jacket blurbs

Preparing To Re-Launch

It’s coming on to four years since I published the first book of the Herbert West Series. Two years after that, in 2012, I published the other three. Now I am planning to upload revised texts with added content and professionally designed cover images to replace my homemade and, to be truthful, rather lame creations. As I write, I am awaiting what I hope will be the final draft of the cover images. It’s been a thrill to see what a graphic designer has created from my descriptions of the works.

And the trilogy is now a series. I decided the whole “trilogy in four volumes” thing didn’t work. The middle two books of the series are still Islands of the Gulf Volume 1 and Islands of the Gulf Volume 2, but Volume 1 is now The Journey and Volume 2 is The Treasure. You wouldn’t believe the amount of brooding and fretting I did before deciding on those words, but I’m satisfied with them.

And only cataloguer-librarians would be able to appreciate my reservations about introducing all this complexity. Instead of simple titles and a series, those two books now have volume numbers, series numbers and part-titles. Once all this is done I will have to create catalogue records for them, coded in MARC format, just for fun. Then there’s the whole question of edition. If I were reissuing these books in print, they would be new editions. But ebooks are different. I think. Sort of. (Non-cataloguers may safely ignore this paragraph).

I have also rewritten the descriptions of the books — brief ones of fewer than 400 characters (60 words), and longer ones in the neighbourhood of 2,000 characters (about 400 words). The short descriptions are the sort of thing you see in a publisher’s catalogue; the longer ones are more like jacket blurbs (interesting word, “blurb;” check Wikipedia for its origin). For the blurbs, I started with texts of short synopses I’ve written over the years, but swiftly realized the fundamental difference between a synopsis, which is intended to encapsulate a novel for presentation to a publisher, and the tantalizing jacket blurb that tells the potential reader just enough to make them want to buy the book. You definitely don’t want to create “spoilers” for your own books!

Right now I am working with my Word documents, adding extras such as Afterwords and excerpts from the sequels to each book, as well as creating hyperlinked tables of contents. Once all that’s done and my new cover images are ready, I will re-launch all four books. That may happen as early as next weekend if all goes well.

What with work and all this activity, I have neither time nor mental capacity for other blog topics. The garden (which isn’t doing much) and further thoughts on hypocrisy (which is everywhere) will just have to wait.

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Writing the Synopsis

I know at least one writer who thinks that writing a synopsis of her novel is a form of torture.  The trouble is, though, that writing synopses is one of the things writers need to do in order to bring their works to the attention of the greater world. Most publishers and agents request a synopsis as part of a submission package, along with the first few chapters of a novel and a covering letter.

It’s important to emphasize that a synopsis is not the same as the “blurb” found on the back or inside the front cover of a published novel (or in the brief description of an ebook). The blurb is a teaser, intended to provoke a potential reader’s interest and turn him or her into an actual reader or (most important) a purchaser of the work.

A synopsis, on the other hand, is intended to summarize the novel for someone who will engage with it in a role different from that of an ordinary reader — an agent or publisher who must decide whether or not to represent or publish the work, or a member of a critique group who needs a context for the excerpt from the middle of a novel they are expected to read closely and critique. The synopsis must lay out the entire plot and present the main characters, the setting and the flavour of the novel.

A synopsis a distillation of a novel. Distillation can be a tricky operation, and so is writing the synopsis. For one thing, there does not seem to be a universally agreed upon length — I have seen anything from one to twenty pages recommended. Knowing the current preference for brevity in everything from covering letters to novels themselves, I would say the shorter the better — one or two single-spaced pages, 500 to 1,000 words. If a detailed synopsis is specified, something longer would be in order — up to 5,000 words, perhaps.

Novels with complicated plots, multiple narrators and symbolic overtones are perforce more difficult to summarize than those with simple, linear plots and few or no subplots. Authors of complex works may benefit by writing two or more synopses, each with a different degree of detail — sort of like zooming in on the novel and presenting more details each time. That way you end up with a synopsis for every situation in which one may be needed. In fact, it’s good to have a whole range of descriptions of your work, from a single sentence to a jacket blurb to synopses of varying lengths.

Still, it’s tricky. You can’t write the synopsis in the same voice that you wrote the novel, but you don’t want to present it in such a detached way that all the life is sucked out of it, turning it into a dried specimen. Some writers may do well to write their synopses at leisure, in the interval between novels, when there isn’t much creative ferment going on. Others may do better under pressure, when an agent or editor has expressed interest in a face to face meeting at a writers’ conference, and you want to get your offering into their hands before that interest cools. For those who really hate synopsis-writing, it might be an idea to ask a fellow writer who has read the work in question to draft a synopsis of it. That gives the author of the work something with which to get started.

Critique groups are good venues for testing synopses and blurbs. When you join a group, or a new member joins your group, a synopsis is a good instrument to introduce a novel. Ask for comments or suggestions on your synopsis as well as on the real work. Since synopses are short, they are easy to read and comment on. My critique group has just had a flurry of synopsis writing. In fact, I’m about to send one to the group myself, for the first volume of my forthcoming novel, Islands of the Gulf. Having written several synopses, I can say with confidence that it does get easier with practice.