Writing Tip of the Week: What’s in a Blurb?

Last time, we discussed ways to create a pitch to sell your story to others.  In this post, I want to show some examples of blurbs from different novels and genres.  I grabbed these directly from each author’s website, and links are provided at the end of this post.

As you read through the ones I selected, ask yourself if each blurb covers the basics of the story?  Do the story points included in the blurb hook you as a reader?  Do they make you want to read the book?  Why or why not?  Do the blurbs capture the tone or genre of the novel effectively?  

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least win her first battle. As the daughter of an underground hip hop legend who died right before he hit big, Bri’s got massive shoes to fill. But it’s hard to get your come up when you’re labeled a hoodlum at school, and your fridge at home is empty after your mom loses her job. So Bri pours her anger and frustration into her first song, which goes viral…for all the wrong reasons.

Bri soon finds herself at the center of a controversy, portrayed by the media as more menace than MC. But with an eviction notice staring her family down, Bri doesn’t just want to make it—she has to. Even if it means becoming the very thing the public has made her out to be.

The Stand by Stephen King

One man escapes from a biological weapon facility after an accident, carrying with him the deadly virus known as Captain Tripps, a rapidly mutating flu that – in the ensuing weeks – wipes out most of the world’s population. In the aftermath, survivors choose between following an elderly black woman to Boulder or the dark man, Randall Flagg, who has set up his command post in Las Vegas. The two factions prepare for a confrontation between the forces of good and evil.

It by Stephen King

A promise made twenty-eight years ago calls seven adults to reunite in Derry, Maine, where as teenagers they battled an evil creature that preyed on the city’s children. Unsure that their Losers Club had vanquished the creature all those years ago, the seven had vowed to return to Derry if IT should ever reappear. Now, children are being murdered again and their repressed memories of that summer return as they prepare to do battle with the monster lurking in Derry’s sewers once more.

A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin

Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.

Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met.

Wrapping Up

Now that you’ve read through the ones I picked, I urge you to explore the official websites of your favorite authors and see how their books are described on their sites.  By reading examples in your genre and from authors you enjoy, you can further your knowledge of how to effectively write a blurb or pitch for your own story.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Blurb Sources:

Writing Tip of the Week: So, What’s Your Story About?

When we’ve written something we’re proud of, we often want to share it with others.  When we ask someone to read out work, the typical response is: “What’s it about?” This is usually where we fall into two categories.  

The first is the deer in the headlights look, followed by basic descriptors (“It’s a thriller, and it’s got ghosts.”).  The second is we overexplain to the point that we see the other person’s eyes glaze over.

Neither is the best approach to getting someone to read our work.  That being said, it’s best to have what would be known in Hollywood as an “Elevator Pitch” prepared for your story.  Having this stored in your memory is a great way to concisely tell others about your story to hook them and garner interest.

Let’s talk about it!

What is an Elevator Pitch?

As the name implies, the Elevator Pitch is a 60-second sales pitch for your story.  It should entice and interest the listener to the point that they want to know more.  Think of this as a commercial for your novel or script.  How do you effectively hook someone into buying your product?

We’ve all seen thousands of TV commercials, YouTube ads, movie trailers, and commercials for TV shows. Some get us excited; many others don’t.  The trick is to be in the first category, driving interest toward your project.

But how do you do it effectively?

Begin at the Basics

Can you write down the main plot of your story in one sentence?  Does the sentence present the main character, their opposition, and the primary conflict?  

This should be your first task when coming up with a pitch for your story and can also help you later when you have to write a blurb for the back of the book.  You want to get people to buy the book, giving them just enough information to feel compelled to purchase and read more.

What are two or three key moments in the story?  Do they move the main character in a new direction?  Look at your inciting incident (the moment the main character starts on their journey), the first major plot point, and the story’s mid-point.  These should be major events that drive the story and the character forward, and they are points you can add to your pitch.

Since we want to keep them interested, don’t mention or imply how the story ends; just give them a taste of what the story is about and what happens.

Now you have one sentence with the basics of the story and some key story points outlined.

Genre Matters

It’s also important when working on a pitch to keep your genre in mind.  Is your novel or screenplay a comedy?  Is it horror?  Is it a thriller?  A mystery? 

As you begin to craft your pitch, make sure the tone matches the genre of your work.  If you tell someone about your thriller and they start laughing, that’s a problem.  If you pitch a comedic story and they sit there stone-faced, that’s a problem, too.

I recommend looking at blurbs on the back of books in your genre to see how they set the tone.  Are there ones that work better and hook you more?  Those are the ones you want to emulate tone-wise.

Drafting, Drafting, Drafting

When you first start to draft, overwrite the paragraph to your heart’s content. It’s okay.  

Then, go through the paragraph again and trim it down.  A word here and a sentence there.  You want to fine-tune the pitch to cover the story’s basics in a way that makes someone want to know more.  

This can be a challenging process but take your time.  I recommend reading the paragraph to a few people to get their feedback.  Does it make them want to know more?  Is it too vague?  Too wordy?  Are there any points where they lose interest?

This pitch is your calling card for your work, so make sure to take the time to make this the best sales pitch you can.

Final Thoughts: Not Just Hollywood

While this concept may have originated in Hollywood, this is a great format to practice if someone finds out you’re a writer and asks what you’re working on. It’s also good if a friend or relative asks what your book’s about or any other situation where you have the opportunity to tell someone about your book.

These less-formal situations will also help you gauge interest based on your pitch.  If someone doesn’t seem interested, you can ask them why (don’t get upset or offended).  Especially if it’s your first attempt at pitching, you want to get feedback so you can get better in the future.

Be proud of what you’ve written or what you’re working on.  Sell it to the masses!  Pitch that story!

Happy Drafting, and I’ll see you next time!

If you want to learn more bout Elevator Pitches, I highly recommend the following book:

Writing Challenge of the Week: The Next 99 Days

There are only 99 days until 2023.  If you write 1,010 words daily for the rest of the year and, you’ll have written 100,000 words by the end of 2022!  

100,000 words entering the New Year.  Sounds like a great plan!

Are you up to the challenge?

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Reading Tip of the Week: Planning Ahead for 2023

January 1, 2023, is only a mere 108 days away, and it got me thinking about my reading goals for the coming year. Is it too early to create a reading plan? Perhaps. But, with my current reading goal of 25 books almost completed – I’m at 22 read so far – I was starting to figure out my reading goal for next year.

And, planning ahead of time helps distance it from the stigma of being a New Year’s resolution.

So, let’s talk about it!

Why Have a Plan?

I used to read whatever I wanted and as many or as few books as I felt like each year. But when I started setting a yearly reading goal, it turned reading into a goal-oriented activity. It was a great way to turn off the TV and open a book since I had a set number of books I wanted to read in a year.

A reading plan can also help you stay focused and create a basic schedule to help you reach your chosen reading goal.

How Many Books?

If you’ve never set a reading goal, start with 12 books for the year. That’s one a month, which should be fairly manageable. If you’re an avid reader like myself, you can double that.  

I have seen several people posting their completed 2022 reading goals on social media. One woman has read 172 books and her goal was 80!

Start with a basic number, and if you find yourself burning through books faster than you anticipated, you can always change your goal. For example, I initially started 2022 wanting to read 20 books but realized I would hit that sooner than later, so I upped it to 25.

What Books?

Simple answer: read what you like.  

More complex answer: Vary what you read, so you don’t get into a monotonous cycle that makes you dread picking up a book.  

I like to alternate between fiction and non-fiction, and I also will pick a theme for my non-fiction and stick to it throughout the year. For example, in 2020, I read several non-fiction books about pandemics and plagues throughout history. In 2021, I read about world history. This year, I’ve been focused on biographies about actors and actresses from the Golden Age of Hollywood.

And in between, I read fiction.

Now, you can spin the wheel and choose what books to read and in what order at random, or you can plan out what you’ll read and when you plan to read it.

What About Page Count?

After I read a 900-page biography, I’m not ready to dive into another entry in the Game of Thrones series. I’ll usually grab a shorter book from my shelf or on my Kindle and burn through that before I start another longer book.

Variety is a key factor in keeping the reading momentum going. If you read one of your kid’s books, count it. Reading is reading, and any book you read can count toward your goal total.

Where Can I Keep Track?

You can use several sites and apps to keep track and record your progress. I use Goodreads.com, but apps like StoryGraph or Bookly can work just as well.

Find a site or app that you like and stick with it. Then work toward your 2023 reading goal, knowing that you now have the power to track and complete your stated target.

Final Thoughts

I know it’s early for this post, but, like holiday shopping, sometimes it’s never too early to start thinking about what’s coming sooner than you think.  

By setting a target reading goal and mapping out what you want to read, you can set yourself up for reading success in 2023 and be even more prepared for 2024!

Happy Planning and Reading, and I’ll see you next time!

Writing Tip of the Week: Make Writing a Habit

How often do you sit down and write?  Do you have a word goal?  Page goal?  Chapter goal?  How do you keep track of these measurements?  

Keeping track of your writing productivity is a great way to see your progress daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly as a writer.  Using a basic spreadsheet can assist you in keeping focused on your writing goals and be a great motivator.  It makes it much harder to write “0 words” when you can see the word count achieved daily.

Avoiding the Zero

If you have difficulty sitting down to write, give yourself a simple word count goal: 100 words a day.  You may scoff and say that’s simple, but you should have no problem sitting down and making it happen if it’s easy.

Did 100 for a week?  Great.  Up it to 250.  Then 500.  Then 750.  Eventually, you’ll hit what feels like a comfortable maximum, the amount you can easily do without too much trouble.

Once you reach that number, you can always write more, but now you are at a comfortable and productive daily count.

What Counts as Writing?

Your word count doesn’t have to be you sitting and writing a novel.  It can be writing a blog post, an email, or a newsletter; anything that involves writing can be included in your daily word count.  The key is to sit down and WRITE SOMETHING.

So, if you write 500 words of a short story and write an email to your sister that’s 500 words, you’ve hit 1,000 words for the day.  Awesome!  Want to write more?  Go for it!

Keeping Track

As I said above, you can create a spreadsheet to track your daily word count, but you can also keep track in a journal or on a legal pad.  Some writing programs will also keep track of your writing stats.

From Tracking to Habit

Eventually, your desire to keep your word count going daily will become habitual, and you may become more productive as a writer in the long run.  Comic Jerry Seinfeld uses this tactic and has recommended it to others as a way to keep writing consistently and get better as a result.  Check out the link to the article below about “The Seinfeld Strategy.”

Final Thoughts

Sometimes a visual representation of our progress is a great motivator and can help us stay focused on our present and future goals.  By keeping track of your writing progress and holding yourself accountable, you will write more and improve your writing skills in the long run.

Two books that offer up some great writing productivity tools are linked below:

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Writing Exercise: Clothing Details

I’ve been reading the Game of Thrones novels, and one of the things that stands out to me is the detailed descriptions of each character’s clothing. One to two paragraphs are often dedicated to how a character dresses, which makes sense given the era. Attention to detail can signify a character’s rank, status, and class within the story’s context.

With the unfortunate passing of Queen Elizabeth II and her upcoming funeral service, the images of the Royals and their clothing for key events gave me an idea for a writing exercise.

The Exercise

Pick a member of the Royal family or the Royal staff and write as detailed as possible about what they’re wearing in one to two paragraphs.  

Pay specific attention to the clothing, don’t worry about who’s wearing it.  

This exercise is to work on how detailed and intricate you can describe what your chosen individual is wearing.

Now, suppose you don’t want to use someone from the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. In that case, you can find Google images of Meghan and Harry’s wedding and pick someone from that event.

Bonus Exercise

Find another person wearing one of those intricate hats at the wedding or funeral and describe it in one or two paragraphs. Again, the more detailed your description, the better.

Fine-tune your paragraphs and read over them a few times.

Final Thoughts

A character’s clothing can give us insight into who they are. By showing and not telling, the reader can get a sense of who the character is before a line of dialogue is spoken.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Reading & Writing Exercise: Pick a Chapter, Any Chapter?

It’s time to do some homework!  I know, I know.  But this is valuable homework that can help you become a stronger writer by breaking down and analyzing a published author’s work.

The Assignment

Pick a book – preferably one you’ve read and enjoyed – then choose a random chapter.  Read the chapter from beginning to end two or three times, familiarizing yourself with the style, genre, story points, etc.  

Now, it’s time to dive deeply into the chapter and get into what makes it tick.

The Questions

Ask yourself the following questions as you dig into the chapter.  You may want to write down or type your answers as go:

  • What characters are present in the chapter?
  • What are the relationships between the characters in the chapter?
  • What is the POV of the chapter (first person, third person, third person limited, omniscient)?  Whose POV are we in?
  • What’s the main conflict in the chapter?
  • What information is known at the start of the chapter?
  • What new information is provided or discovered by the end of the chapter?
  • Is there any subtext in the dialogue between the characters?
  • Does the chapter deal with the main plot or a subplot?
  • Does the chapter end on a cliffhanger?  Does the end of the chapter compel you to keep reading?
  • If you’ve read the book, how does this chapter fit into the overall narrative structure of the novel?
  • Are there any weak points or areas of the chapter you feel could be improved?

What’s the Point?

By taking time to analyze a work you enjoy, you can see how the author has structured each chapter as building blocks or puzzle pieces that fit together to create a complete story.  While this is an exercise to delve into one chapter, you can also do this for an entire book to deconstruct the structure, conflict, story, etc.  

You can also do this with screenplays, plays, or short stories to really get a sense of the structure and other elements that make the story work.

Happy Reading and Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Writing Tip of the Week: Should You Invest in a Writing Coach?

Sometimes as writers, we can use a little help. Sometimes it’s fine to call upon family or friends to read our work and give feedback. However, our creative selves should have an objective third-party as an option to read and critique our work to make it stronger. A Writing Coach can be one tool or service you can use to help you get through a rough writing patch.  

Here are some things to consider when looking for a Writing Coach.

Do Your Homework

Not all Writing Coaches provide the same services, and not all Writing Coaches will fit your needs and goals. Look at as many Writing Coach sites and profiles as possible to find ones that seem like a good fit.  

Reach out to the ones you feel will provide you and your writing what you need via email or phone. Many will allow you to schedule a phone consultation and provide a brief description of your writing needs you can submit before the call.

Do You Have a Plan?

Know what you’re looking for in a Writing Coach and your SPECIFIC needs before contacting them. “I want to write a novel” is too vague, as is “I want to write better.” Do you need help staying on track and writing every day? Do you want to write a certain number of words or pages a week? Are you having a creative block and need help getting though it?  

These are all specific areas a Writing Coach can help you with, but make sure you can clearly explain what your goals are before you contact them.

Meeting Your Needs

You have needs and goals with your writing, and the Writing Coach you choose also must be on board with your goals and objectives. Through initial research, you can figure out who is best suited to help you out, but also ask them questions to ensure you are on the same page.

It won’t help you if they aren’t focused on helping you achieve your writing goals, so make sure they clearly understand your needs and see if they are willing to help you reach your goals.

How Motivated Are You?

Hiring a Writing Coach means you are ready to commit to a schedule and coordinate with them to ensure they get what they need from you. Are you willing to challenge yourself and be motivated to complete the goals you have given yourself? If you have committed to the Writing Coach and yourself to write 5,000 words weekly, are you prepared to follow through?  

Remember that a Writing Coach is worthless if you are wasting your time and theirs if you don’t fully commit and start making excuses as to why you haven’t done what you hired them to help you do.

Fitting Your Schedule

Writing Coaches are people with multiple clients who help you with your writing issues and assist you in reaching your writing goals. Make sure you have the time to dedicate to your writing goals and make time to have conversations with your Writing Coach. Some want weekly phone meetings to discuss your submitted work, and others may email pages back with notes.  

Make sure you can take the needed time to meet with them and discuss your work. Don’t waste the Writing Coach’s time and yours by not committing fully to what you set out to achieve.

Fitting Your Budget

Find out how much the Writing Coach charges per week, month, or project, and make sure you can afford it. If you can’t afford to pay $200 a month for a year, figure out what you can get done within a timeframe that fits your budget.

No need to go broke, load on more credit card debt, or cause more financial anxiety in pursuing your creative goals.

Plan ahead and see what works best for you. If you can’t afford it, continue working on your writing and saving money to eventually bring a Writing Coach into your creative process.

Final Thoughts

A Writing Coach can be an excellent tool for your creative tool kit, but make sure you find one that’s right for you, fits your needs, works within your schedule, and definitely fits your budget. If you succeed, they succeed, so make sure you are focused, dedicated, and committed to making your work the best it can be.

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Writing Exercise: A Mundane Task

As writers, we always look for ways to hook and excite the reader.  We want to engage the audience and keep them intrigued by the story from start to finish.  Whether it’s a murder mystery, an action sequence, or a knitting contest, our goal is to keep our readers turning to the next page.

And while creating excitement, conflict, and tension are built into certain events, I wondered this weekend if mundane, day-to-day activities could be written similarly.

  • Pick a mundane task that everyone does (laundry, dishes, paying bills, getting gas or charging your car, etc.).
  • Write it in the first-person POV.
  • Take some time to write out the steps involved in the task in the order that works best for you.
  • Examine the list.  Are there any places where you can add excitement, conflict, or tension?  Where could a problem occur that might prevent you from completing the task?
  • When you set out to write the scene, be as descriptive as possible, making sure to use all five senses to transport the reader to the location and make them feel they are there with you while you undertake this seemingly tedious task.
  • The task should be completed by you as the character by the end of the scene.
  • See if you can write it in 500-words or less.

By taking day-to-day events and finding creative ways to twist them into a compelling narrative, you can enhance your stories and deliver page-turning narratives to your readers.  

If you are working on a story, are there ways to add moments with your character doing day-to-day things that can give us insight into who they are as a person?  Are there ways you can give this run-of-the-mill task a boost by having the character do it uniquely?

Happy Writing, and I’ll see you next time!

Readers, Have You Ever Suffered From Reader’s Block?

I recently discovered that the concept of Reader’s Block is a thing, and I was curious to learn more; and I thought we’d explore this idea together.

Let’s talk about it!

What Exactly Is Reader’s Block?

The phase Reader’s Block is attributed to The Guardian journalist Stuart Jeffries whose definition is “a difficulty readers encounter due to the pressure they feel to read critically-lauded or canonical books, even when they don’t enjoy them.”  

I also found another definition by another writer who stated that Reader’s Block is “an overwhelming urge to read all the books but can’t concentrate on any of them.”

Both are interesting definitions and ones that do makes sense.  Still, the second one accurately describes how most avid readers feel at least a few times a year.  There are so many books and only so many hours in a year to dedicate to reading them.

My Definition

I have had what I would consider Reader’s Block, but my definition differs from the two above.  Sometimes I have blown through a great book in a few days, only to have difficulty finding another book to read that grabs like the previous one.  So I jump from book to book, trying to find another novel that hooks me like the last one.  

When you can’t find a book that hooks you immediately and reading starts to become a chore and not enjoyable is when I feel you have Reader’s Block.

I read a lot, and when you get on a good run of books, you can easily get a Reader’s High.  But when you hit a wall, and you can’t engage with a book – for whatever reason – it can be frustrating being unable to focus and get back into that mindset.

Defeating Reader’s Block

If you find yourself with any of these forms of Reader’s Block, don’t panic.  Everyone has stuff going on in their lives that can make focusing on reading more difficult.  So, let’s look at ways to overcome this not-so-dire problem.

Take a Break

Even if you are working on reading a certain number of books by the end of the year, take a few weeks off from reading.  I’ve done this after reading a really good book in a short time.  It gives your mind time to process what you’ve read and can help you make an easier transition to the next book.

Stick with the Familiar

Don’t want to take a break but still having trouble?  Stick with the same author or genre.  This will keep your momentum going, and if you like the author, you know you’ll have a great experience with the next book.

Re-Read Your Favorite Book

Have a favorite book?  Pick it up again and re-read it.  You’ll probably get something different out of it the second or third time, plus it’s a book you know you enjoy.

Switch Things Up

Or, you can shift your focus.  I like to alternate between fiction and non-fiction books each time to read different genres and real-world topics.  

Other Ideas

If these ideas don’t work, check out the articles below for further ways to overcome Reader’s Block:

5 Uncommon Ways to Overcome Reader’s Block

How Do I Cure My Reader’s Block?

Is Reader’s Block Real?

Tips for Overcoming Reader’s Block

Final Thoughts

While Reader’s Block isn’t the end of the world, it can be frustrating to deal with if you’re an avid reader.  By taking small steps to resolve the problem, you can defeat this enemy of literary enjoyment and get back to what you love most: the written word.

Have you ever had Reader’s Block?  How did you fight through it?  Leave a comment and let me know!

Happy Reading, and I’ll see you next time!