Sunday, August 6, 2017

How to Write Fiction Sales Copy by Dean Wesley Smith

How to Write Fiction Sales CopyHow to Write Fiction Sales Copy by Dean Wesley Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dean Wesley Smith is one of the gurus of indie publishing. He's been making his living at writing and publishing for over thirty years now, has owned two publishing houses (still owns WMG Publishing, with his wife Kris Rusch) and basically knows how all the fiddly bits work and fit together.

A lot of indie writers have a hard time writing sales copy, the text that goes on the book's sales page on a vendor site, or the sales blurb on the back of a paperback book. I'll admit I hate writing that stuff myself; it's hard to come up with something that sounds good, and I've seen publishers make a mess of it.

A couple of years ago, Dean challenged himself to write a story for every day in July. He actually ended up with 32 stories. He did covers for them, and had to come up with sales copy. A couple of folks asked about that part, so he blogged about it as he did it, explaining what and how and why as he went. The posts are still up on his blog, but I'd rather have them all in one place, so I bought the book.

The first seven chapters look aat seven different structures for sales blurbs, with a few examples from the July stories for each one. He gives the cover of a book, then the blurb, then he analyzes the structure to show how he came up with that blurb.

So Chapter One starts with a page of explanation of what he's doing, then dives in. One of the covers is for a book called "A Bad Patch of Humanity," subtitled "A Seeders Universe Story," because it's part of an on-going series, which is one more thing you have to deal with in your sales copy. I'm just going to give you the whole shebang, so you can see what Dean's doing here:

Most of humanity died one ugly day four years before. Now the survivors want to rebuild.

Angie Park's job consisted of telling survivors outside of Portland, Oregon, of the plans to rebuild. But some survivors wanted nothing to do with civilization.

And some thought killing worth the price to pay to stay alone.

In the galaxy-spanning Seeders Universe, "A Bad Patch of Humanity" focuses down on an early event in AngiePark's life, an event that starts her on her path to becoming a woman of legend in a hundred galaxies.

Blurb Pattern: Basic

Paragraph one: Character or world summary. Interesting. And nails genre if possible.

Paragraph two: One very short paragraph with short sentences about the first page of the plot.

Paragraph three: Plot kicker line.

Paragraph four: Why readers will want to rea the story (mostly using tags).

That is a structure that works well for short stories and most novels. It isn't the only structure by a long ways, but it is a standby basic structure to fall back on.

My Thinking About [the] Story


I needed the blurb to address in a fashion the questions of those who read the Seeders Universe novels.

So first paragraph set the scene.

Second paragraph introduced the character and the plot.

Third paragraph raised the stakes.

Fourth paragraph told the reader this was standalone, but also how this story fit into the larger Seeders Universe. This time the last paragraph set the genre.

And readers love start-of-legend stories.

There's also some discussion of what Dean calls the "Author Problem," which is the tendency of a writer to want to tell too much of the plot in the story blurb, and to use passive voice while doing it.

Each of the first seven chapters gives a different blurb structure, with a few examples, analyzed to show you how they fit with the structure. In Chapters Eight and Nine, he goes through the remaining stories, using whatever structure seems appropriate.

This is very much a down-in-the-trenches sort of book. It's heavy on concrete examples, with just enough theory to help you see what's going on. Writing sales copy is a skill that improves with practice; you probably won't read through this book once and then write perfect blurbs forevermore. Rather, this book gives you things to think about, things to watch out for, and examples to swipe. I imagine I'll be doing my sales copy writing with this book open on my tablet right next to me for a while, flipping around to find the pattern I want to copy. But I'm also pretty sure that eventually, after I've done some significant number of blurbs, I'll start to get a feel for it, and will need to copy exact patterns less and less. Writing skills improve with practice, and I have no doubt writing sales copy will too.

The only thing I got impatient with here is that at the beginning of each chapter, Dean summarizes what he did in all the previous chapters. It gets very repetitive after a very few chapters, but it's easy enough to skim through the rehashes and get to the new info.

All in all, this is a very useful and practical book. Recommended.


FoxRafer said...

Just wanted to wish you a very happy belated birthday. Sorry I missed the day, but I hope you had a great one and that the coming year is wonderful.


Charles Gramlich said...

Sounds worthwhile. I have generally thought that I wrote pretty good blurbs like this for my work but I'll have to check them against this advice.

Angie said...

Candice -- thanks! My husband and I went to see a couple of movies, and out to dinner, so I did have a good time. I got to buy books, too, which is always cool. :D

Charles -- definitely worth a check. [nod]


Suzan Harden said...

This is definitely one of Dean's more helpful books for me. I've used it the last couple of years when I've gotten stuck writing blurbs.

Angie said...

Suzan -- I've always hated writing blurbs and this book (and the series of posts that came before it) changed how I look at the job. [nod] It's also one of his more unique books. I haven't seen anything like it around, which makes it doubly valuable IMO.