to overcome that obstacle to restore completeness.’
You are after a one sentence description of the plot - not the idea behind your novel. Your theme might be ‘the wrongness of racism’; your plot is 'what racist thing happens to an individual character that he or she has to deal with to achieve an end to racism'.
Try to add an element of flavour by introducing a couple of key details that give a sense of the character of your novel.
Here are some initial examples from famous books and films:
‘A working class young man and a well-to-do young woman are lovers separated by the sinking of the Titanic.’
‘Young farm boy Luke Skywalker gets caught up in the galactic rebellion and must decide between the Light and Dark sides of the universal Force.’
‘Atticus Finch decides to take on the hopeless case of defending a black man in the racist 1930s South, little knowing the danger into which that decision will throw his precious children.’
‘Frodo Baggins, hobbit from the Shire, chooses to take on the futile quest to destroy the all-powerful One Ring.’
Already, in the examples above, you can see the shadow of the Zeigarnik Effect: in all of them, there is the suggestion of incompleteness - love and unity, safety and security, are all under threat of never being completed.
A vacuum lies at their heart.
Devise something similar for your book.
Use the same principles when writing a headline for your book, any ad copy, in the metadata for your web pages, in any place you can think of.
You’ll be amazed at the power of this one principle.
Now expand this into the ‘blurb’ on the back of the book.
Most literary agents recommend that writers work on their ‘back of the book’ pitch – the blurb, the couple of hundred words that really crystallises what the book is about.
How do you put a good blurb together using incompleteness?
Remember from earlier, you have a group of ‘warm prospects’. They are familiar with the kind of categories of story into which yours might fit. You can best capture more of their attention by associating your story with other stories with which they are already comfortable, and then showing the gap or incompleteness that sucks in attention.
Try the following two steps to begin with:
1. Have a really good sense of your book’s genre. Where will your book sit on the shelves? Is it science fiction? Fantasy? Romance? Literary? Young Adult? Who are some authors with whom you would compare yourself?
2. Is it possible to view your story as the combination of two or more well-known stories or authors? Unforgiven meets Star Wars? Harry Potter meets Twilight? Enid Blyton meets Bram Stoker? It might not be possible to reduce your story down to simple ‘ingredients’ in those way, but looking at it like this will help you to isolate your genre and give your blurb a foundation.
This establishes a background ‘completeness’, a set of known parameters that make up a genre for your warm prospect.
A blurb is an ‘elevator pitch’, a concise ‘sales pitch’ that you can place in front of a prospect. But you only have a few seconds when your warm prospect glances at your blurb. In those few seconds, you have to hit them with maximum ‘vacuum power’, maximum concentrated incompleteness, against that familiar genre background.
Similarity and difference; fulfilment and vacuums; completeness and incompleteness.
All in about two hundred words.
That means that you must know your market. You must read a lot of contemporary fiction in your genre and sub-genre to be able to construct a blurb well.
If you don’t do that, you won’t know the market, which means you will almost certainly misunderstand what your warm prospects are looking for, what they feel comfortable with.
Look in bookstores – and look especially for recent successful debuts in your genre.
Your novel has to sell itself on its idea, its central concept. But its central concept, just to be clear, has to be an incompleteness. It’s that ‘hole’ which produces what the business calls the ‘hook’. Without a strong hook you’ll never get reader attention.
Look at these examples:
High-school student Bella Swan, always a bit of a misfit, doesn't expect life to change much when she moves from sunny Arizona to rainy Washington state. Then she meets Edward Cullen, a handsome but mysterious teen whose eyes seem to peer directly into her soul. Edward is a vampire whose family does not drink blood, and Bella, far from being frightened, enters into a dangerous romance with her immortal soulmate.