Writing the book blurb…an analysis…

Writing a book blurb can be a challenge. It’s hard to condense hundreds of pages into two or three paragraphs.

A blurb is not a short synopsis. A synopsis is a chronological telling of the plot. A blurb is long version of the story’s hook or “elevator pitch.” What about your story grabs the reader? That’s what you put in your blurb. A blurb contains salient character details and the essential conflict of the story. What do the characters want, and what is stopping them from getting it? What are the stakes? What is at risk?

A blurb is an author’s sales tool used by readers as a screening device. You are trying to convince a reader to take a chance on your book–and they are trying to decide whether your book is worth parting with their hard earned cash. Like a job applicant’s resume, a blurb should contain those things that are relevant while omitting those things that are not.

I’m a pantser. I write out of intuition and inspiration, rather than hardcore plotting so writing a blurb is an evolutionary process. I go through multiple iterations to distill the story to its essential elements. Each version gets more and more concise.

In writing the blurb for Terran, book 2 in the Breeder sci-fi romance series, I had to decide how much background from the first book to include. In my first blurb draft, I put it all out there as I attempted to work out the relevant plot points:

Terran blurb, iteration one 

As vigilante killings in protest of the heterodox Enclave and its deviant male-female couplings increase across Parseon, Commander Marlix seeks protective uniforms for his inner guard. The special composite fabric is only available from the Terrans, with whom his planet has an alliance. He expects to be repulsed by the vendoress of an alien race he loathes, but instead he is amused and attracted by the female’s bold appearance and brash behavior. When she is injured in an attack, he whisks her away to his underground bunker abode to recover. His intent is to help her, so he can’t understand. Why does she fight him so?

After fleeing loneliness and heartache on Terra, Tara Diehl has adjusted to male-dominated Parseon better than most vendors until she is kidnapped by an Alpha, one of the five rulers of the planet. At first she’s terrified of her tall, muscled abductor, especially when he doesn’t hesitate to quell her struggles for freedom with some force of his own. After all her methods and ploys to escape fail, she decides to seduce her way to freedom.

But out of seduction and subterfuge grow a true intimacy that cause both Marlix and Tara to take action that drives Parseon to the brink of civil war,  and threaten not only their relationship but their lives.

Terran, the second book in the Breeder sci-fi series, is a “capture” romance involving a domineering but hunky alien, a female with a bad dye job and an attitude, graphic sex, a little anal and spanking.

What’s wrong with this blurb? Well, it’s way too long, and I’m “telling” rather than “showing.” Since Terran can be read as a stand-alone, the history is unnecessary, backs the reader into the story, and slows the action.

This was also the first mention of anal sex in the book. Like the M/M sexual content in Breeder, the M/F anal sex in Terran represents only a small part of the book, but it’s there. Do I mention it or not? In my blogs using the blurb, I flip-flopped. Sometimes I mentioned it, sometimes I didn’t.

After condensing the story blurb, this is the version I used in most often of my pre-release promo:

Second Iteration 

After fleeing heartache on Terra, Tara Diehl has adjusted to male-dominated Parseon better than most vendors until she is kidnapped by Alpha Marlix, a ruling commander. At first her tall, muscled abductor terrifies her, especially when he doesn’t hesitate to quell her struggle for freedom with some force. When her attempts to escape fail, she decides to seduce her way to freedom.

But out of seduction and subterfuge grow a true intimacy that cause Marlix and Tara to take action that drives Parseon to the brink of civil war, threatening not only their relationship, but also their lives.

Terran, the second book in the Breeder sci-fi series, is a “capture” romance involving a domineering but hunky alien, a female with a bad dye job and an even worse attitude, hot sex, and spanking.

I liked that version. That’s the version I submitted to Loose Id, except I changed the last paragraph to be more specific.

Third iteration

Terran, the second book in the Breeder sci-fi series, is a “capture” romance involving a domineering but hunky alien, a female with a bad dye job and an even worse attitude, explicit sex, anal sex, and spanking. 

It’s a judgment call: do you spell out prurient content  to warn readers who might find it objectionable while drawing those readers who might like that content but risk getting slapped with an “adult” label by Amazon and having your book rendered invisible? Or do you omit the warning and risk negative reviews by shocked book buyers?

Loose Id chose to err on the side of caution. They accepted my blurb almost verbatim–except deleted the warnings. I highlighted in red, their minor word changes.

Final and official iteration

After fleeing loneliness and heartache on Terra, Tara Diehl has adjusted to male-dominated Parseon better than most vendors until she is kidnapped by Alpha Marlix, one of the five rulers of the planet. At first she’s terrified of her tall, muscled abductor, CB_Terran_coverlgespecially when he doesn’t hesitate to quell her struggle for freedom with a little corporal discipline. After all her methods and ploys to escape fail, she decides to seduce her way to freedom.

But out of seduction and subterfuge grow a true intimacy that cause Marlix and Tara to take action that drives Parseon to the brink of civil war, and threatens not only their relationship, but also their lives.

Terran, the second book in the Breeder sci-fi series, is a “capture” romance involving a domineering but hunky alien, a female with a bad dye job and an even worse attitude. [Sexual content warning deleted]

What is your a process for writing book blurbs? Have you tried warnings/no warnings? What was the result?

Terran on Amazon ♥ Terran on Barnes & Noble Terran on All Romance

 

 

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28 Responses to Writing the book blurb…an analysis…

  1. I’m curious what people think of this. The amazon adult tag is death to a book and when a book is categorized as erotica, you’re automatically on a ‘watch list’. I am not sure – is it the same with the romance category? As far as warnings, my publisher does use them but is careful with the language.

    For me as a reader, I want the warning mostly because I want to know if it does contain some of the harder stuff which will make me click that ‘buy now’ button. If I want an erotic read, I don’t want tame. As an author, I like the warning so there are no shocked 1 star reviews because the book had spankings (although you get those anyway) but also to warn people who may want something more tame. When I was not yet published, I didn’t look at categories of books, I looked at the also bought lists of books I liked and went from there. I read blurbs and even download a sample first unless I know the author but warnings are a good thing. Too bad Amazon will take them and use them against the author by adult tagging.

    A whole other topic but doesn’t erotic by definition mean it’s meant for adults??? 😉

    • Cara Bristol says:

      From what I’ve observed, I think erotica does bear a greater scrutiny than erotic romance, I think indie books bear a MUCH greater scrutiny than ones released by publishers, and I think certain publishers have drawn greater attention than others.

      I think the censorship leads to more dishonesty in the marketplace. I can see that Amazon doesn’t want an X-rated picture on a book that is available mass market, but when you can’t accurately say by image, title or description what’s in the book, don’t you run a greater risk of having it fall into the hands of the people you didn’t want to see it?

      A teenager or a parent buys what they think is a sweet romance and it turns out to be an orgy-fest.

      I expect to wake up one morning and find that the first Rod & Cane book has been cast into the Amazon dungeon because of the cover. So far, I don’t think Loose Id has had much problem.

  2. Melody Parks says:

    Good advice on blubs here, Cara. I always struggle with blurbs. I find it difficult to condense what the book is about without being to wordy, or offending amazon.
    Yes, the adult tag is indeed death for any book.

  3. Aubrey says:

    I find it disappointing Amazon’s ever changing rules and restrictions are making it so erotic authors have to tiptoe through submitting their work. I find it absolutely horrifying that Loose Id, a sight that sells almost only erotic and romance books, deleted your warning label. One of the only reasons I would be going on sites like Ellora’s Cave or Loose Id is for erotic books that are a little extra. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve almost bought a book on Amz this past year– because of the *Intended for Adults Only, 18 and over–only to discover it’s a New Adult romance. I’m sure others feel the same but in the other direction. ‘Oh no, I just bought a dirty book.’ It drives me crazy there isn’t anything distinguishing the warning label on romance from the different erotica. Personally, I want to know content, including anal. That makes me click buy much more quickly than if I have to read through all the highs and lows of the reviews to find out if it is what I’m in the mood to read or not.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      New Adult is probably not the best name for the genre! :-). I tend to agree with you, but I also think that sometimes a label of anal sex or spanking might scare off a reader who might find it acceptable within the larger context of the story. At least with my stuff.

      Really, Amazon could avoid a lot of hassle if they would just create a “genre” for spanking fiction.

      • Aubrey says:

        That would be nice. That’s another thing I love about the smaller sites. They all have the subgenre list. If you’re in the mood for menage ‘muliple partners’, spanking, paranormal, GLBT anything, etc, it’s all one click away.

  4. Thianna D says:

    I’m beginning to think that the term ‘erotica’ or ‘erotic romance’ is something we should no longer use. I was reading The Bride, a book I fondly remember from years ago, the other day and noting things within it – a romance – that we would be banned for in an erotic romance.

    A: the heroine is 16.
    B: she’s married off and they have a LOT of explicit sex. (Again, she’s 16)

    But there isn’t one warning and she’s known as a romance author (and she’s a NY Times bestselling author from a major publishing house). NOBODY gives her bad reviews for the sex in her books nor the age of her heroine.

    Maybe we all need to stop thinking of ourselves as erotic authors and just concentrate on the romance aspect.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Now, I’m so curious! Who is the author of The Bride? I grew up reading Harlequins in which the heroine would sometimes be 17 and the hero would be 20 years older. Of course, they were tame (no sex until the end after they married, and then it was a quick, flowery description).

    • Aubrey says:

      I actually recently wrote a short post on this. I was planning to post in a few weeks. There is a difference between romance and erotica. It’s all about the sexuality/fetish/kink factor.

      If it’s the book I think you’re talking about, The Bride by Julie Garwood, there is a specific reason it’s still a plain old romance without a warning. Three in fact.

      1. The age of the heroine isn’t relevant because it’s historically accurate. She was in fact married to her first husband at age 12-13, a common age to marry as a female of that time period.

      2. The relationship focus is on the emotion. There is no part of the couples sexuality– ie;kinks or fetishes–that are a pivotal part of the story. It’s a bodice ripper to be sure but none of the sex could be deemed uncommon. No anal, no spanking, no extra oomph.

      3. It was published in 1991, and wasn’t racier than anything out at that time. That is only if you were talking about JG’s The Bride. I know it’s a common name.

      I’m more shocked when I see a Lora Leigh or Lexi Blake novels being sold at the grocery store and Walmart. That’s a big publishing house- major seller-double standard right there. Those books are definitely erotica, anal sex and all, and should be marked as so.

      I think it’s silly every romance novel that has sex in it now-a-days is getting a ‘intended for 18 and over’ warning put on it.

      • Cara Bristol says:

        Good point about the historical context. I haven’t read Lexi Blake, but yes, Lora Leigh is quite racy for Walmart.

        American still have Puritanical values about sex and are very conflicted by it.

  5. S.J. Maylee says:

    Thanks for sharing your process, Cara. I’ve heard it can be easier to write the blurb before you write the book. I am part plotter and I’ve been meaning to try it, but I’m not sure if anything will make it easier. Evernight does have us write out our warnings and they include them on their site. As a reader, I do like seeing those warnings since I tend not to read sweet. I remember noticing them before I was published too.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I wrote the blurbs for the Wife on Lam (Coming to Terms anthology) and Major Changes (Milestones anthology) before I wrote the book because I had to submit it with the contract. It was challenging. How do I know what the book was about when I haven’t written it yet?

      I also had to write an entire synopsis (and blurb) for Long Shot (Corbin’s Bend series) before I wrote the book. For a pantser like me, that felt like plotting at gunpoint. (“Vee have vays of making you talk!”)

      • I’m definitely with you on the Corbin’s Bend request, Cara, though I can understand since they were offering a contract based on the proposal without any sample chapters. Still, I’m a planzer. I like a road map so I know at least where I’m headed, but I write most of the book like a pantzer. I found the task of writing the synopsis before the book had been planned very hard.

  6. Casey McKay says:

    Blurb writing kills me! Kills me! It’s hard to figure out exactly what will hook people and what will want them to purchase the book.

    I’m gun shy about the warnings now. I am the same as Natasha and Aubrey, the warnings usually get me to buy the book, I like knowing what I’m in for. And as an author I don’t want someone to accidentally buy my book and then be like, what is up with all this anal sex??

    But with my last book getting the adult tag I am worried. I wish we could have a secret code. Or a way to sell books that’s a little easier.

  7. Rollin Hand says:

    Lots to chew on here, Cara. The blurb is a difficult thing to write. My approach is to give the reader the set up, the essential conflict. After that it’s a capsule of the main characters and after that, teasers as to what might happen. I hint at what the action might be like( “Rhys might not be above employing a whippy switch to ensure Elana’s obedience”). So far my blurb has not been the thing (except in one notable case) that has prompted the adult tag; it’s been my covers which I have mostly fixed. But I write some unabashed spanking erotica that is not necessarily romance, so I expect adult tags. If I’m not going for a cross over market like romance, it doesn’t affect the book that much. In romance it’s a death knell because that market is so much bigger, but erotica is adult by definition. Actually, I have several books classified as erotica and clearly all about spanking, but no adult tag. “Spanking Times Seven” is a recent example. But my cover has fully clothed people and my blurb has no hint of either under age characters or coercion. Actually the blurb only hints at spanking. With that title and cover I don’t have to tell readers it’s spanking erotica. It’s obvious.
    I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the time when Zon considers spanking “abuse” or “coercion,” and I’ll have to go farther underground with titles, covers and blurb, using cleverly devised code words to say what I really mean.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      It does seem to be the covers that usually get authors in trouble.

      It’s a touchy, scary situation to have Amazon all but ban one’s book. More than 85 percent of my sales come from Amazon. I suspect it similar with other ebook authors.

      • Rollin Hand says:

        I just rechecked. I still have several titles tagged and anong those are titles for which I sanitized the covers. case in point is “Island Justice,” a CP fueled drama about an island in the Caribbean with a justice system that employs corporal punishment. I guess even with the bland cover, the Zon censors thought the subject matter too risque, even though it’s not about sex. In general it’s my older material that gets tagged. I guess I’ve mellowed in my old age.

  8. Ironically, I often write the blurb fairly early on. I don’t know why. They just come to me sometimes. It can actually sometimes be a helpful part of my planning (I’m a hybrid, a little plotting with pantsing in between.) because you kind of have to distill down to the essential elements.

    As to warnings, I’ve gone both ways. I included them on the book I self-pubbed because I started out writing fanfic and warnings are standard there. Blushing did not include them on my last book. It didn’t seem to make a great deal of difference. As a reader, I’d rather have them so I can try to avoid things that I know I’m uncomfortable with or are anxiety triggers. And yes, sometimes they make me buy a book too.

    The whole adult tag business is stupid. How about giving people information and trusting them to make their own informed decisions rather than Amazon playing Big Brother? *sigh* As we say around here, “That’s too much like right.”

  9. Great post, Cara!

    While I’m not fond of writing blurbs, I have a kind of formula which makes them easier: 2-3 sentences about the heroine and her problem; 2-3 sentences about the hero, his problem, and the way he’ll help the heroine with hers; and, 1-2 sentences leaving an open-ended question about their conflict and making it clear that there’s a happy ending. I write the blurb after I’ve written the book, but could just as easily write it before since I plot the whole thing out before I start to write. Of the two publishers I work with now, one uses warnings and the other doesn’t. I have found that neither one is particularly better for sales and reviews than the other.

    What absolutely knocks me on my behind is titles. I totally suck at titles.

  10. I’m curious about the length of your blurb. My publisher makes the ittybittiest blurbs on the planet, and I often skim them and think… I’d like some more info. But then when when I’m on Amazon and have to click to see the whole blurb(because the page cuts it off), I find myself annoyed.

    Do you have a word-count range you target? Have you found better sales with longer or shorter? I’ve only had 3 books published and they all have those teenytiny blurbs, but I’m gearing up for my first venture into SP and overly preoccupied with blurb construction! (So, thanks for the timely post!)

    • Cara Bristol says:

      You can ad to your book’s description through your Amazon Central Author page, if your blurb is too short to provide good info. I know what you mean about blurbs that are too long–I’ve read some of those. They read like synopses, which are not blurbs.

      My blurbs tend to be short. Loose Id on its blurb form asks for a “long” blurb that is less than 200 words. My blurbs tend to be about 100-150 words:

      Terran – 129; Long Shot 109;Breeder, 74; Body Politics, 144.

  11. Excellent and informative. Sometimes the blurb comes first and is clear and easy to write. Sometimes it’s just the opposite. There does seem to be an art to it and a good blurb has a major affect on my decision to buy.

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