What Is a Blurb? And Why You Should Care.

I never saw a purple cow
I never hope to see one . . .

(Stay tuned for what this has to do with blurbs)

Blurb Walking the Twilight

A blurb is a short description of a book, movie, or other product, written for promotional purposes. The blurb is usually presented as if it were written by a colleague of the author, or another professional in the same field, lauding the book without expecting any compensation.

In reality, the book’s author or an employee in the marketing department of the publisher may actually write the blurb. In the marketing department case, the blurb-writer has often failed to read the whole book– and sometimes the author doesn’t even get to approve it. If the writer is especially lazy, the blurb may be a synopsis of the plot.

Remember that a blurb, like everything about the outside of the book, is a selling mechanism, another in a series of advertisements designed to make the book appealing to buyers.

The cover is intended to draw the reader in, piquing interest. Most readers then flip the book over to read what’s written on the back cover, or the inside flaps. At this point, the reader may decide to buy the book– or put it down. The blurb can make the difference in that decision.

blurb-poker-alice-tubbs-1.jpg

If you are asked to write a blurb, ask yourself:

— Do you sincerely like the book? Writing a blurb just to impress the author so that person may return the favor is risky; consider your conscience.

— Do you respect the writer and the work enough to have your name associated with it?

— Do you want this person to owe you the favor of writing a blurb for your book? Would you want this person’s name on your book?

Blurb a Slow Trot Home

If you choose to write the blurb, consider these suggestions:

— Study the content, word count, premise of the book, the flavor of the writing. Take notes on what gets your attention. If you start losing interest, ask yourself why.

— Read the whole book rather than risk it taking a turn you don’t anticipate and therefore didn’t mention. Study each of the following elements:

Audience: consider who will read the book, and the kind of language that will catch the attention of those readers. If the book is for the general public, your language may be informal; use specific terms for professionals, and simpler words for children and young adults.

Theme: what is the book’s central idea?

Characters: briefly describe the central figures, such as “sassy beauty Delilah O’Neill,” and the setting in which they live.

Plot or narrative: write a sentence or two that summarizes and explains the book, touching on content, ideas and organization. Be clear about the kind of book you are reviewing. Romance readers will not thank you for enticing them into reading scholarly nonfiction. And please don’t tell the entire plot of the book, or give away the surprise ending.

Blurb Daughters of the Grasslands

To write a blurb for your own book:

Don’t pretend to be some scholar in your field; deception will out. You need not sign the blurb; simply use it on the back cover of the book.

Consider how to draw the reader in, to set the scene. Do you need to make the location and time period clear? Introduce the main character?

Think about your audience: who is your book written for? Is it appropriate to place a character in context? You might write: Jane Farmington is a rancher in Nebraska who grew up in a family where education was not respected. Now she is an English professor working for a university in a nearby town, watching the third and fourth generation on the farm grow more isolated.

Think of writing the blurb as having four steps:

  1. Introduce the main character or characters.
  1. Provide just enough of the story to show how the primary conflict unfolds.
  1. In hinting at the conflict, show what the consequences of the book’s action are likely to be. The reader needs to know that the main character has something to lose.
  1. Personalize: show readers why they need to read this book. Subtly make comparisons between comparable books, and show what makes your book unique.

Further research: If this information isn’t enough to inspire you to commit blurbs, check online. Dozens of people have posted their opinions, though some are of limited value.

Blurb Grassland Genealogy

Soliciting blurbs.

If possible, ask reviewers who are professionals in your field, and who have the respect of the reading public, to comment on your book. A reviewer with a conscience will refuse to blurb the book rather than write a lukewarm response, but not all reviewers are so honest.

Before you ask, consider whether you wish to be obligated to this person.

Do not promise to use the blurb! You might be amazed at the subtle ways a blurb from someone who dislikes the book can denigrate it.

Explore respected reviewing journals, like Kirkus, to see if you can get reviews. Look for possible outlets in magazines like Poets & Writers.

Blurb Conservation for a New Generation

Where did the term blurb originate?

According to my American Heritage dictionary, the term was coined by Gelet Burgess, an American humorist who lived from 1866 until 1951.

In 1907, Gelet Burgess coined the term “blurb”– meaning “a flamboyant advertisement, an inspired testimonial”– in attributing the cover copy of his book, Are You a Bromide? to a Miss Belinda Blurb.

Gelet’s book is still available, but he was best known for his verse, including “The Purple Cow,” published on May Day, May 1, 1895. My mother recited the verse to me when I was four years old, but I knew nothing about its history until recently. No doubt this started me on the path to poetry, but thank goodness I eventually learned NOT to rhyme.

I never saw a purple cow;
I never hope to see one.
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one.

The full title– Burgess loved long titles– was “The Purple Cow: Reflections on a Mythic Beast Who’s Quite Remarkable, at Least.” The illustrated verse, which appeared in the first issue of The Lark, remained the ultimate in nonsense verse, but Burgess spent his life trying to write funnier poems.

By 1897 he had become so sick of the poem that he wrote, “Confession: and a Portrait Too, upon a Background that I Rue,” also published in The Lark (Number 24, April 1, 1897).

Ah, yes, I wrote the “Purple Cow”—
I’m sorry, now, I wrote it;
But I can tell you Anyhow
I’ll kill you if you Quote it.

One more comment about blurbs:

Blur – bon – ic plague. n (blurb + bubonic plague): A disease of literature characterized by the appearance of suppurating blurbs on the skin of a book, feverish half-quotes, and regurgitation, leading to rapid film adaptation and hallucinations of grandeur, thought to be transmitted from author to author via their shared agents. “Tom Wolfe’s THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES contracted blurbonic plague, and, in its final tragic stages, the book suffered even more than did its author.”

— Brian McCormick, writer; from IN A WORD, a Harper’s Magazine dictionary of words that don’t exist but ought to, edited by Jack Hitt, Laurel, 1992.

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House Writing Retreats
Hermosa, South Dakota

© 2019, Linda M. Hasselstrom


Blurbs written by Linda M. Hasselstrom used in this blog come from the back covers of the following books, in order:
Book Walking the Twilight - Editor Kathryn Wilder

Walking the Twilight: Women Writers of the Southwest
Edited by Kathryn Wilder
(1994, Northland Publishing)

Book Poker Alice Tubbs - Liz Duckworth

Poker Alice Tubbs: The Straight Story. A Lady Gambler in the Wild West
By Liz Morton Duckworth
(2018, Filter Press)

Book A Slow Trot Home - Lisa Sharp

A Slow Trot Home
By Lisa G. Sharp
(2014, Wheatmark)

Book Daughters of the Grasslands - Mary Haug

Daughters of the Grasslands: A Memoir
By Mary Woster Haug
(2014, Bottom Dog Press)

Book Grassland Genealogy - Pat Frolander

Grassland Genealogy
By Patricia Frolander
(2009, Finishing Line Press)

Book Conservation for a New Generation - editors Knight and White

Conservation for a New Generation: Redefining Natural Resources Management
Edited by Richard L. Knight and Courtney White
(2008, Island Press)

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What Are You Willing to Do?

Book promotion -- Facebook

Every now and then, despite my advanced years and practice in ignoring “promotion” and its requirements and details, I happen to notice some new trend in self-advertising, and spend several seconds-or-minutes-that-feel-like-hours with my mouth hanging open that someone could and would do “that” to try to get people to read their books.

Then I hit myself on the head with one of the 17 books I’ve written while mostly ignoring that advice, and get on with whatever I’m doing that I enjoy more than promotion– like mopping the kitchen floor. Cleaning the toilet with a new homemade mixture someone recommended. Making ham fried rice for lunch to use up those leftovers.

If you enjoy doing readings of your work, and hearing applause, answering questions like, “Where do you get your ideas?” do the kind of promotion that leads you into those situations. Such promotion takes huge amounts of energy and patience. Many writers may not realize how completely we arrange our writing world, our home, so that it suits us– until we get out in a world of poor lighting, noise, and intrusive questions. If you hate those things, perhaps there’s another way to find readers.

Readers are what we want. And not all promotion leads to readers. Some leads only to more promotion.

I will not soon forget one of my best-paying jobs when I was escorted to a large auditorium to give my reading and found only two people there: one student, and one elderly woman who had apparently wandered away from a facility for the mentally unstable. I sat on the edge of the stage and talked with the two audience members, giving them as good a talk as I have ever done. But I might have been at home doing my work, which is writing.

And I don’t suppose the fine man who invited me to that school– and arranged for me to be paid well for coming– ever got over the embarrassment of having no one, not even those of his own classes or his teaching colleagues, show up. ​

Book promotion -- speaking to groups

I love to do readings. I speak well, and learned from some fine speech coaches how to project and how to draw an audience into my world for an hour. I know many colleges and universities could afford the price I ask for a talk or reading and I would enjoy doing it.

But in order to accept such an invitation, I may have to drive for hours, ride unreliable public transportation, sleep in a noisy motel and eat bad food. I have to consider all those negatives while considering the positive gain of the money and the recognition.

Book promotion -- book storesToo often, even from prestigious and well-endowed institutions, the invitation is, “Please come and read your work to our freshman students. We’ll allow you to sell your books for compensation.” I have largely given up explaining why such an invitation is an insult, and the institution isn’t listening anyway, because they can get 5 young authors anxious to promote themselves for the price of my honorarium. Once some of those authors bring bedbugs home from a cheap motel, they will be less enthusiastic.

But the world has created Facebook and a number of other media with which I am not familiar– Twitter? LinkedIn? Skype? I recently saw a headline informing me of “60+ social media sites you need to know about in 2019.”  Even checking out all 60 of those sites would take me less time than preparing for a 15-minute talk.

In addition, with help from an excellent assistant, I have a website, a Facebook page, a YouTube channel, and this blog. I can sit in the comfort of my study writing what I want to write and through those venues can reach hundreds more people than I would reach after a nine-hour drive somewhere.

So do the research on what “promotion” venues exist, and consider which ones might suit your temperament. Think of the people you want to read your books. These would be intelligent and thoughtful readers who might write you short notes of appreciation, or even question some of your premises and with whom you could have an enjoyable exchange of ideas.

Who are those people? Where are they? How can you reach them? Then craft the kind of promotion that will allow you to find them and enjoy their company– while continuing to write.

To quote a friend, “Write the F#$%ING thing!” is the best advice I can give you about self-promotion.

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House Writing Retreats
Hermosa, South Dakota

© 2019, Linda M. Hasselstrom

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This blog started as correspondence with a writer friend, who is quoted in the last line. Read her book and very fine blog “Between Urban and Wild.”

See my website events page “Where in the World Is Linda M. Hasselstrom?” and scroll down through many years of my own writing promotion, including art exhibits, awards, billboards, classes, entertainment events, interviews, talks, workshops, and my own writing retreats.

Of course nothing beats a testimonial by a famous person!

Book promotion - testimonials by famous people

 

 

Gathering “Gathering from the Grassland”

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Gathering from the Grassland: A Plains Journal, is my most recent prose book. With publisher Nancy Curtis of High Plains Press in Glendo, WY, I’ve been working on it for several years.

In order for me to get copies of the book as soon as it was printed, we agreed to meet in Lusk, Wyoming, between our two ranches. We’d have lunch at The Pizza Place, and catch up on our personal and professional news. She’d hand over my author copies– 5 clothbound and 5 paperbound– and we’d discuss how we will each encourage sales of the book in the coming months. Many publishers, large and small, don’t do much promotion. High Plains Press supports its authors in dozens of ways, including buying lunch in Lusk– the New York City of our neighborhood.

LMH car detail 2017So “One Misty, Moisty Morning,” as Schooner Fare puts it, I loaded a handful of CDs, jugs of water, a rain coat and coffee. With Bob Seger, I declared at the top of my lungs that I was headed for “Katmandu;” If there’s a good song about driving to Lusk, I haven’t found it, but I won’t be surprised if this post generates suggestions.

When Jerry and I lived in Wyoming, I drove five and one-half hours from my ranch to Cheyenne regularly, but since we moved to my ranch home, my trips have been rare.  So I was delighted to hum a “Prairie Lullaby” (Stephanie Davis) as I headed “Beyond the Horizon” (Bob Dylan.) Since I’ve made this drive hundreds, if not thousands, of times, I knew I’d see familiar scenes, but would also surely see the unusual.  And the Wyoming breezes– “Four Strong Winds” from all four directions– would keep me alert.

CDs in car 2017We’ve had some frequent, though small, rains around home, so our hills are fairly green for this late in the season, though not nearly as vivid as those “Green Rolling Hills” Emmylou Harris was singing about. “Under a Rolling Sky,” (Michael Martin Murphey) the sun blazed red, stained by the smoke of fires in Montana and other areas west of us. Thick gray smoke muffled the outlines of the Black Hills and cast a nasty yellow tinge over the grass. I hummed with the “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” (Bob Dylan) clouds as I turned west on SD 18, and zipped past Hot Springs. I soared up to Coffee Flats while Janis Joplin crooned about “Summertime.”

And there I got a surprise: two bicyclists! Each wore a helmet, and a skintight outfit striped in bright colors; their panniers bulged. Heads down, oblivious to the “Thunder on the Mountain,” (Dylan) they were headed west.

Just how much did they know about the arid country ahead of them? From Edgemont, it’s almost sixty miles to Newcastle, and almost seventy to Lusk, WY. There are no towns or settlements along the route, and most of the ranch houses are a considerable distance from the highway. At Mule Creek Junction, 21 miles west of Edgemont, a rest area offers water and “rest,” but little else.

Wyoming Highway near Lusk stock footage

As I accelerated past them– not in the “Mercedes Benz” Janis was warbling about– I tried to visualize what the bicyclists might be seeing. That “Peaceful Country” (Murphey) looks spectacular from that high plateau: down toward the tree-lined Cheyenne River and Beaver Creek drainages. Silver-blue sage sweeps up the hills, and many of the gullies are jagged and deep. With their heads down, would the riders see anything but their feet and the pavement?

When I drove this route nine years ago, I often thought of Murphey’s “Hardscrabble Creek” as my eyes followed ranch roads winding from the highway into the distance beyond the sagebrush. Often a beat-up car or pickup was parked beside the gate. I knew if I got into that vehicle, I’d find the keys under the floor mat or behind the visor, where ranchers always leave them. The transportation wasn’t abandoned, but meant the family had a child of school age who drove to the highway to be picked up by the school bus headed for Newcastle or Lusk. Is the ranching population aging? I saw few vehicles beside the ranch roads on this trip.

LMH autographs GATHERING 2017In Lusk, I parked on the wide street in front of The Pizza Place, and chose a booth that allowed me to see the front door while I wrote in my journal. When Nancy arrived, we enjoyed our visit and our pizza, noticing as the place filled with folks headed to a local funeral, or just having lunch in their work day. Then we explained to one of the waitresses that we’d like to keep using the booth awhile to sign books. “No problem,” she said, and we started lugging boxes of books in from the car. Once in a while after that, a waitress would peek around the corner, but they left us alone for more than an hour as I signed books, and smiled when we refilled our water and tea glasses.

After I’d signed books Nancy will have on hand for customers who ask, we transferred the boxes of books I’d bought at my author discount to my car, so I could head home and begin selling them. One of the most pleasant features of Lusk is those wide streets: two women with boxes of books could move safely from one car to the one behind it without being run over by a semi-load of hay.

Periwinkle Patent Leather Clogs“I love your purple Crocs!” I said to Nancy. “I had to give mine up for tougher shoes.”

“Everyone says that,” she said firmly, “but I am not wearing Crocs. I am wearing Periwinkle Patent Leather clogs.” Publishers have to be precise.

Independent authors and publishers need to “Try Just a Little Bit Harder,” and I promised to do so as I sang along with Joplin’s throaty vocals, accelerating out of town.

Rumblestrips stock footageWyoming highway officials, among whom Jerry used to be numbered, know the hazards of this two-lane highway that winds through the sagebrush. They’ve thoughtfully placed rumble strips—corrugated asphalt that make a terrible racket when your tires hit it–on both edges of the highway, AND in the middle. The purpose is to wake up dozing drivers, or perhaps alert those who are texting.

I noticed them first when they were applied to Highway 79 that goes past my house. Before sunrise, when I’m still trying to sleep, a truck hitting the rumble strips sounds like a helicopter landing on my bed.

Rumble strips and cattle or sheep that climb through fences to graze the right-of-way aren’t all that keeps a person alert on this highway. I heard a Whoosh! as another “Greenie”—Wyoming slang for speeding Colorado cars with green license plates–raced past in a no-passing zone.

I slammed on the brakes to let the idiot pull in front of me seconds before he would have been obliterated by an oncoming truck. I was angry, but I put on my “Secret Smile,” (Murphey) satisfied with being a life-saver. In the past, I may have exceeded speed limits occasionally, but no longer. I’d rather “Give A Little Bit Back” (Davis), relax, enjoy the scenery, and arrive safe and alive at home.

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House Writing Retreats
Hermosa, South Dakota

© 2017, Linda M. Hasselstrom

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Gathering Windbreak JournalMy first published book, in 1987, was a diary of a year on my plains ranch. Windbreak: A Woman Rancher on the Northern Plains was published by a small publisher, Barn Owl Books, and featured my observations of the work and life I was leading then. Over the years hundreds of readers wrote to me with thanks for letting them see ranch life.

Now, thirty years later I’ve published another book in journal form: Gathering from the Grassland: A Plains Journal (High Plains Press, September 2017). Much has changed in the intervening decades, especially because I am no longer involved in the daily chores of raising cattle. A central part of this journal is my research into the diaries and records left by my ancestors on this ranch on the plains. ​I learned things about my relatives, their history, and this land that I never knew.

I’m more convinced than ever that it’s essential for us to tell our stories, not only for our blood descendants, but for those who will come after us in this world. Write for your children and grandchildren so they will know how you survived this life, and write for yourself.

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High Plains Press is offering a special limited-time discount for early orders. If you order directly from High Plains Press by September 20th, you’ll get a $5 discount on the limited edition hardcover.

trade paper — $19.95 plus $4 shipping
limited edition hardcover — $29.95 — Your price = $24.95 plus $4 shipping

Go to the High Plains Press webpage for my book Gathering from the Grassland

Special Offer Gathering from the GrasslandClick on the “order now” button for the limited edition hardcover.

Select how many copies you want. (Volume discount on shipping.)

Be sure to use the comment box if you would like a personalized inscription beyond my signature (for instance, “Happy Thanksgiving, Aunt Nellie”) in any of the copies you purchase.

Enter the voucher/coupon code LINDA.

Click on the “recalculate” button to update the amount due, then proceed with your payment.

(Sorry, there is no discount on the paperback edition at this time.)

Thank you and enjoy the read!

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The Authors Guild: Helping Writers Make a Living.

BookSpinesLong

“Why Is It So Goddamned Hard to Make a Living as a Writer Today?” asks Douglas Preston in the summer issue of the Authors Guild Bulletin. Preston is a journalist and author of more than thirty works of fiction and nonfiction.

Every writer and aspiring writer ought to read his answer, given as a talk to the New Mexico Writers Dinner in Santa Fe on March 2, 2017.

As a nation, Preston says, we think we’re alert to censorship, but we’re missing some important points. A prevailing view is that information should be free. Hence, Google copied four million books without getting permission from the copyright owners.

Composers and musicians make money from the use of their works through their professional organizations, ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers), and BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.), which collect royalties on the work.

But Authors Guild, which represents many of the nation’s writers, spent ten years and a million hard-earned writers’ dollars suing Google and lost. Even though Google is making a profit by robbing authors, the judge ruled against writers.

And then there’s Amazon, which was launched as a bookseller not to sell books, but to acquire large numbers of customers to whom it can sell other stuff. In order to do that, Amazon sells books at a loss. Brick and mortar bookstores can’t compete, “because none of them could afford to sell books at a loss forever,” says Preston, so almost half the independent bookstores in the nation went out of business. And that was before Amazon launched the e-book, which devastated the hardcover market.

As a result, even the best publishers are trying to stay solvent by cutting authors’ income:

  • cutting advances
  • focusing on bestsellers and celebrities while dropping lesser-known writers
  • spending less on promotion unless it’s a “sure-fire bestseller”
  • publishing fewer risky books, i.e., those with minority voices, controversy, or that are argumentative
  • ending publication of first novels
  • dropping authors whose first books don’t sell

If information is free, says Preston, “and authors can’t make a living writing books, they’ll make a living doing something else. This is the censorship of the marketplace in a nutshell.”

Authors-guild-logoBut as Preston notes, writers are terrible at organizing. Our work depends on being alone. So we need to join the nine thousand other writers in the Authors Guild, the oldest writing association in the nation, which has been working for writers for more than a hundred years.

From the Guild website, www.AuthorsGuild.org:

Regular Membership: Traditionally published authors with at least 1 published book; self-published authors who have made at least $5,000 in the past 18 months from their writing; and freelance writers who have published 3+ pieces or made $5,000 in the past 18 months.

Associate Membership: Writers who have received a contract offer from a traditional publisher or an offer of representation from a literary agent; self-published authors or freelance writers who have made at least $500 in the past 18 months from their writing.

The Guild also offers three additional levels of membership:

Emerging Writer: Dedicated writers who are actively seeking to publish their work, but have not yet published a book and do not meet the income thresholds for professional membership.

Student: College and graduate students interested in pursuing writing professionally in the future.

Member-at-Large: Established literary agents and editors; heirs, executors or trustees of the estates of deceased authors; or attorneys and accountants representing authors; or publicists or other publishing professionals.

You may join online, or get a membership application from the website and mail it with the required dues. Learn about the many member benefits.

Give yourself a gift; join us in protecting the work we do.

Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House Writing Retreats
Hermosa, South Dakota

© 2017, Linda M. Hasselstrom

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