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When is a blurb a blurb …and such matters

Every author will tell you – I imagine – that the worst part of writing a novel is not actually writing it.

Or researching it.

Or editing it.

Oh no. All these are delights. Frustrating, time-consuming, near blood-letting events – but nevertheless overwhelmingly satisfying. And – yes, well …delightful.

It’s once the novel is finished that the really hard task starts.

Because you have to write a blurb.

And a premise.

And a synopsis.

And come up with key selling points.

Prepare pertinent sentences suitable for a press relief

In other words, you have to simmer down well over 100,000 words of story and character and event into a mere few phrases.

Define a readership.

A hook.

A reason to read said 100,000 words plus.

And it’s an appallingly agonising process.

It’s hard enough finishing the novel and saying farewell to characters that, in my slow case, have been with me for years. I find they don’t leave my head. They are still trying to sneak their way into my day.

And since The Odyssey of Lily Page is set in 1983 over the course of a single year, I am still partly living in that era – 40 years ago – as if it was yesterday.

Still trying to recall its sights and sounds – when it’s no longer necessary.

The last page has been written. Only the drudgery of blurbs and summaries remains.

Of course there are some positives in the next part of the process.

Choosing and planning the cover in particular. And, naturally, this is a vital part, an enormous hook for whether people will buy or not buy the novel.

A cover suggests content and certainly genre and it’s one of the positives of being an independent author in having total control over the cover image. I’ve met writers whose publishers have imposed a cover that feels inappropriate to the author – implying a tone that the book does not possess. And it’s not just the image, but the font used for the title and the colour.

Wiggly style lettering is not used for Dostoevsky’s front covers, you’ll notice.

All this effort to summarise and produce a blurb has made me think of some of the classics and how one might reduce an Austen or a Bronte, a Hardy or a Dickens novel.

Interestingly, my copies of Austen’s books do not always bother to summarise – presumably it’s assumed the story is already known too well from tv or film versions to bother with a synopsis. I have to say that the back cover blurb for my copy of Jane Eyre makes it sound somewhat melodramatic and I wonder what Charlotte B would have thought:

Orphaned into the household of her Aunt Reed at Gateshead, subject to the cruel regime at Lowood Charity school, Jane none the less emerges unbroken in spirit and integrity.

(Come to think of it, a mad woman in the attic, a Gothic hero and potential bigamist …..mmmm!)

And there’s something of Mills and Boon about Hardy’s The Return of the Native blurb:

Against the lowering background of Egdon Heath, fiery Eustacia Vye passes her days, wishing only for passionate love. She believes that her escape from Egdon lies in her marriage to Clym Yeobright, home from Paris ….

(On the other hand, if you’ve read the novel, you’ll agree that Eustacia really is a bit of a pain and not particularly pleasant so maybe fiery is relatively kind!)

But of course summaries and blurbs are important.

Although we might unquestionably buy or borrow a novel by a writer we love – if it’s by Anne Tyler or Anna Quindlen, I know I’ll want to read it whatever the story line – our habit is to turn the book over and check out the back cover for what it’s actually about before parting with time and/or money.

So it’s back to the drawing board for me, – or rather the keyboard and computer screen – playing around with ideas for the summaries and blurb of The Odyssey of Lily Page – what is essential to leave in, what can be discarded. I’ve already spent several hours/days on this task and I know I will need to spend many more before I am vaguely satisfied with the results.

Who said that writing a novel was stressful?

This is by far the most demanding aspect of being an author!

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