Power-charge your blurb with hooks

As we prepare for this year’s RMFW conference, I’m guessing that many of you are tearing your hair out, trying to write good blurbs or condensing your 100,000-word novel into a short, captivating sentence worthy of the so-called “elevator pitch.”

I’m going to expand on a blog by my fellow RMFW blogger, Mary Gilgannon. She wrote, candidly and entertaining again this month, about how difficult it is to write good blurbs. When her publisher recently needed a blurb for her latest novel, she did the RMFW thing and consulted her writer friends. They met, brain-stormed, and she produced a good blurb.

I, too, cringe from writing blurbs. I’ve even given workshops on blurbs. I recognize great ones when I see them, and can de-construct them to reveal their strengths. I can write blurbs for other people. Yet sitting down to write my own? Blek.

Among her many other strengths, Kay Bergstrom is a genius at blurbs. I, too, used to use the journalistic approach Mary mentioned in her Aug. 4 blog. I thought of the blurb as a mini-synopsis. Thanks to Kay, I've come to think of the blurb more as a fishing expedition. Fish don't always want the same things, and all fish don't respond to the same temptations. Sometimes they want a sparkling lure, other times they’ll bite some drab, rubbery thingy. Sometimes its best to adjust your bobber so the hook sinks deeper in the water, other times more shallow. Whatever the variation, though, readers (and agents and editors) need to be hooked.

What are the currently hot tropes/hooks? The editors and agents are always quick to point out that they only know what they used to be—what they were last week, last month. They are ever-changing, fickle as the market.

There are some trusty tropes that seem to live forever, though. Cinderella. Survival. Strong female lead. Fish out of water. Returning home. Family betrayal. Change of fortunes.

What makes your story unique? I think this question is what paralyzes writers. Their answer (like ours) is probably … everything! “It’s my story,” we may say. “I’ve never seen anything like it, and there are many reasons why it’s unique.”  So we expound and expand.

If we stay with the fishing analogy, this would be like spilling a dump truck of junk into the water, gooey stuff that contains an odd mixture of many, many ingredients. Some of it may be really good, but it’s been amalgamated into an incomprehensible sludge.

Setting aside all the wonderfulness of your story, what sets your protagonist apart? Perhaps your response is: My novel has a kick-ass heroine. Okay, but how can you make that more interesting, and specific to your novel? Consider these from the archives:

Tough widow Norma Rae has a lot on her hands, working to the bone at a textile mill--and fighting to unionize her hazardous workplace.

Feisty young mother fights for justice any way she knows how. She takes on a powerful utility company and won’t take no for an answer. (Erin Brokovich)

 It is one woman’s fearless quest, criss-crossing the globe in an amazing attempt to save the world.  (Lara Croft, Tomb Raider)

 Gutsy Lieutenant O’Neil dares to earn a place with the elite Navy SEALS.  (G.I. Jane)

 Going beyond the cliché of something like “kick-ass heroine,” what dominant trait does your female protagonist possess? In what unique/interesting ways does she demonstrate that?

Be it kick-ass heroines, secret codes, ghosts, secrets, or intergalactic wars, remember to craft your hook as well as you crafted your book--and use tantalizing bait.

So here's your chance to practice before conference ... what's your blurb? Hook me!

Janet Lane
Janet has a new release this month! ETTI'S INTENDED, part of her #1 Amazon bestselling series, will release on September 1 in ebook and paperback format.
The fifth book in the series, Etti's Intended is available now for pre-order at http://tinyurl.com/ycm7kvu5 -- order now and you'll be among the first to read what Library Journal reviewed as "Almost too perfect ... Lane does a superb job creating layers to the Gypsy culture... a must-have for fans of the series."
Her novels are set in fifteenth century England during the so-called “Gypsy Honeymoon” decades. The first novel in the series, Tabor's Trinket, is a #1 Amazon bestselling novel. #1 New York Times Best-Selling Author Lara Adrian called Emerald Silk “..an enchanting medieval romance filled with passion, intrigue and vividly drawn characters that leap off the page. I loved this novel!”.
Janet was a featured author in RMFW Press’s Tales from Mistwillow anthology, and co-chaired the editorial board for RMFW's 2009 anthology, Broken Links, Mended Lives, which was nominated for the Colorado Book Award.

Janet welcomes your comments here or via her blog at http://janetlane.wordpress.com, or her website, janetlane.net

5 thoughts on “Power-charge your blurb with hooks

  1. Oh, no. Now I have to go back and review my elevator pitch and make sure it’s kick-ass enough! Thanks for the reminder of how critical this can be for pitches and those real-life elevator rides at conference. See you there?!

  2. Since you’re going back and reviewing your elevator pitch, I went back to my own blurb this morning and gave it another look, too! And yes! I’ll see you at conference!

  3. Great advice, Janet! Since we’re so close to our work, it can be near-impossible to identify which elements of it are the most unique or hooky. Something I’ve found really helpful is giving an expanded pitch (a paragraph or so, the key elements of the story) to writer friends. They’ll tell you right away which parts stand out as unique or hooky–and they’ll often be parts you didn’t expect!

  4. Preparing just the right blurb for just the right audience is like trying to knit a sweater out of ramen noodles with your toes wearing ninja slippers and casts on both legs. What might be a kick ass blurb for one audience might not be right for another. Knowing which is which is more akin to spearing one salmon in a tumultuous sea of trout. Append other grumpy similes here.

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