The other day I had to write a couple of blurbs. It was a job – as in paying. Really. Try not to fall out of your chair. (No blog readers were harmed in the writing of this post.)
Along the twisting path of my professional life, my first big (read: good) job was as a promotional writer for Doubleday. I was editor for two book clubs, the Doubleday Romance Library and The American Garden Guild. It was a job so wonderful I never fully recovered. Aside from the perks — 2-hour lunches, unlimited sick days and all the books you could eat — my colleagues were intelligent, funny, literate and one of them is my best friend.
The work was fun too. It hardly seemed like work. I never stopped being amazed someone would pay me to do something I enjoyed so much. I got paid to read books on company time. Imagine getting paid to read best-sellers. Mind boggling, isn’t it?
After reading them, I would write them up for various book clubs like Doubleday Book Club and Literary Guild for which everyone wrote because they were the biggest clubs and had the most mailings and promotions. All told, we were 13 writers and 15 graphic artists, plus a few editors. I was a writer (big surprise).
Each writer had his or her club or clubs for which we did the mailings, promotions, flyers, blurbs, book flaps … whatever. It was advertising, sort of, but not exactly. Promotions are closely related to advertising, but not quite the same though there’s an overlap.
The thing is, we lived and died by the blurb. Book flaps (the fold over pieces of a book jacket) are long blurbs. Promotional mailers can be long or short or downright tiny. One way or the other, you had to fit a lot of stuff in a very small space because how many characters you could use (no not words, characters … including punctuation and spaces) was determined by the layout. Which was designed by the graphic artist … not known for flexibility.
Sometimes you could negotiate a little with an artist (always be very nice to the artists … they control your space) if you absolutely couldn’t work in the allotted space. Usually there wasn’t much room for negotiations. If you had 1000 characters, you might be able to stretch it to 1050, but 50 characters isn’t much flexibility. So you learned to write to whatever space you were given. Or got a job doing something else.
Everything counts when have a 100-word blur. You can’t explain. You imply. Suggest. You can’t use sentences. You write words. Exclamations. You can’t tell a story yet you have to give at least a general outline of what the book’s about.
It’s interesting reducing the complex plot of a 500 page book to 100 words. That’s what I did. I hadn’t done it since the mid 1970s, so I wasn’t sure I still knew how, but it turns out it’s like riding a bike but you don’t break anything if you fall off.
I did it. Pretty well. One blurb, 250 words. Exactly. Second blurb. 100 words. Precisely.
One complete sentence. The rest? Murder! Chaos! Poison! Kidnapping! Secrets! Thrilling adventure from the author of …
If you are a writer and think this is easy, try describing your favorite book in 100 words. Exactly. Then tell me it’s easy. If you have to write it for your own book? No writer should have to do blurbs for his or her own book. It’s cruel and unusual punishment. Like someone asking you to describe your leg. I always went blank when asked. My book was like a body part. I couldn’t separate myself from it sufficiently to say anything intelligent. I still can’t and it’s 6 years later.
It took me almost a year to remember how to write whole sentences after I left Doubleday. I wish I could go back. Those really, truly, absolutely were the good old days.
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