Sell the sizzle not the steak in book blurbs – Writing Update 2019 Week 42

MJG Story Craft, Weekly Writing Update, Writing Leave a Comment

When I launched the Soul Jacker box set last week, I also took a hard look at the blurb I was using for Soul Jacker book 1.

This blurb was only a few months old. It’s a book I’ve re-blurbed multiple times. But somehow, this time around I could see how little of the ‘sizzle’ was coming through. It was all steak. Descriptive. Interesting.

Not exciting.

David Gluckman Case Study

Maybe it was doing a mentoring session with David Gluckman, inventor of Bailey’s Irish Cream, a few weeks back that helped me see this. In advance of our session I took a look at the blurb for his book – a business biography about his numerous drinks inventions – and immediately felt like it was all steak with no sizzle.

Here is what he had on Amazon (and still has at the moment) for his book That Shit Will Never Sell:

The book is about ideas, mainly in the alcoholic drinks sector. Its centrepiece is the creation of Baileys Irish Cream. It is written in a light anecdotal style and will appeal to both business people and others who are interested in the way ideas happen.

It’s apparent. It’s descriptive. It may even be interesting, but it certainly is not exciting. Now, this is non-fiction, so exciting doesn’t have to be about conflict. As a business book, it should make me feel excited to learn something new. I’m getting the lowdown on the inside track.

I started kicking around a new blurb in my head. Develop an instant conflict. Pump it up with superlatives. If we can learn anything from Trump, it’s that people respond to confidence and authority. Here’s what I came up with:

The untold battle for Bailey’s Irish Cream (and other classic drinks brands) by a visionary drinks supremo.

4 billion bottles sold across 230 countries. A product family 15 layers deep. A brand emblazoned into the global consciousness – and in 1973, when neophyte drinks entrepreneur David Gluckman brewed Baileys Irish Cream from the ground up, the investors said:

“That sh*t will never sell.”

They were wrong.

This iconic business autobiography is crammed with delightful anecdotes, jaw-dropping drinks photography and the inside story of a dozen famous drinks brand – telling in loving, laugh-filled detail the unexpected story of David Gluckman’s rise from drinks dreamer to global alcohol impresario.

Learn:

  • How to keep faith and earn buy-in when doubters pour scorn on your creativity.
  • When to push hard in a pitch and when to ease back and take a critique.
  • How to shepherd your idea through the gauntlet of the modern business machine.

It starts off with conflict and secrecy using evocative language. It pumps up the authority of the author. It makes sense of that title (That shit will never sell), and adds powerful adjectives. It adds the Learn list, which I believe is common in these kinds of business titles.

So, this was the marketing department (that part of my brain) at work. I figured, if it can do this for someone else’s book, why not my own? Pump my blurbs up with steroids. Make them exciting. Everyone else is doing it, so why not me?

Soul Jacker Case Study:

So here is the old (pretty recent) blurb for Soul Jacker:

“MJG proves that cyberpunk is alive and kicking.” – Michael Marshall Smith, bestselling SF author.
“Superb – a Fantastic Voyage into the soul.” – Pat Mills, creator of 2000AD featuring Judge Dredd.
2364. A terrified girl flees a brutal slumlord…
It’s been a long time since Ritry risked his sanity on a deep-brain Soul-jack. Once renowned for hacking the most lethal minds, now he peddles cheap memory implants on the neon-lit slums of the Arctic Circle – staying out of trouble, mostly.
Then a terrified girl bolts into his jack-site, seeking a unique brain-hack to escape Don Zachary, the vicious slumlord. Ritry’s no hero, but he won’t stand by while another innocent dies.
Yet the Don does not forgive. Hounded from the slums, Ritry flees into the forgotten ruins of the old world, only to find a far crueler predator lying in wait, one with a dark taste for living Souls – plunging Ritry into one last desperate jack with the Souls of all humanity on the line…

On reflection, I feel it’s lacking in sizzle. The opening quotes are nice but not 11 out of 10. The opening paragraph is fair, though opening with ‘It’s been a long time…’ hints at long waits, which is slow and dull. It ends with a hint of a kicker (staying out of trouble, mostly…), but paragraph 2 (Then a terrified girl…) does not really carry that kicker on.

The enemy is a slumlord? OK, but not fascinating. Humdrum SF crime, maybe. It’s implied that Ritry helps the girl. So what? What’s at stake?

In paragraph 3 things compound. Maybe they get confusing. It was a slumlord, now it’s a crueler predator? It’s too many steps. Slumlord, and Ritry does this, then predator, and Ritry does this…

So let’s simplify, clarify, pump it up, and re-serve:

The Complete Acclaimed Soul Jacker Trilogy in One Box Set! Ferocious new SF – bristling with razor-bright ideas and action.

Once the greatest of the Soul Jackers – shock marines deployed to hijack pivotal enemy minds – Ritry now peddles cheap memory implants on the neon-lit slums of the Arctic Circle – staying out of trouble, mostly.

But trouble is stalking him. On a drunken night out at the slum’s floating edge, Ritry stumbles upon a bizarre murder scene staged just for him. The killer calls himself Mr. Ruin, a long-lived cannibal of souls, and threatens to eat Ritry’s soul alive if he won’t attempt an impossible heist – stealing a mythical weapon from the no-man’s-land of the inner mind

Now Ritry must plunge into the most dangerous jack ever, racing both the murderous Mr. Ruin and the terminal defenses of the inner mind, with the souls of all humanity hanging in the balance…

“If you’re a fan of Stephenson and Gibson, you must read Soul Jacker!” – Pat Mills, creator of 2000AD featuring Judge Dredd.

Right from the off, we’ve got power words that say the story will be 11/10. Ferocious. Bristling. Razor-bright. Paragraph 1 is the same except it has shock marines, hijack, pivotal. Paragraph 2 is a complete change – the girl is gone, the slumlord is gone, we’re straight in picking up the kicker (Trouble is stalking him). We go fast to ‘cannibal of the soul’ – pretty wacky.

People may balk, since they don’t know what that is, but I can’t explain everything. The words will have to explain enough. Intrigue is it’s own hook, and there’s more of it with the murder scene staged just for him. Why?

Then we go direct to stakes. This is what Ruin wants – a heist to get a weapon from the lethal inner mind. This is what he’ll do to Ritry – eat his soul. All done by the end of paragraph 2, forming a clear kicker: what will Ritry do?

We zip to paragraph 3 – Ritry takes on both, Ruin and the inner mind, and the stakes get bigger – not just his soul but everyone’s.

Then the quote – mentioning Stephenson and Gibson here, in Pat Mills’ words, is surely the most impactful. This is what readers need to know.

So, sizzle!

What do you think? I feel it’s better than ever. Punchier. More aggressive. Cleaner, and more gripping as a blurb.

I can do this for you too. Check out my mentoring page.

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