Monday, November 24, 2008

What's Your Fifteen-Word Wonder?

Recently Camy and I went to Sonoma to a wonderful retreat hosted by our agency. There was a great line-up of speakers which included editors, publicists, financial advisers, agents, bestselling authors and more. Some of those included Andy McGuire of Moody and Andrea Doering, formerly of Crossways Book Club and now editor at Revell. She talked about what it takes to make browsers into buyers. Jeanette Thomason, Editorial Director at WaterBrook Press also touched on this subject when she discussed branding.

The thing that stuck out the most to me was, at least one of the speakers mentioned that book buyers give publishing houses approximately 20 seconds of time per book. In that time frame, the publisher has to "sell" the book or convince the bookseller to carry a particular title. Normally they have a few-minute conversation where the book buyer hears a slew of short blurbs in a row from the publisher, who is pitching a sequence of projects.

So we were encouraged to break our stories down into one 15 word sentence. Because basically, that's all you have to WOW the editors who will then have to WOW their committees who will then have to WOW the bookseller who will then have to WOW the reader. All of these people will decide in a matter of seconds whether to buy your book.

Scary but true.


–noun 1. an act or instance of placing close together or side by side, esp. for comparison or contrast.
2. the state of being close together or side by side.

Camy and I roomed in a cottage together and we discussed our stories and how we could insert within that 15 word sentence a juxtaposition of terms that would hook readers, the first of which is an editor.

I became totally enthralled with this juxtaposition concept. I'd heard that blurbs should leave the editor intrigued, but the juxtaposition of terms was a new concept for me.

We know we have a matter of 1 sentence to hook a potential editor or agent.

How do we do that?

Best-selling author, Brandilyn Collins, known for her "Seatbelt Suspense" has great advice on verbal pitches on her Web site here. A verbal pitch really is the same thing as this 15 word blurb (story summary) I'm talking about.

I'm counting on my fellow Seekervillains and you commentators to pitch in with advice. As well as any other resources you've discovered that talk about how to come up with these one-liner book zingers.

So today I thought it would be fun to play with our blurbs here in Seekerville.

I'm also hoping my Seeker sisters will pitch in and share their past and present blurbs as well as the process they use/d to come up with them.

Ones I came up with for the stories I'm working on now:
1. She just wanted to be a hero. The hero just wanted a home.
2. An attorney with traffic tickets crashes into a Harley-riding hero on a mission.
3. Still working to condense my third to under 15 words. LOL!

The second one sort of juxtaposes with itself because attorneys should be law-abiding yet she has a problem speeding. Also, Harley riders are cliched to be bad boys. Yet, because I love to turn stereotypes on their heads, this bad boy is an elite rescuer and First Class Hero.

The one for my debut novel that sold to Steeple Hill said:
A special ops soldier meets rapid-fire resistance after pledging allegiance to a promise made to a little ill boy.

An alternate blurb for that story was:
A teacher of special needs children determined to make the rest of life matter to a dying child finds something special and unexpected along the way.

Those were longer than 15 words but at the time, I was happy to get them down to 30 secs. LOL! And obviously Steeple Hill saw something about the blurbs to like because they garnered editorial requests.

Now I know I need to shoot for 20 seconds and no more. Quite a challenge for a wordy-bird like me.

So let's get started:

---If you write or have a story or even an idea, how about you share your 15 word blurb with us (in the comment section) and let us give you our feedback on it.

---If you are a reader only, share a back cover blurb you read recently that convinced you to buy a book.

Ready, set, BLURB!



Tina M. Russo said...

Great post. I am woefully poor at this. And I never noticed this on books until you mentioned it.

However I will share a few books I picked up based on this FWW.

"Could He Trust His Partner?"
Carol Steward-Badge of Honor (Steeple Hill Love Insp. Suspense)

"How to Catch the Love of Your Life...With His Pants Down" --Gena Showalter--Catch a Mate

"The Best Defense is a Good Offense..." Stef Ann Holm-All That Matters.

Julie Lessman said...

Oh, Cheryl -- I just LOVE to do premises because they are such a challenge and so short, but I'm not particularly great at them. I did, however manage to do a 17-word blurb (or 29-word if you count prepositions, articles and conjunctions) for A Passion Most Pure, and here it is:

Rival sisters with strong faith--one in God, the other in herself--turn the head of a heartbreaker who proposes to one and falls in love with the other.

Great post!


Missy Tippens said...

Great post, Cheryl! Wow. I couldn't do 25 words in an online class. But 15??!! :)

Hey, Julie, this is the clincher on yours: turn the head of a heartbreaker who proposes to one and falls in love with the other.

That's your hook. So if we can all find something like that we'd be in good shape!

I looked through my files and found a page with a ton of at a blurb for my June 09 LI, His Forever Love. Here's one of the many attempts:

Former geeky physicist battles his popular high school crush for “custody” of his grandmother. Who will win? Or could victory come from them daring to love again?

But I was trying for 25 words on that one. I I'll have to work on cutting it down! :)


Mary Connealy said...

Hi, guys I'm going to be on the road today so I can't play.

But a member of the Barbour team who is in sales told me that just as a author has only seconds to attract an editor with her pitch, a salesman for a publisher has only seconds to attract a buyer for a bookstore with HIS pitch. So the blurb is really important to them, on their end.

Ann said...

Reading your-all's blurbs, I noticed there's often a one or two word nugget that jumped out at me -- "rival sisters", "pants down"; "geek" and "crush" ... like an instant emotional word picture (hat tip to Gary Smalley, who talks about those)

People react quickly to those kinds of things. At least I did when I read your examples.

Coffee's on ... sorry, it's Folger's today. But I did use the percolator so it's got a lot of flavor.

vince said...


From the POV of the reader, can you give away too much in a blurb?



Cheryl Wyatt said...

Vince, just my opinion but I think you can. I've heard many editors and marketing savvy authors say that it's best to leave the reader intrigued so that they want to read the book in order to answer the question.

Hope this answers your question. :-)


Cheryl Wyatt said...

Okay, I brought bagels from Panera's and spinach-stuffed pretzels from Barnes & Noble.

They should go along nicely with the coffee.


Missy Tippens said...

Ann, Folgers might be just as good today. I bought a bag of Thanksgiving Blend from Starbucks and I've been disappointed. I think I'll double the amount of coffee tomorrow and see if it's strong enough to suit me. The last 2 days I've tasted more cream than coffee. :(

Vince, for romance novels, I don't think you can give away too much. We all know there will be a happy ending. So the blurb just gives a hint at how we'll get there. :)

Now for suspense, you sure don't want to give away too much. But then again, we all know the good guys will win. Maybe a mystery would be the biggest risk. You can't give away "whodunit".


Cheryl Wyatt said...

Tina, I LOVE that. Could he trust his partner.

Really all of you gave GREAT examples of this. I wish I was better at writing the hooky one-liners. One I heard recently from my favorite author (who IS soon to be pubbed with Abingdon!) Cynthia Ruchti says, "She'd divorce her husband if she could find him."

I loved that.

You all posted great blurbs.

Now share what you did to come up with them. LOL!


Missy Tippens said...

Ann, I also meant to say you're so right about the word pictures! I love Garry Smalley's advice on using them.

Melanie Dickerson said...

Here are mine:
The Sleeping Beauty fairy tale comes to life when a betrothed prince falls for a woodcutter’s daughter whose secret identity endangers both their lives.

A disfigured lord falls in love with his beautiful servant, but their scars hold them back from the love that would heal them both.

A country doctor becomes a Zorro figure to thwart a corrupt sheriff, but who will save his heart from the ambitious woman who despises his small town way of life?

Sorry, they're all a little too long.

Ann said...

Tina, sometimes I wonder about boutique coffee. We've gotten some that was unremarkable, too.

Here is the blurb from my WIP -- but now that I looked at it -- I think it needs work and trimming. Especially in light of your-all's comments about not giving too much away.

Secrets loom over a new marriage: A young widow reluctantly marries a frontier doctor then discovers what he will gamble to help runaway slaves.

Cheryl Wyatt said...


I LOVE those premises...LOVE the zorro one! Zorro was one of my fav TV shows growing up.

And I have trouble condensing mine too.

Other that removing "of life" on the doctor one and just saying "ways" I'm not sure how you could bring it down.

The ideas are intriguing and you do NICELY leave us with questions.

For instance, we know your hero in the one blurb has scars, but what are the heroine's scars? That's one question that came to mind while reading your blurb. That's good! Makes me want to read the book to solve the mystery. NICE JOB!


Cheryl Wyatt said...

Ann...just a suggestion...but you could leave us even more intrigued (and shorten the blurb all in the same whack) by just starting it at the "A young widow..." part. Though I do also love the "Secrets loom..." part.

Secrets loom over a new marriage: A young widow reluctantly marries a frontier doctor then discovers what he will gamble to help runaway slaves.

I think this premise is great! Makes me want to know what he'll gamble. Nice job.


Anonymous said...

From my meager NaNo attempt at present:

Wounded loner returns to hometown for revenge but finds healing love from an unexpected source.

(15 words...woo hoo! but does it hook?)

Deb H.

Arianna said...

Wow, trying to write a 15-word blurb is a lot harder then I thought. Here’s mine, although it’s 28 words, not 15. I just couldn’t get it that short. LOL. Oh, and the novel I’m working on isn’t romance…..probably pretty obvious. =)

~ When the heroine’s parents die, life looks hopeless. Facing a foster home, a kind stranger enters her life, making her wonder if there’s still good in the world. ~

Hmmm…I’ll think of something else later (hopefully more creative!). I’ve never tried to do these before, but they’re kind of fun ;) Loved all of your do you guys do it? LOL.

Anne Barton said...

Great post Cheryl! Oh my gosh, I think these are so much fun to play with.

Julie, I love your hook for A Passion Most Pure. It makes me wonder how there can possibly be a happy ending. And Missy, you had me at "geeky physicist."

Melanie, all 3 of yours are great but the 2nd (disfigured lord) intrigued me most.

Ann, love the blurb for your wip. "Secrets loom" is really powerful . . .

I just finished my 3rd story last weekend but I don't have a blurb yet -- need to work on that. But here's one from my last story:

"A reclusive heiress rescues a notorious rake. She dares him to face his demons. He dares her to love again."

Darn, broke the 15 word limit. I feel like I went through express checkout with too many items. :)

Melanie Dickerson said...

The only way I've been able to write them is to just keep fiddling with it until I like it. Not sure I'm finished fiddling with my third one.

But everything I know I learned from Mary Connealy! She taught about how to write these short blurbs on the ACFW loop. You use an adjective and a noun to describe your hero (country doctor) and heroine (ambitious woman--see, that needs to be more specific) and then you describe their conflict. If it's not a romance, you still have to show the conflict.

Cheryl Wyatt said...

Melanie, love that advice. I forgot Mary did an online course dealing with this. I wish she were available today to chime in more.

But at least I'm giving you all food for thought.


Cheryl Wyatt said...

Deb H I love the juxtaposition of the two words "wounded" then "healed".

And you do leave us with intrigue with the phrase of "unexpected source".

But I think it's too generic in that there are a bunch of similar storylines out there like it. So my question to you would be what makes YOUR story stand apart? What's the loner's career? Could it be unique? What is unique about your story, which is a common premise. BTW most stories are a common premise. I'm thinking what's missing from yours is maybe get a little more specific with your words. I do love how you have the words stringed together though. Great job!

Tweak it a bit more so that an editor or an agent will choke on their coffee when they read the line because they fly forward to read the rest. Surprise and awe them. You can do it! You're off to a really great start.

Hope this helps.


Cheryl Wyatt said...

Ariana, the story sound really emotionally poignant. If it were mine I'd tweak it so there are less words, especially the "her". See if you can replace it with her career, or like Melanie mentioned that Mary suggested on her course, put an adjective in there to describe her.

Cause it to stand out. Can't wait to see what you come up with!

Thanks so much for sharing your blurbs everyone! It takes a tremendous amount of courage. We're all learning as we go.


Cheryl Wyatt said...

Ane, thanks for dropping by! I love the dare aspect of your hook line. I'd love to see you tweak it to add a little more intrigue on the last sentence. Maybe we have too much info. Of course there is the intrigue of us wondering if they will take one another up on the dare.

Thanks so much for participating! Thanks also for sharing your thoughts on others' blurbs.

Come on y'all! Let's chime in on the ones posted.


christa said...

Drowning in a sea of ungraded papers, a high school English teacher abandons ship.

Oh, wait. . .this is supposed to be fiction?

GREAT blog post, Cheryl. Bookmarking this one to study later. Thanks and Happy Thanksgiving to the Wyatts. Please stay safe. . .

Arianna said...

Thanks for the advice, Cheryl! And Anne, I love your blurb, especially the dare part =) And I've always liked the Zorro theme, so your blurb really grabbed my attention, Melanie.

Cheryl Wyatt said...

LOL Christa! My M-I-L is a teacher who has been saying the same thing this week.

Thanks for dropping by!


Ann said...

Hey, Deb H., I think "loner" and "hometown" are the ones that jumped out at me.

Sounds suspenseful!

vince said...

Two Attempts:

For “A Soldier’s Family” Cheryl Wyatt

Parachute Failure Gives Injured Special Forces PJ Second Chance at Life and Young Widow’s Love (15 words)

For “Her Unlikely Family”, Missy Tippens

Three Worlds Collide as Pair of Unlikely Runaways Break into Banker’s lonely heart! (13 words)


Missy Tippens said...

Wow, Vince. You're good!! :)


Lisa Lickel said...

Thanks for practice time. How about this one from a gooey love story with twists I wrote last spring:

When does forever start? Can it end?


Jessica said...

Hmm, from my wip.
And I admit to having practice because I took Camy's synopsis class. LOL

A rule-bending PI falls in love with the straitlaced cop determined to stop her investigation of the mayor.

Well, that's 18 words. Wincing here. This is kind of fun, though. :-)

From my historical, I never did this but I'm querying it now. I'm going to fly by the seat of my pants and say...

A socialite writer obsessed with her future falls in love with a government assassin haunted by his past.

This is fun. I wish I would've hopped over here sooner!

Cheryl Wyatt said...

Vince! OMGosh those are so good. I'm totally impressed.

You should write back cover copy! Seriously.

Hi Jessica! Thanks for stopping by and playing! I especially love your second blurb. I'm totally intrigued.


Cheryl Wyatt said...

Lisa, hey! Very succint, yet it says so much. Makes me wonder why they'd want forever to end. Love it.

Great goin y'all!

Avily Jerome said...

I hate those fifteen word blurbs- they are SO hard to accomplish!

That being said, here's one that I came up with for one of my WIPs. Except that it's nineteen, not fifteen.

"What if dragons used to exist? What if they still do? What would you give up to prove it?"

Cheryl Wyatt said...

Avily, I LOVE dragon stories! You had me with this blurb.

Thanks for dropping by!


Janet Dean said...

Interesting post, Cheryl! I need to work at condensing my stories. I can see how important it is for authors and publishers.

Here's one of my shorter blurbs:

Desperate immigrant lass clashes with aristocratic Yank with every reason to hate the Irish.


Cheryl Wyatt said...

Janet, I love that. It makes for EXCELLENT conflict.

One thing I found interesting was in every blurb posted, I could tell genre and whether it was a contemporary or a historical just by the word choices you all used.

Janet's "lass" and "immigrant" automatically flagged this as a historical in my mind. Nice job! Makes me want to read the story to find out what the little guy went through.


Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

This has truly been a challenge for me but so important.

From my novel - The Inheritance is about the chance we all long for…the chance to start over.

Available now from The Wild Rose Press (shameless plug here LOL!)

Great post!


Cheryl Wyatt said...


Congrats on your book! Plug away. LOL.


vince said...

Hi Missy & Cheryl:

Thanks for the nice comments. A compliment form the author is the highest possible.


Valerie Comer said...

Jessica's blurb says: A rule-bending PI falls in love with the straitlaced cop determined to stop her investigation of the mayor.

You could cut it easily: A rule-bending PI falls for the straitlaced cop determined to stop her civic investigation. (14)

Here's mine:

An unwilling fifth wife single-handedly fights cult leaders for breeders' rights when suitor is banned.

Anonymous said...

thanks Cheryl and others for the comments on my blurb. they are very helpful and i hope to take advantage of them.

Deb H.