Now into the meat of the matter.
I was reading (yet another) blogpost today about writing blurbs. Except, the author wasn't really talking about what I call a "blurb," she was talking about what I call "back jacket copy" or "back cover copy." And that immediately got me to thinking about how mystifying all that might be for you ordinary reader-types, and why I should probably explain myself and then talk a little bit about how to write...whatever you call that crap on the back of a book.
So, as I mentioned, if you're an ordinary bookstore browser, you've probably never given a thought to whether you called the writing on the back of a book a "blurb" or a "synopsis" or, hell, you probably never thought about what to call it at all. The problem comes in when industry professionals start talking about "blurbs" and "synopses" which are very different things. So a quick glossary:
blurb - a blurb is a quote from an (ideally) more famous author praising a work. You've all seen this. On the cover of the novel I'm currently reading, THE DINOSAUR LORDS by Victor Milan, it reads "It's like a cross between Jurassic Park and Game of Thrones." - George R.R. Martin. That's a blurb in the publishing industry (and one that any of us would kill to have, I might add.)
synopsis - a synopsis is sometimes used when pitching your work. A standard synopsis is 1 or 2 pages (depending on the requestor) although sometimes it's just however long it needs to be. What's important, though, is that a synopsis breaks down everything that happens in a book - including the ending.
back jacket/cover copy - for lack of a more dominant industry term, this is what I call the few paragraphs written on a back (or sometimes on the inflap) of a book to encourage you to buy it. It's not what we call a blurb - although sometimes blurbs are also featured on the back, or even the front of a book. And it's certainly not what we call a synopsis, since reading a summary of the entire story, including how it ends, would be a pretty crappy incentive to actually buy a book. I do wish there was a more explicit and accepted term for this, but there doesn't really seem to be and people pretty much know what I mean when I say it.
Writing a blurb is...touchy. It's hard to ask and it's hard to be asked. It's an imposition and you're either being placed into an awkward situation or placing someone you respect in an awkward situation. Let's say you wrote a crummy book and you're completely in denial about its crumminess. If you ask James Patterson to blurb it - and he agrees! - he's now placed in a situation where he either has to:
a) tell you how crummy your book was, thus potentially breaking your heart and ruining your friendship
b) lie and say the book was great, thus ensuring that his reputation is sullied
c) pull the fade
Then again, let's say the book is great and James is even willing to go on record saying it's great. Then it comes out that you're friends...and then there will be sniffling about nepotism and favoritism. Blurbs are a real win/win, don't you think? And all that's before the fact that nobody's really sure whether blurbs drive book sales...but nobody's really sure that they don't either. So authors and publishers keep pursuing them.
I intended to write this week about how to write good back jacket copy - which is also a skill related to writing a good query letter - but now almost 800 words into this blogpost, I realize that may be better put off until next time. So, farewell, dear readers, and tune in next month for the second part of "Blurbs, Synopses, and Back Jacket Copy: The Actually Useful Post."