A guest post by Mark Edwards
Writing a novel is hard. Writing a good synopsis is really hard. Writing a great blurb for your novel is harder still. And writing a fantastic single tag-line is almost impossible.
It seems that the shorter the piece of writing, the more difficult it is to do it well. Everybody will tell you that the most important thing is to write a good book, and that is true, but the sad truth is that good books don’t sell themselves. Great books do not sit on Amazon, or on bookshop shelves, emitting rays of goodness, drawing people towards them. You have to work to let people know that your work exists – only then, if people like it will they write reviews, tell their friends and do the hard work for you.
In this blog post I’m going to talk about what you need to do as soon as you’ve finished your book and before you publish it, assuming you are going to self-publish. (If you want to pursue the traditional route, these are useful exercises too. Despite being published by HarperCollins now, I still write my own blurbs, in conjunction with my editor, and knowing what makes your book sizzle, and having the words prepared, will help you write that all-important query letter).
Step 1 – Write a synopsis
Authors hate this. Writing a synopsis is not only hard work but it feels like taking this beautiful, living thing and stripping away all the magic. But it’s vital if you want a traditional deal and a great exercise if you don’t. It will help you prepare to write your blurb – and if you employ someone like me to do it for you it will make my job a lot easier!
The synopsis should be a 2-page chronological description of what happens in your book. It describes the story: who the characters are, what they do, the problems they encounter and, yes, the resolution. It’s painful to give away the ending but you have to do it.
Step 2 – Craft your description
The tone of the description – or blurb – needs to be completely different to the synopsis. This is your sales piece, your pitch. It has to grab the attention, immediately hook the potential reader and make them feel not only that this book is worthy of their precious time and money but that they are desperate to find out what happens.
When I write a description I break it down into five steps:
1. Intro sentence – sum up the book in one sentence
This can be a tagline like you might see on the cover of a book, eg ‘Memories define us. So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep?’ (Before I Go To Sleep). Or it could be a more straightforward description of the book: ‘Imagine if Dan Brown and Stieg Larsson sat down together to write a fast-paced medical conspiracy thriller, featuring rogue scientists, a deadly virus and a beautiful but vulnerable Harvard professor.’ (Catch Your Death)
Yes, namechecking similar authors is fine. Publishers do it all the time.
2. Set the scene – who is the main character and what is their situation at the start of the book?
The first sentence needs to set up the main character and where they are at the start. What is it about them that makes them interesting? Are they a spy, a frustrated housewife, a lonely orphan whose family lock him in a cupboard under the stairs?
Don’t make this too long, because you quickly need to get to the…
3. Call to action and initial problems – what sets the story moving, what is the initial problem our main character faces, introduce one or two other major characters (not too many or it will get confusing).
What happens straight away to get the story moving? In your book, the call to action, or inciting incident, needs to happen in the first couple of pages or the reader will quickly get bored.
Is a body found in the Louvre? Does someone from the past turn up? Does the virginal student meet a handsome billionaire? Tell us what happens in two or three sentences. You need to get people hooked into the story; it needs to be familiar but also original – why is this story the one that your reader should buy next?
4. Cliffhanger – what happens next, and what is the big problem/dilemma/danger that will hook the reader in and make them want to read on?
You can’t give too much away – you need to lead the reader up to the point where the protagonist is on the cusp of something exciting or dangerous or life-changing. You need to be intriguing and hint at gripping events, painful dilemmas, mind-bending puzzles or a life-changing journey.
5. Summary – seal the deal; tell the reader why this book is so great and why they should read it. What kind of book is it. Make them excited!
The final paragraph can be more factual: “CATCH YOUR DEATH is a fun, page-turning thriller that also asks serious questions about how much we can rely on the people we entrust with our lives.”
If you didn’t compare yourself to another author in the first line, you can do it here.
Step 3 – Write a one-line pitch
You’re going to need this for either your query letter or whenever you need to explain your book very quickly, eg on forums, or Facebook or when someone asks you ‘So what’s it about?’
“Before I Go to Sleep is a psychological thriller about a woman who loses her memory every night. She writes a journal to keep track of her life – and uncovers a secret that puts her in great danger.’
If you want to know more, Mark has a free download for newsletter subscribers, Write the Perfect Book Description and Watch Sales Soar. You can find out more about Mark’s books, his journey to self-published (and published) success and how what he’s learned along the way can help you on his website, Indie HQ.