Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Blurbs, Excerpts and Other Annoyances

by Janis Patterson

I’ve said many times the bane of my life is doing publicity. From the time I was nine years old I grew up working in my parents’ advertising agency where creating ads and placing them internationally was an everyday occurrence. I know how to do publicity. I can write a press release that can sell a thousand widgets. I can do a visual that is pure poetry. I just hate it, especially when one doesn’t have an adequate budget – or even much of a budget at all! Even worse is the fact that I was raised in a very old-fashioned manner, meaning that one does not put oneself forward, that is it vulgar to stand up and say ‘Look at me, look at me!’ My family was not quite so primitive as to believe that a lady’s name appeared in the newspaper only three times in her life – birth, marriage, death – but to blow one’s own horn was both crass and cheap.

Sometimes our earliest lessons are the hardest to unlearn.

Which brings me to blurbs. And their bigger cousin, the excerpt. Lots of places take blurbs and excerpts on certain publicity days. Everyone knows you need an excerpt on your website. What ‘everyone’ does not tell you is how we are supposed to take our complex, multi-character, multi-plot book and boil it down to 250-300 words that have any kind of clarity or appeal. Some of us cannot even say ‘good morning’ in 250-300 words!

And as for excerpts - ! Same problem,  just longer. You’re supposed to have a pithy, intriguing scene that will so enchant someone that they will immediately want to buy the book – all in about 1,000 words or less. Trouble is, in my books at least, intriguing scenes are not perfect little capsules. The action is ongoing and interlaced, not chopped up into precise soundbites. And by action, I mean the story – not car explosions and shootings and fistfights. Though all of those do happen occasionally in some of my books…

For that matter, how can you take a slice out of a book and have someone know what’s going on without any backstory or knowledge of the characters? In the excerpt John and Mary are talking – or fighting – or making love. Who are John and Mary? Friends? Lovers? Foes? What is their relationship? Do they have a backstory? What outside forces are acting on them? To get all that information into an excerpt brings it perilously close to an info dump.

Do you get the idea I don’t like either blurbs or excerpts?

On the other hand, I don’t know of any other way to get any attention for one particular book out of the bazillions that are flying around out there. No one book will please everyone. Some books please more people than others. How to get a reader to pick up and buy my – or your – book when there is such an incredible choice out there is a daunting if not downright impossible task.

And I don’t have any better answers. If I did, I’d be both smart and rich.

Now, if you will please excuse me, I have a blurb to write and some excerpts to choose. Darn it.


Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

I feel your pain, but I usually trim my blurbs down to two sentences or less, so I can remember it and rattle off easily when needed. Good post.

Morgan Mandel said...

Writing a blurb is one of the most difficult chores. How can an author decide what will appeal to readers? We're too closely connected to our work.

Linda Thorne said...

Blurbs and excerpts make me crazy too and I've only had to do it for one book so far. I was lucky with my current publisher. I sent it in, and 2 minutes later I got a different version of it returned saying, "How's this?" They are sure quick-to-the-draw on sharpening my wording.