Saturday, 27 August 2011

The Horrors of Blurb Writing

I was planning on doing a little description of the book I'm writing at the moment as my first post-introduction post here, and what a post it was going to be! Seriously, you would have been blown away. But unfortunately I am a failure at describing my book to anyone. It's a series, so there are major things it's about that I don't want to say because it would spoil to later books. There are loooooads of different plot threads, and not one which I would be able to single out as a main one. Is it character driven fantasy? Is it plot driven fantasy? Is it even proper fantasy? And even the first book is looking like it's going to be pretty huge (probably over 600 pages), so I have no idea where to begin describing it.

But I've had a go before. I've send what I've done of this draft of my book to a few people over the past few months, and decided to try and put a little blurb type thing in with my email so that people didn't go thinking the character in the prologue was the main character then wondering why he didn't turn up again in the later chapters. It went a little something like this:

As great nation's fall around her, the city of Dolindium is beset by misfortune. Galavian, the son of the King, has been missing for over a month, a cryptic message is sent from the south, and a rebellion begins. Plagued by his own emotional problems, Dearon, the Lord of Dolindium and second only to the King himself, must fight to defend his city and uncover the truth. And all the while, the figures watch, as their unknown plan begins.

Now I don't think is this necessarily a bad blurb. It gets the job done, teases at the story without telling too much, and shows who the main character is (although I hate that 'emotional problems' bit I put in there. What's that about Ian, eh, EH???). But is it really a good blurb?

I know it's far too soon to be thinking about things like this, but I'm a little odd like that. When I'm writing my book, I have to make the page layout look like it's a book. I have to have the page numbers on there, it has to be in A5, I have to adjust the margins a bit, I have to use drop caps at the start of a chapter, I have to have a chapter heading, and so on... So wanting to have a blurb is basically the next step. And is it really that overkill? I mean, it's not like I've designed the cover or anything!...


So yeah, we've established I'm insane. But the point is, my book is good (in my opinion, but my opinion is right) and needs a good blurb. Sometimes the best blurbs are extracts from the books. Take 'Name of the Wind,' perhaps my favourite book. This is it's blurb:

My name is Kvothe. 
 I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep.  
You may have heard of me.

Now that is a good blurb! It's so ballsy, so 'hell yeah this is a good book' that it makes you want to rip the book open to read the first page. And that is a quote from the book. I think the first line might go on a bit longer in the book, not sure, but it's basically the same. It also kind of adds to the reading experience, because once you've read that amazing blurb about this apparently awesome person, you then get introduced to the lowly barkeep Kote (who is Kvothe!!! That's not a spoiler by the way, it's made obvious right from the off) who is nothing like that description. In my opinion, this is the near perfect blurb. If he had written the blurb for 'Name of the Wind' in the style of my earlier one, it would have come out as something stale and wouldn't grab attention, the sort of blurb that would make you go 'meh' and put the book back down on the shelf at Waterstones or wherever. 

So this got me thinking. Could I use an extract from my book for my blurb. I know that I have nothing quite as clearly stated as the Name of the Wind extract, so I would probably need to add a more normal blurb beneath the extract, but I've seen this done before. So I got thinking...

There is really only one bit in what I have written so far (I've written about 130 pages at this point. Book will probably be 600 or more) that I could use. It's in the prologue, and it's maybe too long for a blurb, but lets see. Here we go.

“Please not again,” Favoir pleaded. “I’ve suffered enou-"
A focused silence cast aside his words. It amplified every sound, every movement of the air and itch of naked skin to a volume too loud to exist, and yet impossibly distant. Then, like a hammer blow, he felt a sudden separation from all things, as every sense of hope was denied to him; the idea lost definition, as if it could never have existed. All that remained was the quite thump of the icy stone that constricted and expanded beneath his ribs.
There was a quiet pat of feet on the floor, slowly coming closer. He tried to blink, to restore some focus. His breathing was heavy and disjointed. What little moisture was left in him glazed over his eyes.
The footsteps stopped.

So I think that's a good bit of writing. It's a bit more lyrical than most of my stuff, but it kinda needed to be at that point. But it doesn't work that well as a blurb I don't think. One reason is that it introduced some dude called Favoir. If I don't have an extra blurb bit at the bottom of the page explaining the book a bit more, then people will think Favoir is the main character possible, and if I do have that explaining bit, people might be a little confused about the lack of explanation of who Favoir is. Also, it's a bit long, the paragraph structure looks odd on a blurb, and it lacks the set up it has in the actual prologue. 

There is a different angle I could take. I could make the blurb more personal about my main character Dearon, to appease those interested in character development and stuff the most, but that might alienate those more bothered about plot. But if I add a little extra bit at the bottom like my first blurb I might just about manage to make something good. So lets find a Dearon based extract. Ah ha!

“Thing's change,” he muttered to himself quietly. And he knew he was speaking of more than his relationship with Eradeen. With every year of his life he looked back, he saw a different man, sometimes strong, other times desperately weak. Almost a year to the day his heart had been left to die by the woman he loved, and yet only two years before he had chosen her, sweet but serious Demm, to be the one he would love for the rest of his life.
A pale tear drop fell to the bottom of the page, seeping through the paper like a sea against sand. Dearon rested his head in his hands, breathing heavily as his eyes glazed over. A second tear fell, then a third, and before he could control himself he had ripped the unfinished letter in two. The torn halves rested gently on the table, unmoving in the shallow breeze.

So once again this is ok, but not really right. It's a bit in the deep end for a blurb, and seems a bit odd without any context as to who the women he is talking about are. Plus it makes my main character look like a blubbering sod, which he is not, he was just having a bad day that's all. And can you imagine how silly that first blurb would look next to this one.

As I've been writing this, I've realised anyone reading is probably expecting me to show at the end of this post the perfect blurb to my book. Well, sorry! I still haven't got it. If I'm going down the extract route, maybe the perfect paragraph will show up later on in the book. I'm not going to try and fit it in there purposefully, that wouldn't be right, and maybe I'll go with the standard type blurb, just with a little more 'oomph!' than my previous attempt. Who knows?!

It seems a little silly to say this given that I have 0 people reading my blog at the moment, but what's your opinion on what makes a good blurb? Which of the ones I put down do you think is best, or do you think they are all steaming turds that disgrace the name of writing? Let me know in the comments.



  1. well, to be honest, you're trying to do an editorial job now. normally, the editorial assistant reads the book and comes up with a catchy blurb:

    the first blurb does the job, as you said, but doesn't stand out (not to mention those 'emotional problems' that kill the mood). i definitely prefer the fine detail and the audible feel of the second one, but if Favoir is not the main character, an editor might say you're misleading the reader.

    where does the strenght of your writing lie: plot or character development? if your book is a lot about character development, than don't try to please readers that are obsessed with plot; write a strong piece about Dearon and get it to sound like the 'Name of the Wind' (I know it's easier said, but there's no other way!)

  2. @Ana Dragomir

    Thanks for the comment Ana. You into writing, or just know your stuff?

    Anyway yeah I know it's not really my job to do the blurb, but then again it's not my job to design the front cover either. I can't stop myself from doing these things.

    I don't think a piece about Dearon similar to the Name of the Wing thing would work though, he's much more of a normal guy really. It would be like me writing an epic piece about Jeff :p