We all have to write one. Not only that, we have to write any possible combination of the following:
A tag line (forgot all about that one! thanks for reminding me, JWManus…I think)
And then, the infamous, back cover blurb. You know that bit on the back that either confuses a reader or gets them more interested. Or, in my case, I never bother to read the back. It’s usually the front cover that I look at. (Anything with a map is just about an instant winner with me.) If that’s enticing, then I read the first few pages upon which I decide whether I’ll buy it or not.
There’s also the inside of the dust jacket (front and back). But, seriously folks, who are we kidding? My book will not get sandwiched between two hard covers unless I physically do it over at the San Francisco Center For the Book (cool place, by the way).
Anyway, now that my story is nearing something that may indeed be mistaken for a novel, I’ve begun to think of all these meta-novel items that someone has to write. Since I keep calling myself a writer, I guess that means me.
Where do I start?
First, some definitions.
Well, there really are not any definitions. Remember, writing is an art. Just like a bagillion different things are considered paintings, they are not all equally created (or valued, for that matter). Same with writing.
However, the writing parts we are talking about not only have to do with the story, but also serve to market and sell that story. By sell a story, I mean get a reader to read a story not just buy it. There are a few industry standards out there that we can use as guidelines so let’s start with that.
A pitch is usually one sentence. I’ve seen it described as the classic “elevator pitch“. The scenario is this: The elevator door opens in front of you. A famous agent/publisher you know is inside the elevator, waiting for you to get your fat carcass in so he/she can get to where ever they’re going. You walk into the elevator, and the agent’s/publisher’s hand goes up to the floor panel and says, “Where to?”
This is your chance. The only time an agent/publisher will ever willingly talk to a wannabe author. Don’t fuck it up.
You throw out your pitch: “What if your leaders demanded you abandon your religion or leave the country?”
Okay, that may not be an appropriate response to “where to”. So, maybe, you first say, “Second floor. What if the church demanded you answer for the sins of your daughter?”
Okay, those are all bad examples (I’m practicing for my novel, give me some slack). But, I hope, you get the idea. In one sentence, you have to capture their interest. Jon Sprunk wrote a bit about the pitch (his version of it) in this post over on SFFWorld.com. That post is quite entertaining, and filled with some sound advice on how not to act around a potential agent.
One thing to note, you may have more than one sentence. I have seen several agents/writers/publishers describe a “pitch paragraph”. Whatever the length, have several versions of your pitch prepared, each tailored to whether you’re chasing a heavy-set, chain-smoking agent or a marathon-a-weekend agent.
Now that we have nailed your pitch, there’s the synopsis. Length varies for a synopsis, but most publisher websites I’ve visited recently seem to ask for a one to two page synopsis. That’s not much. About a thousand words MAX using 10pt font, single space. If you format your page using the industry standard of 12pt Courier font, doubled space, you end up with about 500 words. So, in two miserly pages you must summarize your ENTIRE novel.
In The Writer’s Digest Guide to Query Letters by Wendy Burt-Thomas, a synposis is described like this:
Unlike the summarizing “pitch” paragraph in your novel query letter, a synopsis does more than tease; it tells the entire story of our book. Your synopsis will explain your entire novel from cover to cover – including the ending. You’ll be describing characters, settings, major events, and plot twists, narrating the development from start to finish.
And, it should showcase your writing skills as well as the novel’s voice, tone, and style.
This is not easy to do. I’ve been working on a synopsis for my novel for a few weeks now, and I’ve barely gotten Andreas to Berga and I’ve used up a page and a half. And that’s like only about a tenth of the way into the story! Ug. You have to really pare it down, and do it style. I’m sure my first effort will be horrendous, as sure I am that with practice it will get better.
THE TAG LINE
I haven’t got a clue about this one. Until a fellow writer pointed it out to me on this here blog, I’d completely forgotten about it. On my book’s blog, I used to have: A man buffeted by fate, and a winged woman… 🙄
WTF? That is not a good tag line.
A good tag line speaks to your potential audience and gives them a vague (but accurate) idea of how to categorize your novel. Still working on this, I’ll have to get back to it in a later post.
Ah, at last, the infamous blurb. Those few paragraphs on the back cover that introduce your characters, hint at the story conflict, and leave your readers so intrigued they slap their hard-earned money on the table. Wow.
Everyone who reads your book will find different things that attract them to it, the trick is to pick the parts that most of your target readers would think interesting and put that in the blurb. The Penguin Blog offers a series of posts on how their copy editors write book blurbs. I suggest you read them. It’s actually quite fascinating how each writer approaches the task, and I intend to use some of their tips when I run through my novel again (after a round through Critters).
Well, I hope that was useful. It was for me. Now I know exactly how much more work I have ahead of me. 😦