The Blurb. Condensing a 100,000-word manuscript, or a 90-minute performance piece or film, or a 14-song CD into 300 words is a daunting task. But it is probably the single most important step to getting your finished work out there.
The descriptive copy on hardback books is known as “jacket” or “flap” copy. Paperback copy is called “back cover copy.” It can be used in any number of ways – cover letters, press releases, etc. - to promote your work. This writing is meant to give a brief description, grab readers' attention, highlight any reviews, and identify the author. This is where you have about twenty seconds to hook your audience.
Here are a few guidelines for distilling the essence of your work into promotional copy for your book, CD, film, or performance piece.
A-B-C. Accuracy, Brevity, Clarity. Keep in mind the goal of the blurb: to offer a brief summary of your work, engage your prospective audience, and offer them a reason to buy. Do not try to explain every character, plot twist, and feature of your novel. Do not go into all the personal reasons you wrote these songs. Stick with Accuracy, Brevity, Clarity.
Research. Visit a library or bookstore and read jacket copy. Look at copy on different types of books, films, CD’s, focusing on work similar to yours. Whenever you find copy that really grabs your attention, jot down what you like about it.
Have someone else write a synopsis or distillation. Enlist the help of a friend or colleague who is willing to read through your manuscript, watch the video of your performance piece, or listen to your recorded tracks. Have them write a brief summary of your work, noting the specific points or plot elements they liked most. This is a great way to gain a fresh perspective on your work and can be a helpful starting point.
Excerpts. If you're having trouble condensing your project into a few brief paragraphs, comb through your manuscript, play, songs looking for passages or lines to excerpt. Place the passage in quotes and, introducing or underneath the quote, identify the passage as having come from your piece. For example, I summed up my novel and subsequent solo show, Jewish Thighs on Broadway: Misadventures of a Little Trouper, in one phrase— “Breaking into Show Business is like breaking into Fort Knox; breaking out, we’re talking Alcatraz.”
Review quotes. If you've been fortunate enough to have your oeuvre reviewed, include the best quotes from those reviews. Take the most complimentary phrases from the review(s) and put them in quotes on the back cover. Name the source. Note: you can do this even with “bad” reviews…
Author bio. In one short paragraph list your accomplishments, other books you've published, schooling (if it’s MIT or Juilliard), awards, grants, etc. Mention where your work has appeared - newspapers, magazines, online journals, theaters, radio, etc. Establish your authority on the subject. Do NOT include non-relevant accomplishments. Your breakthrough discoveries in vulcanology are not enhanced through mention of your college poetry prizes…
Try it on. Print out or visualize how the copy will look on the jacket and back cover of your book. Keep it BRIEF and MUSCULAR. Invite them in and give them a reason to stay.
Reviews. A good review is the best form of free advertising any artist could hope for, but even a “bad review” is publicity.
Publicity departments of large publishing houses have the resources and staff to send out press releases, bound galleys, and multiple copies of completed books to reviewers. Smaller houses and self-publishers don't have the wherewithal for that. Instead, authors doing their own publicity should send a press release to all appropriate reviewing outlets. The press release should describe your book and highlight what sets it apart that might be worth a review. It should let reviewers know who you are, where you can be reached, and how soon you can get them a manuscript if they request it.
Contact your local newspaper, ask if they review books, and get the name of the appropriate editor. Many alternative weekly newspapers, special interest publications, literary magazines, newsletters, and websites also feature book reviews. The Literary Market Place contains listings and information on many periodicals.
Once the press release is written and mailed, your book may or may not get reviewed. If luck and timing are with you and your book is reviewed, excerpt the most complimentary parts of the review (a word, phrase, sentence, paragraph), and use this quote in a blurb to get the attention of your local bookstore, other reviewers, and publishers.
If you don't promote your work, it won't get promoted. It's worth taking the time to write an accurate, informative press release and send it to reviewers you believe would be most interested. Your ultimate goal is to let as many people as possible know your work is Out There, and having it reviewed is an important element of that process.
Constantly be ready to represent your work or arrange a signing or reading. Easiest is probably the Open Mic. Look for these in local papers, attend the event, and read your work!! Word of mouth is the most powerful advertiser. PS – bring copies to sell. You never know…
Bookstore Readings. Contact the store and get the name and correct spelling of the Community Relations Coordinator. Send this person a professional press kit. Include a copy of your book and any praise your work has received.
Follow up a few days later to ask when might be convenient for you to come in and discuss a possible in-store reading. Don’t just show up and ask to see the CRC without an appointment. Calling or emailing and requesting time is professional courtesy.
If you have done other readings or lectures, be sure to bring flyers, newspaper clippings, or other evidence with you. This can help to sway a planner's decision to give time to an unknown local writer. If you do book the event, help promote it on your own. An article in a local paper or strategically placed posters or flyers around town can only help.
As you're talking with the CRCs, remember that while you know how great your book is, they know the clientele of their stores and what sells. Sometimes they say "no." In some areas, fiction books sell best; in others, political nonfiction packs the room.
Generally, CRCs are gregarious professionals who may have some great suggestions for improving your press kit or recommending other stores where your book may work better. Even if the meeting results in "No, thanks," be sure to send a quick note afterward to thank them for seeing you and to ask them to keep you in mind for other upcoming events. Better to be remembered for that friendly thank you note than as the temperamental Artiste who stormed out in a huff.
Most CRC’s know other event planners within their company and competing companies. A bad impression on one could affect your chances at another store.
Press Release. Probably the most important promotional tool at your disposal is the press release.
Keep it to one page. Your release should be double-spaced, have a killer headline, and start with the standard Who, What, Where, When, Why intro. Your contact info belongs at the top, with additional contact info (website address, phone number, email) at the bottom. Proofread your release!
It’s a good idea to write your press release like a news article with the main point first, followed by further details. Give enough information to get their attention and provoke questions. Write press releases and send them out, if possible, in conjunction with a relevant holiday or event: If your book is about finding True Love, send something out a few weeks before Valentine's Day. Include supporting quotes—these can be from you—or solicit quotes from another writer, a celebrity, or a recognized expert in your field. Stay clear of anything that smacks of hype.
Get accurate contact info and deadlines for releases sent to newspapers and magazines. Many monthly publications have as much as four-months lead time. Get the facts! Spell the editor’s name correctly!
Here’s a tip: fold the letter with copy side out and position it in the envelope so the headline and opening lines of the first paragraph can’t be missed.
If you get “free ink” or any type of feedback as a result of your press release, be sure to write thank-you notes. That’s just good manners. And good manners count!