Marketing Your Book – What’s in a Voice?

Yikes. I like to support other writers. Not out of tit for tat, but just because it makes me feel good. If I don’t think well of a book, I either don’t review it, or I am very specific about what I didn’t enjoy about it and I am always aware that taste is subjective.

These days, selling a book involves more than courting reviewers and doing book tours. With social media and self e-publishing, there are more voices than ever and short video is one way authors are promoting their works.

I got a video recommendation through my daily Medium feed. It was about an artist’s reinterpretation of a classic on military strategy. It was something I had read because when it came out – or maybe, when it was rediscovered – it made a big noise with all of the yuppie stockbrokers in their suspenders, who probably read it in between yelling over the phone and power lunches.

I’ll leave the obvious questions alone – why do an artistic reimagining of what is now a not-as-popular book at this stage, for example, and just go on to the video itself.

Yikes again.

The artist made a good point about applying these military strategies to life problems other than trying to conquer a nearby province. And laying out those strategies in a graphic format to make them easier to grasp is another good idea. But the voice.

I am going to guess the artist did the voiceover herself. For some reason, she chose to apply an echo effect that made the whole thing sound like it was recorded in a public bathroom at the beach. Bad enough. But the voice.

No doubt the artist is a woman, not a child, a professional and productive visual artist.  But her voice did not say that. Instead, it said to me, “I’m a somewhat ditzy teenager and I want to show you my sparkly, sparkly new thing.”

Her voice in the video was youthful in the extreme, with all the squeaks and high tones that implies. There was very little range and very little depth. Certainly not enough range or depth to cover a subject like military strategies as applied to life problems.

Someday, perhaps, people will be able to overlook squeaky voices applied to serious subjects, but right now, they don’t. Study after study shows that little girl (and little boy) voices are not taken seriously. You may have the best mind in the world, but if you sound as though you’re a Belieber, you will have to put in some extra effort to get your thoughts across.

It isn’t fair. True. But life isn’t fair. Also true. Actors spend a lot of time learning to use their voices – learning to project, to expand their range, to give richness -depth – to them and to consciously choosing where to place emphasis and how to use silence. Most professional singers – those who want to be able to use their voices well into old age – do the same.

Because well-trained voices are a pleasure to listen to. We lean into them, we trust them more, we find them more believable. Voices that squeak, that bottom out like a boat on a riverbed, that constantly end on a question mark rise, that have popular culture inflections that take one back to high school days, are not trustworthy, are not believable.

And if you’re trying to sell a book, you should take that into consideration.

Blurb or Babble?

Text Balloons

Image via IndieReader Publishing Service

Like most readers, I have a never-ending appetite but not a purse to match, so I must take care to spend my money wisely. Lately, I’ve become more aware of book blurbs. I subscribe to a couple of lists that tell me what e-book bargains are available and every day I get a new batch of recommendations. In grid form, they show the book cover and next to it, the blurb.

A blurb, the way I see it, is an open-ended summary of your story’s characters, conflicts, and goals delivered in a compelling, short form that will inform the potential reader and entice her to buy, or at least look at, your book. When seen in grid form, where comparing blurbs is easily done, lazy blurbs stand out.

Want one? All you have to do is follow this formula:

When Suddenly + Chosen One = Question

When Suddenly

The protagonist is living a happy-go-lucky life as a normal person when suddenly mysterious people start picking on him/her. Alternate: protagonist is a former military person with issues or a woman with an unhappy past.

Chosen One

The protagonist becomes aware that s/he is the person foretold by the prophecy and the salvation of the entire world rests on her/his shoulders. In fantasies, they usually awaken to powers hitherto unknown or in other types of books, they end up being the only one with the right skills to find the truth.

Question

This is the part that’s supposed to get the reader’s blood going and generally includes a list of the obstacles: On the run from the police/evil sorcerers/abusive ex-husband, can the protagonist find the killer/control the power/defeat the ex before the murderer strikes again/destroys the world/deals out more abuse? Not that a question can’t be useful, but if your protagonist is a cop trying to catch a killer, then it’s just silly to ask a question about whether or not he can do so – he wouldn’t be the protagonist if he couldn’t, right?

Bonus points if you use phrases like ‘race against time.’

So what makes a good book blurb?

As I expected when I began to research this topic, everybody’s got an idea and some even have it broken down into steps (there’s a list of the links I read at the bottom of this post). But here’s the gist I got:

  • Know what kind of blurbs appeal to you as a reader (augh, research? LOL)
  • Keep it short (maybe 4 paragraphs maximum)
  • Don’t give away the store (they’re supposed to buy the book to see what happens, remember?)
  • Remember that it’s about the story and characters, not the setting or the era (Ancient Rome was interesting, but if it’s a romance, I need to feel I’ll like the couple)
  • Set a mood (give me a taste your writing and how it evokes the atmosphere of the story)
  • Work as hard at polishing your blurb as you do your novel

Got your own list for what makes a good blurb? Tell me about it in the comments. In matters of writing advice, I’m like the Waco Kid in Blazing Saddles. When Sheriff Bart asked him if he needed any help, he replied, “Ohhhh – all I can get.”

Blurb Writing Blog List

  1. How to Write a Blurb by Marilynn Byerly
  2. Four Easy Steps to an Irresistible Book Blurb
  3. How to Write an Effective Blurb for a Self-Published Book by Sarah Juckes
  4. The Five Core Elements of a Book Blurb by Frances Reid Rowland (my fave of the blog posts)
  5. Blurbs That Bore, Blurbs That Blare by MichaelBrent Collins