Thoughts on Writing – A Blurb For Distant Horizon

Isaac and I are preparing to publish our YA/NA science fiction novel, Distant Horizon, and one of the many things that must be completed is a shiny blurb for the back of the book (and the Amazon storefront).

This particular blurb has been through many incarnations, especially seeing as how it started as a query letter (which went through many revisions on Absolute Write’s forums). Of course, the story changed over time, and some of the query letters became obsolete… even when they sounded half-way decent.

In a query letter, you want to give a little more information than a blurb (though you don’t typically reveal the end in either), and as such, I wasn’t sure what should stay and what should go.

How much information is too much?

If I reveal a certain plot point, is it a spoiler, or does it intrigue the reader?

I’ve read some blurbs that pretty much went all the way to the climax of the book, or ran through each major plot point without room for deviation. I’ve read some blurbs that didn’t tell me much at all.

Needless to say, I’ve started to avoid reading blurbs again once I’ve actually started reading a book, that way I don’t start waiting to see when the next plot point shows up. But I’ve also noticed that it takes a really good blurb to hold my attention and make me read it word for word, rather than skimming for key words that catch my interest.

That being said, let’s take a look at what Isaac and I currently have written for Distant Horizon.

The Community is safe, unless you have superpowers.

 

Eighteen-year-old Jenna Nickleson resides in an efficient, secure society that’s recovering from a hallucinogenic plague. So when Special Forces agents arrive at her university prior to a mandatory Health Scan, Jenna’s paranoia—and recent string of hallucinations—prompt her to find out what happens to the students who fail. Rumor has it that they’re sent away for treatment, but when she uncovers a cruel government conspiracy, her ideal world is shattered.

Terrified, Jenna flees her home under the protection of a ragtag band of freedom fighters. The rebels offer her refuge on their rusty airship and claim her hallucinations are elemental plant powers. She’s not so sure she trusts them, but when she comes face-to-face with a cruel telepath in charge of the government’s darkest secrets, Jenna realizes she’ll need more than special powers to escape with her mind and body intact.

This particular blurb has a tagline: The Community is safe, unless you have superpowers.

(There’s an explanation on the difference between a tagline and a logline here, and a quick explanation here.)

We’re briefly introduced to our protagonist (Jenna), our setting (an efficient, secure society), and a conflict (Society is recovering from hallucinogenic plague. Jenna’s been having hallucination. Societal enforcers show up, making her wonder what’s going to happen to her). We also learn there’s a government conspiracy and get information that gets us just about halfway into the book (when she first meets the telepath).

Analyzing this, I wondered if the conflict could be made clearer from the get-go, and if there’s more we should know about Jenna to make her an interesting character right from the start.

I thought about trying to write the blurb in third person, but offhand I could only think of one book that did this well (Delirium by Lauren Oliver), and I think that worked so well in part because it captured the feel of her writing style.

In one article I read about writing a blurb, the author suggested that introducing the setting before the main character was important in science fiction and fantasy. I checked this theory. This holds true for both Hunger Games and Divergent, and to some degree, Matched (the tagline sets up the world).

Given that the world plays a huge role in Distant Horizon, I’m now considering setting up the world first. (In a world where super villains won the day and dismissed super heroes as delusional misfits with a hallucinogenic plague… All right, all right, I won’t start with “In a world”… And I’m fairly certain that “super villains” and “super heroes” are trademarked terms. *Sigh.*)

Based on the idea of setting first, I came up with this rough blurb:

Ever since a hallucinogenic plague wiped out half the world’s population, the Community has been a haven for its citizens. The people of the Community are safe, secure, and efficient. They take a daily pill to ensure their immunity to the plague, and when the time comes for them to enter the work force, they take a mandatory Health Scan. It’s their duty.

But underneath the illusion of safety, the Community’s Special Forces agents enforce a dark secret.

The plague isn’t real.

Eighteen-year-old Jenna Nickleson is a freshman biology student with a secret of her own. She hasn’t taken the pill since her senior year of high school. She feels more alive without it, and she doesn’t show any signs of infection—until just two days before a surprise Health Scan is announced and Special Forces agents arrive at her university. Jenna’s paranoia—and recent string of hallucinations—prompt her to find out what happens to the students who fail. Rumor has it that they’re sent away for treatment, but when she uncovers the cruel government conspiracy behind the scans, her ideal world is shattered.

I’d be tempted to cut it off here, but I’m not sure that it shows enough about what Jenna will do next. What are her goals? What are the stakes?

This is the amended blurb (though maybe a bit lengthy…):

Ever since a hallucinogenic plague wiped out half the world’s population, the Community has been a haven for its citizens. The people of the Community are safe, secure, and efficient. They take a daily pill to ensure their immunity to the plague, and when the time comes for them to enter the work force, they take a mandatory Health Scan.

It’s their duty. But underneath the illusion of safety, the Community’s Special Forces agents enforce a dark secret.

The plague isn’t real.

Eighteen-year-old Jenna Nickleson is a university biology student with a secret of her own. She hasn’t taken the pill since her senior year of high school. She feels more alive without it, and she doesn’t show any signs of infection—until just days before a surprise Health Scan is announced and Special Forces agents arrive at her university.

Jenna’s paranoia—and recent string of hallucinations—prompt her to find out what happens to the students who fail. Rumor has it that the students who fail the scan are sent away for treatment, but when she uncovers the cruel conspiracy behind the scans, her ideal world is shattered.

Terrified for her life, Jenna flees under the protection of a ragtag band of so-called “freedom fighters” whose arrival coincided with that of Special Forces. These rebels offer her refuge and claim her hallucinations are elemental plant powers, but she’s not so sure she trusts them. Still, her curiosity gets the best of her, and when she comes face-to-face with a cruel telepath in charge of the government’s darkest secrets, Jenna realizes she’ll need more than special powers to escape with her mind and body intact.

Eh… it’s a work in progress.

Let’s look at the taglines real quick.

The current one I have is:

The Community is safe, unless you have superpowers.

An alternative tagline I’ve considered is:

The Community is safe, secure, efficient.

At least, that’s what we were supposed to believe.

Or simply:

The Community is Safe.

The Community is Secure.

The Community is Efficient.

It is our duty.

The first tagline introduces part of the Community mantra, and also brings in the idea of superpowers (which is nice to for attracting the attention of readers who enjoy superhero stories). The downside I’ve considered is that it may not be clear whether the Community isn’t safe for people with superpowers, or if the Community isn’t safe from people with superpowers.

Or both.

Technically, it’s both, but the potential problem is a concern I have.

The second tagline introduces a condensed version of the Community mantra, and instantly sets up that things aren’t as they seem (yay, tension!). Downside… no mention of superpowers.

The third tagline is a bit lengthy, but it clearly shows the Community mantra, which is repeated several times and places a huge role throughout the book. Should be a tad discomforting for the reader, but the downside is that it doesn’t reveal superpowers or and other form tension/conflict.

But what do you guys think? Which tagline do you like best, and why?

What do you think about the blurb? Are there any blurbs you’ve particularly enjoyed reading?

I hope you found this post helpful. 🙂

___

By the way, as a way to say thanks for reaching 1000 Twitter followers, I’m currently running a giveaway for two ebook copies (.mobi file or Smashwords coupon) of Magic’s Stealing!

Click here if you’re interested in entering the Rafflecopter giveaway, and good luck! 😀

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