So my editor and I were working on the front flap copy for my upcoming new book (Nathaniel Fludd, Beastologist) and we spent the day struggling with something that I realized might be relevant for SVP readers.
Whether writing catalog copy, front flap copy, or a query letter, it is vital that we learn to be able to write a short blurb-y description about our books that will hook readers (book buyers, browsing bookstore customers, editors and agents.) But it’s also one of the hardest things to write. What do you emphasize? Which essence do you choose to distill down to? How few details can you use to establish character?
One of the things my editor and I were struggling with was whether to emphasize the micro/personal struggles that emphasize character, or the larger, plot focused struggles, which felt more hook-y.
There are a few essential elements that a hook/query pitch/cover copy have to include:
Period/Mood (I don’t think you need both, but probably one.)
The Inciting Incident
One thing that can be helpful as you're brainstorming is to state your character’s internal goal, this can act as a great character hook in a blurb.
Another idea is to list all the elements of your book that make good hooks; what are the most evocative elements, the ones that would hook a reader?
Next, can you identify the Inciting Incident? What gets the external plot really rolling?
And then what is the conflict the protagonist struggles with throughout the bulk of the book?
If you can some up with a strong, evocative sentence (or two) for each of those four things, you will be well on your way to having a great blurb.
From some books off my shelf.
THE MAGIC THIEF by Sarah Prineas (Great book, btw).
Character and Period/Mood are combined in the first sentence: (Although actually, more of Conn’s character is revealed in the Inciting Incident sentence as well)
In a city that runs on a dwindling supply of magic, a young boy is drawn into a life of wizardry and adventure.
The Inciting Incident:
Conn should have dropped dead the day he picked Nevery's pocket and touched the wizard's locus magicalicus, a stone used to focus magic and work spells. But for some reason he did not.
The Ongoing Struggle/Conflict
Nevery finds that interesting, and he takes Conn as his apprentice on the provision that the boy find a locus stone of his own within a month. But with his wizard lessons and helping Nevery discover who—or what—is stealing the city of Wellmet's magic, time is running out for Conn to find his stone.
A second example is a much more character driven book, A DROWNED MAIDEN’S HAIR, by Newberry Medal Winner, Laura Amy Schultz (who apparently doesn't have a website as far as I can see) Is it legal to have back to back parenthesis? Not sure, but here goes....(Also a terrific book. LOVED the main character of this one.)
Note that you don’t have to have these elements in any particular order, as long as you get them all in there:
The Character – look how short and sweet that it, and yet so compelling!
Maud Flynn is “plain, clever, and bad,"
then this next bit sounds like an inciting incident, but it happens right away in the story so is actually more set up:
…so it comes as a surprise when she’s plucked from the Barbary Asylum for Female Orphans and adopted by the elderly Hawthorne sisters. Maude eagerly hopes to be pampered and cherished by the sisters, and life seems perfect—
Here's the true Inciting Incident:
...until Maud learns of the role she has to play in the high stakes “family business.”
And now they hit the reader with the Period/Mood and the Ongoing Struggle/Conflict, which is a very internally set struggle:
Set in the early twentieth century, A Drowned Maiden’s Hair takes readers into the shadowy world of spiritualism as Maud must decide just how much she is willing to do for the sake of being loved.
Anybody want to try it? Have a blurb their struggling with and want some direction? I'm game if you are. Or if you're feeling shy about it (SO unlikely on an introvert's blog!) you can email it to me.