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Relay Publishing’s Chief Operating Officer, Tamar Crane, interviews Blurb Writer and Editor — Andrew Warren

Tamar

So, Andrew, how did you get into blurb writing?

Andrew

I was already an author and a screenwriter and I was looking for something in the author space, a way to make some income in between book releases, but that was still creative and that I enjoyed doing. I actually started because a lot of my author friends would come to me for help with their blurbs, and I had done copywriting in the past. I had written promo material for various companies, and so I thought maybe I could take some of that knowledge and use my writing skills in that area. I started a Fiverr gig that did pretty well, writing blurbs for other authors, and then small publishers started to contact me. So I started writing blurbs for not just individual authors, but for publishing companies that had a whole stable of authors, including Relay.

It’s really fun, and it helps me as an author, too, because writing’s writing! The more you’re exercising those muscles and trying to communicate ideas, I think, the better it is for your craft. And also I have to write my own blurbs for my own books, and so the more blurbs I do, the more polished I can make them.

Tamar

It’s great that you managed to find a way to earn some extra coin from your craft! Did you have formal training as an author?

Andrew

I studied writing in school. I studied film and English, and in the English degree, there were different focuses you could have, like, you could have a literature focus or an educational focus. I had a writing focus in my degree. I don’t think that it’s necessary to be a writer or to write blurbs. But I did have that background.

Tamar

Did you do anything specific to help with blurb writing specifically?

Andrew

I had done various kinds of promotional writing. I work in the entertainment field in Los Angeles, with several small production companies, not really in a creative position, more in a technical position. When you sell a TV show, you create something called a sizzle, which is like a pitch, a very short script, almost like a movie trailer for a TV show that hasn’t been produced yet. One company I worked with was having trouble putting together some sizzles for some shows they wanted to pitch, and I said, “Oh, I’m a writer, if you want I’ll take a crack at it!”, and I wrote one of them and the owner of the company read it and was like, “Who wrote this? This is great!” So I started writing all of their promotional and sizzle material. That was before I published any books or anything. So I did sort of have a background in promotional copywriting, but not specifically for books.

There are some similarities, I think, between sizzle scripts and blurbs. They’re both trying to get across an idea quickly and to figure out how to hook an audience.

Tamar

So when you did start writing blurbs, was there anything particular that you did to help hone your process?

Andrew

I certainly did a lot of research. I would look at books that were doing well, both traditionally published and independent, and just try to see commonalities. What were they doing? What were their blurbs like? How long were they? What kind of language did they use?

I was looking at different genres, like how certain romance genres would use first-person tense for their blurb, whereas others used third person and I tried to figure out why they were doing that. I did a lot of personal, individual research, and read books about blurbs and writing.

I think at the end of the day, it really just comes down to seeing what other people are doing and understanding why they’re doing it and just looking at what’s out there. I think that’s the best. Amazon is a free school as far as I’m concerned, you can look at hundreds of books and see what the successful ones are doing and write in your own style.

Tamar

What would you say is the hardest part about blurb writing?

Andrew

I think the hardest part is to not get caught up in the minutiae of the story. A lot of blurbs read like a short synopsis of the story. But that isn’t really what readers are looking for. They really want you to convey the feeling of the book, and so sometimes when I’m writing blurbs for other clients, I have to try and cut back on the details. Usually not publisher clients though, because publishers, I think, are aware of this.

Individual authors, a lot of times I have to really kind of get them to look past like the, “well, this happens and then this happens, and then…” No! You don’t need to tell readers all that. What’s the feeling of the story? What are the core concepts? What really stands out? What makes your story different from every other story in this genre and what makes it the same? You need some of both, readers are looking for tropes that they’re familiar with and that they enjoy. But they also want to know what is a little bit different. So trying to let the plot take a back seat and just stick to the basics, I think is probably the hardest part.

Tamar

Yeah, that’s true. I like that! Look for the feel of the story… Do you usually write from outlines or do you tend to read the finished story?

Andrew

For blurbs specifically it depends on who I’m working with. If I’m working with an author, one on one, I have a list of questions I ask them that are based on kind of my own process that I’ve developed that gives me all the information that I need. Honestly, I wouldn’t have time to read a book for every blurb I write. But even if I did, I don’t think that would be helpful because I think that’s almost too much information because you’re trying to convey something to a reader who hasn’t read the book.

The key things that you need can be summarized on a page. I think reading the book, I can see how it would be very easy to get lost down a rabbit hole of the plot when I write blurbs for my own books. That’s what I find challenging, is to kind of forget all this story that I’ve spent months writing and just kind of focus on what’s really going to hook a reader. What am I trying to convey? Because you can only convey so much, you have to pick your battles. You’ve got to choose the most important things to get across in these one or two hundred words.

Tamar

Do you have any guidance for people that are writing blurbs from outlines? I realize outlines can be quite long, and because you’re going for the feeling, is there any specific area in the outline that you focus on?

Andrew

I do try to get a sense of the general story just so I know what I’m talking about. So I try to kind of compress the story down into the three acts and get it as short as I can. I’ll request, if they can, to just give me a few sentences about each act. That’s all I want.

But what I really try to focus on are the characters, especially with Relay Publishing because they do a lot of romance and a lot of fantasy. What is it about this character that readers are going to really love? If it’s a romance, what kind of romance is it? A cowboy romance? What is the fantasy of the cowboy romance? It’s the freedom of the open country and being away from the big cities and being in a small town and those kinds of people and those kinds of values, and the adventure of the open countryside where anything can happen. I try to feel what’s attractive to the reader about that niche and use language that reflects that versus like a Navy SEAL romance, where it’s more about the danger of having this rugged Alpha protector but who also has a softer side. The language I’ll use for that kind of romance is going to be very different from a cowboy romance, which is going to lean in more a little bit of the way you would expect people to talk in a country and that kind of slang and that kind of vernacular and maybe a lazier kind of rhythm whereas for Navy SEAL it’s going to be more hard-hitting. It’s like there’s got to be a hint of danger just trying to figure out what is the fantasy for this particular story and what’s going to resonate with readers and then finding the elements of each book that reinforce that.

Tamar

What would you say is the best part about Blurb writing?

Andrew

Well, one thing, I don’t know if this is the best part about being a blurb writer, but one of my favorite parts of a blurb is to write the tagline at the beginning. So I always try to start my blurbs with a very catchy tagline, and I think they’re really fun to write. Because to me, that gets to the heart of what marketing and copywriting are best at, where you’re just using this one sentence to catch someone’s attention.

Tamar

Really, it’s like your elevator pitch?

Andrew

Yeah, exactly. And there are different techniques you can employ. There’s all different kinds of hooks and things you can do. Some of them are based on the characters, or some of them are based on cognitive dissonance, two ideas that don’t seem to go together and you’re like, oh, that’s interesting. But just finding a way in that first sentence to really grab someone’s attention, I think, is really fun.

At times I’ll write the blurb first, and then I’ll go back to the beginning and try to look at what I’ve written and figure out what’s going to really hook the reader, or I might have a place holder. I’ll write something, but when I finish, I’ll go back and fine-tune that tagline most of all, because to me, that’s the most important part. I really enjoy working on that part a lot.

Tamar

With Relay at least, you also work as a reviewer, editor, and fixer of blurbs. What would you say are common mistakes that you come across?

Andrew

I don’t know if they’re mistakes or not, but for one thing, I noticed a lot of blurbs don’t have that hook at the beginning. They don’t use that tagline, and as I said, to me, that’s the most important part. So I always make sure to include that when I’m doing a revision.

A lot of times, blurbs are too long. I think again, they focus on details that might be important to, I don’t know, who originally wrote the book. I don’t know if it’s the author of the story or an editor, but I know a lot of times when authors write their own blurbs, they get very hung up on minutiae. It’s like, well, okay, he’s not a Navy SEAL, he’s a former Navy Seal, but then, he might get reinstated… There’s all these details about him, beyond the basic concept.. It might be important to the story, but the reader will get that when they read the book, you don’t need to spend ten words describing this guy’s background to get to the heart of it. Move on.

So you have to grab the reader, because readers… They’re not reading blurbs like it’s a school assignment! They’re scanning. They’re only half paying attention, in my opinion, until you grab them, until you give them what they want. So for a Navy SEAL romance, give them the Navy SEAL romance as quickly as you can organically get to it, and then they’re going to go, “Oh, I love these kinds of books!”, and then they’ll start paying attention.

Tamar

What advice would you give to other aspiring blurb writers?

Andrew

It definitely takes a lot of time and practice to really be successful. Like I said before, I think one of the most important things you can do is look at all different voices, all different genres because you’ll see pretty quickly that every genre has its own conventions, and there’s a reason for that. So you want to try to find a way to take your language and your style and blend it with what the genre demands, because readers are looking for those things.

I write for one publisher, and all they do is horror, and those blurbs are very different. They are a little bit more plot-focused, and there’s a sense of ominous mystery, and there’s definitely sort of guidelines on how graphic you want to be and what works better left to the reader’s imagination, those kinds of things.

I think the only way to really learn all that is to just read lots and lots of blurbs and see what people are doing. And read blurbs, not just for the big, traditionally published books, but also find the smaller indie publishers and authors that are successful, The really big, traditional publishers, they do tend to have good work because they’re hiring copywriters. But if the book is not selling well, they can dump millions of dollars into advertising and it will still be a successful release. But for the smaller publishers, everything has to be just right. I find that they tend to be more focused on the blurbs than the bigger ones.

Tamar

Yeah, that’s a really good point. So, would you recommend it — blurb writing I mean?

Andrew

It depends if you like writing! Some people hate writing blurbs. A lot of the people that come to me are very capable writers, but they just don’t like writing blurbs, so they give it to me. I think you have to find what’s fun about it and what’s enjoyable about it, and to me, like I said, finding that perfect hook and conveying a story that’s going to excite a reader in this little tiny package. I do enjoy that. So it’s no fun if you hate it. Of course, don’t do it if you don’t enjoy it. It’s a great way to make a some extra money. You learn, and you’re learning stuff that’s going to help you with your books, too.

Tamar

Absolutely. Thank you Andrew. Is there anything else you’d like to say to the people that will be reading this?

Andrew

Just read a lot of blurbs. Like I said, Amazon, if you want to write blurbs, Amazon is like a blurb writing school. It’s all right there. You can look at successful authors and unsuccessful authors and all different genres. Check it out. And good luck!