Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Query Blurbs

After I wrote my first book (which I was sure was going to be snapped up immediately – ha!) I attended a writer’s conference. It was the first time that I’d ever talked to an agent. A real, live, breathing agent. And he couldn’t run away, at least for ten minutes, because I’d paid to talk to him. *grin*

So this agent (bless his heart) looked at my query and said, “I can tell you have plot problems.”

“Um, what?”

“Plot problems, see here,” he pointed to my query, “you spend way too much time telling me the little details of what’s happening rather than giving me the big picture. Plot problems.”

In that ten-minute meeting I learned a valuable writing lesson: your query/blurb is a reflection of your manuscript. If your manuscript is tight, well planned and executed with finesse, your query will reflect that. However, if your manuscript could stand about ten more edits, your query is going to reflect that too.

I made it my mission to figure out this query business. I studied it, much like I studied how to write. And it helped me to understand that at the heart of every book is an if/then question. The “if” is the setup (the first chapters) the “then” is the meat of the book.

Recognizing what this if/then question is helps to keep the book on track. If you already know up front, there should be no rambling chapters that have nothing to do with the plot.

When writing a blurb you’re going to focus on the “if” – the setup. You are also going to give an illusion to the “then” – not the whole thing!

You can write a blurb a few ways. The two ways I use most is:

Character 1
Character 2
Conflict

and

Character
Book set up*
Conflict*

*or if this is easier to think of as story 1 & story 2


The first way is more for romance novels where the plot revolves around two people rather than the world around them. The second is if you have a novel that is more plot driven.

I’m going to give an example of both.

I guess the only way to do this is to show my thought process. I’m going to make up two novels. Two novels that I would never write, so no comments about the lameness of the plot, please. We’re focusing on the blurb and not originality. :)


EXAMPLE 1:

I’ll start with the first one. I decide I’m going to write a romance novel about Penny and Jack. Penny and Jack knew each other in high school – where they hated each other.

What’s the if? What’s going to throw these two together? What is our plot?

Years later Penny is desperate. Her business is failing. She’s one step away from bankruptcy. She has one last opportunity to win a huge contract if she can convince the client that she can do the job.

What’s the then? The problem?

Enter Jack. He’s the owner of said business. He’s not too fond of Penny. He remembers her as the girl in high school who made his life miserable.


I’m going to use the character 1 / character 2 / Conflict:


Penny Preston has a problem. Her business is failing – the one she gave up her life for – when it’s gone, she’ll have nothing to show for it except debt and an empty apartment. Penny has one last chance to convince a buyer to invest in her company. Too bad it’s Jack.

Jack Smith is local boy made good. He has everything he ever wanted and then some. Trouble is, he never got over that embarrassing incident in high school -- the one where Penny Preston said that he’d never amount to anything, and if he did, she still wouldn’t be interested.

Now that they were face to face, he should walk away. He doesn’t trust her. She couldn’t possibly be less spoiled than the girl he knew. Then why is he so attracted to her?


EXAMPLE 2:

For my second example, I asked Deb, “Hey, give me a plot idea I can use for an example. One you wouldn’t use.”

She gave me:

Darcy Miller is sure she has a brain tumor. She has become sensitive to daylight, can't sleep at night, and has no appetite. Unless you count rare meat. She hasn't hit the gym in months yet she just flattened the weirdo who tried to snatch her purse. And what was going on with her front teeth aching like a son-of-a-bitch?

My first thought was: Hilarious! My second thought was: I did a good job teaching her how to write blurbs! Ha. This one has sassitude.

Sassitude is important in blurb, especially if you have sassy writing. The level of sassiness in the blurb needs to be directly related to the level of sassiness in the manuscript. Nothing will kill you faster than creating a sassy blurb only to deliver literary fiction.

This is why I purposely left out any trace of sassiness in Example 1. At the core of a blurb you do not need sassiness. You need facts. Sassiness is like using fancy Malaysian honey with herbs on your toast instead of store-bought honey. Both get the job done, the flavor is just different. Don’t substitute sassiness for competency.

Let’s break down what Deb wrote and add to it so that you can see what the whole query would look like because if you notice, what she gave me is not finished. It’s just a character description.

Her character, Darcy, is turning into a werewolf.

What is the if and then? What’s the book set up and conflict?

How about… Darcy is a flight attendant. And because of her change not only can’t she take certain shifts but the undercover federal martial thinks she’s part of a terrorist plot.

The blurb using the Character/ Set up / Conflict would look something like:

Darcy Miller is sure she has a brain tumor. She has become sensitive to daylight, can't sleep at night, and has no appetite. Unless you count rare meat. She hasn't hit the gym in months yet she just flattened the weirdo who tried to snatch her purse. And what was going on with her front teeth aching like a son-of-a-bitch?

Fifty-thousand feet above ground is the last place Darcy expected to fight her own war on terror. A federal martial thinks she’s behind a plot to take the plane she works on down. She’s not, but who is?

Darcy had better find out before the plane explodes or she turns wolfy. Either way, it’s a hairy situation!



… Actually, that one is pretty dang funny. Heh.

Anyway, the point is, blurbs are pretty straightforward. They’re not about the plot points, they’re about the plot as a whole. Conceptualize the book, don’t break it apart.

Any questions? I’d be happy to answer them.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Wednesday: Still Editing My Life Away

I'm going to ramble today, okay? I've been too deep in edits where every! word! has! to! have! a! point! And, well... sometimes it's fun to be pointless.

I wanted to tell a cute story of my kids (that's the most fun to write about). Except I realized, I haven't spent any time with them lately. I mean, I saw them. I've eaten with them. I've helped with homework. It's just that my attention has been on this book.

"Okay, Mom has to work now. Snack? Sure whatever. TV? Make sure it's not too loud. Matches? Go for it, just don't burn the house down."

Er... not really that last one. I think I would notice if they asked to play with matches. Maybe.

I was considering writing a tongue-in-cheek post entitled: Editing, As Fun As A Gynecological Exam. But nixed it because I felt that it might alienate my one (or two) male readers. No, really, I think I have about four. Hi all you XYers!

I want to post the blurb for my SNI (but can't) because it cracks me up every time I read it. I have mentioned previously that I write my blurbs before the book. And then during one of my breaks from editing (where I wasn't stuffing my face with ice cream cake) I was catching up on Query Shark. Love!

It occurred to me that most new writers (1st time in the query trenches) don't understand the basic principles of blurbing a book. Blurbing isn't just important for querying. You still need to know how to do it after you have an agent. In my mind, it's the essential first step to every book.

I thought (for all of five seconds) I should do a post on how to write one. Not "this is how to fix yours" because I think that most writers are too close to their own book and miss the point of how a blurb should read. It would have to be a new idea, one I'd never use. And where would I get that idea? Then the post became a lot of work in my mind and I wondered, would anyone be interested? Because I will write it, if you are.

Back to editing. :)


Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Writing Post (shock!)

I'm in the midst of an editing battle (battle: me against the manuscript that does NOT want to behave). I rewrote the ending for probably the third time. Not too sure if I like it, but... sometimes you have to let go and see what happens, right? So right now I'm trying to read and see if it flows, check if the loose ends are tied up and basically test if I have a coherent book.

I have a self-imposed deadline too. One that I'm sure to make.

Except.

I have a slutty new idea taking over my brain!

[Slutty new idea: defined as the idea that comes out of nowhere and takes your attention away from what you're supposed to be doing. SNI does not care about deadlines. SNI does not care what genre you write in. SNI does not care about your family - because she flirts. Oh, boy, does she flirt! Pouring out NEW WORDS (!!!) from seemingly unknown places.]

I'm trying to stay on task. It's very important that I finish this draft. However, I have given in to the SNI bug. It's so tempting... so fresh and it makes me very, very happy. Though, first drafts usually do before the reality of the work I must to do in order to make it readable happens.

Just to be fun, I thought I'd show you what I look like when editing (or writing SNI). This was last night:




She sits on my lap as I read and type. My dog is insanely cute. :)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year's: A Time for Resolutions

Yesterday I spent some time flitting from blog to blog checking out resolutions. I was inspired at points and at other times overwhelmed by the amount of stuff some of you want to accomplish this year! Especially when one of my resolutions is to nap more (haha, kidding).

I needed time to think... So I cleaned the house (yay!), took down the tree (double yay!) and then read. All in all, a very productive night.

When I woke up this morning I was ready to start this year. I sat down at the computer, logged on to the ning I have with my critique partners and typed up my resolutions. By god, I'm sticking to them. And if I don't, I fully expect my critique partners to flay me.

And then...

Okay, I probably should write something like, "I wrote two-thousand words - BAM!" Ha. The truth is I started reading blogs. I'm glad I did! Why? This amazing video:



Feeling good this morning.

2010 - I'm looking forward to a great year. You. Me. Destiny.

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