Melissa Blue tweeted this week, “Pro tip: The point of the blurb isn’t to tell you the story, it’s to SELL you the story.” That sentence came to me just as I was already thinking about blurbs, and complicated the matter.
First, a blurb is the short summary of the book used to lure readers into the buying the story. Naturally, a good blurb is very useful to the reader in choosing a story to her tastes, but it is also a good tool for writers.
For example, if you get stuck in the writing of your book, write the blurb for the book-in-your-head. Compare it to what you have in your draft, and see if you’ve drifted from the point, or if you are still on target.
This is a case where the blurb tells the story, and I think that’s an important part of blurbiness. A blurb should accurately portray the book, or it is just fooling the reader, right?
That said, it’s a hassle trying to fit 65,000 words into 100 succinct ones, especially if the writer plays with genre or tropes.
This month, I did a comfort re-read of Georgette Heyer’s Sprig Muslin, and it was satisfying and as comforting as I could have wished for. When I looked at the back of the book, though, I was shocked.
“Finding so young and pretty a girl as Amanda wandering unattended, Sir Gareth Ludlow knows it is his duty as a man of honour to restore her to her family. But it is to prove no easy task for the Corinthian. His captive in sprig muslin has more than her rapturous good looks and bandboxes to aid her – she is also possessed of a runaway imagination.”
Now, I’ve got to dive into spoiler territory.
Georgette Heyer is known as a writer’s writer. It took me three books to get hooked into her universe of early 19th century England, but once I was hooked, I could easily appreciate her madcap plotting, the way she makes the most ridiculous situations seem a matter of course (once you accept certain tenets of her Universe), and the way she plays with romance tropes.
The blurb describes a very common trope in romance: the strong and masterful hero (with a dead first love, as we discover in the first chapter) must tame a feisty younger lady and both must convince themselves to succumb to love.
But this ain’t that story.
The blurb doesn’t even mention the true heroine, Hester, who is a spinster living in camouflage deflecting the hurtful attitudes of her family. Gareth (our hero) decides he must fulfill his duty and marry to produce a heir (another very common trope), and decides to propose to gentle, seemingly-boring Hester because he gets along quite well with her. Hester likes Gareth very well, but is obstinately opposed to match and does a lot of mysterious crying in her bed chamber.
The Heroine of the Blurb is Amanda, and she is portrayed accurately. Her stunning good looks are a match for Gareth’s handsome, most-sought-after bachelor appearance, and she’s running away from home so that she can force her grandfather to let her marry HER true love – Neil of the Horse Guards. She’s only 16 years old, though.
In general, I don’t like many of Heyer’s feisty young heroines because they are so selfish and without foresight, so the blurb wouldn’t have persuaded me to read the book. (The book came highly recommended, though, so I did buy it and it was one of the first five Heyers I read.)
But Amanda does have a certain amount of common sense to go with that creative imagination. So, I like Amanda just fine. She belongs in the blurb.
The question is: Where is gentle Hester? The blurb doesn’t need to set her up as the heroine (that would spoil the twist in the story), but I think she needs to be mentioned BECAUSE SHE IS THE HEROINE.
“Leaving her with his good friend, Lady Hester, while he searches for her family isn’t enough to keep the impetuous beauty from running away yet again.” Or something like that.
But . . . while it tells the story, does it sell the book?
To be honest, I think Heyers get picked up mostly because of good word of mouth. Lois McMaster Bujold recommended Heyer to her mailing list, and several other fans chimed in with praise. I’ve since learned that many authors, men and women, read and love Heyer. Her anti-semitism in The Grand Sophy is a slap in the face, but it doesn’t appear in every book, and there’s much to learn from her.
So, is it OK to tell only half the story in the blurb if it sells the book? Or is it misleading the reader too much?
The blurb should answer who, what, when, where and most importantly, why the reader should buy the book. As for this blurb:
WHO: It gets Amanda and Gareth but completely drops Hester, the real heroine of the book.
WHAT: Madcap romance. Right on target there.
WHEN: Coded words (“Corinthian” and “sprig muslin”) and the writing style suggest the Regency period.
WHERE: “Sir Gareth Ludlow” does suggest Great Britain.
WHY: It’s a younger girl and a man in the prime of his life love story! Well, no, it is not. But Heyer certainly leads the savvy reader to expect that this is the case, so I can forgive this little diversion.
I simply can’t decide if it’s a bad blurb, or if I’m being picky with the clear, 20-20 hindsight of a re-reader. What do you think?