Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Blurbage: does this blurb make you want to buy? (It's Always Darkest)

Today is the first of my Operation Mallory blurb posts. Steve's books have great new covers, you guys have been blogging all over the net and we've seen thousands of tweets/ likes/ emails.

But, as Elle Casey says the trifecta of awesome for eBooks is cover/blurb/sample. We've tested the cover - it's been through split testing, and we struck a balance between 'most clickable' and 'best fit with the story'. I highly recommend people adopt split testing as one of their methods prepublication - if you know a cover doesn't work, change it (which we did).

We had some debate about the cigar - it did divide opinion. The final call was to keep it in - because it's important to the story.

So, let's assume the cover is fine. Let's also take it as red that the sample is where it needs to be, just so we can focus in on the blurb.

Here's what Steve's got for book #1, It's Always Darkest:

Small-town sportswriter Paul Mallory doesn't need much to keep him happy: Red Stripe beer, H. Upmann cigars, and enough money to put down a few bets at the track every so often will do the trick nicely. He likes his quiet, undemanding life in upstate New York, and he really likes his quiet and undemanding girlfriend Pam. Maybe he even loves her. 

What Paul doesn't like is travel, complications, and most of all, responsibility for the welfare of others. But when his insatiable curiosity—along with a propensity for showing off—gets the better of him one fine June day, he has to leave his old life (and Pam) behind to take on a lucrative new job; a job he never really wanted in the first place. 

Then, on his very first assignment with the mysterious Cramer Press Syndicate, Mallory immediately finds himself in the spotlight at a Russian handball tournament and must decide whether to become personally involved in the biggest story he's ever covered—putting both his career and his life on the line in the process. 

Whatever he does, he'll never be the same again.

I always think there are 3 golden rules to writing blurbs -
1. Introduce the protag
2. Set up the conflict
3. Do that quick enough to get and keep the reader's interest.

It tick box 1 straight off, and it does set up the broad conflict.... but it doesn't give us any detail about it. It's very non-specific. Paul is a journalist, he's reporting on Russian handball. Should get involved?

While it does give us the plot, I'm not sure it's got the same level of tension as the book itself. Underselling can be useful - it makes buyers happy, but we need to have buyers first.

Remember that a blurb is sales copy. It's job is to get the reader to look inside, grab a sample or buy the book. It's not the right time to be getting into detail.

My opinion - cut the first two paragraphs. Cigars, beer, a girlfriend. None of it screams "thriller".

But the plot is very tense. We've got not merely a handball tournament but a decapitation - and the infamous Russian White Nights.

So let's flip it upside down - and skip the basics to get to the action.

When sports journalist Paul Mallory is sent to cover a women's handball tournament for his first assignment with the Cramer Press Syndicate, he expects a working holiday - beer, sports and gorgeous women.
But then the woman he was due to interview is found brutally decapitated, and Paul finds himself not reporting the news, but becoming a part of it.

Now, this isn't perfect. It's a quick 30 second mock up. but it does most of what the original does. Conflict, tick. Curiosity value, tick. Protag introduced, tick.

What do you guys think? Can you do better? Leave a comment if you can!


  1. The first para is (almost) spot on - just shuffled a few words around, and deleted a few:) After spending rather more than thirty seconds, here's my offering:

    New recruit Paul Mallory expects a working holiday when he is sent to cover a women's handball tournament for his first assignment with the Cramer Press Syndicate.
    But then the woman he's due to interview is found decapitated and Paul stumbles upon an international gambling ring. It's a news-story worthy of the Pulitzer Prize …provided Paul can stay alive long enough to report the multi-million dollar fraud.

    1. YES! I'm wholeheartedly engaged by this blurb :-) I'd do one thing to break up the long first sentence: New recruit....handball tournament, his first assignment with..." As always, kudos, Julia.

    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    3. Meant to say - I agree with Dody - that first sentence left me breathless - put in a comma - or two!

  2. I haven't had enough espresso yet to even try my hand at writing a blurb today. I love what Julia did. I think we have a winner already :)

    1. Thanks for the compliment, Monica! Espresso aids expression so looking forward to your contribution. Especially since Dan's now posted his blurb. The competition's hotting up!

  3. Dan's try....

    When new recruit Paul Mallory is sent to cover a women's handball
    tournament for his first job with the Cramer Press Corporation, he
    expects nothing more than a working holiday: sport, beer and women.

    Paul seems to be in luck when he scores an interview with the
    beautiful Lori, a renowned handball player who rarely gives
    journalists the time of day.

    But when he goes to the Three Crowns Hotel to meet her, he finds her
    splayed out in her hotel room - minus her head.

    Determined to investigate her death, and land himself the Pulitzer
    Prize in the process, Paul finds himself knee-deep in hot water. Not
    only do the police have him as their prime suspect, but those responsible for
    Lori's death don't want a journalist involved either.

    If he doesn't get out of St Petersburg quickly, he might never get out at all.

    1. Only knee deep in hot water? :) I like the working holiday reference, but think it would work better without the last four words.

  4. "New recruit Paul Mallory's sent to St Petersburg, to report on a ladies' handball tournament for the mysterious Cramer News Syndication. His only instructions are to "Stay out of trouble". In the balmy Russian white nights, how hard can that be? But then Paul's deepening suspicions of match fixing are confirmed when he stumbles across the decapitated body of German referee, Lorelei. Will the police believe he was only in her hotel room to interview her? After all, it's kinda hard to answer questions without a head.

    However, it isn't the law Paul has to worry about. He's exposed an international gambling fraud and so enraged a gang of ruthless killers. Paul's about to scoop a Pulitzer Prize worthy story – provided he can survive long enough to tell it."

    Feel free to pick holes - or craters - in it!