How Not to Write a Novel Back Blurb

I thought I might see a lot of interest in the subject of independent adoptions yet there were only two comments, and those from people who read this blog faithfully. Thank you loyal supporters, you know who you are!

Not even the friend who suggested I write it and to whom I submitted it for an accuracy check commented, so I guess everyone is otherwise occupied with more important matters. Even though it seemed the readership was quite substantial and a modest increase from my usual traffic, still not much comment action.

I did receive some “likes” though which is always fun.

WordPress sends a congratulatory email when someone “likes” a post. Congratulations! They say. Someone liked your post well enough to press the Like Button. Pressing the Like Button isn’t exactly a physical challenge, now is it? And it’s not like they brought me a Chili Macaroni Casserole or anything. But still, WordPress considers it a moderately big deal.

I’m back to writing about writing.

I finished up my novel, Perigee Moon, this week so I’m on to the next task, that of designing a book cover. To do this, I must write a “back blurb” and I’m not sure why I need it since the book is self-published and is never going to be sitting alongside the likes of books with cover pictures of Fabio on the bookshelves at Wal-Mart. The blurb is to sum up your novel, to “sell” it and, much like the headline at the top of a sleazy tabloid magazine, is supposed to tempt you into picking it up and tossing it into your shopping cart.

“Bill Clinton Dying!” Yes, probably. Aren’t we all?

“Nick & Jessica’s Sham Marriage: Why Are They Still Faking It?” Who’s this again?

“Jen Tells Pals: Angie’s a Monster!” Really, Jen. Get over it.

“Possible reconciliation between Kim Kardashian and Reggie Bush?” Could someone please remind me why we should care about these people?

Based on your willingness to give the teeniest of shits about any of the above topics may in fact influence you to purchase the magazine in order to get the true scoop. Of course, you could be really tacky and stand there and browse through the magazine while the clerk zips your cat food through the scanner, but he’s trying to engage you in conversation because 1) you are incredibly good looking, 2) you are incredibly interesting, or 3) he’s bored. Any bets?

Back to our subject at hand. The title has to grab you enough that you want more. The headline “Bill Clinton Suffers Sniffles” isn’t quite as compelling as the fact that he might be dying. And while this is not a dissertation on Bill, I suspect many people might be interested in what the Old Guy has done now to put him in such ill health. One can only imagine.

The back blurb of a novel has to grab you, make you want to read it. So it needs to contain lots of good keywords and it should be true to the type of novel it is — only more so. It should be exaggerated, and enticing, and earth-shattering. But it’s a PITA to write one and I’m not very good at it.

If I said something like “action packed, tense suspense and drama on each page”, this would not be indicative of what my novel is all about. The people who don’t want action packed won’t buy it and the people who do want action packed will be pissed off because it’s not that kind of novel.

I found five pieces of back blurbs that I find tempting:

Compellingly written, running the literary gamut from menacingly dark to hilariously funny, this is an epic saga of one family’s trials and triumphs in a world of sin, guilt, and redemption.

I’m hooked on all of this. Compellingly written (although, says who?) and menacingly dark and hilariously funny and epic saga always grab me. Not to mention sin, guilt and redemption. It isn’t any wonder that I found this paperback in my possession.

…a brilliantly crafted story of parallel lives, familial secrets, and the redemptive power of love.

Brilliantly crafted, I like that. Is that better than compellingly written? I love the idea of parallel lives and familial secrets. And you can’t beat the redemptive power of love.

But for his wife, who feels like a tiny gnat buzzing around her family’s edges, “walking away from it all” is not a premeditated act, but an impulse that will lead her into a new, exciting and unimagined life…

I love that she feels like a tiny gnat buzzing around her family’s edges. This portends to be about a woman who feels diminished, unimportant and I’ll just bet she does something really cool and then her family takes a second look and says, Well, I guess Mom wasn’t as much of a loser as we thought she was.

An extraordinary, moving story, this novel explores the complexities of love — how it survives time and heartbreak, and how it transforms us forever.

Ah, the idea of the complexities of love and how it survives time and heartbreak. How it transforms us forever. The romantic in me can’t resist this.

This intense new novel follows a middle-aged man as he contends with a past he has never much thought about — until his closest childhood friends return with a vengeance, one of them from the grave, another maddeningly present.

An “intense” novel, that sounds good. A middle-aged man, I like it that the character is the same age as the ones I write about, and I really can get into the idea of a past he never much thought about, and childhood friends returning with a vengeance, and from the grave. Wow, that’s got to be great.

Here’s how I might write my back blurb:

A compellingly written, beautifully crafted story. Menacingly dark yet hilariously funny, an epic saga which crosses the boundaries of four generations, of a man who feels as unimportant as a mosquito being batted outside the familial edges as he attempts to remember the complexities of love yet fears it can’t survive the test of time. A heartbreaking story of forgotten pasts and uncertain futures emerge as his closest childhood friend returns with a vengeance from Buffalo.

What do you think? Pretty good huh?

No?

Back to the writing board. Back blurbs are killers to write.

Oh, and one more thing, Bill Clinton is not dying.

Design Your Own Book Cover

Recently, I read a couple of blogs about creating book covers. I probably should have read the articles before I designed my own book covers, instead of after, but mostly I read them hoping they would reinforce what I already knew.

I knew early on that I didn’t want to use the book cover designs available in CreateSpace (or BookSurge before it was CreateSpace), and someone suggested BookCoverPro. I investigated and decided to go for it, it was a fairly simple graphics package, and all the basics were there, adding text, borders, boxes, pictures. Once you put in the size of your cover, and the number of pages in your book, it figures out what size the cover (back, spine and front) must be and presents you with a blank template.

My first attempt was pretty basic, I plopped a picture of the Gulf of Mexico and clouds, with sun shining through on and sized it to cover the entire area.


After that I added text, and was done. This was a very simple cover, indeed, probably a bit too basic. I was going for a feeling, of loneliness, or melancholy. I’m not sure I succeeded with that. Once inside the book, the reader might think it was a picture the main character, Jay, had taken, because he is an amateur photographer.


My second attempt was a little more involved.

The wilted flower is referred to twice in the book, and it’s meant to be symbolic. That perhaps Lydia, to whom it was given, should have looked at it, drooped and dead before it could blossom, as an omen that her relationship with Geo be allowed to go the way of the rosebud. It comes back into the story years later and she tells him, “This is what happened to the first one.”

I bought a miniature rose bush in a pot, at Kroger’s and snipped the bud, placed it in a glass of water and waited. A few days later, it was perfect. So I took pictures of it, pictures on a black background, pictures with a bright background, with and without flash. This is the one I chose:


I used my photo editing software to get rid of the background and fill with black. I use a package called Photo Studio 5.5, which came with my Canon camera, and it’s a subset of what PhotoShop offers, but is usually enough. You can buy PhotoShop but it’s a bit pricey and if you aren’t very serious about editing pictures, it might be overkill. A good alternative is to download a free copy of GIMP which is every bit as comprehensive as PhotoShop, and it’s free. There are tutorials available about how to do anything you want in GIMP. I wonder how they do it, the authors of GIMP, offer such a complex, professional-looking package for no cost. There will be a learning curve to it, and I haven’t mastered it yet either, but I plan to.

Now the picture looks like this:


I made the cover of the book black and put the picture on, made the text white and I liked the combination, of dark pink, black and white with green. I got a little more creative with the back cover this time, put a picture of the author there, a dark pink box, and inside that another light gray box, which made the dark pink now a border, with black text.


The first blog I read, The Dos and Don’ts of Cover Design, stressed three points, and I felt I had them all covered.

Letters that pop. I had that, white letters and a black background, and black letters against a pale background. Check.

Contrast. The dark pink against the black, and white lettering, I think that’s contrast. Check.

It should say something about the book. Not sure I can give a check here, although maybe it counts that there is a story about the wilted flower inside.

All in all, I’d say I didn’t do too badly here. On to the next article. Ten Tips for Effective Book Covers.

The title should be big and easy to read. Check, the title is big enough.

Don’t forget to review a thumbnail image of the cover. Check, it looks okay as a thumbnail.

Do not use any of the following fonts (anywhere!): Comic Sans or Papyrus. Check, used standard font.

No font explosions! (And avoid special styling.) Check, no explosions.

Do not use your own artwork, or your children’s artwork, on the cover. Does photography count? Probably not, check.

Do not use cheap clip art on your cover. Check, no clip art.

Do not stick an image inside a box on the cover. Check, no image inside a box.

Avoid gradients. Check, that’s where the color washes from dark to light.

Avoid garish color combinations. Check, I don’t think I did that.

Finally: Don’t design your own cover. No check! Uh oh.

And there was a Bonus tip: No sunrise photos, no sunset photos, no ocean photos, no fluffy clouds. Can’t check either, as there are three out of four here, on the cover of Whatever Happened to Lily?

I am not too sure how well I fared on the Ten Tips.

What do you think?