I’ve had a fair bit of practice writing back cover blurbs lately – one for my novella, a couple for projects under submission by my fabulous agents, and in the course of reviewing recently read books. It’s tough. It’s not unlike preparing a scientific abstract, and I’ve had a hell of a lot more experience with those. Hopefully the success with science blurbs will translate into success with my works of fiction. We shall see… Capturing the essence and theme(s) of a story, along with tone, voice, and plot within 200 or so words? Really, really tough.
Then there’s the sales pitch part. How do you reflect all of the elements noted above in a manner that appeals to your target audience and, if you’re lucky, an even broader readership? This topic has been tickling my brain since I watched the movie Flight. I didn’t want to watch it at first, you see, largely on account of the trailer. The trailer painted the story as your run-of-the-mill disaster film with a larger-than-life hero, lots of CG, and the elements of a conspiracy-type thriller (Senate hearings, anyone?).
So when my pilot guy husband insisted I give it a try (i.e. bribed me with snacks), I was surprised. It’s not a disaster film. It’s not a political thriller. The hero, while captivating (how could Denzel Washington be anything but captivating?), isn’t larger than life or even particularly heroic. He’s a drunk.
See, the story is really about addiction. It’s a great story and I actually liked it.
But you’d never know it’s about addiction by watching the trailer.
Now then, I enjoyed it, but I’m wondering how many summer-blockbuster action/disaster flick junkies were disappointed when they found out. I get the rationale. The powers that be in advertising wanted to sell as many tickets as possible, so they highlighted the scenes most likely to capture the coveted movie-going demographic. But those elements were, in fact, a pretty small part of the story.
I can see this approach backfiring.
So I’ve been working hard to balance out the rougher edges of my flawed heroes and heroines in order to help sell my work, but there is a fine line between smoothing and concealing. If editors/readers are turned off by a bitter caregiver or a former drug addict from the blurb, they would most likely be turned off even more if those characters popped up as a surprise because I sugar-coated them in the blurb.
My strategy has been emphasizing the larger themes of redemption, or the arguably more appealing story arc, while being honest about my characters’s flaws. Could it cost me some readers? Sure. But first of all, it’s impossible to appeal to everyone – it seems better to appeal to your target audience. Secondly, and more importantly, future readers might not trust me next time I put my pitch out there. This business is about building a loyal readership. I want my readers to trust that the story I sell them on the back cover is the story they’ll be getting. Plot twists and a few surprises are great, of course, but a major bait-and-switch? Not so much.
What about you folks out there in cyberspace? Writers – how do you balance the sales pitch with the heart of a story? Readers – what works for you in a back cover?
Discuss. I’ll make coffee.