[Pitch Slapped] A blurb shouldn’t need a glossary

Today’s blurb is brought to you by sci-fi fantasy sequel The Anmorian Legends: Legacy of the Sentinels by indie author Dhesan Neil Pillay.

Here’s the blurb that landed on our sacrificial altar:

“Following the battle between Thaedis and Rezaaran, The Anmorian Legends: Legacy of the Sentinels sees the young War Mage embark on a journey of redemption. However, in the wake of Thaedis’s victory on Zynoo, the Intergalactic Revolution of Independent Systems (IRIS) has lost a considerable margin against the tyrant’s Obsidian Dominion. The hope of freedom seems ever more distant.

Despite the odds, Rezaaran remains steadfastly determined and endeavours to unite a group of fabled warriors. But will this be enough to save Anmor from the coming darkness and defeat the nefarious villain who has bested him once before?”

The first, feathery impressions:

Pitch Questions.jpg

You can probably tell that I was thoroughly confused.  Are Thaedis and Rezaaran names of countries or different factions? Is Zynoo a place? What’s the connection between the young war mage, Thaedis, Rezaaran, Zynoo, Anmor, Obsidian Dominion, and the Intergalactic Revolution of Independent Systems? what is a “journey of redemption” and why? How is finding fabled warriors a redemption plot?

I went back and read the blurb for book one to see if that might help me figure things out. Continue reading

[Pitch Slapped] The fewer words, the more each one matters.

“I am wondering if I lost something in the whittling down of this blurb.”

If you’ve gotta ask…

From that sentence alone, I know author David Wozniak totally knew in his heart of hearts what would happened when he cut his 200-word blurb to his 50-word elevator pitch and sent it into our merciless canary claws.  The skies grew dark, women wailed in the streets, old men grew sorrowful and still.

Because, let’s face it, there’s nothing harder than trying to distill the essence of a 50,000+ word story into a few pithy sentences.

But let’s back up and take a look at David’s elevator pitch:

“Each year, Master Voider Democryos sends his brightest student into the war-torn countryside to work magic. But when the young Lady Marine leaves him for another man, he finds his own life ravaged.  Forsaking the comfort of the citadel, he seeks to find her–not to gain her back, but to gain understanding.

Nothing goes as planned.”

First thought: The fewer words, the more each word matters.

In such a short piece, every word carries huge weight. Protip: Avoid using words that have no meaning to the reader. An easy example of this is “Master Voider” – I don’t know what it is, and that’s distracting. Continue reading

[Pitch Slapped] A book blurb is no place for world-building

Happy Monday, canaries. We bring you a pitch-slapping to get this week rolling right. Today, we’ll be taking a look at the place that world-building has in blurb-writing. (Because the title of this post clearly isn’t spoiler enough.)

But before I dive into that, here is  Heena Patwa’s blurb for her novel, Impossible to Love:

There is an age old story – some call it a myth, some believe it to be history. Nevertheless, the fact remains that there exist three different species who look alike. First are the underwater dwellers – the nymphs. The myth says that they are cursed never to find love. They are all females and mate with humans, killing them after the act. Second are the starlites. They can fly, and their hearts are cold as the snow covered peaks they live in. They are cursed never to feel love or get loved by anyone. The third is the human race. Humans can feel love, get love, cherish it and hence are considered worthy to rule everyone. The guardians are a group of starlites whose job is to protect the humans from the nymphs and they have got a new member- Sophia Antofurota.

Sophia gradually finds out that the royalty is hiding many secrets but never suspects that she can have any part to play in their schemes. Will she find out that the crown-prince is in love with her or will the world keep believing that starlites are impossible to love?

So…guys. Here’s the thing. Stop world-building in your book blurb.

The trivia about the race system in this world might be interesting and relevant to the overall plot, but it’s a problem when we don’t actually find out what the story is about until the tenth sentence in a story summary. In fact, of the 192 words in this blurb, only the last 72 talk about what the characters and plot. That’s the equivalent of having the first 189 pages of a 300-page story be about the details of the world’s myths and geography, and the last 100 pages, the actual story.

I don’t care how clever or unique your world system, or your five-class society, or your alternative reality. At most, you get half a sentence to describe your super special world-concept, and that’s only if it’s super vital to the story.

If I cut the world-building, here’s what we get: Continue reading

[Pitch Slap] Readers read words, not minds

Another pitch slap article.

One of the best bits of fortune cookie-style writing advice I’ve ever gotten has been this: Readers read words, not minds. 

When a reader picks up a book, they’re reading the words, the paragraphs, the chapters. It no longer matters what the author meant, or wanted to imply, or included in the 50-page compendium of world-building notes. The words on the page are all.

Here’s the thing: Writers read with their minds, readers read with their eyes. The writer already knows what’s happening, what it all means, why the characters do what they do, all before ever sitting down to look through what they’ve written. It all makes sense, not because the words-on-the-page explain it, but because the writer’s brain knows all.

All this leads me to our latest 50-word story summary sent in earlier this month by author B Hughes-Millman for some feedback.

Title: Purgatory’s Angel
Genre: Paranormal Romance

Once a mighty archangel, Jaime is on earth hunting those who kill the innocent in their sleep. Then she meets the handsome demon in a dream she can’t remember. When she wakes, he’s still alive, but he must have died or she wouldn’t have woken.

I think you know where I’m going with this. Here are some off-the-cuff thoughts as I read:

Angel girl

I suspect none of these oddball questions I asked even occurred to the author. But the reader doesn’t have the advantage of seeing around the corner. The reader doesn’t have the author’s mental footnotes and annotations. More clarity is needed.

Wait, don’t you want to get your readers curious? Make them ask questions? Continue reading

[Pitch Slap] Playing chess with vampires, and other unfortunate encounters

When Vanya Ferreira sent in his short story blurb for a Pitch Slap, we hesitated. I usually don’t look at short stories, but this canary has a weakness for anything to do with vampires, so there you go. Exceptions are made. This is how civilizations end.

In 45 words, the blurb sets out to capture the essence of the story. In general, the fewer words you get, the more tempting it is to be vague – to go broad. But vague language is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It will lure you in by promising to tell the story of your book, and then turn to the reader and say nothing at all.

Resist.

The sharper your words, the less you cry, to reword a recent cooking memoir title.

Here’s what Vanya sent us:

Title: The Story of Lucius Cane

Summary: London, 1794. Lucius Cane, a peculiar vampire, comes upon an opponent the likes of which he has never seen before – a brute with remarkable abilities. But not all is as it seems as their encounter unfolds in a manner that neither of them expected.

Lots of things to like here. Immediately, we get the setting and time period, quick and tight. London, 1795. Now we know place and time, andwith the next five words – the main character’s name and genre. Historical fantasy with a vampire character.

Then, just as I’m expecting the blurb to zoom me into the story…it doesn’t.  It backs off. It goes vague.

London, 1794. Lucius Cane, a peculiar vampire, comes upon an opponent the likes of which he has never seen before – a brute with remarkable abilities. But not all is as it seems as their encounter unfolds in a manner that neither of them expected.

Interpretation: Mr. Vampire and his opponent are playing chess. Being a vampire chess player is hard. Everyone tries to schedule the match close to dawn and don’t get me started on the unfounded accusations that you use bats as a distraction.

Now, in the real story, Mr. Vamp and Mr. Opponent are probably not playing chess.* There’s a higher likelihood that the vampire gets into a fight with someone over something and something happens.

Which…is the summary of pretty much every vampire/adventure story ever. And the very definition of a story.

Here’s what happens when I switch in some concrete, specific plot:

“London, 1794. Lucius Cane, an ancient vampire, comes upon a dangerous hunter, the first creature in more than three hundred years to be a threat – a brute with the teeth of a shark and the eyes of a lost soul. But though a vicious fight leaves both injured, Cane cannot shake the feeling he’s met this creature before.”

“London, 1794. Lucius Cane, a bespeckled vampire, is searching for the Librarian – a brute with the power to absorb words from books and throw them like hunting knives. But not all is as it seems as Lucius gains the Librarian’s help and his book hunt leads the two to a lost colony of angry unicorns.”

“London, 1794. Lucius Cane, a playboy vampire, finds his match when he meets a butler who refuses him entry to the country estate – a brute who seems immune to Lucius’ hypnotic powers. But as Lucius tries to get an invitation to enter before sunrise ends the party inside (and him), he can’t figure out how he is foiled at every turn by a mere mortal…”

“London, 1794. Lucius Cane, a powerful vampire who often escorts young ladies home from their parties, finds his evening snack interrupted by a hooded  figure – a brute who walks with a limp and knows Crane’s name. Crane ends up losing his dinner. Is he about to lose his life, too?”

 And, of course, the chess story:

London, 1794. Lucius Cane, a vampire and chessmaster cursed to have to finish every game he plays, finds himself stumped by a player who matches his every move – a brute with the muscles of an ox and the eyes of a mastermind. As night creeps towards dawn, Crane knows he has to win soon or his curse will keep him trapped there past sunrise.

The original blurb does itself no favors by trying to create an aura of mystery and playing coy. It’s the details that make the readers’ ears perk up.

Be crisp about what’s happening. Show us what’s at stake.**

Canaries, over and out.

*Though how cool would it be, if they were? Someone, write this story!
**Pun absolutely intended.

Do you have a pitch or synopsis that you’d like to send to the sacrificial altar? Email it our way  to canarypost@gmail.com. You can also read more Pitch Slaps here. 

[ Pitch Slapped ] Dragons and the Perks of Being Straightforward

Let’s face it. The best stories are complex, convoluted little things. We love it when fantasy and sci fi attack the usual tropes from new angles and make the weirdest premises feel completely natural. That’s the wonder of it. But trying to put these ideas into a story’s blurb can be a real challenge. There’s barely enough space to write out the bare bones of plot – and that’s without that extra paragraph saying “Wait, wait, this makes sense and it’s actually really cool!” What to do?

But before we get into that, let’s see this week’s blurb from Amy Rareberth Mead’s dark epic fantasy novel, Dragon Marked: Continue reading

[ Pitch Slapped ] Selling the story without the blurb

Before the writer even gets into the plot of their novel, they give a paragraph that we at tCR like to call a “Concept Pitch.” It’s a place where introductions happen, the basic concept of the novel is laid out, genre comparisons are made, and–in general–the part of the pitch where mistakes abound.

Here is a recent email we received in our inbox:

“Hello,

I am an indie writer, according to descriptions I have been reading on the internet lately, and I think I like that much more than just being someone who put her book up on Kindle.  I came to your site while searching for sites that are willing to accept submissions from said indie writers like myself. My twitter handle is WordsWithDani.

I’ve recently published the first volume of The Duck And The Doe series. It is a historical fiction/horror/murder mystery/romance told from first person POV of a two-hundred year old immortal who had a dry wit and love/hate relationship with the mistress that he damned along side him. They are not vampires. I cannot strees that point enough. i keep finding myself lumped into that whole “paranormal romance” but the whole premise is really more of launchpad to explore other issue like the accerlation of technology and society in the past 200 years and how relationships of any nature are not cleanly cut little cookies. Immortality cannot be invoked without some sort of magical mumbo jumbo.

According to the Amazon product description-“

At this point, the author dives into the official blurb. But the first impression of the novel has already been created. Continue reading

[ 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.

[ Pitch Slapped ] On How We Missed The Point Completely

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, and in this article, the canaries try to slap a pitch into shape.

As a rule, the canaries don’t accept stand-alone short stories for reviews (anthologies only), but when Terra Harmony sent us an inquiry about her recent story, Gleaming White, we bent our rules a bit.

I’m going to start with the official blurb we got:

What did you think?

First, let’s talk about what I think the blurb did right. Harmony made the good call of writing a short blurb for a short piece. A novel would have demanded a bit more meat, but when the piece is only 13,000 words and not part of an anthology (rather unusual, by the way, in terms of marketing), short is good. Still, it has two main weaknesses: an unclear story arc and shifts in focus.

So here is my feathery reaction:

Right now, here’s the story I’m seeing:

  1. Sister is murdered.
  2. Heroine is angsty and suicidal.
  3. Murdering vampire is sexy.
  4. “Your blood is yummy.”
  5. “Pease kill me, Mr Hawt Vampire!
  6. ???????
  7. PROFI—err, I mean, Happily Ever After.

Content Issues:

The blurb begs all sorts of questions, the biggest of which is this: if she wants to die, what that Mr. Hawt Vampire have to do with anything? If she wants to take her life, who cares what he wants for lunch?

Nowadays, most readers expect some vague presence of a spine in their heroines. Sure, the macho, domineering (yet oh-so-sensitive) male is an all-time favorite, but the girl better at least pretend to take a stab at having some level of independence. If she wants to kill herself, why is he deciding her “fate”? Personally, I’m irritated at the implication that the guy is only interested in the girl for her physical attributes (“her taste”) and that the girl refuses to do a thing unless the man tells her she can.

This might not be the story at all, but the core issue is that it’s what the blurb makes me think the story’s about.

Which details matter?

Our recent poll showed that’s one of the top questions for authors.

1. Does Twin Sister’s Death play a real part of the story, or is it the token trauma along the lines of “Oh no, they burned up my village!”? Does the main plot relate directly to this death, or is it background noise?

By placing the death in the very first sentence, the reader is told that this is one of the most important elements of the plot.

2. Does she want to die or doesn’t she? Our heroine is facing three conflicts by the end of the story: dealing with her twin’s death, dealing with Mr. Vampire’s interest, and wanting to die.

The only way I see the current story working would be if it were a careful and intense study of the human psyche and the grieving process—and perhaps elements of Stockholm Syndrome and that power dynamic of victim and captor.

But…this isn’t Literary Fiction. The length and the genre (paranormal romance) suggests that the story follows a plot along the lines of a Romeo & Juliet–girl-meets-boy, girl-realizes-boy-isn’t-as-evil-as-she-thought, boy-and-girl-lovey-doveyness. In that case, a different angle would probably be a whole lot more appropriate (say, she is in despair and wants to die when Mr Vampire finds her, and he shows her that maybe the entire world isn’t such a dark place. But will she be able to deal with her feelings for a vampire when it was a vampire who killed her sister? Dun dun dun.)

3. Whose perspective are we following in the pitch? This is a big question, so let’s hear more about it in the following section:

Ambiguity of perspective: What is our point of view?

The Blurb:

  • They stole from her.
  • A man is seduced.
  • She wishes.
  • He must decide.

We go from they to him to her.

The story from they-point-of-view: “They kill, and now they need to deal with this illicit romance crap between vampire and food.”

The story from his-point-of-view: “He discovers a girl who tastes really good. He’d like to keep her, but she’s been badly hurt by her sister’s murder and wants to die.”

The story from her-point-of-view: “She’s lost her sister when the vampires killed her. Now another vampire has decided she’ll be his food supply. She wants to die, but he won’t let her.”

See how the story shifts each time? A good rule of thumb is to make sure that the POV of the pitch matches the POV of the story. Here I’ll go with the assumption that the story is written at least 60% from the heroine’s perspective (most romance is).

The problem, though, is that none of these are particularly romantic. Blame the story? Or blame the blurb? We’ll blame the blurb. Let’s see if we can spin it.

The Revised Blurb:

Conclusion:

Now we have a clear speaker, a little more detail, and less of weak-willed heroine. The main thrust of the plot is still a mystery ( a good thing for a short story) but there is enough mystery to at least pull the reader into the first paragraph.

The difficulty for the author here was in taking those few steps back away from the story and examining, ‘What is the pitch actually saying to the reader?’ This, more often than not, is one of the biggest challenges for the writer. Here, all the picky details that put me off in the initial version are brushed over. Once the reader takes the bait, it’ll be up to the story to make those details work.

Post Script From The Desk of CanaryTheFirst:

We had finished the article, and were bouncing around title ideas (“Look Who’s Talking”, “Seeing What’s Not There”…)  when it hit me. The vampires had stolen “the life of her twin sister” and now the heroine wants to “join” her sister. We were coming at it from the wrong angle.

So so wrong.

This isn’t about a murdered sister and a revenge-vs-romance plot! This is about the sisters reconciling (maybe) and the heroine wanting to be turned into a vampire.

Oh. Oh dear.

Suddenly, the line about “he must decide her fate” makes sense. And theothercanary felt more than a little deflated–suddenly, this seemed like a run-of-the-mill vampire story. So what this blurb is truly missing, is that something special that would set this story apart from the undead hoarde.

But only the author knows what that extra spark is.

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.

[ Pitch Slapped ] Huh?

Part of the Pitch Slapped Series:

When Randy Attwood sent us his pitch, his big question was this: “Could reverse psychology work?”

We perked up. Now this promised something different.

The blurb began, “This is strange. I need to warn you away from this book.”

Canary The First and I exchanged an e-glance, and then we dove in. A few minutes later, we replied to the email: Thanks for sending us your pitch. We have a quick question: what’s the story about?

Because, even after reading the pitch, neither of us had a clue. With thrillers, there is a fine line between intriguing obscurity and flat-out confusing. You want to draw the reader in with tantalizing half-details, revealing a little of the plot from a sideways angle. The approach this author took certainly was sideways—but it was also upside-down and backwards. I was so confused by it that CanarytheFirst actually had to hold my hand and walk me through it.

Let’s see that original pitch:

Click to full-view!

My first issue (beyond general, feathery confusion) is the tone. As authors, we tend to talk about our characters like they’re real people. And that’s okay when we’re in writing groups or chatting with other authors. But when you present that face to the real world, people tend to give you sidelong looks and look for the fastest exit from the conversation.  And it’s never good to give the impression that you, the author, are not in complete control of the story. That is a one-way ticket to a reader not trusting you. Speaking of trust…

An aside about genre declarations: So, per author request, I can’t tell you what the erotica/porn bit is about. But, as I now know, it really isn’t porn or erotica. It is so far from either that the suggestion actually made CanaryTheFirst get a little (read: a lot) ragey. Mentioning the Erotica genre there almost seems like a last-ditch attempt to appeal to the part of the human brain that likes it some sex.

But there is no worse sin in pitch writing than to offer a false promise. If it’s not about erotica, don’t even mention it.

Back to the pitch: When we emailed the author to ask what the story was about, we got a traditional pitch back. And it wasn’t as intriguing. Attwood was right about one thing: coming at it sideways is the best bet for this story. But how to do it without being so confusing that a reader will simply shake her head and put the book back down?

It’s all about one thing: establishing the oddity.

There are several popular books out these days that are presented as ‘the author didn’t write this, merely reported it.’ Most recently reviewed by tCR is the Rick Riordan’s Kane Chronicles series in which Riordan claims to have discovered the audio recordings of the book you hold in your hands. Similar approaches was used for oodles of classics as well—such as Nathanial Hawthorne begging away the real-world diary that was the basis for The Scarlet Letter.

The author-as-narrator is a staple of 19th century literature. But to approach the pitch like that, you have to establish just how you came across the story that you are now writing (a recording, a diary, letters, oral tradition, etc).

Tangent from CanaryTheFirst: Presenting the pitch from the point of view of the “I” of the author sets up the entire trajectory of the narration. With this approach, the reader will be expecting to read a novel framed in terms of an outsider-narrator. If the book itself is written as most thrillers are, bouncing between the points of view of different characters, having a pitch such as this one will create unmet expectations–just as it would if you were to present the Harry Potter books with a blurb from Snape’s perspective.

Now back to the story. Let’s give the pitch another try:

The core idea of the pitch is still there—the unknown parts of the neighborhoods, the author’s hesitation to tell a grisly tale. But now the pitch itself tells a cohesive story. No, it may not be the story contained in the pages, and that is for the author to tweak, but hopefully it is enough to make you want to open the book and find out just what had happened to those people that would scare an outsider so badly.

And now we come back to the author’s question: “Could reverse psychology work?”

Perhaps.  But as anyone who has ever argued with siblings/friends/pet cats knows, having someone try reverse psychology on you is just obnoxious.  As my revision above demonstrates, creating an intriguing premise or setting up a mystery the reader wants to unravel is a stronger approach than telling the reader not to pick up the book.

There’s urgency in this pitch—and that makes it irresistible.

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.