Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Part Five: More blurbs in a series. Blurb writing 101 for self published authors.

The further you get into a series, the more the recommendations of how to write a blurb start to fall apart.  When your at book seven of Harry Potter, do we still need to be reminded that Harry is a wizard and there is a bad guy out to get him?  The answer is a resounding yes you do.  Unfortunately this is one of the areas where traditional publishing fails to mentor us as self-published authors.  Traditionally if the earlier books don't sell well, you don't get sequels.  The business model is also different here.  Publishers at this point are not relying on the blurb to sell the book.  They now rely on the series and author's name to carry the book.  Unfortunately the reality is that most self-published authors will never get to this stage.  Go to your bookshelf or to Amazon and look at the traditionally published books that are more than a couple of books deep in the series.

Back of Twilight:Breaking Dawn.  No blurb at all.  Same with a Robert Jordan Wheel of Time book.  No blurb at all.  A Dan Brown book?  No blurb, just a back jacket filled with zingy one liners by people paid to endorse the book.  It just boggles my mind that they do this.  It's so short sighted that they can't write a blurb for a book that might find a new reader twenty years after it was written who has no idea who the author is.  The few series books that still have a blurb all suffer from lazy writing.  I plan on getting to that in the do's and don'ts post.

I'm going to pick on my own blurb again for this.

Kail’s magic and Angela’s ancient weapon skills are all that stand against General Therion’s airships bearing down on Silverton.  Therion begins to force his way through time, and his power and control get stronger with each intrusion through the Gateway.  Its secrets come at a price as earthquakes and rips in time tear across the world.

Raised in a dark future, Alyssa and her wisp use the Gateway to cheat a one way trip back in time.  All futures have been gambled in a desperate attempt to seize control from Therion, but one man, refusing to honor his promise of allegiance, chooses to seek retribution instead.  Alyssa is forced to ask for help from those she was told to avoid at all costs, her parents: Kail and Angela.

Witnessing the burned man murder again, Camden vows to hunt down and put an end to Xavier Ross.  As Camden begins to piece together who Xavier really is, he finds out just how unspeakable the man has become.  Following the trail to the southern jungles, it becomes clear where Xavier is headed, and both men know that it will all begin, and it will all end with the Gateway.

This one was really hard for me to write.  It's the last book of this set.  There are lots of characters and lots of story lines that get wrapped up.  I can't spoil any of the series and I have to catch new customers at the same time.  But now I have to convince them to buy not just this book, but all the ones before it.  With that, you have to set your own internal expectations correctly.

I opted for three sets of character-conflict paragraphs.  I remind existing readers that Kail is a mage.  Angela has the fighting skills and she's the one from back in time with the word: ancient.  Let's not forget evil General Therion doing evil things.  Even if you haven't read anything else, you can still figure out what the gateway does and why it's central to the story.  For an opening paragraph for a sequel, I feel this nails it pretty good.

Second paragraph, I lean on my cover for help.  This is paragraph has the cover characters on it.  Its an extremely busy paragraph as well.  Almost every character is in this paragraph, the gateway, conflict, themes, plot, setting, the works.

I spent a lot of time on this blurb.  Several revisions, complete rewrites, you name it, I probably tried it with this blurb.  If this was a blurb for a stand alone or first book,  I would recommend the author to scrap it.  But were not on book one,  this is book three and the final book of a series, so we get a bit of a pass.

In the final paragraph, I have a new character, Camden who has his primary conflict with Xavier.  Several times I was advised to cut this out of the blurb all together.  Ultimately it's up to you as the author to decide what you want to include in the blurb or not.  I decided to leave Camden in because a third of the book is Camden hunting down Xavier.  This is where the reader gets to put all the pieces together.  I had to put it in there.

Each one of these paragraphs in their own way could stand for a blurb.  Is this the best way for a sequel blurb?  Honestly I don't know, but I believe it's alright here.  There is a saying out there: "The worst a good blurb can do is nothing, but a bad one will cost you sales."  I don't believe that this blurb hurts my sales.  The other people and authors I worked with during this time also didn't know.  The available experience on a deep in series book and final book in a series for blurb writing is pretty sparse.  It's also one of the main reasons I chose to blog about it.

Again, I have keywords in the blurb that reference to the imagery of the cover and words in the title.  There are characters in these active poses a customer is reading about.  The title is right there in their face, reinforcing what it is they are reading in the blurb.  I have setting, themes and plot in the blurb.  I'm honestly amazed at how much you can get in two-hundred words if you work at it.

I don't have any spoilers that ruin earlier books.  Some might say that having Alyssa show up spoils Kail and Angela getting together.  But I disagree on grounds that the story isn't about them having kids.  If you look at all three blurbs together it becomes pretty clear that the story revolves around the gateway time traveling device.  The attempt to control life and death.  The dream of getting a second chance, making a different choice.  Each of these themes is present in all three of my blurbs.

If you have read this far into my blurb writing series, odds are you were searching for blurb writing help.  Most self-published authors don't even think about the blurb until they are uploading their book to Amazon and the box labeled "description" is staring in their face.  If this series has accomplished anything I hope it's that you understand what the blurb's job is and why it's so important to put the time and effort into writing the best one you can.

If you need additional help with blurb writing.  I recommend joining the community in the writers cafe at KBoards.com

Part Four: Blurbs for books in a series. Blurb writing 101 for self published authors.

If you found writing blurbs for your first book to be difficult.  Wait until you get to the sequel.  The blurb for your sequel has to do the same job as the first blurb, but it also has to do more and has more restrictions on what to avoid.  The blurb still has to do it's job by convincing people to click the buy now button.  But it pulls double duty because if it's a new customer, this blurb has to convince them to find and buy the first book as well.

Next you have to remind existing customers what was going on, but you can't spoil book one's story in the process.  You have to balance leaning on the events of the earlier book and focus on the new books story.

In the sidebar to the left, I have three fairly attractive covers.  I have no control over what cover a potential customer may come across first, or which one they my decide to click on for the first time.  It may even take all three covers viewed at various times before someone clicks one.  If a new customer's first click is not on book one.  The blurb can't be too confusing for them to follow.  It can't spoil earlier books.  It still has to engage and hook them to where they want to seek out book one.  This is probably the hardest juggling of words a self-published author will have to write.

Lets take a look at my second Sky Mage novel.  Again, I am going to include the cover because I strongly believe that every part of your book needs to fit and work with each other part.

Branded as an outlaw for his daring rescue of the aerial warrior Angela, Kail finds a new home for his magic abilities in a gearworks mining town. There people are willing to help Kail and his group as they too hold no love for General Therion’s advancing airship armada.

As devastating losses mount, the Eternal Gateway reappears, and the fight for its control is rekindled. Kail and his allies know the Gateway cannot fall into Therion’s hands if they are to prevent a dark future foretold in prophecy. With little resources left, word of a possible key to victory reaches Kail and Angela, but it risks their best chance to seize the Gateway on the temperament of one volatile mage and a man immune to magic.

Through time the Gateway returns a burned and unforgettable face; Xavier Ross has the knowledge of what is to come and lashes out at Kail and Angela for choices they have yet to make. He who controls the Gateway controls time, even death, and Xavier knows at the end of time lies the beginning of vengeance.

I opted for a character-conflict-conflict format for my sequel.  In the first paragraph I re-introduce Kail, Angela, and Therion.  Unlike the first blurb, I don't need a sweeping grand intro.  This is how I lean upon book one.  For new customers, I still have interesting and unique identifiers tied to each character.  Aerial warrior Angela, Kail finds a home for his magic and the obvious villain, Genreal Therion.

The second and third paragraph is all conflict.  This is where you really need to shine for the new customers who haven't read the earlier books.  Is what you present here going to be interesting enough to get them to find book one?  For return customers, is this going to convince them to part with more of their money?

Let's pick apart this blurb.  Cover and title.  The only change in the title is the word Ember.  The rest is this guy with fire and he's got some clear attitude.  I have the clockwork and gears at the bottom for the steampunk setting.  Remember, the cover is your only visual marketing tool for your book.  Use it.

The very first word of this blurb is branded.  This is my fire word to match the fire word in the title: Embers.  There is also fire on the cover so I am leaning on that visual as well.  Gearworks mining town: setting and also draws on the gears in the cover.  Airship Armada: more setting and genera definition.  Gears, clocks and airships.  We have the Steampunk nailed down.  If you read the first paragraph again.  It's a pretty simple paragraph, but it's a very busy paragraph with it's message.

The second paragraph, rekindled is my fire word for the title and cover.  Again leaning on the cover.  I also remind existing customers about the time travel gimmick that is the Gateway.  I also show what the gateway can do in this blurb and it all leans on the title as well: of Time.

This is also an important paragraph because it has all the legwork to convince new customers to find book one.  I feel that I did an acceptable job here with explaining the time traveling gateway. I present the stakes and what's on the line and I have an interesting twist with foreshadowing a mage fight and a guy who is immune to magic.

In the last paragraph, if you haven't picked out the trend is the word: burned.  Xavier is also the character portrayed on the cover.  In my earlier post I talked about starting the blurb with Angela because she was on the cover over Kail.  Honestly, there just isn't a way for me to do that with book two.  However, when the customer finishes reading the blurb, they get everything they see on the cover.  I feel this pulls together well.  With this also not being the first book, you get a little more wiggle room on your blurb.  The Embers cover was almost used for book one.  It was in a dead heat with the one I used based upon customer feedback.  In the end, as good as it is, it just wouldn't work as the cover for book one.

As with book one's blurb.  This blurb is laced with theme, plot, and setting.  Your cover, title and blurb should be able to let the customer know exactly what they are going to get.  In a later blog post, I will go over some of the do's and don'ts of blurb writing.  One of the don'ts is listing what your book is by talking directly to the customer.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Part Three: Writing your blurb. Blurb writing 101 for self published authors.

Part one and two have been theory and conception.  In this part, I am going to take my blurb and rip it apart as a learning tool on writing blurbs.

A thousand years ago, Angela was born into a race of warriors with the ability to fly. Recruited at her death to help fulfill a prophecy, she travels through the Gateway to a mechanical future dominated by airships on the edge of war. Now the last of her kind, Angela has been promised a second chance at life, if she plays her part.

Kail has a simple life, and it doesn’t include magic and forgotten prophecies. Magic ruled for centuries, but as it died out a new industry of alchemy and machines rose in its place. After Angela arrives bruised and battered the military follows bringing enemies that Kail didn’t know he had.

As the last of the vanguard mage class, General Therion can pervert magic to do unspeakable things. He wants what Kail possesses at any cost: a birthright of powerful magic that also includes the secrets of the Gateway. If Therion can seize what Kail has, he would have sweeping control over time and even death.

I went with a Character, Character, Conflict format.  The conflict just happens to be another character, but that is fine.  Even a gimmick or inanimate object can be a character.  The Starship Enterprise, or the Stargate can be a character.

Kail is my main character.  I don't start the blurb with him where in most situations I would recommend you do.  However he's not on the cover so I start with Angela.  This is one example of how I lean on the cover.

When you introduce characters, you MUST make them interesting and engaging.  I shake my head at how many authors introduce us to bland, boring, cardboard cutout characters.  If you re-read the first paragraph about Angela, I have a girl from a thousand years ago, who can fight, who can fly, who died, who time traveled and now is the last of her race scraping for a second chance.  Damn if that isn't an interesting character, I don't know what is.  Sure beats "Red-headed Angela helps train and guard young mage Kail."

Under-paid high-school teacher quits job to make meth to pay hospital bills.  I doubt Breaking Bad would have done well with that description.

I can't stress enough how important it is to have engaging characters.  If you do it well, you don't need a gimmick tagline or hook.

In paragraph two, I introduce Kail.  He's the main character of the trilogy.  After Angela's introduction, I went in the opposite direction.  It's minimalist compared to Angela's epic intro.  Kail is our blank slate.  He's our Luke Skywalker who hasn't had a life on the run and a bounty on his head like Han Solo or a banned senator on the run like Leia.  Kail is the character that we follow through the trilogy and get to see grow, develop and change.

I feel this worked well and in the second half of the paragraph, I link in Angela and begin the setup for the conflict that is paragraph three.

In paragraph three, we have our bad guy, he does bad things and it explains why this matters to our characters and it doesn't spoil our book.

Next I want to go over setting.  Each paragraph of my blurb, I have woven in the setting of my book.  Mechanical future, Airships, edge of war.  Paragraph two has Magic, alchemy, machines, military.  And paragraph three has, magic, (general) military title, and time travel.  I prefer to weave the setting through my blurbs, but there is nothing wrong with a dedicated paragraph for setting in your blurb.

Now let's take a moment and go over some of the nitty gritty parts of the blurb.  The blurb, title, cover combinations.  Here is the cover and blurb again so you don't have to scroll up.

A thousand years ago, Angela was born into a race of warriors with the ability to fly. Recruited at her death to help fulfill a prophecy, she travels through the Gateway to a mechanical future dominated by airships on the edge of war. Now the last of her kind, Angela has been promised a second chance at life, if she plays her part.

I use a lot of words that describe the cover and title.  "A thousand years ago."  This goes with the word "Time".  "Angela," girl on the cover.  "Race of warriors," sword in hand.  "Ability to fly," goes with the word "Sky."  Gateway is repeated in the blurb to match the title.  "Mechanical future," goes with the word time and the gear/clockwork on the cover.  "Airships," goes with the word Sky and the image in the background.

If I go back to the movie trailer analogy, the cover is the only visual element you have for a book.  They really need to match.  Both the cover and blurb get stronger this way.

Kail has a simple life, and it doesn’t include magic and forgotten prophecies. Magic ruled for centuries, but as it died out a new industry of alchemy and machines rose in its place. After Angela arrives bruised and battered the military follows bringing enemies that Kail didn’t know he had.

Again, Magic in the blurb, mage int he title.  Centuries is a time word.  Industry and machines match the metal hoop and clockwork.  Angela is here again, drawing back to her image on the cover.  The last sentence draws upon the cover as well by letting us know that there is going to be a lot of action in the story and the girl on the cover looks ready for it.

As the last of the vanguard mage class, General Therion can pervert magic to do unspeakable things. He wants what Kail possesses at any cost: a birthright of powerful magic that also includes the secrets of the Gateway. If Therion can seize what Kail has, he would have sweeping control over time and even death.

Mage and magic match the title.  Gateway is repeated as is the word time.  Every paragraph draws heavily upon what a customer sees in the cover.

The cover by itself is good.  The blurb by itself is good.  Together as a whole, they are much better than separate.

There is much much more to writing a good blurb than writing a product description or following the example on the back of a book on your shelf.

Part Two: Constructing your blurb. Blurb writing 101 for self published authors.

Now that understand that the blurb's job is to convince a customer to buy our book.  We now have to construct the second most important part of your passive marketing strategy.  The book's cover is the most important part of selling your book.  If a customer doesn't click on your thumbnail sized cover, they will never see your blurb.   Your blurb won't even get a chance to do it's job.

Step one:  Identify your main character.  Identify your plot/conflict.  Identify your setting.  But SB Jones, I have more than one main character.  No you don't.  One of these characters is reacting, growing and changing as a character in reaction to the other.  That is your main character.

Many authors can't identify or describe their own books.  It's like asking a parent who has a 30 year old son/daughter to describe them in a few short sentences.  Do you talk about them in broad strokes or try and cram in all the minute details of their life?  Remember part one?  We need to get customers to click the buy now button.  If your describing your son to someone in hopes of seeing them settle down, taking about how they wet the bed isn't going to help.

If you still struggle with what the blurb is supposed to do.  Hop over to YouTube and watch the movie trailers for this year's blockbusters.  These are exactly what your blurb is trying to do.  Get people excited about your book so they have to click the buy now button.

Step two:  Outline and structure.  We need to take a few minutes and look at some technical aspects of your blurb.  Amazon and other retail websites limit the display area for blurbs.  Amazon keeps it down to 4000 characters, but what you really need to watch out for is number of lines.  If you have a large five paragraph blurb with four blank lines in-between.  Your blurb will get cut off and a customer will have to click a link to expand out the blurb.  Anytime you put a click between the customer and the buy now button.  You WILL lose sales.  Some retailers only give you a line or two before they cut it off, so you really need to remember this.


This link is a collection of good blurb writing articles.  When it comes to plotting your blurb.  You need to setup your characters, your conflicts and your setting.  Like the movie trailers, often they will start with the main character talking while at the same time they are giving you the setting.  Vin Diesel's scratch voice, while you see fast cars, big explosions and crazy stunts.  Then it shifts to the conflict and you see other stars, quipy one liners, more explosions and rocking music until at the end of two and a half minutes you are standing with a fist full of dollars yelling "Take my money!"

That's what your blurb has to do.

At minimum.  You should have a character, conflict blurb structure.  Other structures include character, character, conflict.  Or Setting, character, conflict.  There are any number of workable paragraph structures for blurbs.  The genera is also important.  What works well for a Star Wars blurb isn't the best for a Rom-Com.

My personal preference is a Character Conflict structure and I weave in the setting.  I also leverage the most important marketing point of my book in my blurbs: the cover.

Part One: What is the job of the blurb? Blurb writing 101 for self published authors.

I re-branded my Gateway Trilogy earlier this year.  It was a transition that took about six months to complete.  Editing, New Titles, New covers, New Blurbs; the works.  Most of this re-branding was work I paid someone else to do.  The blurb however I did on my own.  I spent almost an entire month working on three blurbs.  This involved dozens of rewrites, hours of research and weeks of bouncing the results off of other Authors and volunteers for feedback.

Today I want to explore the blurb writing process and my goal is to condense down what took me a lot of time to understand in my own effort to pay it forward for all the help I received.

First question:  What is the blurb?
This is an easy answer to a question that every author seems to know, but in reality don't understand at all.  When you upload a book to Amazon, Amazon calls it the "description" and asks you to describe your book.  They then recommend that you look on the back cover of other books for examples.

If you're like me, the first book I picked up off of my shelf, the back cover had no description.  It was covered in truncated quotes by people and marketers that what lay inside was "stunning",  "author name does it again".  A couple of books later I found one that had a description.  It wasn't very good so I kept looking until I had about six books with decent descriptions.

I tried following some of the styles, but each blurb I came up with for my own books just looked crappy.  A few self-help web pages later and I started to develop a theory about blurb writing.  This stems from an earlier concept that I believe in that writing is an art, but publishing is the business of selling that art.  Selling is completely different than creating.

My new question is:  What is the job of the blurb?
Many may jump back to the first answer.  It describes the book.  This is where the common thinking is wrong.  The job of the blurb is to get a customer to click on the "buy now" button.  To help explain how I got here, we need to take a quick look at the customer buying experience.

In a book store, the buying experience is completely different from buying online.  You have new shiny books up front to catch your eye.  Better sellers on the shelf sit with the cover facing out and older books if they are even present, only have the spine facing you.  The cover of the book is still king.  It's what catches your eye.  It's what has the authors name on it.  It's what instantly tells you the genera and what the book is probably about in a single glance.

Next if you pick up a book, you might glance at the back, but odds are it's just got the same "this book is stunning... again" chop quotes that every other book has.  So you get to thumb through it.  Feel it in your hands.  You can tell how long it might take you to read it because you can see how many pages there are.  All of this factors into your choice to buy a book or not.  Buying an e-book...  You get none of this.

The e-book buying experience is night and day different.  You have a cover, that is the size of a large postage stamp.  That's it.  If your cover catches someone's eye, they get taken to your books landing page.  Here they are presented with a lot more information.  A larger sample of the cover.  Prices, format, reviews and your blurb.  But the MOST important part of your landing page is the "buy now" button.

Up front and center of the landing page is your blurb.  It has only one job.  Getting the customer to click the buy now button.  Anything else the customer clicks on is one click that is not spent on buying your book.  Now that you understand the difference in buying experiences, treating your e-book blurb like the back jacket of a print book is flawed.

Creating a blurb that says your book is fun filled, action packed and if you like this other series, you might like this one too, is the wrong way to approach writing your blurb.