THE BLURB. Doesn’t that sound like a good name for a horror movie? And having to produce a blurb already strikes terror in the heart of writers. It’s hard enough to write the book itself, but then, after you’ve slogged through writing anything from 80,000 to 200,000 words, you’re supposed to sum it up in a half-dozen sentences? What mental patient came up with that idea? Your book has twists and turns, nuances and insights, and how can it possibly be summarized in a few sentences without losing what makes it so special?
When I would attempt to write a blurb (or its nasty cousin, the query letter), I’d start by first writing a much longer, more detailed synopsis and then pare it down and down and down until it was at the maximum acceptable length. I still didn’t like it, I didn’t think it was a good representation, but that was what was required, so what else was there to do?
A couple years ago, I attended a writers’ conference that gave attendees the opportunity to pitch to an agent. That’s how I learned that a pitch is every bit as bad as a blurb, and possibly even more so because you have to do it out loud to a (usually) disinterested agent who has already heard far too many of them and doesn’t really care if they hear yours. (This was my first time to meet any agents in the flesh. I’m sure there are some who are very nice people – the law of averages would almost assure that, right? – but they weren’t the ones attending this conference.)
Prior to the conference, I’d found a book at my library, Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds: The Guaranteed Way to Get Your Screenplay or Novel Read by Michael Hauge. I no longer recall what it said to do (and my library no longer has this book so I couldn’t refresh my memory), but I do know I got my pitch down to the allotted time (which was something like 2 minutes for everything – come in, sit down, give your pitch, answer any questions, get out, NEXT!). And whatever it recommended doing may have worked, because the agent did tell me I could send her my manuscript. Only I didn’t, because (a) I thought it was a pro forma invitation probably made to one and all at the behest of the organizers of the conference, and (b) I took an instant dislike to the woman (imagine a fat, nasty spider in the guise of a human) and knew that even if she could sell the hell out of my book, I didn’t want to deal with her. (Was I ever sorry I didn’t send it in? No. I really dislike spiders and if I had to deal with the human version of one regularly, it would have given me endless nightmares.)
A couple weeks ago I began following a blog by the author of the book on increasing your writing output I mentioned in the post Words, Pages, or Time (her blog is called Pretentious Title at http://www.thisblogisaploy.blogspot.com). She posted about a book, Save The Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting That You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder. I’m not the least bit interested in screenwriting, but apparently pitches/blurbs and screenwriting really seem to go together, as you may have noticed that the aforementioned book also referenced screenwriting. I found a copy at my library, and while I haven’t gotten much past the first chapter, I really did like what it said about ‘loglines’ – the one-sentence description one sees on a movie’s poster. He also implored writers to be able to answer the question, ‘What is it?’ about their book/screenplay, and gives ten genres that most screenplays fall into. These aren’t the usual book-type genres of mystery, romance, Western, etc., but things like ‘monster in the house’ or ‘rites of passage.’ These genres also seemed applicable to novels.
But it was the one-sentence logline idea that resonated with me. I figure if you can come up with one sentence to summarize your book, creating a tight, taut blurb should be a piece of cake after that. Even before I read that part of the book, I had already begun disliking blurbs that run to the maximum wordage allowed on their distributor. Oftentimes they would have so much information in them, I didn’t feel I had to read the book itself. A blurb I read the other day actually gave away the ending – why would the author do that? (It’s bad enough when you get a reviewer who gives away plot points that were supposed to be a surprise to the reader, but now can never be that because there they are, spelled out in detail in the review.)
But I digress. I intend to keep reading Save The Cat and will pass along any additional salient information I find in it. I’m not wholeheartedly sold on the book yet, and especially disliked finding that when I got to the end of Chapter One, there were ‘Exercises’ for the reader to do. Hey, I’m not in fifth grade where I read a lesson and then have to answer questions about it to make sure I had full comprehension. It seems to be a very grade-school thing to put in a book intended for adults (unless 5th graders are screenwriters these days?). Or maybe the author runs a class on screenwriting and this book is based on his lesson plans. Who knows?
What do you think? Would a movie called THE BLURB fall into the ‘monster-in-the-house’ category? And there’s already a built-in sequel: THE BLURB 2: QUERY LETTER!