Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Blurb Writing 101 - Part 2 - The Query Letter

Blurb Writing 101
Part 2
The Query Letter
Jacqueline Lichtenberg 

Part 1 of Blurb Writing 101 is posted here:


The "blurb" is the text on the front page or back cover (or for a hardcover, the text on the inside flap of the dust jacket). 

It is a "pitch" but not to the gatekeeper editor, rather directly to the reader.  Usually, the blurb is written either by the editor or the marketing department, very possibly from your query letter. 

The blurb is an ultimate, short description of the book which should cue a reader about whether they have read this book before, or read another in this series.  It should tickle the reader's imagination with the THEME -- which as noted in recent posts here, is a key delineator of Genre. 


Writing blurbs, pitches, elevator pitches, summaries, plot summaries, is a chore creative writers dread because it needs a total change of point-of-view.

As the "writer" (the one who imagines and crafts the telling of a story with depths, shades, nuances, rounded Characters, poetic justice) you know the reason you want to write this particular story is the reason the readers you are seeking to engage will enjoy reading it.

None of what you know is relevant to WHY a book-buyer buys a book.

And most marketers don't know and don't care why book buyers buy books.

All a marketer needs to know to succeed in turning a profit on a product is what other packaging sold recently.  That is closely guarded, proprietary information, even in publishing -- and film, TV, etc -- unless you hit the big time and earn bragging rights.

Marketers operate on the assumption that selling books is something they can do on purpose. 

Readers operate on the assumption that what is before their eyes to choose from is all there is.  Or at least, it is all there is time to consider -- people are too busy to seek out their entertainment.  In fact, if you have to work to find an entertaining piece, chances are you'll be too tired to enjoy it.

In other words, writers work in the invisible depths of Theme, Marketers work in the land of the bewildered, and Readers work in the surface image of what is available.

Fiction marketing (and music) is one place this changing world is most visible.

The way physical objects were marketed through "book stores" (B&N bricks-n-mortar outlets, retail like B. Daltons) is almost gone.

Retail is the link in the chain between wholesaler and individual purchaser.

Think of Retail as the guy driving a horse-and-wagon loaded with needles, thread, material, pots, pans, and other things a farm couldn't produce for themselves.  He is a trader. 

Retail is still based on this model.  The Retailer (Wal-Mart, Costco) picks out a tiny percentage of what is being produced, transports it, and offers it to individuals to buy.

Amazon broke that entire business model.  The breaking-point is the process of CHOOSING A TINY PERCENT to present to individuals in a given location.

Amazon carries everything.  Amazon (didn't used to) is not narrowing your choices.  After developing their warehousing and fulfillment process, Amazon turned to the old retail model of getting publishers and producers to PAY FOR AD SPACE on the "top page" presented to certain individuals.

So Amazon was able to break the "retailer selects only certain items for buyer to choose among" model, but not get rid of advertising.  Amazon needed the profit.

This disappointed me.  But now, though the Big Advertisers still shove the little guy out of the way, Amazon is helping readers (and buyers of other things) to find products that are not being advertised. 

In my experience, products with no advertising muscle behind them are of a much higher quality than products with huge advertising.  In fact, it is proportional to some extent -- the more advertising, the lower the quality. 

The exception is of course the "self-published" level.  But that, too is changing in this world.  Self-Publishers quickly learned the value of Beta-Readers (editors) and copyeditors.  Readers notice errors the original writer just can't see until they are pointed out.

But self-publishing (or small e-book publishing operations) still need to reach individual buyers.  And once reached, cultivate repeat business.  Just like any business model.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Just as Amazon was forced to adopt the underhanded and dishonest advertising tricks developed over centuries of marketing, so too the Indie Publisher or self-publisher must somehow "advertise."

There are new tools for that, and some of these tools are beginning to reshape book marketing.  As that happens, the inventors of these tools sell their little business to big businesses (like Amazon.)  Amazon bought Goodreads and Audible, and is still buying startups as they challenge the business model. 

The email Newsletter, discounts and free-first-in-a-series are two well used tools being perfected.

Here is one popular newsletter, Book Bub,
that started small, just showing you a small selection of free or 99cent titles each day -- and now has an elaborate website, divisions into categories you can subscribe to, and has become very choosy about what books they promote and in which order. 

Read and explore ALL THE LINKS at the bottom of that page.  Note the section, PUBLISHERS & AUTHORS.  Note the business model you can see reading those linked sections.  It's all about old fashioned marketing morphing into this changing world where individual customers have more choices -- too many choices.  Customers don't like "too many" choices. 

Indie writers now discuss "how to" get listed on book bub's daily newsletter, strategies for reaching the BookBub featured lists, and so on.  They are eager to "score" with Book Bub because sales spike when they do.  Even some of the Manhattan Big Three Publishers pitch in Book Bub's newsletter because it works.

But it only works if the blurb next to your cover, title and byline connects to a reader's imagination.  And writing that pitch, that blurb, is the Indie writer's job.

Book Bub only limits the size of the blurb.

So here's how to learn how to WRITE such a blurb.  Subscribe to their (free) email Newsletter, and read the blurbs every day.  Read the blurbs in your genre.  Notice which are written by Manhattan publishers. 

Two things to learn from this exercise. 

How to construct a blurb to place your novel into a genre that can be sold to an existing readership.

How cross-eyed bored editors (publishers, film producers) get reading pages and pages of blurbs.  There's no depth in them.  The really interesting stuff doesn't show.  Why bother?

Once you've written your blurb to be just like all the rest (which is necessary to sell at all) -- then you have to add or subtract (or both) something to distinguish yours from all the others. 

It is the old Hollywood plea -- "The same; but different!" 

Your product has to "match" the market shape, but have a unique color.  Or have the same color with a unique shape.

So here is the exercise: 

Identify an idea you have for a novel.

Read a lot of these newsletters.  Study the blurbs.  Study the one that stands out to you.  Get that book.  Read the book.  Match the book to the blurb (does it deliver what you thought the blurb promised?).  How do you feel about the author after reading the blurb then the book?  Find an author whose blurb/book match pleases you.  Figure out what bit of that match tickles you pink.

Do this with a lot of books pitched by blurbs -- maybe explore the series started with the pitched book.

Before you set out to write your novel, write your blurb. 

Reduce your story idea to a concise, interesting, the same but different, blurb.

Do this repeatedly (without writing the novel) to train your subconscious to produce ideas for novel projects that are pre-configured for your target genre, with theme/blurb relationship. 

Write the pitch FIRST.  Then do a 1 page summary.  Then an outline with scenes and chapters.  THEN write the novel.  This way you have written your query letter before you suffer the bewilderment of how to explain your fleshed out novel.  The pitch, summary and outline are your query letter -- but your novel must deliver on them, and they must be understandable to your readership at first sight.  The editor reads your query letter as much to discover if you know how to write as to figure out whether this novel fits the "line" or imprint she is editing for.

This post has a list of previous 6 posts on the editor's job and how a writer can use that knowledge to sell to an editor.  The trick is to change your point of view from the writer to the editor.


You will find many hugely successful writers who will explain they do not do it this way.  Dig a little, and you find most of them do all this pre-configuring non-verbally in the subconscious.  Some people learn it early and don't know they do it this way -- others train to do it later in life.  This is the interface between creating a story and conveying that story to the readers who will love it most.

Take a Best Selling novel in the genre you want to sell into, analyze it chapter by chapter, extracting the structure scene by scene, chapter by chapter.  Extract the skeleton of the novel, then use that skeleton to support the flesh of your novel. 

The skeleton (shape) is "the same" -- but the flesh (identity, individuality) is "different." 

Theme generates plot, and plot is the "the same" element.  Theme generates story, and the story is the "but different" element.

The Plot/Story structure can be cycled through all the genres by bringing one or another aspect of the theme to the foreground.  The "foreground" is the blurb and all the rest is commentary. 

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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