[ Pitch Slapped ] How to Knock a Reader Dead

This is our first article in our Friday Pitch Slapped series. We’ll be looking at author blurbs from a variety of genres and discussing the elements that stand out as being particularly good…and not. This article’s all about getting to the point of the story.

How to Knock a Reader Dead

In the following blurb by Joan Hall Hovey, the author lays out a clear “who?”, “what?” and “why?” for her readership. Ellen’s little sister is killed and Ellen wants revenge. She provokes her sister’s murderer in hopes of getting him caught. The book is a thriller, so we imagine there will be suspense, danger, and a lot of near-misses. However, the blurb itself suffers from some near-hits and close calls.

Click for full-size.

But what else does the blurb promise?

  1. A strong focus on the (after-)effects of alcoholism and child abuse and, perhaps, the character’s own struggle with it.
  2. Flashbacks or discussions of Ellen’s childhood (after all, nearly half of the blurb is dedicated to it).
  3. Ellen as a mother-figure and caretaker.
  4. The main character’s anti-social nature (her against the entire world).
  5. The tendency of the prose to use flowery language (“booze-fertilized battleground”).
  6. A lot of grandstanding on the part of the characters (at least one podium monologue per character).
  7. The police investigation process.

Not having read the book, I can’t say how correct these assumptions are. But in the Thriller genre, most of the attention is usually centered on the action, with the past highlighted only to add spice to the present narrative. For that reason, I will assume that 1-3 and 5 are not intentionally stressed in the blurb. Which brings me to…

The Revision Process:

I have used blue to mark the elements that I feel are most important to the story, such as Ellen and Gail’s relationship. The red is used to mark the bits that are either redundant (are said or implied already) or unnecessary (does it matter at this point whether Ellen is a big sister or a mother figure?).

At this point, the revision offers fewer details and hangs on a question–“They survived, but…?”–which leads directly into the next paragraph. The second revision also successfully removes the focus on alcoholism and the style indicators that are still present in Revision 1. It moves away from vague statements (What world of violence?) and focuses instead on the relationship between Ellen and Gail–a perfect lead up to what happens next:

Some other changes:

Tagline: Most killers are “merciless”. A change to “sister’s” killer makes it clear why she’s doing it and how much he’d hurt her. Taglines need to say the most in the least number of words.

Showing vs telling: There is no need to stress Ellen’s pain. It should be clear from the context (and is) that the sisters cared about each other, and the fact that Ellen uses her TV appearance to challenge the killer suggests that she’s obsessed.

Deletions: Words like “often” and “practically” were burned off like warts. In a blurb, there’s not enough space for hedging. Something either is, or isn’t. The author can go in-depth and explain in the book itself.

Story Representation: According to the revised blurb and the inclusion of Gail’s death in the first paragraph, the story starts with the murder, rather than the two girls growing up. The latter is relegated to “backstory”, where it belongs.


The final version of the book summary is tighter and more focused on the story and avoids distractions. It is also 25% shorter–a good thing, considering the skimming habits or readers, reviewers, and publishing agents.

All it needs now is a few final tweaks by the author for style, and it’s set to go.

Do you have a pitch or synopsis that you’d like to send to the sacrificial altar?  Email it our way with the subject “Pitch Article Submission” at canarypost@gmail.com. 

4 thoughts on “[ Pitch Slapped ] How to Knock a Reader Dead

  1. Much better. Just taking out “booze-fertilized battleground” helps a lot though. Fertilized is a weird choice of word there, so I’m distracted by trying to understand what is being fertilized. Plants? Or is it eggs? It can’t be these two women, because you’d think booze would stunt their growth…I’m confused. What was I reading again? I’ve lost my train of thought.

  2. I recently came across your web site and have been reading loads of posts of yours. I just thought I’d add a quick comment and let you know that you have got a genuinely nice blog. I’ll watch out for updates from you!

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