Publishing 101: Book Summary

Publishing 101This is one in a series of posts entitled Publishing 101: Draft to Book in 30 Days. To learn more about this challenge, visit the Publishing 101 page, where all links regarding this topic will be listed as they become available.

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Also known as the story blurb or back cover blurb, the goal of the brief explanation or book summary is to pique the interest of readers so they’ll look closer. It provides readers with an idea of what the story is about without giving away any spoilers.

Novel blurbs are usually short, averaging 200 words. They often focus on one or two of the main characters, providing a snippet of information to encourage readers to care what happens to them.

I’ve seen formulas for blurbs, but they don’t often provide enough spunk for what I’m looking for. I’ve used them, but I’m not over the top thrilled about them. They don’t make me think, “I have to read this book!”

But as Art Burton said so eloquently at our last writers’ group meeting, the idea is to not make readers NOT want to buy the book. So while not great, my blurbs don’t outright discourage people to drop my book immediately and run.

One method to learn how to write a good blurb is to examine those already written. Choose several books in the same genre as your book and read the blurbs. Take notice of the details provided and how they is written. Then write six blurbs for the book you’re publishing.

Here are a few samples of books by authors in Atlantic Canada (snipped from Amazon.com). They fall between 100 and 300 words, which puts the average at 200 words.

Kit’s Law by Donna Morrissey (238 words)

It is the Fifties in an isolated outport in Newfoundland. Nothing penetrates this antiquated existence, as television, telephones, cars, even roads, elude the villagers and the only visitors are fog-bound fishermen. Here, outside of Haire’s Hollow, lives 14-year old Kit Pitman with her mentally handicapped mother Josie — both women cared for and protected by the indomitable Lizzie, Kit’s grandmother. The three live a life of some hardship, but much love, punctuated by the change of seasons in the isolated gully where they live.

Then a tragic change in their circumstances brings back an old threat — that Josie be sent to an institution and Kit to an orphanage. Advancing this argument is the Reverend Ropson, who from the pulpit decries Josie as the “Gully Tramp.” Defending the women is Doc Hodgson, who brought Kit into the world and knows the secrets of her birth. An uneasy truce is forged, with the Reverend’s son Sid acting as spy and woodcutter, while village women supply food and gossip. Josie delights in Sid’s visits, and Kit grows to love him.

There is another menace in Haire’s Hollow — the notorious rapist and killer known as Shine. When Shine attacks Kit in a drunken rage, it sets off a chain of events that leads to further violence and a terrible revelation. Kit and Sid must decide which laws of God and man apply in their despairing world and how much misery they can bear.

The Sentimentalists by Johanna Skibsrud (121 words)

Haunted by the vivid horrors of the Vietnam War, exhausted from years spent battling his memories, Napoleon Haskell leaves his North Dakota trailer and moves to Canada.

He retreats to a small Ontario town where Henry, the father of his fallen Vietnam comrade, has a home on the shore of a manmade lake. Under the water is the wreckage of what was once the town—and the home where Henry was raised.

When Napoleon’s daughter arrives, fleeing troubles of her own, she finds her father in the dark twilight of his life, and rapidly slipping into senility. With love and insatiable curiosity, she devotes herself to learning the truth about his life; and through the fog, Napoleon’s past begins to emerge.

Fowl Summer Night Blurbs

While working on the blurb for Fowl Summer Nights, I first followed the ‘formula’ I learned more than a year ago.

Sample 1

Mildred Fowler can think of no advantage to retirement. After only seven days as a pensioner she’s bored. Her children encourage her to join the senior’s organisation or to get a pet. When the local 4-H Club has a fund-raiser selling chickens, Mildred decides to purchase five birds even though she knows diddly-squat about raising them. Spring turns into summer, and Mildred discovers she adores her little peeps. Her elderly neighbours however believe she’s lost her marbles.

Then I thought I’d have a little fun with it since Fowl Summer Nights is a little quirky.

Sample 2Front test

Take a drive down Shamo Drive and see Mrs. Vorwerk at her mailbox. If you stop to talk with the decrepit widow, look out for flying teeth. A little further down the road is Angus Mills. He’s your typical widower with a backyard pool, rose bush and a love for spying on old women.

Squished between these two experienced elderly pensioners is Mildred Fowler. Unlike her neighbours, Mildred hasn’t yet mastered the art of being a retired widow. Given her spunk and passion for life however, she’s bound to stir up a little trouble in the community of Welsummer when armed with the proper determination.

Then I got a little crazy and focussed on Mildred’s addiction.

Sample 3

Do you have an addiction? Mildred Fowler has one, but it’s not for alcohol, chocolate or piercings. This addiction creates havoc in her family and in her community. The elderly neighbours want this addiction to stop and will go to any length to make it so, including reporting Mildred to the county inspector and an all-out assault on her backyard. Still, there seems to be no stopping Mildred and her obsession with Kijiji. She can buy anything from the online classified website, including major trouble.

Here’s my quiet and calm blurb which focusses on the lovely community of Welsummmer where Mildred Fowler lives.

Sample 4

Shamo Drive is a quiet street, nestled into the small Eastern Shore community of Welsummer. Many of the residents have resided there for decades, choosing to live within the peaceful surroundings of nature and good neighbours. Nothing ever happens on Shamo Drive. Many of the inhabitants are now in their senior years, having raised their children and sent them forth into the world. They’ve either reached retirement or on the verge of doing so. Everyone seems to have adjusted grandly…except Mildred Fowler.

So what do you think? Which sample would make you read this book?

I wrote a post what seems like ages ago about writing blurbs. You’ll find it here Writing a Back Cover Blurb.

This completes this step in the Draft to Book in 30 Days challenge.

Next Post Publishing 101: Writing an Author’s Note

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4 thoughts on “Publishing 101: Book Summary

  1. Sample 4 is the best, in my view. It builds up to something, and you keep reading to find out what. Then you find out something is amiss with Mildred Fowler, and the only way you are going to find out what… is to read the book.

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