Anatomy of a Blurb

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I’m writing this as a follow up to last month’s A-to-Z Blog Challenge.  About a week ago (on Sunday!), I knew I needed to knock out the blurb for the Codie Snow story (Once Around the Block) that I’ll be writing.  I know a lot of people were reading it because I was writing it, but let’s be honest–you get most new readers from the blurb!  Because I intend to take this to Wattpad next, I needed a blurb (and I’ll need a cover at some point too).  Since I made the A-to-Z Challenge all about “here’s my process,” I thought I’d share the blurb-writing process with you as well.

I tried something a little different this time.  I involved my Facebook group in it as well.  I wasn’t sure where I wanted to take the blurb or what would resonate with readers, so I asked if anyone would be interested in offering feedback.  I got some but I want to caution writers out there.  I now know that it’s just as dangerous to ask for feedback before you’re done with the first draft of a blurb as it is to ask for feedback on a book you’re not done writing.  Scary!  And if you ask for feedback, readers want to help, but they can’t see inside your head!  My biggest issue was that there are two big conflicts–one is an outer conflict (the main character has put herself in a situation that is dangerous and could cost her her life) and the other is more an internal conflict (she loves two men, both completely different, and she doesn’t know which one she wants to end up with).  I was grappling with which one I wanted to emphasize, because both stem from Codie’s general unhappiness with her life.  I’m going to show you the blurb I wound up with (and I think I’m happy with it now) and then–for those of you who are interested–I’m going to show you the earlier drafts and explain why I changed them.  I’m not going to show you every little change but rather the bigger changes–because it went through a lot of iterations to get it right!

(PS  As an aside, because I know people will ask:  Dalton, Colorado, is a fictional place!)

Final blurb for Once Around the Block:

Something’s gotta give…but Codie Snow doesn’t know if it needs to be her non-committal workaholic ex-boyfriend attorney Slade Sheppard or her unsatisfying job as a nursing assistant. Because even though the chemistry with Slade is off-the-charts hot and the job is a necessary evil, she doesn’t know that she wants either.

Enter Pete Olsen, bad ass cop in charge of serving and protecting the town of Dalton, Colorado. Codie goes on a ride-along with Pete and sees the seedy underbelly of her town, witnessing the gamut—from an amusing domestic dispute to a frightening meth lab explosion—and she decides that law enforcement is not for her.

But Pete just might be.

When Codie learns that a supposed suicide Pete investigated on the ride-along is actually a murder, she poses as a religious fanatic in order to gain access to the controlling cult where the dead woman was discovered, hoping to find the truth. But has she instead set herself up to be murdered—and will she uncover the killer before she becomes the next victim?

After many hours and lots of tweaking, I think I’m happy with it.  But let’s start with the place where most writers begin:  the idea.  I already knew where the story was (mostly) going and had already written 18,000-ish words by the time I got to this point.  Sometimes, I’ll write the blurb long before I write the story, but other times the blurb comes later (as in this case).  I knew the time was ripe to get it done and so I started here.  I felt like the place to start was with her feeling torn between the two men and her general dissatisfaction with life, and that’s probably thanks to my need to focus on relationships first, other stuff second (if you’ve read my Nicki Sosebee series, then you know what I mean).  I asked my group if they preferred long or short blurbs and most said short.  I think short is good, but sometimes you don’t give all the info if you cut it too short.  In this case, I knew it would need to be bigger–but how big?  That was the question.  So this was the first draft for the blurb:

Codie Snow needs something in her life to change, but she doesn’t know what exactly. It could be her crappy job as a nursing assistant which sometimes feels rewarding but more often leaves her feeling abused and underpaid. It might be her love life—her frustrating on-again, off-again relationship with hotshot lawyer Slade Sheppard is currently off. When they’re together, it’s hot, but his obsession with his work too often leaves her cold.

Needing to switch things up, Codie decides to go on a ride-along with old flame Pete Olsen—former high school quarterback turned cop, and while he’s taking down bad guys, he’s arresting her heart, and the two end up reigniting the spark.

When Codie returns to her day-to-day life, she realizes that things aren’t over with Slade yet—and she’s pretty sure she doesn’t want to be a cop. The only thing she knows for sure is that she needs her best friend in her life—Matthew, the life of the party. Without him, she feels rudderless. She’s no longer sure about Pete, Slade, nursing…or law enforcement.

But when she discovers that the suicide she investigated with Pete on the ride-along was actually a murder, her curiosity is piqued…and she knows she needs to follow the story to the end, no matter the cost to her life or her relationships.

Yep, it’s a first draft–most definitely rough–and I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go with it.  The first thing I had to chop was the reference to Matthew.  As much as I’d wanted to emphasize their friendship and the fact that he’ll be a bit of comic relief, I couldn’t fit him in the blurb without making it clunky.  I revised the first part first, because I wanted it to grab the reader harder and this is what I came up with:

Something’s gotta give…but Codie Snow doesn’t know if it needs to be her non-committal workaholic ex-boyfriend attorney Slade Sheppard or her unsatisfying job as a nursing assistant. Because even though the chemistry with Slade is off the charts hot and the job is a necessary evil, she doesn’t know that she’s the girl for either.

Enter Pete Olsen, stage left, hot ex-boyfriend, current cop watching over the town of Dalton, Colorado, a guy who just might be the change Codie needs.

Readers in my group liked it better, and a couple of readers said they liked it short like this one.  But the problem I saw was that it wasn’t complete.  While it might be short and intriguing, it would be selling readers a bill of goods.  It’s only half the story, and I didn’t want future readers disappointed when the book didn’t just focus on the love triangle.  I finished writing that one but then also decided to write a blurb focusing only on the other part of the story to see what I could come up with.  Here’s that attempt:

HOW the HELL did this HAPPEN?

Codie Snow, in pursuit of something meaningful, discovers too late that she’s put herself in a pickle by posing as a religious fanatic. Sure, she’s gained access into the cult where a woman’s murder was staged to look like a suicide, but she finds all too late that she’s put herself in harm’s way—and she doesn’t know if she’ll find out the truth before she winds up another victim…

Readers liked that one too.  Oy!  So now I was really struggling.  I knew I’d have to find a way to combine all the important parts while trying to be as concise as possible.  Here was the merge:

HOW the HELL did this HAPPEN?

Something’s gotta give…but Codie Snow doesn’t know if it needs to be her non-committal workaholic ex-boyfriend attorney Slade Sheppard or her unsatisfying job as a nursing assistant. Because even though the chemistry with Slade is off the charts hot and the job is a necessary evil, she doesn’t know that she’s the girl for either.

Enter Pete Olsen stage left: bad ass cop watching over the town of Dalton, Colorado, a guy who just might be the change Codie needs. Codie goes on a ride-along with Pete, sees the seedy underbelly of her town, witnessing the gamut, from an amusing domestic dispute to a frightening meth lab explosion, and she decides that law enforcement is not for her.

But Pete just might be.

And, when she learns that a supposed suicide she’d seen while shadowing Pete is actually a murder, she asks herself again what she wants out of life—because she just can’t leave the case alone. Against the advice of both Slade and Pete, Codie puts herself in harm’s way to find out the truth, going undercover as a religious fanatic to gain access to a controlling and dangerous cult and discovers that, for the first time in ages, she feels alive.

She’d better enjoy it, because she might not feel alive for much longer if she becomes another victim before finding out who’s behind the murder…

So…getting close but there were still a few problems.  The first was that, as clever as it might be, the opening line (first paragraph) had to go.  Too vague and not grabby enough.  I had to rely on the rest of the blurb to do the work of compelling the reader.  The very end was also a problem, because I was afraid there wasn’t nearly enough there to make the reader think, “Holy crap!  I have to buy this!!!”  I ultimately decided to end with a question, and I ran it past several people before deciding I was okay with it.  But don’t be surprised.  I still keep picking at it and the final version you see at the top might wind up once more being discarded for something else.  Guess we’ll have to wait and see–but the one at the very top is the one I posted on Wattpad.  🙂  Let’s see how it goes!

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