How to get Thomas to Find Your Book…

The psychology and physicality of choosing a book to read is well studied. The method you use varies widely depending on where you are looking and what you seek. There’s never been so many options for accessing literature in book, e-format or audio, nor so much information in reviews and blurbs to help you decide if it is for you,

Browsing bookshops to find books would be top of my list: a cover or author catches your eye – the blurb is scanned – a few pages skimmed -a quick look inside- yes! But sadly, there are none near me. Online buying sites such as Amazon (ever ready to tempt) throw up suggestions from your browsing history. Recently, I received ‘If you liked Dan Brown, you’ll love Kate Mosse!’ I had looked up the Da Vinci Code publishing date, but have never reviewed him. Despite my best efforts to refuse and block them, Cookies track your every move. Search once for a book on ancient Assyrian manuscripts like me and get recommendations for them till the day you die. (I’ll not go into the consequences of a similar search for streets with brothels in Edinburgh; no guesses for the ‘specialist’ offers that provoked).

Websites like Goodreads work hard to capture you by promoting interactions with other readers and setting reading challenges but can offer so many suggestions that you could descend into its labyrinthine depths and never have time to read another book. And since it is now owned by Amazon, crossover hype/ads from your activity there soon appear elsewhere. More interesting reading suggestions can be had from readers’ Face Book sites like Good Housekeeping or First Edition book clubs or bloggers who publish reviews all over the internet, both for general or specific genre novels. I’ve written on reviews before, but as I finalise the blurb for the back of my next novel, The Carnelian Tree, due out end of the summer, I realise blurbs are the final vital spark in book sales. Printed on the book itself and on the web selling page, they can make or break a novel, yet an author has less than 200 words to hook a reader and leave them wanting to know more.

As with everything, the internet bristles with How to Write a Blurb and Ten Things You Must Avoid in a Book Blurb, not to mention the paid courses to sign up for and professionals to engage for a fee to write you a stormer. Can it be that hard?

First lines and keywords rule the roost in 2022. First lines, because often the first line is all that is displayed when you land on a book’s page (otherwise awash with a plethora of nonsense that gets in the way). And keywords, since when they are entered in a Google or Amazon search, they will throw up a book without the prospective reader knowing a title. The idea of ‘Search Engine Optimisation’ was alien to me until my first book was published in 2019. I envisage Thomas The Tank Engine chugging round computers looking for my book with a set of clues from the Fat Controller…And there are myriad websites suggesting genre keywords for success.

Annoyingly in my view, Amazon book titles now can bristle with tagged promo bits which I assumed were added by publishers until I saw an indie author’s FB complaint. Her book had been linked spuriously to a TikTok promo but she struggled to have it removed. I can’t be alone in finding it irritating to see a title with a raft of keywords up front (reminiscent of Chinese sellers online wanting to grab you if you’re seeking anything vaguely connected with their product, like pink plastic shoes – Boy’s Girl’s Teenage Adult Granny’s Indispensable for Parties Special Offer…) Most overused in Amazon listings must be: ‘gripping’ and  ‘psychological’ for thriller (aren’t they all?), ‘page turner,’ ‘twists you won’t see coming,’ ‘unputdownable’ (is that even a word?) for crime, and ‘heart-warming’ and ‘emotional’ for romance (be a rum do if a romance wasn’t emotional, surely?) Stating-the-bleeding obvious comes in reviews too: I saw one complaining a book was ‘like something the author made up as she went along.’ Well, that’s fiction, isn’t it? I didn’t have to murder twenty people to write my last book!

So, back to the blurb. What do we need? Horses for courses. Depends on the book, I reckon, but we need a punchy first sentence to hook. We need the main character’s name, a reason to identify with them is nice, an outline of their conflict, definitely, and what is at stake? Are there twists? No plot spoilers though. Like the book narrative itself, it’s advised to leave readers on a cliff hanger hoping they’ll want more.

Easy? Well, in less than 200 words, maybe not! Advice is that a blurb should have short sentences and high readability scores as we speed read them, apparently. Said best too if it is in third person, not first as if the author is speaking. And some advise that comparative authors can usefully go in here, though others suggest leave them for a review. Some lucky people have a notable author to give them one upfront.

Me? Blurb done. But for my next book to read, am hoping my local library reopens soon so I can go in and choose a book at random. Selecting a ’bestseller’ or ‘Booker Prize Winner’ recently hasn’t hit the spot. Like Marmite, are books. Happy reading.

Leave a Reply