The crowdsource editing phase of my novel adventure is winding down, and now I’m focusing on the other things I have to get done before I can launch a book. Two key elements to marketing (I’ve read) are having a great cover and a great blurb. I’m not actually convinced the cover matters all that much for a book that will probably never be in a physical store. But having a nice one certainly couldn’t hurt. And the blurb obviously matters, since that’s pretty much the only thing someone is going to read before they make the buy/skip decision. (They might read reviews or other things after that, but only to reinforce the decision they already made; that’s pretty well established psychology.)
Let’s start with that cover. I did this myself. I love it and I don’t really care what you think.
Yeah, that’s my actual name. I’ve decided that although I’m not going to market to the people I know in the physical world, or to Facebook people for that matter, I am going to go ahead and take full ownership of this thing I made.
I bought the two photos from shutterstock for all of $29. That’s a fake ISBN, obviously, just so you can see what it will look like with one on there. The cover is chock full of symbolism, which I’ll go ahead and explain. Don’t worry—no real spoilers here.
First, there are some literal references. The broken vase and the type of flower (sweet pea) refer to things the characters say and do. But I’m more enamored with the metaphorical aspects. Look at those two flowers next to each other. The upper one is dominating the lower one, which has its “eyes” turned down out of respect. That’s basically the relationship between my two main characters.
Flowers are obviously also a sexual reference, and even though these are not irises, they look a lot like the “Light Iris” painting by Georgia O’Keeffe. So that’s both a metaphor for lady parts, and another literal reference to something said in the story.
The broken vase is a powerful symbol on its own. Without giving too much away, a lot of bad things happen to my heroine. A lot of things in her life break. And, of course, a vase and flowers naturally go together, so there is consistency in the visual vocabulary between the front and back of the book.
The negative space was driven mostly by my aesthetic. I just like that Bauhaus feel. But you can also see it as representing the isolation inherent in an extramarital affair. Two people apart from the world: together, but isolated.
I thought about putting a blurb on the back of the book. That’s what you usually do. But as I said, I don’t think this is going into a store. So what’s the point messing up that beautiful open space with a bunch of words? So that brings me to the blurb. Here goes:
Lisa is adrift—searching for connection on social media to compensate for the absence of love and attention in her marriage. But when a dominant married man entices her to become his online submissive, Lisa’s world starts to collapse around her. Could giving up all control be the secret to finding the serenity she longs to have? Cerebral and erotic, Entropy explores the murky depths of an online affair and how upheaval of the status quo reverberates through a woman’s life and sense of self.
I read a lot of articles about how to write a blurb, and I found pretty consistent advice. The specific formula I followed to write this is Scene, Problem, Possibility, Mood. Scene and mood (first and last sentences) were easy. But that middle part proved to be a real challenge. For an ordinary novel with a plot and a story arc and all that, the problem is the central conflict of the story, and the the possibility is a hint at how you resolve the conflict. But I didn’t write that kind of a novel.
The central conflict of my story is the fundamental and unwinnable struggle for control in a universe that is always, inexorably falling apart. I can’t write that in a blurb. It’s depressing and nobody will even know what the fuck I’m talking about. It’s too meta.
The conflict I used is not false: those two things do happen. But I took serious poetic license putting them together. There is an implication that her world collapsing around her is the result of getting involved with the Dom in the online affair, and that’s really not true. Her world was already falling apart. Everyone’s world is always falling apart. See my previous paragraph.
But hey, it’s just a blurb, right? One of the things I learned from my readers is that some people absolutely will not read a book about infidelity (unless I wrote it). And some people absolutely will not read a book with BDSM (dominance and submission) themes (unless I wrote it). So I think it’s pretty important to make it clear in the blurb that’s what they’re in for if they choose to buy my book. The last thing I want is people having buyer’s remorse on page 2.
The other thing I did pretty carefully in my choice of words was walk the 50 Shades line. On the one hand, a novel with BDSM themes is automatically going to be associated with that ridiculously bad, and unbelievably popular work of art. And that’s not an entirely bad thing, because of the “unbelievably popular” part. But mostly what people talk about with 50 is how bad the writing is. If you want a good laugh, go read the two “most helpful” reviews of the first book on Amazon. Really. Funny.
So I did a few things to counteract that association. First “online submissive” distinguishes a key story point. Entropy is largely a story about an affair conducted in the virtual world of Twitter DMs and texting and Skype. So that’s pretty different from what happens in 50. Next, I included the words “cerebral and erotic” in the mood sentence at the end. Nobody would describe 50 as cerebral, and the only people who think 50 was erotic have never actually read something erotic, I’d guess.
I’m having fun doing all this marketing-related stuff. In my actual job where I make actual money, I see gobs of marketing and design done by actual professionals. So I feel like I have a pretty good sense for what works and what doesn’t. But in the end, this book isn’t going to sell because it has a good blurb on Amazon. It will sell, or not, based on the reaction of my Twitter followers. If they like it and tell their friends to buy it, then it’ll sell. And if they hate it, and they don’t tell their friends to buy it, it won’t sell. And that’s okay. As long as I make that $29 I’ve invested back, I’ll be happy. And somebody already tweeted to me that she’ll buy 9 copies herself.