Wednesday, 21 May 2014


You can tell the same story a hundred different ways. And that is what happened when I sat down to write the cover blurb for Shameless Corruption. Or should I call it 'product description'? Either way, it's the bit that people might read first and think, "Wow, I want to read that," or, "I don't think so!"

Writing blurbs is teaching me more about writing novels than any other practice. It forces me to get to the essence, to cut through the waffle and say out loud, "This is about..."

It should be simple, and like most things that should be simple, it's a difficult process to mistress. I might start with a synopsis, something written to inform a potential publisher, or even myself, who the characters are and what happens in their story.

Then I write the novel, which does take a little time. Then I edit it a few times, which takes a while too. When I go back and look at the synopsis, I realise I have written a different book to the one outlined in the synopsis. I rewrite the synopsis to reflect the completed novel, and send it to the publisher, fingers crossed. I then enter the shadow of the valley of doubt while I await a response. The publisher won't like it. The whole project is misconceived. I have completely failed to tell the story I wanted to tell etc. etc.

I give up hope and start working on a new project. My energy starts to return. I don't care anymore about Shameless Corruption. 

Then an email arrives accepting the novel for epublication, and a date is agreed. Way-hay! I need a blurb now, and I need it fast. I read Shameless Corruption (yet) again. I ask myself, 'what is it about'? I consult the synopsis. Useless. I go through the book, picking out key events, change points for the main characters, emotional highs and lows, choices faced. I cut 65,000 words down to 400, then 300, then 200. Still none of the 20 versions completely satisfy but I have narrowed it down to three main angles. Is it:

   a) To help some business colleagues, Caroline infiltrates a plot to fix the result of the World Cup and ends up in the thrall of the syndicate leader;
   b) To her surprise, Caroline finds the casino exciting, and her reckless gambling takes her to a dark place;
   c) Caroline has until the final whistle of the World Cup to choose between two men, one a dangerously wealthy gambler, the other her husband.

I consult a friend who has worked in films and on games, and she reads my blurbs, confirming they don't cut the mustard. She helps me find the key point, the crux, the choice Caroline makes to go this way or that way. Another ten versions, and I'm still not sure which one will appeal to 'readers', whoever they may be. So I test the blurbs out with a group of writing friends, getting them to tell me which blurbs and phrases work for them. That was REALLY helpful.  And even more helpful, they told me which phrases were likely to make them give the book a miss. Of course, one 200 word piece is not going to impress everybody, but at last I was getting close to something I was happy with.

They told me that angle (c) is the way to go, especially since the choice is not as obvious as it seems. If she chooses to turn down the wealthy man, she risks a lifetime of servitude in a Macau brothel.

I sent the new blurb off to the publisher. Almost by return, I got an enthusiastic, "fantastic. That's great, Robert, but could you get that down to one sentence?"

Bangs head on desk.

The 200 word version is HERE on my author website. Does my blurb work for you? If you have blurb experiences to recount, or snappy blurbs to share, just hit the comment button.

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Who are these people?

The world is divided into voyeurs and exhibitionists... It takes one of each to make a good marriage.

Robert and Caroline Fanshaw are an ambitious young couple trying to make their way in a complex world.

What happens when their private affairs collide with world events and the big issues of our times? Drama, comedy and x-rated scenes.