In a world where all authors want to be noticed, but few are self-aware…

They wanted to lose themselves, he came with a book that took no prisoners…

Jane was a simple writer, unaware that her life was about to hilariously change forever…



What do these things have in common? Well, you probably read them in the movie-trailer voice. If you did, good, if you didn’t, try it. These are examples of what your catchphrase should never be. Movies can be cheesy, books cannot (chick lit is just…fuck, I can’t explain it, all right? We have to live with knowing a genre of pure cheese did well for a long time. Sigh.)

When self-publishing you must write your own blurb and catchphrase, and if you use Smashwords you need a short description that’s super-condensed blurb.

So let’s cover these things. We’re going for an inverted triangle of length, so let’s start with the blurb. First off, what is the blurb? If you’re making a paperback, it’s what it comes on the back, or for eBooks it’s the description (or long description on Smashbooks). If the cover makes someone pause to look at your book, the description is what sells it by and large.

The most discerning read the sample, the first chapter or so, but you hook with your blurb, so it must be tight, informative, and enticing.



BLURB STEP ONE: BOIL DOWN YOUR SYNOPSIS

Open your synopsis, copy it, and paste it into a new document. Save this as your blurb. It’s three pages. We want two or three paragraphs. DON’T ARGUE! I don’t care if some authors go longer. This is your first book, so you’re going to do everything by the book. Once you master the basics, then you can think outside the box. As a note, the blurb, short description, and catchphrase are all written in present-tense (your book better not be!)

Start by removing mention of secondary characters. Then remove any mentions of minor conflicts. That should cut out about one page, leaving you with two. Now, delete the last 2-3 paragraphs that discuss the resolution.

Now you have one and a half pages. It’s time to condense this. We’re not paying attention to style yet, just form. Go line by line. Weed out unnecessary sentences or descriptions. In a synopsis, for example, when you introduce the character you need to give approximate age, job, body type. That can go. Mentions of places (his house, her office, etc) can go. Even locations of city are optional.

Keep pruning until you have two paragraphs. Be vicious! We’re going to polish it up once you have this, but you need to have two paragraphs of raw material. It should look something like this:



Public defender Samantha Jones is assigned to career thief and con artist Thomas Paling, accused of murder. They work together as he tells a story of being framed. Thom cons Sam into sleeping with him. She hears out his story and begins investigating.  

She finds old girlfriends, enemies, a large field of suspects. Someone tries to kill her. She finds cop George Davis who hates Thom and likely framed him for this murder, but defends himself saying Thom killed his partner. Sam investigates that murder. As she goes along, Thom finds himself falling in love with her.



Notice there is no conclusion here. It’s very boiled down, almost only the major external conflicts of the story and the three main characters. That is what you want. I’m a little advanced at this, so the clue to their ages is in the history: Thom is a career criminal, meaning he has a long rap sheet, so he’s probably over 35. Sam is a public defender, and if you know anything about them she’s likely very young, mid-twenties, and if she sleeps with a client she’s either stupid, crooked, or naïve. As our main character, we can only hope naïve. Once it looks like this, it’s onto the next step.



BLURB STEP TWO: MAKE IT FLOW

Make these two paragraphs flow better. Keep it to two for this stage. Simply use more relaxed language. Try saying it out loud. Once it sounds like something you would actually say to another person, it’s right. For example: 



Public defender Samantha Jones is assigned to defend career criminal Thomas Paling for murder. Thom, in fear for his life, spins a seductive tale about a con man and thief in the wrong place the wrong time. Desperately he seduces Sam who begins to trust him, and looks into the facts of the case.

Working a timeline to the murder she uncovers angry girlfriends, dangerous enemies, and a police force determined to see him go down. Detective George Davis stands out in the crowd and may have framed Thom, but he has his reasons: he believes Thom killed his partner and escaped justice years ago.



BLURB STEP THREE: CREATE A HOOK

Your blurb must end on a question. The reader is identifying with the protagonist, so what are his/her greatest three questions? 

The greatest question is the question the protagonist is first charged with answering. For Sam it is if Thomas is guilty of the first murder for which he is currently on trial. If you wrote right, this question is not solved until the very end. It’s what drives all readers. In romances it is: will love last? In coming of age it’s: will the main character survive these changes? In the hero journey it’s: can the hero defeat the villain? 

The second greatest question is the one the main character must face in the story that threatens their ability to answer the first. In romance it’s the sub-plot (will the countess uncover her stalker?), in coming of age it’s the secondary path (will the chance to join the band stop her from her dream of painting?), in hero myths it’s the temptation (will he give in to the dark side and turn on his friends? Will one of his friends give in to the dark side and turn on the hero?), and in mysteries it’s the major doubt to the first hypothesis (I know he’s guilty of this crime, but wait, what’s this new mystery that might prove a prior history of innocence?).

In our example it’s if Thomas is guilty of another murder and escaped justice.

The third question is the salacious one. The sexy one. The naughty one. The one we all want. Will she sleep with the football team? Will he get the shiny new X-Box? Will she get away with murder? Will he be able to marry the rich woman and keep the hot girl for a lover? Every book needs some sense of naughtiness, nothing sells better.

In our case it’s whether or not Samantha will let a physical affair sway her commitment to justice. Is the sword mightier than the scale, so to speak.

List your three questions. Mine are:



Is Thomas guilty of the current murder?

Did Thomas get away with murder before?

Will Samantha cover up his crimes if he seduces her?



The hook is your final paragraph and comes from these questions. You might only have two paragraphs when done adding these questions and these will be part of them, but for now let’s make them their own. Again, word them as you would in conversation.



Public defender Samantha Jones is assigned to defend career criminal Thomas Paling for murder. Thom, in fear for his life, spins a seductive tale about a con man and thief in the wrong place the wrong time. Desperately he seduces Sam who begins to trust him, looking into the facts of the case.

Working a timeline to the murder she uncovers angry girlfriends, dangerous enemies, and a police force determined to see him go down. Detective George Davis stands out in the crowd and may have framed Thom, but he has his reasons: he believes Thom killed his partner and escaped justice years ago.

Samantha must confront harsh truth: if Thomas killed before, is history repeating itself? And if he escaped justice once, is the growing passion between them just another smoke screen for a second great escape?



BLURB STEP FOUR: SEX SELLS, BABY

We still have a kind of raw blurb, and before we make it as smooth as Billy D. Williams at the Playboy Mansion, we need to sex it up. Children’s books too! By sex I mean naughty, vice, the forbidden things that titillate us: breaking the rules, garnering notoriety, kinky sex, drugs, rock and roll, fame, getting away with a crime. We all fantasize about these things, we just try not to hurt people in our pursuit of them if we’re normally socialized. Books are escapist fantasies at heart, so know which of these things you have to sell.

Now we have to sell them from the protagonist’s viewpoint and the readers’. We need to amp up the doubt on questions. Did Thom get away with murder? That’s a legal question. We want moral. Should Thom have gotten away with murder? Oooh, now we’re talking. Should Thom have gotten away with murder twice? Even better! See how it appeals to the titillation of getting away with a crime? Why do you think they made so many sequels to Ocean’s Eleven? Why do you think Elmore Leonard has such a great career?

To place that question in the reader’s mind we need to convey Thom as an antihero. Somewhat sympathetic. From a viewpoint of a woman, what makes a man sympathetic but not pitiful? Good looks. Charm. Money. Sexual mastery. Ability to help further her goals. Sorry kids, that’s the truth.

So Thomas is now a handsome, charming con man and thief, we need to convey that. He doesn’t seduce Sam, he weaves an inexorable sexual spell over her. The word sexual punches the gut more than seduces, and we want visceral words.

Sam’s possible compliance with helping Thom get away with murder needs to be in more doubt. She has to have a reason where we fear she might comply. Is she sexually starved? Is she poor? Is she angry at the system? 

For this you must look to your book. Use only what exists, never lie. I just made up this blurb off the top of my head, but I’m partial to she’s angry at the system. So for Sam I’d say she lost her job at a firm, returned to public defending, and is angry at the entire judicial system.

So now I have the pieces of how to sex up my questions. Time to apply this to the blurb. Be aware, at this stage you’re probably going to rewrite it all, which is fine. If you do rewrite it, try to go for two paragraphs, and try to include sensory words. Lastly, try to boil it down to one question (two at most) at the end, focusing on combining the three. Now we have:



One hot Miami night, a dead body brings together three lost souls: Thomas Paling, seductive con artist and thief accused of the murder, Samantha Jones, the disgraced public defender who is his last hope, and Detective George Davis who will do anything to see Thomas hang.

Under the sexual spell of her client Sam investigates Thom’s past. Ex-girlfriends and a long rap sheet leave her in doubt, but evidence that Detective Davis may have framed Thom explodes the case when it’s revealed he may have gotten away with murder once before. What is Samantha willing to uncover to prove her lover’s innocence? What is she willing to hide?



BLURB STEP FIVE: EDIT UNTIL PERFECT

All you need to do now is spell check and edit. Then set it aside. Give yourself a day or two and come back. Keep tinkering until it feels right. I usually write it this way, set it aside to make my catchphrase and shorter description, revisit, then format my eBook, revisit, then double check my cover, and do a final pass. Since this is the big seller, you have to make it feel bone-deep right.



SHORT DESCRIPTION STEP ONE: JUST THE FACTS

The short description is going to need to be one small paragraph. The first step is to open the blurb, create a new document, copy and paste the blurb into the new and save it as the short description.

Now, boil it down to the absolutely necessary facts. Cut out a lot of the sensory facts, but kept it flowing in a natural tone the way you’d speak.



Accused of murder, con man Thomas Paling’s last hope is Samantha Jones, a disgraced public defender. Seduced by him, Sam believes his story of a frame up, but the evidence points to a conspiracy and another long ago murder he may have gotten away with. What will Sam do, caught between sexual need and a hunger for justice?



This takes practice. Notice we did some rewording here. You can break it into two steps: literally delete, then reword. I’ve just done it so many times I do both simultaneously. Once you have 3-4 sentences you’ve completed step one.



SHORT DESCRIPTION STEP TWO: CAN YOU TWEET IT?

Now we have to get to two sentences. At this point you will want to keep your three-four sentence version for Smashwords, but have a two sentence version. Why? You can Tweet it. You can memorize it when people ask what your book is about at parties. (Trust me, they want the two sentence version. If they’re interested they’ll ask for more. Most won’t. Fuckers.)

We want the setup and the question. Set up should tell us main characters, genre, general narrative setting: murder case? Coming of age in high school? Western romance on the frontier?

The question is of course the question from your three to four sentence short description. Let’s start with a raw:



Samantha Davis is all that stands between her new lover Thomas accused of murder, and a cabal aligned against him – with good reason. What will Sam do, caught between sexual need and a hunger for justice?



Since this is a crime with mystery, I focused on keeping a sense of mystery to it and mention of crime. If you read my fiction you’ll know it’s all mystery. Romance, science fiction, paranormal, westerns, whatever I write, there is mystery. It’s my first and truest love.

But if you are writing a romance, focus on the opposites attract/will-they or won’t-they aspect, for example. You should know the central theme of your genre (if not get familiar again). Try to keep a tone suggesting that.



SHORT DESCRIPTION STEP THREE: DOES IT FEEL NATURAL?

Now all you need to do is take the three to four short description and the two sentence and polish them until you could say them on live TV and not feel stupid. So let’s just use the example of the two sentence short description, remember, we’re just trying to make it feel natural and not affected, and keep it sexy!



Samantha Davis stands between con-artist Thomas and death at the hands of a cabal. Caught in his sexual spell will Sam let an innocent man die, or set a guilty lover free?



Remember to set this aside and come back and edit, repeating the process a few times, until it feels just right. Note the two-sentence still has a feel for the genre (in this case it’s a crime novel with heavy mystery, so we kept the crime).



CATCHPHRASE STEP ONE: BOIL IT DOWN SOME MORE

Repeat the making of a new document (working in a blank space helps you focus) and copy-and-paste your two sentence short description. To review we have:



Samantha Davis stands between con-artist Thomas and death at the hands of a cabal. Caught in his sexual spell will Sam let an innocent man die, or set a guilty lover free?



Next, I want you to copy and paste your three questions. Ours are:



Is Thomas guilty of the current murder?

Did Thomas get away with murder before?

Will Samantha cover up his crimes if he seduces her?



Now, we are going to write two versions: one sentence that addresses the two-sentence version and one that simply addresses the three questions. Note the catchphrase can be a question or statement.



Addressing the two-sentence description we boil it down to:



Will Samantha Davis let an innocent man die, or set a guilty lover free?



Boiling down the three questions we get:



With two murders and a conspiracy, a man’s life hangs in the balance…



We’re done, and now we have two choices to work from for out next step.



CATCHPHRASE STEP TWO: PICK A WINNER

Take your two choices and play with them if you like. But get a formal version of each and it’s time to pole. Ask friends, family (here is where that being part of a writer’s group is super-handy). Flip a coin. Wander to a bookstore online or in the real world and take a look at similar products.

Eventually you will find the format that works best. Note when we focus on the description, we focus on the protagonist. When we focus on the questions we focus on the subject. That is the real question, which do you want?

For the purpose of example, I’m going to choose to use the subject-drive catchphrase:



With two murders and a conspiracy, a man’s life hangs in the balance…



CATCHPHRASE STEP THREE: REMOVE THE CHEESINESS

When we began I gave you movie-style intros, catchphrases of a type. The trick here is you want your catchphrase to not sound like that. If you could envision a trailer for your book and the catchphrase is the first line spoke, CHANGE IT!

How do we do this specifically? Make sure you do not start it with When, Where, Who, How, With, or What, as in, do not literally use those words. That’s a sin.

If we remove that we have to change the grammar, and we end up with:



Two murders, a conspiracy: a man’s life hangs in the balance…



Next, let’s remove any punctuation such as colons, semicolons or dashes. Once more we have to change the wording as a result, but start with removing the punctuation then change it.



Two murders, a conspiracy, and a man’s life hanging in the balance…



Now, it’s not perfect. Parsimony! One comma is okay, but no more than one. So we have to reword it and get it down. Once way to do this is to climate one of the subjects (murders, conspiracy, life in balance). Of all these, conspiracy seems to be the least necessary. So we’re left with:



Two murders, and a man’s life hanging in the balance…



Now we have removed cheesiness, but we’re left with awkwardness. Let’s tackle that in the final step.



CATCHPHRASE STEP FOUR: MAKE IT FLOW

We know have to remove the awkwardness. How do you do this? One simple, final rule for catchphrases: they should mention only the protagonist, or no one at all.

Now if you went with the narrative two sentence description you have the protagonist, but we went with subjective so our choice is no one. So let’s remove the person from it and we have to reword it a bit. We get:



Between two murders, life hangs in the balance…



Is it perfect? Maybe, maybe not. Once more go through the edit it, do something else, edit it, do something else, final edit cycle. Follow these simple rules and you’ll have just what you need.

Good luck!