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Selling Your Book and Other Tips on Query Writing

Queries and the blurbs required to write them are the obsession of unagented writers. The blurbs also become a struggle for published authors, because whether we want to admit it or not, blurb writing is something you’ll always have to do so if you haven’t honed the art, hone it now.

A recent query gave made me think about how to better explain what the blurb should be. While reading it I thought there’s no way this author would verbally describe this book to a potential reader this way. At least I hope not.

When you tell people you’re writing a book they will naturally ask what it’s about. What do you tell them? That’s your blurb and if you can’t tell them about your book in two to three minutes (before you lose their attention) you need to start reworking both your blurb and, potentially, your book.

This is not a blurb that will grab anyone’s attention:

The book is primarily set in a small town I call, Blankenship, which is a college town based on the place I grew up, Northfield, MN. However, since the protagonist studies abroad for a period of time, some of the book is set in Stockholm and Copenhagen, cities in Sweden and Norway. She also travels throughout much of Europe. While there is a strong romance in the book, the story is much bigger than that. The character’s thoughts, feelings and experiences jump off the page and readers will feel a real connection with her. As she moves forward to face her future, the ghosts of the past, and an affair she while abroad, with haunt her and change her life.

Studying abroad makes Janet stronger and has prepared her for her career, until she learns that she’s been assigned to work with the man she had an affair with. Suddenly her past meets her future and she’s confronted with memories and feelings she tried so hard never to experience. The story is about family, friends, love and growing up.

None of this works for me. I’m lost and not interested. More so, I still have no real idea what your book is about. Is it about a girl studying in Europe? Or a woman who once studied in Europe? Or does it follow someone over the course of ten or so years as both happen? Most importantly, how is this book different from any other book I’ve ever read? What is it really about? What’s the hook?

Most importantly though, is this really how you would describe your book in person to someone? Would you really tell them the book is about love and loss and that your writing will suck the reader in because your characters jump off the page?

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8 comments

  1. Oh, those blurbs! To be completely honest, I loooove writing them, and I do it before I even start the book. It helps me keep focus. Drawing the outline based on a structure, the synopsis doesn’t ever become a pain either, and the book doesn’t get tangles. This blurb sounds very much like something a beginner would do, I think. Back in the day I admit mine weren’t much different.
    But now before I start querying I work hard on the final version of the blurb. Between queries I also keep improving. For this last one it took me a total of … wait for it …. TWO WEEKS, around 3 hours a day. Just working on the blurb. And whoever reads it says, “But it’s so simple. What took all that hard work?” (Subliminally: “Are you so stupid that you needed two weeks for a few lines like THAT?”) LOL. But I read somwhere that easy reading speaks well of one’s writing. I keep repeating myself that 🙂

  2. I think the first line of the second paragraph has the makings of a good hook. The protagonist has her dream of studying abroad come true, but then learns she’ll have to work with the man with whom she had an affair. That definitely sets up some tension. Unfortunately, I can’t tell what the actual story is supposed to be, either. Does she reconnect with the old flame? Is he an enemy thwarting her goals? What are her goals?

    A query blurb has to tell four basic things: Who is the protagonist? What does she want? What or Who is stopping her? What will happen if she fails?

    That’s really all a query has to say. Of course, saying it well is the hard part. 😉

  3. Blurbs are still difficult for me. What I like to do is think of all of the blurbs I’ve read and what exactly about a particular that one caught my eye and interested me enough to purchase the book. Then with that mentality I write mine. It’s still sometimes difficult but I always end up loving the finished product.

  4. Are you kidding? Blurbs are easy compared to cover art. For those of us who do it all ourselves, cover design–even when working with a great design agency–is really, really tough to get right.

  5. I submitted my query letter to your agency, and after reading this, I’m inspired to re-write it and hopefully be considered!

  6. I haven’t had to face writing blurbs yet. Although I’ve always thought the body of the query (excluding the admin bits) is really the same as a blurb? Am I totally off-track with that, Jessica?

    Maybe I’m being too optimistic that one day my successful query will also offer up the blurb!

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