A Guide To Blurbs: What They Are, Why They Sometimes Suck, And How You Can Help Me Write A Better One.
OK, I did an experiment on Twitter last week: I asked for feedback on the shoutline for my next novel. (The shoutline is the sentence on the front of a book that - ideally – is so intriguing, and so right, that the book’s Ideal Readers pick it up.)
The result was so interesting, and useful, that I've decided to throw open the mysterious and arcane process of writing the blurb of the book. The blurb is all the stuff on the back cover. It's usually written by the editor, the author, or both. (Though some publishers, like Penguin, employ professional copywriters.)
Trouble is, the editor’s an editor, not an author. And the author… well, authors cannot describe their 100,000 word books in 100 words. It’s a natural law. Asking a novelist - who’s just delivered a book - to write their own blurb is like asking a marathon runner, as they stagger over the finish line, to run a 100m sprint.
And professional copywriters… they get it done, but where is the love? Yes, some copywriters are superb. But others often don’t even read the book.
Which is why blurbs - even on great books - often suck.
So let’s see if we can craft an unsucky blurb.
I'll put the rough draft of the blurb here (actually, my eighth draft – you really don’t want to see the first). You can comment right below it, or tell me what you think on Twitter (I'm @juliangough), or email me directly at my secret email address ( email@example.com ).
I'd love to hear what you like, but also what you don't like, and why. "I hate it" and “I love it” are both useful, but not as useful as "I hate the way you give away the ending" / "I love any book containing monkeys" / "When it mentioned he had two penises, I got interested."
If you’re feeling tremendously motivated (or the day stretches before you, bleak, endless, like a glimpse into the abyss), you can read a short story adapted from the novel here, to get a feel for the tone I want. Remember, the blurb should accurately reflect the book… we’re not trying to lie to people here, or seduce absolutely every customer in the shop. We just want to draw the attention of the Ideal Readers for this particular, slightly unusual, book.
OK, here we go... I would really appreciate it if you would tweet about this, or link to it, because the more people who comment (ESPECIALLY people who don't know my work already), the more helpful and useful this will be to me. Thanks!
((The shoutline & blurb work with the cover image, which also gives you important information. So… ))
The front cover:
((It’s a photograph. Deep snow. In the distance, under a pale blue sky, the tops of famous London buildings stick up out of the snow. In the foreground, big, we see the back of someone’s legs, standing in the snow. Possibly wearing home-made rabbitskin trousers. The footprints show he is walking towards London. Lying in the snow at his feet, a red lipstick.))
AUTHOR: Julian Gough
TITLE: Jude in London
SHOUTLINE: Here at last. Only the billionaires, the monkeys, and The Thing left to beat.
A novel which does for the sleepy English town of London what The Simpsons did for Springfield.
“The Death of the Author is on your conscience!”
It was. “Sorry,” I said.
It’s Jude’s first day in London. The young orphan dines on roadkill, wrestles a monkey, makes a porn film, wins the Turner Prize, battles The Thing, visits brothels, and kills the Poet Laureate. He is shot at, kidnapped, thrown overboard from a tycoon’s yacht, and forced to discuss literature in a pub of excessive Irishness. But can Jude find his True Love, in the labyrinth of the city, with its countless temptations?
“The biro fell from my hand.
I felt even more light-headed than usual. I looked down.
Alice removed her jane smiley from my philip k dick. She had given me an updike with the durability and tensile strength of mahogany.”
Yes, love's a puzzler…
Jude in London is a comic epic for anyone who loves Roddy Doyle, PG Wodehouse, Samuel Beckett and Kafka, but wishes their books had more explosions.
What a day! And I had never got my cup of tea.
((This next bit should be beside the barcode, like a May Contain Gluten warning. The word WARNING should be readable, and perhaps in red, but the rest should be so incredibly small they’re hard to read.))
WARNING: This novel was produced in a writing environment that also processes pop songs, computer games, and comics. May contain traces of the 21st century.
Inside front cover:
"Julian Gough is not a novelist" - the New York Times.
"Julian Gough is a wonderful writer" - Sebastian Barry
"Julian Gough’s notion that shouting the word 'feck' and being grossly scatological will make him seem echt Irish only harms his argument." - John Banville
"The ultimate Irish joke. Sheer comic brilliance." - The Times.
Jude in London is the second volume in the Jude trilogy. (Though it works brilliantly on its own.) The cult radio play, The Great Hargeisa Goat Bubble, is adapted from it.
The prologue to the trilogy (“The Orphan and the Mob”) won the biggest prize in the world for a single short story - the BBC National Short Story Award – and represented Ireland in the Dalkey Archive anthology Best European Fiction 2010.
Volume one of the trilogy (Jude in Ireland) was shortlisted for the PG Wodehouse Prize for comic fiction. In 2010, it was named by the Sunday Tribune as Irish Novel of the Decade.
Inside back cover:
A PHOTO OF MY HEAD. Not this one.
Julian Gough was born in London, grew up in Ireland, and now lives in Berlin. In his youth, he sang with underground literary pop band Toasted Heretic. They released four albums, and had a top ten hit with the single "Galway and Los Angeles", a song about not kissing Sinead O'Connor.
He is the author of the novels Juno & Juliet, Jude in Ireland, and Jude in London. His collected poems and lyrics, Free Sex Chocolate, were published by Salmon in 2010.
He is probably best known for stealing Will Self’s pig.
More quotes saying how great I am / how I’m a threat to Western civilization.
OK, and finally (but quite importantly); we came up with two different versions of the shoutline on Twitter. I’d love if you’d vote for your favourite. Just say either 1 or 2, anywhere in your comment/tweet/email, I’ll know what you mean…
1 Here at last. Now only the billionaires, the monkeys, and The Thing left to beat.
2 Getting here nearly killed him. Now he must fight gravity, billionaires, monkeys, and The Thing, to win his True Love.
And that’s it! Tell me what you think, below, or on Twitter, or by email.
Oh, and when this is all over, I’ll send a signed, finished copy of Jude in London to the person who made my favourite suggestion.
(SMALL PRINT: Judging will be cruel, arbitrary, unfair, and I’ll probably give it to someone who makes me laugh and doesn’t even make a sensible suggestion. No need to worry about your address now, I’ll ask you for it when you win.)
Thanks again in advance…