Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Creative Kicks - Week 4 - Blurb with Louise Mangos

You’ve written 120,000 words of your book and pared them back to around 90,000. You’ve edited and re-edited and edited again. You feel like you’ve read those words eleventy bazillion times (yes, that IS a number). You can even quote big chunks of the narrative from memory. Now you need to write a blurb. And the very thought makes you want to abandon everything and pour yourself a pint of prosecco. 


The blurb is a handful of sentences that sets the scene for your novel. If you’ve written in genre, the blurb should show something at stake for your protagonist or main characters in the narrative, whether your story is a romance, a crime, or a historical novel. The blurb often, though not always, asks a question of the reader – what would they do in a precarious situation? It should state the premise – perhaps a sentence about the dramatic opening to your story – and a hint of at least one reason your protagonist is not getting what they want. Most importantly, it has to make the reader want to dive into your work.

The blurb will appear on the back cover of the book, so it’s the second thing a potential reader will read after the title and your name. It has to be more perfect than all the words in your novel. It is not a synopsis. You must not reveal any spoilers. At this point you are giving nothing away beyond the first chapter.

The blurb is also useful as an elevator pitch. When someone asks you ‘What’s your book about?’ you need to be able to tell them without hesitation, especially if it’s an agent or a publisher. You never know where you’re going to meet these people. They are the gatekeepers of the publishing industry, and you must be ready to present them with the golden key. Assume you only have the time it takes to journey in the lift between four floors to forge your key and unlock the magic.

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Exercise:

The easiest way to write a blurb is to create a mind-map.

1. Take your main protagonist. Write their name in a bubble at the centre of your mind map.

2. In a bubble above your character, write a sentence about the rising tension to the first dramatic incident in your plot. You could also make this a question – ask the reader what they would do in your protagonist’s shoes.

3. The other bubbles around the centre should include early plot arcs or twists in the narrative.

4. Pick one, and write a sentence that hints at the jeopardy or conflict in that incident.

5. Expand on the consequence of the drama, without giving away any obvious clues.

6. What is at stake for your protagonist? State their most intrepid challenge. This should be the final line of your blurb.


As an example, here is the blurb for my debut psychological thriller Strangers on a Bridge:

To what lengths would you go to protect your family? 

When Alice Reed goes on her regular morning jog in the peaceful Swiss Alps, she doesn’t expect to save a man from suicide. But she does. And it is her first mistake.

Adamant they have an instant connection, Manfred’s charming exterior grows darker and his obsession with Alice grows stronger.

In a country far from home, where the police don’t believe her, the locals don’t trust her, and even her husband questions the truth about Manfred, Alice has nowhere to turn.


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You’ve got your blurb, something you’ve decided you can also use as your elevator pitch. And you pitched it so perfectly in that lift, you now have an agent who’s interested in representing you. Alternatively, you might have gone down the indie route and decided to self-publish. Now you need a tag line – one short sentence that will appear on the front cover of your book to deliver an essence of the tension in your story to the potential reader. Your tag line could be the last hanging sentence of one of your most tense chapters.

The tag line for Strangers on a Bridge is: ‘She should never have saved him

This might shock the potential reader. Most of us would do anything to prevent the suicide of someone – our instinct is to pull any fellow human back from the brink. So why shouldn’t Alice have saved Manfred? She does actually think this at some point in the narrative. Your tag line should make your potential reader want to find out why.

However, I should add that if you’re lucky enough to strike a deal with a large publishing company, it’s likely you won’t have any say in the tag line chosen for the cover. There may be three or four people working on the marketing and publicity for your book, and they will come up with a selection of possible tag lines. These will be passed around the team and a shortlist drawn up. Focus groups might then have the taglines tested on them before the final one-liner is chosen. Not by you. By the publisher.

A final note on writing the blurb: Most authors only write the blurb after the manuscript has been perfected. But it helps some writers to have a vague version of the blurb when they’re plotting the chapters. I use the mind map method to plot my novels, and have adapted my own system from the Snowflake method taught by Randy Ingermanson. You may not have a final title for your novel, but it helps to create a working title, even if it’s something like ‘Woman Stalked by Man’. Around the title, forming the start of your snow crystal, you have your main characters, and from there you have key moments in your plot. This method can be used as deeply as you wish. You might want to plot each of your chapters this way, each with its own individual snowflake. Here is a link to Randy’s site for writers who might be finding it difficult to plot their novels:

https://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/articles/snowflake-method/

I look forward to seeing all your wonderful novels on bookshop and library shelves!




Strangers on a Bridge was a finalist in the Exeter Novel Prize and long listed for the Bath Novel Award and is published by Harper Collins imprint HQDigital. Louise also writes short stories and flash fiction, which have won prizes, placed on shortlists and been read out on BBC Radio. You can visit her website www.louisemangos.com with links to more of her short fiction, or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @LouiseMangos. Louise lives on a Swiss Alp with her Kiwi husband and two sons. When she’s not writing you can find her in her kayak on the lake in summer or on the cross-country ski loipe in winter, painting in her studio, or drinking prosecco in vast quantities when she’s trying to write blurbs for her novels.

Link to Harper Collins page: https://www.harpercollins.co.uk/9780008287948/strangers-on-a-bridge/

Amazon.com link: https://www.amazon.com/Strangers-Bridge-gripping-psychological-thriller-ebook/dp/B079KL6VSB

Amazon UK link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Strangers-Bridge-gripping-psychological-thriller-ebook/dp/B079KL6VSB














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