Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Part eight: Nouns and Taglines. Blurb writing 101 for self published authors.

Nouns.  Not all nouns are weighted the same, but each noun you introduce into your blurb is one more piece of information your reader has to remember and keep an eye on.  The more nouns you have in your blurb, the heavier it gets, the harder it is to keep track of and the easier it becomes to lose a customer.

Science fiction and fantasy suffer the most from noun bloat.  This usually comes from the fact that they contain names that are unique to that series and are often times hard to pronounce.  The more familiar customers are with the nouns you use the less effort it takes to keep track of what's going on.  Take a look at these examples:

District Attorney, Travis Jones, has been invited to the Governor's Ball in upstate New York.  Little does he know, the Secret Service is bugging his apartment and his girlfriend works for the CIA.

Ether Empath, Wyveller Malchi, has been invited to the Praetor's Terrene in the Magelenic Core.  Little does he know, the Royal Shadow is bugging his pod and his cortege works for the PLG.

Both of these say the exact same thing.  The first example is pretty easy to follow.  We are familiar with all the nouns used.  The second example is much harder to follow or understand what is going on.  Again, each noun carries a certain weight.  If we continue these starter blurbs and add in plot, conflict and another character, one of them is going to be too heavy for the customer to carry and they will drop it by clicking the back button.  The blurb is too heavy to buy.

It's not uncommon when an author asks for advice on their blurb for me to comment on the noun overload.  It's a mistake I see when they try to just cram in as much as they can, because they don't know what to focus on.  Another issue with nouns is that many authors introduce us to them, but then ignore them.  In the forgotten land of Westcheerios....  Then the rest of the blurb has absolutely nothing to do with Westcheerioes or why it's a forgotten land.

In conclusion, limit your nouns.  Make sure the ones you do use are relevant to the story you are trying to get a customer to buy.  Remember, the job of the blurb is to get the customer to buy.

Taglines.  Many rookie authors go for taglines or catch phrases when tackling their blurbs.  The problem with them is that they require vast exposure and popular culture to work.  May the Force be with you.  I'll be back.  Fifteen minutes can save you fifteen percent or more.  In almost every situation, a tagline isn't going to work for a self published author because of the lack of massive exposure.

Another shortcoming of a tagline for a book is that authors often pull some witty line from their book that they are proud of and try to show it off.  In reality it's irrelevant, distracting and you can tell the author tried to force the blurb around it.

My second novel.  I had a nice tagline.  It was fairly relevant, catchy and set the mood.  Everything a tagline should do.  But I cut it, it wormed it's way back, got cut again and then I found the perfect little spot for it.  Here is the blurb again.

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.

Were you able to find it?  It's the last part of the last sentence:  "At the end of time lies the beginning of vengeance."  In earlier versions I started the blurb with it.  It was very hard to let go, but there ended up being a place for it.  As for using them in your blurb, my recommendation is to avoid them like the plague.  Very rarely does a dedicated tagline work.  Even the one I used is no longer a tagline, but I was able to embed it into the blurb.

Taglines and catchphrases are totally awesome for Twitter.  Even without the social requirements to make them work.  They work there because the medium of Twitter demands short catchy dialogue.

Take a moment and browse the top 10/100 lists on Amazon.  Take note of how many use taglines or catch phrases and their impact on pushing your mouse to the buy button, or if they are even relevant to the rest of the blurb.  If you find a blurb that doesn't excite you, count the number of different nouns.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Part seven: Passive blurb vs Active blurb. Blurb writing 101 for self published authors.

Writing is an art, publishing is the business of selling that art.  When you are marketing your book, there are active advertising and passive advertising.  Your Amazon landing page is an example of passive marketing.  It has your beautiful cover, your snazzy blurb and people can surf the web and wander past at their leisure.  Your not actively driving traffic to your book.  An active marketing situation would be when you tweet about your book, a newsletter or email goes out to people that includes your book, or you're running a paid ad.  In simple terms, you are actively trying to drive traffic to your book.

Now why after spending all the time to get this far into writing the perfect blurb would you need a different one?  The one you have is perfect isn't it?  Have you tried tweeting a blurb?  I think I have a set of snazzy blurbs, but they won't twitter.

Advertising websites and their mailing lists.  I recommend you sign up for a few of them and begin to see how they present books to potential customers.  Some do a really good job like Bookbub.  Other websites...  Not so much.  You may find your book crammed between a "How to Make Your Own Creamed Corn" and "Taboo Erotica".

Many self-published authors haven't taken the time to analyze their landing pages.  Amazon (and others) have a wealth of information about your book once a customer has clicked.  Genera is clearly displayed on the left in a searchable tree layout.  Below your blurb is the ranking and possible top 100 lists your book is in.  There is a string of other books that are similar to yours.  All of this helps a customer quickly with a glance to identify if they are looking at.  When you start to advertise.  All of this extra information is stripped away.  You're left with only the cover, and what few lines for a description the advertiser gives you.

Many of the established recommendations on how to write blurbs go out the window in these situations.  Normally you wouldn't put in your blurb: "Sky Mages is a Time Travel Steampunk Fantasy filled with magical fights, airship battles and second chances."  (horrible example I know).  But that might be all the room you get in that e-mail blast.  So how do you write a custom blurb for active advertising when you can't use your existing one?  Distill it down.  Lean on the other asset that is in the ad, the cover.  Break all the rules if you have to as long as you keep the one rule of a blurb in mind.  It's job is to get the customer to buy.

Example Tweet blurbs may look something like this:
A thousand years ago, Angela made a choice and died.  Now the last of her kind she gets to choose again.
There is no room for magic and prophecy in Kail's life, but one woman's arrival from the ancient past shatters that.
Airships, check. Magic, check. Time Travel, check. Destiny, check. Sky Mages, check. The saga begins with the Gateway of Time.

A single paragraph example for an email advertiser:
A thousand years ago, Angela is recruited at her death to help fulfill a prophecy.  Now the last of her kind she might get a second chance if she plays her part.  Kail lives in a world of airships and industry.  Magic is forgotten and Angela's arrival shatters his perception.  General Therion can pervert magic and he wants what Kail doesn't even know he has.  A birthright of magic and the secrets of the Gateway.

Be aware and be prepared to have shorter versions of your blurb ready when you need them.  Don't try to whip up a shorter blurb five minutes after you just paid for an ad spot somewhere.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Part six: Rising tension or tropes? Blurb writing 101 for self published authors.

Rising tropes is the best I can come up with to replace "rising tension".  Not every book is an action adventure or thrilling drama.  After helping several other authors with their blurbs, I would tell them that they need to raise the tension.  A lot of times they had trouble with it because their book doesn't build what most people would consider tension.  Take a comedy for example.  The rising tension would be the string of events that just get more absurd as they go on.  Like a Rube Goldberg Machine.  Or in the case of a romance, they thought I was talking about sexual tension between the characters when there really isn't any.  In other words, as you write your blurb, each step needs a rising action of some sort.  Tropes work well for this because it serves double duty in your blurb to help the customer identify what your book is about without actually telling them.  I'll go deeper into this in the Do's and Don'ts.

Tropes in many writing circles seem to have a bit of a bad rep.  I'm not saying that you need to write books with tropes in them, but tropes are universal identifiers when it comes to stories.  It's not a romance book if there isn't a happy for now/ever after ending.  And you can't call it a western if there are not six shooters and cowboy hats.

When it comes to writing your blurb one method to help with making it better is to identify not only the genera but also the themes of your book.  This can be hard to do with your own work if you just sat down and wrote your story and didn't outline or storyboard first.  Once you have the genera and themes.  Take a moment to see which of these will best lend themselves to the rising tension/tropes.

I write Steampunk Fantasy.  Both of these have identifiable tropes.  Reoccurring themes in my trilogy include: second chances, struggle of life and death, coming of age and the circular logic of time travel.  I chose to use my themes to raise the tension in my blurbs over the genera.

Here is a quick look at Book One again before I pick it apart for rising tension.

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.

In the first paragraph, it clearly steps up in tension for Angela.  I introduce her, she dies, goes to the future, she is the last of her kind and her only out is if she does as she's told.  Each sentence raises the stakes.  Paragraph two and three do the same thing.  Here is ordinary Kail.  Magic and prophecy?  A beat up time traveling girl?  Now the military and bad guys want him?  It's ramping up pretty quick for our hero.  Therion's paragraph is the same,  he's bad, he does bad things, he wants what Kail has and he's going to top it off with control over time and death.

So back to your own blurb.  Does the tension level rise?  Does it ramp up and identify what the customer expects to get out of your book?  Can they quickly identify what your book is about and if it's what they are looking for to spend their money on?  Does it leave them on the edge of their chair with a desperate need to click the buy now button?