If it’s a Duck…
…then it needs to quack like one.
Mark Glamack is the author of a children’s story about a group of five Littluns on an adventure. From the story summary, it’s clear we have a powerful evil, an artifact of power, and a quest to save the world before it’s too late.
So what’s holding this blurb back? Well, for one thing, it doesn’t look like it’s written to grab the imagination of a kid browsing the library shelves. While a pitch might be directed at an agent, parent, or some other adult, it must also be keyed at the target audience. It needs to be the kind of book a parent (or publisher) would pick up off a shelf for his son. This blurb makes the mistake of speaking vague, abstract terms about unavoidable “results and consequences” and trials that “could not have been anticipated or even imagined” which takes it miles away from what matters–the story appeal and its plot.
Tenant of writing a blurb: Ye Shall Not Be Vague
Let’s take a look at the blurb itself:
What’s working against this blurb? A lot, to be frank. It starts out with the beginning of the hero’s journey–the Littlun’s leaving home–(good!), but then slips up as the prose shifts to passive voice and abstractions (not good!). The narrative finds its way again with the Necromancer (good!), but begins talking about him before introducing him in the next sentence (not good!). Finally, it closes up by addressing the reader directly, explaining the target audience and main theme (good!: very valuable when parents are doing the buying, or when presenting a book to an agent/publisher).
But the excerpt still says too much–and too little, all at the same time.
Here’s what I’d like to see happen:
The story is condensed to what’s happening and what the characters are facing. But it’s still not flowing well. The reason is that the narrative is out of order. We open with the main characters (1. Littluns on a jaunt), introduce the struggle they’ll face (2. the encroaching darkness), and then introduce the antagonist (3. the Evil One). But here, instead of following up with a “so what?”, the story skips tracks.
The synopsis drops us off at the most important bit. The Evil One must have his book…he’s coming back!…–
–and the Littluns story is family friendly.
Continuity is Key.
What I want to know at that point is how the Littluns fit in to the Evil One’s story. I want to hear that they must face off, somehow. I can guess that’s the case, but for the sake of continuity in the blurb, it needs to be spelled out. Dramatically.
Let’s give it a try:
As you can see, I inverted the order (5, 3, then 1 and 2, and then closed it on 4). In other words, the blurb explains what’s wrong, how our heroes are on a collision course with evil, and what they’ll have to face. It closes up with a summary of the themes. (5 may be placed at the end instead, of course.)
Tangent: I am still mildly concerned about the marketability of the title. Parents may buy the book, but the teenagers (YA readers) I know wouldn’t be caught dead with a book that has anything resembling “little ones” in its name. Going by the title alone, I’d be inclined to tilt my yellow feathery head towards Junior readers (age group 7-9, perhaps).
Further tangent by TheOtherCanary: I actually don’t think it would be marketable even to to Junior readers. Any kids old enough to read the books on their own would likely find the name juvenile. And if the market is aimed for those too young to read on their own, that means a parent would have to pick up the book–and no self-respecing adult would ever read a story about Littluns. If anything, the only market I could see working is grandparents ready to lay on the schmultz.
As it stands, the final revision of the blurb presents a straightforward rundown of what adventures the reader can expect. And the reader will love the author for it.
There are, of course, still unanswered questions that only the author can tweak as he runs through the blurb, perhaps clarifying how the villain misplaced something so important, or how the Littleuns end up on his trail (or even who the Littleuns are–children? siblings? hobbit-like creatures?). The author may also decide to stress some themes more than others, perhaps bringing the moral or religious overtones hinted at in the original blurb to the forefront.
And then the duck will fly (like a duck).
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more slapped pitches here.