[Pitch Slapped] Blurbs and navigating the reader-infested waters

Author Elizabeth Krall sent us the blurb for her lighthearted romance novel, Ship to Shore. In her email, she told us that she had used a variety of blurb-writing tools to get the point of her story across as strongly as she could:

“I have tried to incorporate various bits of ‘blurb writing’ advice, such as the use of ‘power words’, keeping it under 175 words and posing questions.”

In this Pitch Slap article, we’ll dive into this nebulous world of blurb writing tricks and talk about what worked and what sank and what swam in this seaside romance. But first… Continue reading

[Pitch Pecking] Would you buy it? –Vote!–

A couple weeks back, Madison Woods stopped by and asked us if we’d be interested in taking over her hands-down-one-of-the-best-ways-to-get-real-reader-feedback series, “Vote for it”. Of course we said “Yes!”

Every week, Madison gave her blog over to a 25-word elevator pitch sent in by an author. Readers of her blog had the opportunity to vote for whether the 25-word blurb made them curious or not about the book. Would they buy such a book?  Though the voting is anonymous, many readers opted to leave a comment too, helping the author get a sense of what was working and what wasn’t. And we are honored and excited to continue the tradition.

“Authors, what we’re measuring is reader interpretation. What does someone think of your book when they read your short blurb? Does it make them want to buy it or at least read further? Editors and publishers may look at these blurbs differently, but ultimately, they’re readers too.” (Madison Woods)

So what happens now? Read the pitch/blurb below and then vote if you think you’d be interested enough buy the book. If you have constructive crit to offer, share it in comments below! Continue reading

Pitch Slapped: Who am I pitching to? Publishers, reviewers, and readers, oh my.

A few weeks ago, Madison Woods came to us with a 25-word story pitch to be prodded and yanked as part of our Pitch Slapped series. She’s planning on sending her book out to a publisher soon, and even as she sent her blurb to the sacrificial altar, she asked us…

“Do you think that what publishers and editors look for in a pitch is the same as what readers judge by when they are deciding if they’d want to read a book? Will the same qualities make a reader want to read as make a publisher ask for pages?”

The short answer is yes. Or rather, “almost.” Well, it’s “kinda.” Here’s the longer chirp on the matter… Continue reading

[Pitch Slapped] Building the Blurb, Setting the Story

When Julie sent a pitch our way, I was immediately pulled in by the fun tone of its opening. But as I read on, I realized I wanted more–more details, more clarity, more focus. In this latest installment of our Pitch Slapped series, I’m going to talk about the two major challanges to writing a great blurb: clarity and structure.

But first, here is the blurb itself:

So what’s happening here? A lot.

It’s the future, and we get an alien species, a country wanting to clamber up onto a warpath, and a heroine with possible superpowers (does she get wings, I wonder?) with a Kill Bill sort of vendetta. Sounds perfect! But we did sight a couple potholes on this book’s blurb-road to bestseller-dom… Continue reading

[ Book Review ] Death, with feeling

I tried, Canaries. I really tried.

I pushed my way through so much boring action, so many quaint appearances by Niccolo Machiavelli, and so much freaking talking, but I have reached my wit’s end with Michael Scott’s The Magician.

Going off my experience with the first book, I should have never tried to read the second. But in this case, my literary death came down to one singular moment, one monumental sentence: Continue reading

[Small Chirp] This is why characters should talk less

I’m about 75% of the way through The Magician by Michael Scott. Some of you might remember the review for the first book in this series, The Alchemyst, in which I was so flustered by the content of the book that I broke down into bullet points.  And for reasons that I still don’t completely understand, almost a year later, I find myself reading the sequel to what was arguably the most blah book I have ever read.

While reading last night, I found myself skimming the text. I rarely do that; I’m a slow reader because I take in each and every word. After I made several frustrated attempts to stop myself from skipping whole paragraphs, I realized the book was actually forcing me to be a bad reader.

“Just stop talking and do something already!” I finally yelled at the text.

And that gave me pause. The outburst had finally let me put a finger on what had been driving me crazy about this series from page one: The characters talk way too much. Continue reading

Small Chirp: Dear Paranormal Fiction

Dear Paranormal Fiction (and you too, Urban Fantasy),

There is a place and time for your heroine to volley smart-ass remarks. There is a place and time for your hero to be an insufferable bastard. Everywhere else, please make your characters act like human beings (even if they aren’t).

Gratefully,

Canaries

___

View our other grumbles here.

[ Pitch Slaps ] Weekend Picks

Part of the Pitch Slapped Series:

Blurbs can make or break the a book’s sales, especially if the reader hasn’t heard about the author before. A strong blurb is a must for query letters and getting the book read.

For this latest installment of Pitch Slaps, we’re going to do something different. We’ve talked about a lot of things that go wrong when an author writes a blurb. So instead, here is the cream of the blurbing crop from indie books recently submitted for review.

SECTOR C by Phoenix Sullivan

“Cloning Ice Age mammoths and saber-tooth cats for canned hunts seems like a good business venture — until it reintroduces the species-jumping pandemic that wiped out the megabeasts 10,000 years ago. Now history is about to repeat itself, with humans the next target for extinction.”

What works: In two sentences, the book blurb sets up the world (ours, futurist), genre (science fiction, speculative, medical thriller) and the conflict (extinction! corporation-style). It’s clear, concise, and clever.

What doesn’t: The truth of it is, I cut the rest of the blurb (not shown here), going from four paragraphs to the one (shown here).


The Phoenix and the Dream King’s Heart by James Monaghan

“The Phoenix is a cursed ship.

Exiled to the Darkland Expanse, on the fringes of the known galaxy, its captain and crew have spent the last decade struggling just to stay alive. In a galaxy full of cruel gods, terrifying monsters and treacherous allies, though, survival is far from an easy task.

When the King of Dreams offers them a bargain – retrieve his stolen heart in return for a key that may just get them home – Captain Asher Lee and his crew agree to launch a desperate mission across dimensions. When faced with an insane goddess and her army of quantum spiders, though, do they really have a chance?”

What works: This is an example of a blurb that does it all–dramatic tension, a hint at the plot, and a glimpse of the world. It adds an extra lure by promising to combine science fiction (space, dimensions…) with fantasy (gods, monsters…). And of course, who doesn’t like a story that has some treacherous frenemies?

Torn by Dean Murray

“Shape shifter Alec Graves has spent nearly a decade trying to keep his family from being drawn into open warfare with a larger pack. The new girl at school shouldn’t matter, but the more he gets to know her, the more mysterious she becomes. Worse, she seems to know things she shouldn’t about his shadowy world.

Is she an unfortunate victim or bait designed to draw him into a fatal misstep? If she’s a victim, then he’s running out of time to save her. If she’s bait, then his attraction to her will pull him into a fight that’ll cost him everything.”

What works: This blurb takes a different approach. It woos the reader with the very fact that it presents the traditional star-cross-lovers plotline with a dash of paranormal intrigue. There will be romance and there may be betrayal, it says, and in the YA PNR genre, what more can you ask for?

What doesn’t: As a reader, I would love to see what sets this book apart. There is safety in being generic in this genre, but give me a hint of something concrete.

___

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. 

Read more slapped pitches here.

[ Small Chirp ] New York Times Top 100 Books of 2011

The obvious thing to say about the New York Times list of the  100 noteable books of 2011 is that every book appears on the list is superbly crafted. That gets a resounding ‘duh.’ But mixed among this year’s best selling lit fit, poetry and nonfiction, there are some interesting genre titles that The Canary readers may delight in.

THE LAST WEREWOLF by Glen Duncan. Jake Marlowe, a 200-year-old werewolf, is the last of his kind. But while on the run from both a hunting agency and a horde of vampires, he discovers that perhaps he is not as unique as he once believed. What makes this book particularly noteworthy is the eloquence of the prose. Most reviews go so far as to call the narrative downright poetic, even when describing a werewolf transformation and the kills that follow. I find the concept a nice break from so much of the supernatural lit we’ve gotten as late. This time, the story is not told from the mind of the monster hunter, but rather from the monster himself.

THE LEFTOVERS by Tom Perrotta.  This is by far my favorite title of the year. “The Leftovers” focuses on just that: those unlucky souls who missed the Rapture. Specifically, it focuses on Kevin Garvey who, three years after the “Sudden Departure,” finds himself with a wife who has joined a cult, a son following a character known as the Holy Guru, and a daughter who fallen in with stoners.  The ramifications of the event—which was decidedly nonconformist as it took not only Christians but those across all faiths—echo through the story that is chockfull of satire with a heaping plate of strong characters on the side.  The New York Times summed it up the best: “The Leftovers” is, simply put, the best “Twilight Zone” episode you never saw.”

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami.  On a recent pop into Barnes and Noble, my mother picked up this dictionary-sized book and said, “That better be an awesome story for that many pages.” And from what I’ve heard, awesome doesn’t begin to cover it. Murakami has always been a master storyteller, but never more so than when tackling dystopian lit. Set in 1984 (of course), the story is a combination love-psychological-political-thriller tale, and, in general, defies condensed description of plot. Suffice it to say, it’s crazy—and crazy good.

You can check out the rest of the list here.

What about you, Canaries? What is your favorite book of 2011?