This week: Annoying Writing TasksEdited by: Max Griffin 🏳️🌈
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Writing the Synopsis, Teaser, and Blurb
When I decided to start writing fiction, I thought it couldn’t be that hard. After all, I already knew how to write, and I’d read hundreds of novels and short stories. Of course, with that attitude you can guess that my first efforts at fiction were worse than bad. In fact, they were horrible. But then I joined Writing.Com and was lucky enough to be invited to join a critique group that included several experienced authors and editors. These incredibly generous people took my stories apart and taught me the basics of craft. It was as intense as the seminars I’d taken in graduate school when I learned how to be a mathematician. They taught me what makes a piece of fiction work.
Before long, I had a novel they said was ready to submit to a publisher. Then they told me I need to write a summary. “What’s that?” I asked.
That’s where things got kind of fuzzy. I mean, I’m sure they gave me good, accurate answers, but I didn’t understand what they were saying. I kept trying to use the show-don’t-tell knowledge and all the other things I’d learned about crafting fiction, and would up with ponderous, two- and three-thousand-word synopses. Eventually, with lots of help, I hammered out a synopsis and sold the novel, but then the publisher wanted a blurb and a teaser. More anguish, since I thought I’d just done that.
The lesson I eventually learned was that I needed a different set of skills to sell my novel, first to a publisher and then to readers. I needed to learn how to write successful synopses, blurbs, and teasers. That’s three different sets of skills, by the way, one for each document. That’s in addition to the set I needed to write effective fiction.
No wonder writing synopses, blurbs and teasers are among the most loathed tasks in the author’s portfolio. The good news is that these skills aren’t as challenging as learning good craft in fiction. It’s just that most authors, myself included, find them annoying. It’s a lot more emotionally rewarding to write effective fiction rather than copyediting marketing blurbs. But, I want people to read what I’ve written, so I’m stuck. You will be, too, if you want others to read your works.
I eventually understood the purpose of these three items. In order to sell my novel to an editor or agent I needed a synopsis. After the sale, the publisher wanted a blurb and a teaser to sell my novel to readers. The synopsis is to help the acquisitions editor decide whether to sign a contract on my book, while the blurb and teaser are to entice potential readers to purchase the actual book once the it's published. All three are about sales, just with different audiences, different goals, and thus different writing needs.
In the past blurbs and teasers appeared on the jacket of a hardcover or the back cover of a paperback, but today the most important place for these is in Amazon listing for your novel. Since Amazon only lists the first two or three sentences of your blurb followed by a “see more” link, those lead sentences become your teaser.
Anyway, what are the basics? First, all three--synopsis, teaser, and blurb--should be written using third person, present tense. A synopsis should be 500 to 1000 words in length. A blurb should be 4000 characters, including spaces, which is roughly 500 words. Again, Amazon will usually only display the first few sentences of your blurb, so these become the de facto teaser for your novel.
This newsletter is just an introduction to the basics of writing a synopsis, blurb, and teaser. There are lots of excellent detailed blogs out there on these topics, and we’ll see a couple in the citations below. When you're at the point when need to do this, I strongly recommend studying these references. This blog will just familiarize you with the basics.
The teaser and blurb are marketing pieces, but your synopsis is not. It’s an industry document that helps the acquisitions editor understand the novel’s narrative arc. It shows what happens, who changes, and it must reveal the ending. Your synopsis should be concise, clear, and use lean, clean, and powerful language as opposed to punchy marketing language. Jane Friedman’s blog has one of the best how-to summaries on writing a synopsis. It's especially useful to study this blog because you can't generally find published examples of successful synopses.
Your blurb should use punchy marketing language. It should not reveal the ending. From this, you can see that the teaser and blurb are kind of an anti-synopsis. The first couple of sentences of the blurb should be suitable as a teaser, and those sentences must include a hook—something that makes the potential reader want more, something that entices the reader to purchase the novel. At a minimum, you want potential readers to click the Amazon “see more” link to read the entire blurb. It helps if the teaser reveals the genre. Phrasing the teaser as a conflict the protagonist must resolve is also helpful. Of course, naming the protagonist is helpful, too.
C.S. Lakin, writing on Jane Friedman’s blog, gives excellent and detailed advice on how to optimize your blurb for Amazon.
If you’re lucky, your publisher will have professionals to write your blurb and teaser, but most publishers will at least ask for your input. The good news is that you can go to Amazon and look at blurbs for similar, successful novels.
Authors who started their careers as copyeditors for advertising firms tend to have especially effective blurbs—James Patterson, for example, is brilliant at marketing. You can learn a lot from reading his blurbs on Amazon. Consider this blurb for 20th Victim (Women's Murder Club, 20): ($11.54 from Amazon.Com):
Three victims, three bullets, three cities. The shooters' aim is as fearsomely precise as their target selection. When Lindsay realizes that the fallen men and women excel in a lucrative, criminal activity, she leads the charge in the manhunt for the killers. As the casualty list expands, fear and fascination with this suspicious shooting gallery galvanizes the country.
The victims were no angels, but are the shooters villains . . . or heroes?
The Amazon blurb for Stephen King’s Later: ($9.56 from Amazon.Com) is another great example.
The son of a struggling single mother, Jamie Conklin just wants an ordinary childhood. But Jamie is no ordinary child. Born with an unnatural ability his mom urges him to keep secret, Jamie can see what no one else can see and learn what no one else can learn. But the cost of using this ability is higher than Jamie can imagine – as he discovers when an NYPD detective draws him into the pursuit of a killer who has threatened to strike from beyond the grave.
Notice that the teaser portion—the first couple of sentences—names the protagonist, frames his goal, and hints at what makes him different.
For a final example, the blurb for Dean Koontz’s Dragon Tears: A Thriller: ($8.99 from Amazon.Com) is another superb example.
Harry Lyon is a rational man, a cop who refuses to let his job harden his soul. His partner urges him to surrender to the chaos of life. But Harry believes in order and reason. Then one fateful day, he's forced to shoot a man—and a homeless stranger with bloodshot eyes utters the haunting words that challenge Harry Lyon’s sanity...
“Ticktock, ticktock. You'll be dead in sixteen hours...Dead by dawn...Dead by dawn...Dead by dawn...”
Once again, the first couple of sentences name the protagonist, give him a goal, and frame the obstacles. The final sentence puts the protagonist in jeopardy, another hook.
For more information, see
Jane Friedman on Writing a Synopsis
C.S. Lakin on Optimizing Amazon blurbs .
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