In theory, we don’t judge a book by its cover. In practice, we judge the hell out of it, then flip the book over and read the blurb. If we’re still undecided about purchasing it, the blurb will be the decider.
The blurb answers the chief query about any book: ‘What’s it about?’ That is: ‘What is the plot?’ But the blurb goes farther – must go farther – than just ‘man bites dog’; it must tell you who the man is, why he bit the dog, and what was the fallout of the attack on the mutt.
P = (x + y) / z
where P is the plot or blurb; x is the story’s protagonist or main character; y is something they must do in order to get something else; z is the story’s antagonist or baddie.
P: Make no mistake, your blurb is a massive selling point for your book. Make sure all the juicy elements of the tale are in the blurb. It’s no use keeping huge plot points or characters out of the blurb because you want to ‘surprise’ readers. Think about movie trailers. Some blockbusters put all their plot twists and all their main scenes on show. This gets bums on seats. You need to get eyes on pages.
x: Unless you’re writing an epic spanning centuries and galaxies, there will be one central character in your book. Drama is based on tension, so that character must be facing some obstacle to be overcome, whether it’s getting a coffee or saving the world.
y: This is the exciting bit, the bit that clinches the sale. You could have the most interesting characters ever, but unless they go on an interesting journey or tackle a seemingly impossible crisis, there is no story. Imagine if Frodo decided to stay at Bag End smoking his pipe. What if Leopold Bloom decided to stay in bed? No journey equals no story. PLUS, there must also be a reason for the journey. Frodo had to go to Mount Doom to destroy the ring OR ELSE Sauron would take over Middle Earth. BUT Frodo was the least likely hero at the beginning of the book. It would be less a story if Gandalf had knocked on Han Solo’s door or enlisted the Terminator into the fellowship.
z: The journey by the main character must be undermined all the time by the main baddie – the Sauron of your book. Yes, your Frodo must overcome mental and physical obstacles. Guess what? There’s an evil bastardo somewhere doing his/her upmost to stop your hero. Great! Of course, the z is the denominator in our blurb fraction. The fraction must be top heavy (but seem bottom heavy to readers until the very end!). This means the z cannot be worth more than x+y, otherwise the book will fail. Imagine the famous Godzilla v Bambi story. In a simple clash, you wouldn’t put your money on the fawn; that book would be half a page long. However, set Bambi off on a voyage of discovery where he finds out he has hidden talents for unarmed combat and laser eyes and is given a potion for super-strength by a mysterious deer-ghost, then your x+y becomes a match for your z. BUT WAIT! You can’t have your hero smash the villain on page 4. Do you think Harry Potter would have been as good if Ron Weasley was the bad guy instead of Lord Voldemort? No, your baddie should be a good match for your goodie!!
Okay, once you have inputted your variables into the equation, what should you get? Well, if your hero is great and your story is great AND your villain(s) is great, then P should be just over 1. If it’s too large, then your villain is a Weasley; if it’s too small, then your hero is a Bambi…
I’ve just written the blurb for my first novel, Mrs God. Take a wander over to the website and check its X, Y and Zs!