New blurb for my book The Last

MJG Blog, Writing Leave a Comment

Today I got in my head that my zombie series starter The Last could do with a refreshed blurb. Where did this idea come from? I really don’t know. The book’s been out for over 3 years now, and sales are slow but steady.

What if it has still never really hit its stride? Well, that is an easy thing to think, and also an ‘easy’ thing to experiment with. I’m not going to alter the book itself, or the title, or the cover – all of which would require pretty major work. The blurb is its own thing – and while never easy, it is easy enough.

So what’s the idea?

Thank you for asking.

The idea is to refocus the blurb on character drive and emotion. I could write a book probably about the difference between engaging a reader’s interest and their emotions. I think my natural strength (not a great strength) is harnessing a reader’s interest. Intellectually, I can hook them. I can come up with puzzly plots that intrigue, bizarre worlds that require exploration, but what good is that?

People enjoy browsing Wikipedia. It’s intellectually interesting and can suck you in to some degree. But it rarely moves you to spend money. It’s not an experience, not really a story, not really anything but idly killing time really.

What I’ve always needed to work on is emotion. High stakes for a character that arrive front and center. Now here is the current blurb in whole, after which I’ll analyze it bit by bit:

If the dead don’t kill you, the living will.

One year ago talented artist Amo fell into a mysterious coma, dying and reviving multiple times. The experience left him mentally crippled, assaulted by devastating migraines that shut him down for days at a time, until one morning the migraines are simply gone – along with every living soul in New York.

The streets outside are filled with an ocean of the raging dead. A plane tumbles from the sky to crash into Manhattan. Amo is alone, maybe the last man alive in a horrifying, violent world. All he wants is to find other people and discover what the hell happened, but first he’ll have to survive the dead, the despair, and the psychopathic survivors.

It’s time to get creative. He is an artist after all…

Now look at it bit by bit, starting with the 1st paragraph:

One year ago talented artist Amo fell into a mysterious coma, dying and reviving multiple times. The experience left him mentally crippled, assaulted by devastating migraines that shut him down for days at a time, until one morning the migraines are simply gone – along with every living soul in New York.

Is there anything here about who Amo really is – ie – what he desperately wants? It hooks with interest. Line by line analysis:

1st sentence – What crazy thing happened to him (intriguing).

2nd – Just quite how crazy it was, leading (somehow, mysteriously) into the end of the world.

When I wrote this blurb I figured all this ‘interest’ strongly implied Amo was a fighter. He’s been through really hard stuff. But it doesn’t directly say that anywhere!! Implied is no good in a blurb. Also the question of how his illness connects to the end of the world is ‘interesting’, but not more than that.

It’s not slightly emotional. There’s no promise of agony, thrills, romance – any of the major emotions people look for from their fiction. It only harnesses the top-brain intrigue centers. It is weak, let’s say.

I want to hook by the gut.

2nd paragraph:

The streets outside are filled with an ocean of the raging dead. A plane tumbles from the sky to crash into Manhattan. Amo is alone, maybe the last man alive in a horrifying, violent world. All he wants is to find other people and discover what the hell happened, but first he’ll have to survive the dead, the despair, and the psychopathic survivors.

Looking back on this, I see it’s pretty bland. This is every and any zombie book out there, really. What’s unique – that he’s really alone? But that’s how many zombie books start. After coma, the hero wakes to an empty world.

At least here I’ve got something about what Amo wants. But these are pretty distant hopes. It’s not even like ‘find and rescue his family’ or ‘find others before despair drives him to suicide’. Both of these are in the book. They’re not here. It’s like this whole apocalypse is a dry chance for some good clinical anthropology.

Another problem – I’m kind of giving away the game by saying ‘psychopathic other survivors’. So the question of whether he’s really the last man alive is answered pretty much in the blurb?

On balance, I think there’s two drives for Amo, intertwined. One is to find Lara, and by extension other people. The other is to do that before despair drives him to suicide. Can that work in a blurb? I’ll try.

Here’s the final line:

It’s time to get creative. He is an artist after all…

I like this still. It implies a lot – that Amo is going to problem solve in original ways. He’s not beaten, not down and out yet. There’s hope, and it comes through his art. But maybe it’s too breezy. If the conflict here is about despair, this is too upbeat. It needs to feel fraught with despair. Any minute he could fall through the cracks…

Then the tagline:

If the dead don’t kill you, the living will.

This tagline is not grabbing me now. I copied Hugh Howey’s blurb from Wool – ‘If the lies don’t kill you the truth will’, but it’s not really a copiable sentence. His is better. Mine is generic to any zombie series. And again, it gives up the whole story – is Amo really alone? Well, no, not according to this.

Probably that question should be at the core of the blurb. It IS at the core of the actual story, and a large part of what is UNIQUE about this book. Finding reasons to stay alive when everyone else is dead. This book is an existential battle for survival against despair. The real enemy is within. How to express that in a blurb?

The emotion that best describes it would be despair/hope. I want to promise that journey to readers. You’ll feel despair and you’ll feel some glorious hope and redemption. It is not a book short on emotion. There are thrills, and intrigue, but despair/hope is the core. At a minimum, I need those words prominently in the blurb.

I will take a crack at it today and over the next few days. I’ll blog when I have something. In the meantime, all ideas/suggestions/questions welcome!

UPDATE – just an hour later and I have something. Here it is:

Hope. Despair. The last man alive.

A year after surviving a terrifying brain disorder, comic book artist Amo risks his life just to date a girl. Lara. She’s beautiful, smart, and broken in her own ways. Then abruptly she is gone, and along with her, the world.

Amo wakes to an ocean of zombies rolling through the streets of New York. The dead pack into the corridor outside his garret apartment, but he doesn’t care. He has to find Lara. He has to save her. But who’s going to save him?

America is empty, and Amo is alone. When he’s not fighting the dead, he’s fighting despair. His only ray of hope is a slow trek to the West, leaving a trail of grand American artworks behind, pointing the way. Maybe Lara will see them. Maybe she’ll be waiting when he hits LA. And if she’s not. . .

If she’s not, the dead will be, and Amo won’t need to be alone any more.

What do you think?

The new tagline is pretty basic, but it hits the new essential notes economically. Hope/Despair. I’ll keep thinking for something better. An alternate, also basic tagline would be:

Hope. Despair. The real enemy is within.

In this blurb the zombies become the background to a love story / road trip out of despair. This is more genuine to the book, and also more unique, and also more what interested me about the idea at the beginning. What is the point of surviving if you’re alone?

It’s also the key note the whole series turns upon. Hope vs. despair. Looking at the blurb for book 9 showed me that. It’s throughout all the books. At what cost to his soul is Amo willing to survive?

Comments welcome!

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