Dissecting the Romance Blurb (Rev.)

After playing with Nita’s blurb yesterday–and thank you all for your help–I wanted to see how the last pass compared to the pros, so I went back to Saturday and Sunday’s Book Bub e-mails and pulled out the blurbs that had plots that were most like Nita’s. This is not to trash Book Bub’s blurb writing; as we found out yesterday, it’s damn hard to sell a story in fifty words. I just wanted to see what happened when I slotted Nita’s characters, identities, and basic plot into existing blurbs. Here’s what I got:

“Nick’s the Devil’s fixer but he falls hard for no-nonsense Nita anyway — but will her love be enough for him?”

“Sparks fly when mysterious Nick, Satan’s fixer, helps Nita investigate her friend’s murder. But as the clues lead them into danger, will he be able to keep her safe?”

“When Nita Dodd meets a gorgeous stranger, she can’t stop thinking about him — but little does she know he’s actually Nick Giordano, the Devil’s fixer, traveling anonymously!”

“When Nita investigates a murder, she meets gorgeous Nick. There’s no place for him in her carefully ordered world — but she can’t resist their attraction…”

Here are my problems with these:

“Nick’s the Devil’s fixer but he falls hard for no-nonsense Nita anyway — but will her love be enough for him?”
Anybody think her love won’t be enough for him? Anybody? Bueller? Anybody?
I think a blurb has to have something intriguing about it, and this one says, “The central question of the plot is whether the hero will get bored with the heroine.” I think the draw in Nita’s story isn’t whether he’ll stick with her once they fall in love–of course, he will, it’s a romance–it’s how they’re going to deal with all the garbage around the attraction. The “they” is important there; the blurb has to show that Nita has agency. Also, much better to start with Nita as the subject of the sentence; it’s her book. (Of course in the book this was for originally, it’s possible the story did belong to the hero.)

“Sparks fly when mysterious Nick, Satan’s fixer, helps Nita investigate her friend’s murder. But as the clues lead them into danger, will he be able to keep her safe?”
This is another agency problem: Why does he have to keep her safe? I mean, I’m all for him looking out for her, but she should be looking out for him, too. And again this reads as though the story belongs to Nick, not Nita. (And again in the book this was for originally, it’s possible the story did belong to the hero.)

“When Nita Dodd meets a gorgeous stranger, she can’t stop thinking about him — but little does she know he’s actually Nick Giordano, the Devil’s fixer, traveling anonymously!”
Okay, Nita’s the subject of the sentence. YAY. But Nick’s interesting and Nita’s the gazer who can’t stop thinking about him, even though she doesn’t know who he is. We know all about Nick and nothing about Nita except she has good eyesight. I want my protagonist at the center of my story, not staring at somebody else.

“When Nita investigates a murder, she meets gorgeous Nick. There’s no place for him in her carefully ordered world — but she can’t resist their attraction…”
So now Nita’s the subject of the sentence AND active–PROGRESS!–but then she meets this great guy and rejects him because there’s no place for him in– Wait a minute. Is she nuts? Does anybody think she won’t make room for her him in her spic and span life? Anybody? Bueller? Anybody? The idea of a blurb, I think, is to make the reader want to find out . . . something. If you can read the blurb and know what’s going to happen in the book, I don’t see much to intrigue you into hitting that BUY button. Of course everybody knows the romance ends happily, but there should be something in the teaser that says the road they travel is going to be more interesting than “Will she decide to let love into her life?” (Yes. Yes, she will.)

Which leads me back to the last pass I made after listening to all of you (thank you again; if you don’t like it, it’s your fault), looking at it in this new light:

“When Nick Giordano shows up on Demon Island claiming to be (a) dead and (b) the Devil, Detective Nita Dodd thinks he’s a conman. But as evidence piles up that the supernatural is real, Nita reconsiders her assumptions . . . especially the ones about the Devil she knows.”

Nick’s name comes first, so that’s not good, and Nita’s the active subject of the sentence, but her action is “thinking” which is not all that active. And in the second sentence her action is “reconsidering.” Bleah. Also, I see the point about “Demon Island” being confusing. Hmmm.

How about:

NOTE: Obviously, that’s not real, but for anybody new to Argh, don’t push the button. The book isn’t finished yet, and when it is, it’s not gonna be ninety-nine cents.

Revision:

ANOTHER NOTE: So you can see that I played fair in adapting the blurbs, here are the real ones:

• Rock star Bodhi falls hard for no-nonsense Kimberly — but will her love be enough for him?

• Sparks fly when mysterious Wren, a professional fixer, helps Emery investigate her cousin’s disappearance. But as the clues lead them into danger, will he be able to keep her safe?

• When Emily Sinclair meets a gorgeous stranger, she can’t stop thinking about him — but little does she know he’s actually Vittorio Barrali, the crown prince of Sarcaccia, traveling anonymously!

• When Sydney takes over her grandfather’s business, she meets gorgeous Mikhail. There’s no place for him in her carefully ordered world — but she can’t resist their attraction…

61 thoughts on “Dissecting the Romance Blurb (Rev.)

  1. This is why I used to skim the last page to see whether it was my kind of story. With ebooks, I skim the reader reviews and, if they’re promising, try the sample pages. I suppose I skim the blurb for an initial idea of the kind of story it is, but they’re so often pathetic and misleading that I don’t rely on them.

    Yours is looking pretty good, especially for such a short one. And since your USP is your voice, it’s important that your blurb isn’t generic – that would be misleading as well as off-putting.

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  2. I think that “Suspects Nick to be a conman” might sound too wishy-washy for an unfamiliar reader, being dead and the devil is a big claim. Something stronger like “Nita dismisses Nick as a conman” might sound more reasonable.

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    1. The problem is that “dismisses” ends the connection; she marks him off and goes on, which gives her a negative goal: “I don’t want to talk to you.” “Suspects” means she’s going to look into it and stay connected to him: “Hey, you, get over here, I have questions.” It’s a really small thing, but you have to make every word in a blurb count.

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  3. See, if I had read any of those blurbs, I would not buy this book. I likely wouldn’t have even clicked on the link to read the actual blurb on the Amazon page. I was actually a little outraged because of how poorly it represents your book. But it also worried me because if Book Bub would so poorly convey this story, how poorly has it conveyed other books? HAVE I MISSED SOMETHING GOOD? Gah!

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    1. I don’t blame Book Bub. Fifty words is pretty much “She’s feisty, he’s handsome, they fight crime.” Add to that the fact that whoever is stuck writing all those blurbs cannot possibly read all those books, so he or she is condensing cover copy which is also probably not great. Blurbs and cover copy are really, really hard to write (which is why I keep dumping it on you all).

      One of my favorite moments with my editor came when we were talking about blurbs and taglines and she said, “Hey, I’m having trouble with this one,” and read me somebody else’s. And I said, “Huh. How about this?” and rewrote it on the phone. And she said, “If you ever want a job writing cover copy, it’s yours.” So I have back-up employment now. And I wrote the back blurb on somebody’s book. Just in case you thought I was completely inept.

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      1. You should have written the cover copy for Lani’s last book, at least that way it would have been accurate. It makes it sounds like the dead husband gets in the way of the new romance and he doesn’t.

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  4. Just my two cents, but the blurb in the mocked up ad feels a little stilted. For me, this one still works really well.

    “When Nick Giordano shows up on Demon Island claiming to be (a) dead and (b) the Devil, Detective Nita Dodd thinks he’s a conman. But as evidence piles up that the supernatural is real, Nita reconsiders her assumptions . . . especially the ones about the Devil she knows.”

    I hear the objection that the blurb doesn’t start with Nita. But for me at least, as a romance reader, I generally expect it to be “their” book, not “his” or “hers” (even if it’s all in one or the other POV). So I wouldn’t feel tricked or in any way disappointed by this description. Nick sounds intriguing; Nita sounds engaged. Wish there was a way to put something in there about Joey’s death/the crime that they will investigate together, but Jeez, it’s 50 words.

    Point is, all the blurb has to do is get me to try the first pages to see if it’s for me (I’d never buy a book from the blurb alone). This hits enough notes to get me to open the book. And once that happens, I’m hitting the buy button.

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    1. I agree with this… to me it doesn’t matter which one’s name comes first. I really liked that blurb best. Maybe if you switched the more active verbs in the final blurb with the reconsidering part in the one that starts with Nick?

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  5. That last actual blurb hooked me a little. “Takes over her grandfather’s business”… that has stakes. Is her family counting on her? Did her grandfather die, or did he reluctantly give up the business and is looking over her shoulder?

    And then “her carefully ordered life” is clunky and cliche, but it does tell me something about the heroine’s personality (which the others absolutely don’t do). She’s been planning on taking over the business for years, maybe her whole life, so obviously the guy coming in is going to derail that somehow, or maybe make her question her path. That’s interesting. I’d try the sample page for that.

    Where is falls apart is “gorgeous [hero]”. Gorgeous tells me nothing. Every hero is gorgeous. Give me something that makes me think there’s a spark there. Maybe he’s “easygoing” or “reckless”. Both of those are dumb and overused, but at least it implies there’s a plot, something besides “two hot people have hot sex” which what every single one of those blurbs boils down to.

    Tell me something about Nita that’s going to make me like her, and then tell me something about Nick that’s going to make me interested in Nita forming a partnership[/relationship] with him. Your new blurb is good – the second sentence is fantastic and I want to read that plot, but maybe give me a reason I want to read that plot with these characters?

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  6. Yep. The last one is the only one I’m intrigued enough to go looking at/for.

    I’m over the heroines needing to be saved. Stabbing Westwards “Save Yourself” at earsplitting volume is now in my head. And “Fuck Prince Charming” comes to mind for the other 2.

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  7. I’d read it, of course (I can’t bloody wait), but if we’re being picky, I don’t love the ‘changing her mind’…

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      1. I totally thought that was the same woman. Are you two sure she is not? Same place, same time?

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      1. I don’t know who she is, so I’m nobody to judge, but in that picture she’s too polished. I want Nita to always look like she’s an eyelash away from coming unglued, one of the many reasons I keep going back to Aubrey Plaza. Also I love the Plaza snark. I write the distaff version of the schlumpy guy who scores the gorgeous girl.

        ETA: Ah, Nasty Girl and Girl Boss. Yeah, not the Nita vibe i want. If she put on about twenty or thirty pounds, she’d look a little like Nita, although she’s really too pretty to be a good fit.

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        1. I hear you about the Plaza snark. I liked her bob, her short bands , and her funky/aggressive necklace. She is in the fashion industry though so i don’t think there are really pictures of her without all the glamour unfortunately. Sara Ramierz is more this size i think you’re thinking of. Plus she was the original Lady of the Lake(Spamalot).

          Love reading all of your work!

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          1. I saw Ramirez as the Lady of the Lake on Broadway and she was FABULOUS. She and Tim Curry . . . just so damn amazing.
            One of the few times I actually got my ass to NYC to the theater.

            Nita’s actually thinnish because she burns energy like crazy. It’s a plot point.

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          2. I guess it’s like having a thyroid condition? I had Graves’ Disease for five years, so I used to eat everything I could find and still lose weight. (Not as fun as it sounds, because while being skinny was fine the other symptoms were truly awful.)

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  8. I would skim right over those other books with those blurbs, especially because they don’t talk about the “otherness” thats in this book – in that it’s not an ordinary book. Also, the other blurbs don’t sound like you or your characters. In your blurb I know much more about Nita simply because of how she talks and approaches the situation in it. She goes from woman with problems meets gorgeous man to ‘bad ass career woman suspects dude of somthing hinky but they’re connected and have a big problem to solve…she is also probably quite snarky”

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  9. The following is not a blurb. Hah. It’s just random ramblings of things I think you should include in an actual blurb.

    Detective Nita Dodd is investigating a homicide. She interviews an impossibly handsome witness who claims to be the Devil. She thinks he’s a conman at first, but when supernatural events keep occurring, she discovers they may have more in common than a murder victim. (Add lots of voice).

    If 50 words is the limit, I think you can nix the location, and the fact that he’s dead. I think hinting at the fact she’s not exactly human is a good thing—-or if you see that as a big reveal beyond the first plot point, maybe not.

    It’s raining here like crazy, my poor plants are drowning, this was a great distraction. Cheers.

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  10. Huh. I actually recognize that last book. But that’s mostly because Mikhail is uncommon enough as a character name that the rest of the context clues in the blurb are enough to identify it. If I didn’t already know it the blurb would tell me nothing.

    I like this last version of the Nita blurb. It seems to convey the bare essentials (Nita=protagonist; Nick is the Devil; supernatural is real; there will be a romance). But personally, I always go for the full cover copy followed by the first chapter to see if I want to buy. Blurbs like this aren’t terribly useful to me. There just isn’t enough to go on in something that short.

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  11. I told myself I wasn’t going to mess with this, but I can’t help it–I want to play, too.

    Nita’s used to doubting people, but when murder witness Nick Giordano claims to be a) dead and b) the Devil, doubt immediately turns into suspicion. But, as evidence piles up that the supernatural is real and Nita must fight enemies she didn’t even know existed, the Devil she knows may be exactly what she needs.

    That’s 55 words. Nita has agency, it sets the murder scene, and it even has the trope-y romance vibe at the end. Kinda works, and was fun to do. 🙂

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  12. Added: Loved final Crusie blurb in set-up. Totally read that! Other non-Crusies lame. Meh. I’ll reread Sayers or Allingham.

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  13. “Detective” needs to be in there. Also, you just need to flip things around to give Nita agency:

    Detective Nita Dodd thinks Nick Giordano is a conman when he shows up at her crime scene claiming to be a) dead and b) the Devil. But as she uncovers mounting evidence that the supernatural is real, and fights beings she never knew existed, Nita finds herself reconsidering the Devil she knows.

    Or, maybe cheesier but with an inside joke – and it’s 50 words:

    Detective Nita Dodd thinks Nick Giordano is a con man when he appears at her crime scene claiming to be a) dead and b) the Devil. But as she uncovers mounting evidence of the supernatural, and fights to save her town, Nita finds herself warming to the Devil she knows…

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    1. Ooh, I like the “fights to save her town” part especially. Has that been in any of the other blurbs? It fits Nita to a T.

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    2. Thinking maybe it needs another flip:

      Detective Nita Dodd thinks Nick Giordano is a con man when he appears at her crime scene claiming to be a) dead and b) the Devil. But as she fights to save her town amid mounting evidence that the supernatural is real, Nita finds herself warming to the Devil she knows…

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      1. She’s not saving the town, exactly, and he doesn’t show up at the crime scene, he’s part of it.
        Trying to keep away from “thinks” because it’s such a static verb; I like “suspects” because it means she’s narrowing her eyes at him, not just pondering. It’s still static but it implies future action.
        I think you’re right about the “detective” having to be in there.
        New blurb up in post:

        Detective Nita Dodd suspects Nick Giordano’s a con man when he claims to be (a) dead and (b) the Devil. But when things she never believed were real start coming out of the woodwork, she’s forced to turn to the Devil she knows . . .

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  14. Did y’all see this?

    This bit about the other people in the room with the Australian author is disturbing. I guess we’re done with “they came for the __________ and I didnt speak l, because I wasn’t a __________. They’re coming for EVERYBODY. And as for the “It has been a pleasure” – shades of some unhinged manipulator.

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/feb/28/in-that-moment-i-loathed-america-i-loathed-the-entire-country?CMP=fb_gu

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    1. Oh my god. This moron is giving the worst of America permission to hit bottom on the humanity scale. Wish WaPo would pick this up or the NYT.

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    2. I think his ‘It’s been a pleasure . . . ‘ just shows how unaware these officials are of their bullying and disrespectful behaviour; that it’s not how they should be behaving. It’s obviously become the norm, and what they believe they’re supposed to be doing.

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    3. When I first heard about this story… words fail. Mem Fox is one of our most prolific and charming children’s authors. Possum Magic is one of my favourites, but her list is too long to even begin to name. She’s a moving force in children’s education.

      And, as she says, if someone like her can be treated like this, what the hell is happening to everyone else? How much worse will it get if you don’t fit into the privileged box?

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    4. This story has been all over the Facebook Antique Roses world because so many old rosers (yes!) are from Oz. People are weighing in from all over the globe. Most – not all, alas – find the situation despicable.

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  15. Yes, that’s appalling. I love this though:

    I wasn’t pulled out because I’m some kind of revolutionary activist, but my God, I am now. I am on the frontline. If we don’t stand up and shout, good sense and good will not prevail, and my voice will be one of the loudest.

    Go Mem Fox!

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  16. New blurb! Hmmm…”when things she never believed were real start coming out of the woodwork” seems like a place where you can give Nita agency–perhaps play again with your “fighting things she never believed existed” language.

    And even though you hate romance-y language, “forced to turn to” seems like it needs to be, uh, romance-ier.

    As always, thanks for letting us play along. Wanna help write a communications plan for a gasket manufacturer?

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    1. I know nothing about gaskets. Is the gasket manufacturer a handsome billionaire who meets an anti-gasket protestor?

      Yeah the woodwork bit clunks. Romancier. Sigh. I know you’re right. Argh.

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      1. Is there a way to get the inciting incident in there?

        “But when evidence mounts that a friend’s death has supernatural causes, she turns to the Devil she knows for the answers she needs.”

        Just a thought.

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        1. You know, when you boil something down to 50 words, you really start looking at each one, and I don’t think Joey’s death is important enough to the story or key to heart of the book. But it’s a judgment call, definitely.
          I think the things that need to be in there are:

          Nita: disbelieving cop
          Nick: dead Devil
          Supernatural is real
          Danger
          Romance.

          I agree the current blurb still isn’t right, though.

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      2. gaskets are generally the things that go in between parts that require lubrication, to keep them from leaking. there is potential for all kinds of dirty jokes living in there. 🙂

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  17. “But when things she never believed were real start coming out of the woodwork,” takes up a lot of your 50 words. Do you want to tighten?

    “Things she never believed were real” can be supernatural, otherwordly, odd, eerie, phantom, metaphysical, unknown

    “Coming out of the woodwork” could be manifest, materialize, appear, emerge, arise

    This probably doesn’t help, but figured I’d throw it out there.

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    1. “coming out of the woodwork” is Nita’s voice, so if it was any good, I’d keep it. But it’s not, so I’ll have to think of something better.

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