Guest post: “Thief of Song Blurb, and Blurbs in General” by M. C. A. Hogarth

Thief of Song Blurb, and Blurbs in General

by M. C. A. Hogarth


Thief of Songs blurbHere’s the blurb for Thief of Songs! Someone on Twitter asked me if I had any tips for blurb-writing, and this seems a good time to talk about that. Particularly since, unlike a lot of people, I actually enjoy blurb-writing. (Yes, I know. I am crazy.) The most memorable advice I ever received on this topic was from agent Don Maass, who gave a short lecture on “the elevator pitch” while promoting his book Writing the Breakout Novel. I don’t remember the book, but I do remember the pointers about pitching. Pitching, he said, is about “capturing interest, not telling the story.” It should include the three essential components: character, setting, and conflict. And it should answer the question: “Why should I care? What’s the emotional appeal?”

So the heart of blurbing, for me, is identifying the central conflict, the character most affected by it, and then ending with a leading question/statement that invites the reader to find out more.

In Thief’s case, the conflict in the story is Amet’s problems with the lowlands. He is the character most affected by that conflict. And the leading question is whether he’ll be willing to set those problems aside to love a lowlander. Easy peasy! But the art of blurbing is making those answers as succinct as possible, while also as exciting and mysterious as possible. Think of movie trailers: they give you only enough set-up to understand why you should care about the outcome, and then tease you by not revealing the ending!

Here’s the fun part of it for me, then: I want the whole thing to fit in 3-5 sentences. Fewer is best!

So, some more examples for deconstruction. Here’s Mindtouch‘s:

Mindtouch blurb
Setting: The entire first sentence gives this context.
Character Most Affected: Jahir (who shows up in sentence #2).
Description of Conflict: the second part of the second sentence (“unprepared for… etc.”)
Leading question: “Will the two, etc etc.”
Sentence count: 3

Here was a rough one for me, the Black Blossom blurb:

Black Blossom blurb
Conflict: First sentence!
Character Most Affected (or at least, most prevalent because Narration): “the gentle Calligrapher, etc…”
Setting: The third sentence.
Leading question: The last two sentences.
Sentence count: 4

Now, here’s an interesting exercise. When the sequel to Flight of the Godkin Griffin came out, both Sofawolf (the print publisher) and I wrote blurbs for it without consulting one another. It was a difficult exercise because we’re introducing the final book in a series, which means we have to allude, at least a little, to the first. And we handled it in very different ways! Here’s Sofawolf’s blurb:

Sent to oversee the most recent territorial acquisition in the Godson’s empire, Mistress Commander Angharad finds herself in an unexpected position. Rather than smoothly assuming control from the outgoing governor, she finds herself in opposition to violent factions of the occupying forces, the corrupt governor she is replacing, and unexpectedly even the Godson himself.

No doubt her unplanned adoption as the champion of the conquered province of Shraeven and the chosen vessel of its many native Gods has something to do with her sudden fall from favor.

Certain that Shraeven holds the final key to the empire’s goal of breeding a God of their own, the Godson himself arrives to regain control of the province. Angharad knows that a lasting peace will only come from a diplomatic solution, but with the Godson’s behavior becoming increasingly erratic, she is no longer sure he is capable of reason.

The Godson’s Triumph is the conclusion of the fantasy military adventure started in Flight of the Godkin Griffin, and takes Angharad to the brink of war with her own country on her way to truly understanding the Gods and the empire’s dedication to emulating them.

Meanwhile, here’s the one I wrote:

Mistress Commander Angharad Godkin hates politics… so of course, her ruler the Godson sent her to replace the Governor of barely tamed Shraeven province. She hates religion, so naturally, the native gods began to plague her the moment she arrived. And since she hates both, the gods started playing politics—and the politicians began playing at godhood. In Flight of the Godkin Griffin, Angharad, a creaky old veteran of the Godkindred Kingdom’s many wars of conquest, was dragged out of retirement only to discover her newest assignment—to rule a province in peace—might finally be the death of her. She certainly wasn’t expecting to face off against her own monarch in a battle that will decide not just her own fate, and not just the fate of Shraeven Province… but of the world itself.

The Godson’s Triumph returns us to the world of Angharad Godkin and her comrades and concludes their epic journey. But who will be left standing when the fires burn out?

The last piece of advice Maass gave was to “use one of the following words in your last sentence: love, heart, dream, journey, fortune, destiny.” I don’t follow the letter of this law, but you can see clearly what he’s aiming for with it: you should be pitching a hero’s journey to the reader, a story that really grips your heart. It has, as modern audiences can now say, ALL THE FEELS. If it doesn’t have all the feels, why bother? And if your overall blurb doesn’t operate on that level, it’s not going to connect to as many people as you hope.

So, in short:
1. Keep it short.
2. Keep it punchy—now is not the time to downplay the conflict.
3. Identify the most important conflict and the character grappling with it and put them on center-stage.
4. Give enough setting information that the conflict makes sense/feels urgent.
5. End with a question/invitation to find out more.

I am not the best blurb-writer in the world, but I think I do passably at it, and I enjoy doing it. If you have questions, leave ’em here and we can continue deconstructing the process. Or if you have examples of great blurbs you like, bring them here!

This post first appeared at M. C. A. Hogarth’s blog. The original post can be found here.



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