Am I the only reader who finds that book descriptions have started to sound way too similar?
On the back of every novel you see it. Action! Drama! Intensity! Guy in pursuit! Girl in despair! Snappy prose! One- or two-word descriptions by celebrities. "Fantastic!" "A masterpiece!"
How do you tell which book you will really like?
I don't know about you, but I don't have nearly as much time to read as I would like. I get frustrated when I pick up book after book and read a third of the way in and find that it really isn't my thing. Half the time it's not even poorly written. It just doesn't have the atmosphere I like or I don't care about the stoic characters.
That's because readers are diverse. Some readers like physical action. Others prefer wrenching emotions. Some can’t stand the internal tension but are fine with violence. Some insist on sex scenes. Others can do without the details. Some books are harshly literary and others are more cozy. And those are issues that mostly cross genres and are true regardless of specific themes.
So, why is it that it is so hard to tell what the heart and soul of a book will be like from the description?
Here are a few reasons:
- The description can only be 100 to 150 words or about a dozen sentences. There are only so many combinations of grammatical sentences possible.
- There are rules. The writer must present who the main character is and what their problem or goal is immediately. It's not just the industry standard. That part makes good sense for readers too.
- The blurb has to give an indication of genre and the major themes and that takes up most of the space.
- And then few blurbs ever say what the book is not. No one is going to advertise a book by saying it isn't intelligent, even if it's definitely NOT literary fiction. And no mystery writer will say their book isn't suspenseful, even if the truth is that it's pretty cozy and the suspense is at a minimum.
- If there is violence in the book, this will often be made clear but no one will ever tell you that it is gratuitous, video-game-style violence. Every violent thriller or dystopian novel will insist that it is gritty and realistic--employing characters with heart, even when its main character is a stock tough guy who leaps, shoots and dashes through the pages.
So, there are some legitimate reasons for the look-alike cover blurbs. But what is a reader to do? I love good fantasy and I like contemporary thrillers, but I don't like gratuitous violence and those genres are often filled with it. I enjoy historical fiction but I prefer a story with a casual tone and characters from everyday life rather than momentous language and well-known figures of history. I can read virtually any genre as long as it is neither too dry and literary nor too brainless. I barely know how to describe the humor I like. How can I find books that will actually suit my taste?
And worse yet, how do I as an author give readers a feel for the heart and soul of my books in the space of a blurb?
My first book (The Soul and the Seed) starts with a teenage girl imprisoned in a laboratory by doctors with nefarious motives. Given that, it's hard to convey that this is not a story about teenage angst. There is violence in the story. I wouldn't leave that out of the description, because some people really don't want to read any violence of any kind and this is pretty heavy-duty intense stuff. Yet the story isn't primarily about violence. Most important of all, it's hard to convey the close, confiding tone of the story--like a friend telling you about their harrowing experiences--let alone the sense of magical realism, the deep connections to characters or how a book that is so dark can be primarily about hope.
I follow all the blurb-writing rules and I'm not a terrible writer (at least I'm told I can string sentences together with some semblance of art) and what comes out?
Action! Drama! Intensity! Girl in despair! Guy to the rescue!
Ah, I see the problem that all those other authors have while trying to describe their books when I'm the reader. My book is NOT like all most of those books. They are all vastly different. But in a blurb on the back cover it is very hard to get that across.
I love to hear from you. Feel free to comment using the bubble on the lower left. What are your frustrations as a reader? Do you agree that book blurbs are all the same? Do you have any tips for how to decode which ones will suit you? Do you ever pick up a book, thinking it is going to be your thing and it isn't? Or do you ever randomly discover a fantastic book behind a description that didn't do it justice?
The publication of my fourth book is coming up. To celebrate, I'm going to give every new subscriber to my hearth-side email circle a free ebook. If you've looked at The Soul and the Seed and been curious or if you've read part of the series and haven't gotten around to reading the rest, now is your chance to do so for free.
- Subscribe to my hearth-side email circle here. That's where you get links to my latest blog posts as well as the occasional virtual cup of tea. There's no spam, thanks to the excellent security of Mailchimp.
- Then look at the books under the Arie's Books tab at the top of the page and pick the book you want. (It's highly recommended that you read the books in order and the first book is The Soul and the Seed. But if you've already read the first book, here's your chance to get the second for free. )
- Next go to my contact page and send me a message. Include your email address, your preferred ebook format (Kindle, Epub or PDF) and which book you would like. Presto! You'll have it in your inbox soon.
Note: If you are already subscribed to the Hearth-side Email Circle, you can also get a free book. Reply to the latest By the Hearth email and let me know which one you want.