A Conversation with Tonya Jewel Blessing and Laura Bartnick
Tonya Jewel Blessing: I recently learned in two quick minutes how a blurb on the back of a book cover can sell books or dissuade potential readers from choosing a book.
We all know how important spelling and punctuation are in a book. But, I don’t think I realized that English basics are just the beginning of what matters in a book blurb until two media professionals picked up my novels. Each of my books have a professionally written, third-person description on the back cover. I realize this is paramount to converting book browsers to buyers.
At a recent media convention, a man connected with a film production company selected my first historic Appalachian novel, The Whispering of the Willows based on the book blurb on the back cover. The verbiage ‘similar to modern sex trafficking issues’ also sparked a conversation about the plot of the book. He promised to buy it for consideration.
Another reader-influencer looking for compelling stories at this media convention passed over my second novel The Melody of the Mulberries based on its book blurb. The reactions of both people, who visited the author booth, initially surprised me. Then, as I perused the other author stations, I found myself doing the same – picking up a book, reading the back cover, and making a purchase decision based on a couple of paragraphs about the story.
Laura Bartnick: Capture Books began to market The Whispering of the Willows in earnest to the Amish/Mennonite sector and to the West Virginia readership when the publisher could show that:
a) women’s issues were creatively handled, and
b) significant community involvement absolutely changes the course of a girl’s life after she is a victim of rape.
c) timing matters. Reverberating southerners became passionate readers of The Whispering of the Willows after National Public Radio broke the news about the West Virginia opioid crises. After the report featuring the opioid documentary by filmmaker Elaine McMillion Sheldon, produced in part by the Center for Investigative Reporting, where a female judge, a church social worker, and a policewoman joined forces to creatively alleviate the crisis in the hardest-hit county, Capture Books decided to offer BLESSING’s novel to this community.
d) the women in the novel did not wear pants.
While BLESSING’s exquisitely clever sequel, released in the fall of 2019, is marketable to a lover of Americana and to a Christian romance-loving readership, the acquisitions gentleman seeking a modern hook with a correlation to a “cause” failed to find that kind of subject matter on the sequel’s cover.
The lesson learned is that listing a cause as a keyword or subject-matter can reach potential cross-over markets.
Book blurbs are also written for librarians, advertisements, flyers, and online bookstore platforms. Each of these has a variety of required words, suggested keywords and phrases, and are written specifically to hook certain types of readers.
I spoke with a very frustrated author last week who reported that she wasn’t earning royalties from her publisher on her book and wanted my opinion. I looked up her title and discovered there was not a single word of book description, and her book was only listed in one category. It simply wasn’t selling because there were no keywords alerting people to the existence of her book. Even if potential readers looked up the exact title, there was no book description to explain what it was about.
Tonya Jewel Blessing: My first novel was picked up by Tantor Audio Books because of its record sales in late 2018 after we marketed directly to the opioid epidemic on Amazon. Subsequently, my sequel has been steadily picking up new readers and finding its own voice with historical romance and Americana lovers. Since I didn’t know I could write a sequel in the beginning, my publisher did not market to sequel readers. Consequently, many who read the first book think it is a stand-alone novel.
I agree with E.A. Bucchianerif in that, “There is much to discover that’s not on the back cover!” YET, if the book cover doesn’t spark interest, the book won’t be read. Listed below are some tips for writing a book blurb.
Laura Bartnick: Yes, and here are some more clues to what works and what doesn’t on the back cover:
“I wrote this because…” or “My character is based on…” is better placed inside the book as a prologue or author’s note.
Larger fonts with less copy will catch a reader’s attention.
Aim for a description of keywords written to the interests of a reading group.
Getting an editorial endorsement printed on the cover will garner immediate interest and give the author borrowed authority.
You may also want to put the name of the publisher, the logo, the subject matter or genre, and the price of the book onto the back cover.
Book reviews are an author’s lifeline. To sell books, positive reviews are required.The reviews also need to appear in a variety of venues and sales platforms such as Goodreads, Barnes and Noble, Amazon.
become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even
thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside
out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.
Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of
immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in
you.” Romans 12:2 (The Message)
“Oh, I need that!”
Advertising is ubiquitous! Indeed, it’s everywhere! The average American sees 3000-5000 ads per day. Think about it! That doesn’t mean just TV commercials… it counts every form, including signs as you are driving down the street, pop-up ads on the computer, brand names on clothing, notices on buses, upcoming event reminders in bathroom stalls, etc. Every day we’re bombarded with messages that intend to direct our buying, thinking, and actions.
And so are our children and
Our culture today is overrun with ever more invasive means of getting messages to us. In September of 2015, BBC reporter, Ben Frampton introduced the Changing Face of Journalism as clickbait from the outset of any news article. Technology is being utilized in new ways that impact our daily lives and attract our eyeballs to messages. Perhaps you have been a “victim” of clickbait.
“Clickbait consists of attention-grabbing
headlines used for Web content to lure readers into clicking on normally
uninteresting content. Many websites use clickbait as a mechanism to gain
popularity via higher click-through rates. Clickbait is characterized by a
highly enticing headline with a hyperlink that, when clicked, reveals a website
that has content that is not nearly as interesting as the headline. Clickbait
is therefore considered to be a strategy to increase the number of views to a
particular Web page.” (Techopedia.com)
read clickbait headlines such as,
20 pounds in 20 days! New miracle pill!”
Hollywood couple is giving away millions?”
“Seniors: stop paying property tax! Learn this easy strategy now!”
Sometimes these headlines immediately redirect a reader to a different domain. They are simply fishing hooks.
Buzzfeed alone regularly attracts more than 10 million
unique users in a single day.
Buzzfeed can bring strong returns for careful users, but it has also created expensive traps for the unsuspecting.
Bloggers often use clickbait to earn their influencer income through affiliate marketing. However, promoting affiliate products can easily distract not only a blogger’s readership, but also the hopeful content blogger from the central purpose of his or her blog.
Products are not the only thing being sold through clickbait.
Personal information is transferred through every click made to the collectors and analyzers of these products and services. This fact can be used positively when you are able to grow a base of contacts to use for legitimate business and kingdom purposes.
A darker morass of reasons others may use clickbait.
When a woman clicks on a piece of clothing or sleepwear, she may find herself next inundated with new ads for women of her age and size in sultry and lewd poses. When a boy or girl clicks on an ad, it is not unusual to discover advertisements for games, adventures, political ads, pornography, phishing sites to military operations, sign up sheets, edgy books and other age-monetized bait popping up on tomorrow’s online screens.
Because religious advertisements are considered a hate-speech liability to fan bases, it is not a Christian ad we can count on seeing unless the advertiser has taken pains to identify only easily recognized Christian buyers acceptable to the marketing host.
Our children need to be introduced to this marketing strategy so they are aware of the intentionality and purpose of these alluring headlines.
And then there’s location-based marketing.
Have you received a text message from a store just as you were driving near it?
marketing (LBM) typically takes advantage of the geolocation of a customer
(usually via a GPS-enabled device) and uses these techniques… to send
personalized and relevant messages at the right place, at the right time to the
Does this CEO’s statement bother you? “Augmenting location with data about user behavior patterns enables a brand to create more timely, customized user engagement.” (Laetitia Gazel Anthoine, CEO, Connecthings)
More technology, more knowledge about each person’s consumer habits
and personal preferences, more desire to sway your thinking, buying, and
actions, and lo and behold! GPS-based marketing!
We all need to raise our awareness of “Peeping Tom” marketers and
interfering corporations. If you recently looked at e-bikes on Amazon
for a possible purchase, and then you were suddenly accosted by pop-up
ads for e-bikes on Facebook, websites, and online games… it wasn’t a
Advertising has come a long way, baby! No doubt there are more
intrusive techniques being created right now, with the ultimate goal of
saturating your life with appealing hard-to-ignore ads.
God has told us to be ever vigilant. We need to be dealing with life with “eyes wide open”.
So how can we help teens become media-savvy about the culture that surrounds them?
Discussion is crucial. Talk with them about why advertising is part of our daily lives. Ask, “Where do you see ads?”
Discuss both the benefits and the downside of advertising. Ask, “Why do you think advertising works?”
Ask, “Is the accumulation of possessions enough as the purpose of a life?”
Ask, “What resources are available to create useful click ads for kingdom purposes? Do you have a service or a product for which you would like to design a click ad to help others?”
When the bottom line doesn’t add up to figures in black – without red dashes before them – what does a writer hope to gain by publishing a book?
Recently a new author sent me a list of questions to answer regarding her first month of publishing, which occurred at the end of last year. I’ve now been in the publishing business for five full years, which is practically nothing in the grand scheme of things.
I had to disclose the fact that the outlay of this author’sinvestment so far has been well beyond the income from book sales. Beyond that, what’s even more difficult to grasp is that the outlay of investment would continue as a calculated risk if she continued to buy advertising and publish other books. So, why does anyone choose to publish their own work? Historically, what did people hope to gain? Was there ever any financial guarantee?
Here are 10 gains to consider when you are deciding whether an author’s journey is worth taking.
1. A watershed of education in literacy, in marketing, and in publicity occurs in the life of every rookie author (one to five years expected). People often see hybrid publishing as a way to work themselves into being offered a deal by a traditional publishing house.
2. The opportunity to persevere stakes out its garden-lit walkway.
Time to Let Down Your Hair for Recreation
3. Attending, or presenting to, a variety of writers conferences set in exquisite places will be a surprising boon and a blast of wind through the back door.
Find Like-Minded People
4. Bonding with other creatives whose values are similar to your own, or who answer your questions and needs, or those who need your knowledge enlarges your territory, i.e., editors, artists, philanthropist partners, agents, publicists, clubs, associations, and publishers whose goals intersect with yours and who bolster the vision and energy that you value so highly.
Expand Your Worldview
5. Finding a wonderland of science, legal research, human heart and worldviews in what you might now see as only a world of chill factors. Break the ice by learning to investigate and write the details well. Life begets life. Each new person or event you experience can be processed in your own life and writing style.
Become a Curious Child Again
6. Adult constraints are broken In physiological moments of creativity when an adult writer experiences the ripples of new connections among the four hemispheres of one’s brain. Inert reserve becomes child-like exploration of detail and there is energy to push through a writer’s problem. Both the process and the result will make your mouth water, your tears may fall, and your lungs will fill with a gasp of a-ha! Find these new avenues of ingenuity become your landmarks of personal life exploration.
Recognize Your God-given Voice by Using It
7. Telling your story your own way. By the grace of God you will use your voice and your God-given experience to reveal something meaningful to new audiences. This is the most personal journey of faith you embark on, to process your own life under the microscope and use parts of it to throw out like bread crumbs for others.
Jump Deep and Springboard off Editors and Critics
8. Use criticism as a springboard to improve your author’s voice, tone, technique, creativity, and insight. You’ll grow into your true value. legacy, and posterity.
Discover the Benefits of Silence and Solitude
9. Loving silence and solitude when a writer puts up four walls of personal boundaries to everything else in the world. No matter who or what is calling your name, you can discover benefits of prioritizing your own work and applying yourself in silence. Solitude will make you more at home with yourself than ever before as you explore your own answers.
Be About the Business with a Publisher’s Support
10. Learning to budget your author-preneurial business will grant you control and creative ideas to succeed (accounting aids, profit & loss statements, sales taxes, laws related to book events, copyright, and royalties).
ONE TO GROW ON…
Alternate Universe Hopping
11. Enjoying Cafés… and coffee… and internet classrooms.
If any of these pro’s outweigh the con’s, I recommend that you set up a savings account in order to publish and start marketing not only your first book but also, your second. Budget to eat less, and forego shopping sprees or vacations, in order to finish your series.
You might be familiar with the wisdom that advises entrepreneurs to count the cost before building a house. But, for me, counting the costs of building a publishing house was not an option. That is, there was no trail of breadcrumbs through the forest leading toward the publishing house budget choices that would be most valuable. Instead, wild experimental line items which should not, could not, but did pop up anyway, added to my initial budget in uncategorized line items until I began to gain understanding. The entire world of hybrid group publishing was new. Somewhere after the second year, I threw a tantrum. Then, I learned that just because things were not as I expected, didn’t mean that I didn’t have the beginning of a platform and some new tools to use. From there, the thing began to move like gold nuggets from the mines in carts. I started to feed these nuggets to authors I’m coaching in a Facebook group called Golden Writers Conferences.
6 PRACTICAL THINGS TO EMPLOY FOR AUTHOR EARNINGS
I learned many things in a backward manner and spent time and money that I now see to be the price of personal education. Now, things are clearer. I know that authors, similar to athletes, actors, and politicians, make money by a variety of means building up to the publishing of their first book and, of course, after it is launched!
Learn to blog for content marketing. Authors can gather their readers like chicks when they learn to blog. Maybe the experience of blogging becomes the subject for a new book, but maybe the experience of writing the book creates a new expression and following in blogging. Either way, the practice of blogging is the practice of being honest and relevant. It is the guts of content marketing for an author. You can start by posting and commenting about topics of interest to you on Facebook. Then, expand the topic as you learn more about it, and create an essay or an article. Sign up for a blog and after editing your first foray into blog-land, ask people to take a look and give you comments.
Getting speaking gigs at festivals, local libraries, holiday events, places of worship, study groups, schools, and book clubs–really anywhere people gather–will not only sell your stash of books, but will help you become a better communicator.
Get your name, email, and phone number out there on business cards or flyers and take them to the venues you are most interested in. Get their card and give them yours. Add them to your email and shipping or mailing lists and just ask around.
Hire a college kid to get your name, email, and phone number out there and just ask around. Have them teach you Instagram or Pinterest tricks.
Form a private group of authors or a street team to help you cross-promote. Generate that matrix of alliances and interests to naturally ignite interest between groups of followers and fans. Stop panicking and start sharing resources and interests.
Different things make different people tick. Consider the money that people spend on shopping, fashion, child care, workout equipment and reps, television, stage performance, animals, industry or career. All of these are things that consume one’s budget, time, and effort. They bring their own social circles into your life. Maybe it is worth writing your manuscript and getting your book into print simply to engage in the life you’ve always wanted to live.
If publishing your work is the thing that makes your clock tick, either use the other areas of your life as props, ideas, and research for your book or else begin to reclaim the amount of your own space in those areas of life, prioritizing inside them and siphoning off information from inside that priority towards your writing goals.
“I think that passion is a huge piece of writing. I have a passion (a strong and barely controllable feeling) about writing. I like creating a story. I like how writing brings things out in me that I didn’t even know existed. And, I am happy with the responses from readers I’ve had in this past year.”
Now, after trying many different author hacks, Tonya became Capture Books’ best selling author in her fourth year and decided to publish a sequel with them. Why not use the “author life” as a worthy and reasonable goal for your life?
Do the psychological shuffling, get a coach, even if no-one else understands you.
Talk about the joys and frustrations you have with reading, writing, and arithmetic to your friends and associates. Out with it!
When all of this begins happening, and your initial choices begin to snowball into life priorities, you may find yourself in a sardonic mood from time to time. Will you wrestle with the necessary line items in your household budget to create new income streams with your writing or just give up? Not everyone has a difficult budget, but many creatives and writers do. Especially in the first five years.
If you are willing to endure set-backs and face your fears with coaching and education, you can have a fulfilling author-preneurial second career.
It may be an option to get financial counseling specifically related to your personal author’s line-item budget. Imagine creating the career you want step by step, with small strategic investments, and add coursework to learn the new business. Make lists. Move through them. revisit them for practice.
There are secrets to be learned. These are treasures to be employed and practiced in order to build a platform where you can champion your style, your cause, and stretch your wings. When a breeze comes your way, you’ll be ready.
If a writer continues to kick back on personal or professional development, I soon learn that that author really just wants to fall back to being just a writer. And, that’s okay. But, an author must realize that this path is a full-time hobby at the very least, and is a significant investment into the future, and a learning curve into self-discovery and articulation.
GROW A DYNAMIC AUTHOR’S TOOLKIT AND KEEP EXPANDING YOUR REACH
Let your creative juices flow into marketing, learning, sharing resources, and practicing new things as similar juices flow in drafting a manuscript. “Star” or “bookmark” this post so that you can go back and follow EACH of the links and explore them or share them. in this way, you’ll expand DYNAMICALLY.
It’s tempting to capitulate into the pool of guilt and feelings of helplessness when budgeting funds towards the costs of launching an author-preneurial business. Don’t do this. You will need to trust the Lord, while investing and creating new boundaries for yourself in order to succeed. This is how anyone in business approaches future success.
Take Away: Use your ingenuity. You are a creative. You are an author. So, when an advertising budget goes awry or the book expo leaves you saddled with debt, then pull out your list of why’s and add to this the list of “how’s this going to improve next time?”.
Managing Partner at Capture Books, (author of Welcome to the Shivoo! Creatives Mimicking the Creator). She is available to give this presentation in writer’s groups and to field questions in person or over the airwaves, or online. Contact her: firstname.lastname@example.org
During the holidays, I had the opportunity to host the inventor of a well-received artists’ pastel, the Terry Ludwig Pastels and his lovely wife in my home. I learned how his creative need for widening a small array of pastel colors to vastly more colors begat an ingenuity to create them himself.
For Terry, learning how to mix and shape these new pastels for personal use led to bulk mixes of the pastel shaped chalks and also to the business of selling them to other artists. Soon, the success he received outgrew his ability to paint and to run the pastel business. Fortunately, in retirement, Terry’s son, Geoff, continues to run the family business.
INGENUITY COLORS THIS WALL
Soon after, another company came to my attention, an innovative and ingenious company that actually grew in lean times when other companies gave way to the competition.
Braun Brush Company is one of America’s oldest family-owned industrial brush manufacturers. From the start, Emanuel Braun, a German immigrant, implemented handmade, quality manufacturing techniques to produce brushes as effective household tools. They became popular. Who doesn’t need a variety of brushes, right?
However, at the turn of the century when the industrial revolution started, the factory, like most small manufacturing businesses, fell on hard times. Mass production by machine, whether inferior in quality or not, overwhelmed them. Authors and publishers might relate to the phenomenon as they experienced the mass marketing of self-published books took over the marketplace.
Again in the 50s, when China began mass production of common household items to America, Braun, could have given up production of his homemade brushes.
Instead, Braun began identifying a person at a time needing one unique brush. He could still fill that market of one each time he designed a unique brush making his mark up, because the machines were making multiples for the masses, not unique needs. Finding one-of-a-kind niches, inventing brushes for commercial institutions such as NASA and nuclear plants for cleaning silos, sustained Braun’s brush business.
REINVENTING THE WHEEL – A GOOD INVESTMENT?
Artisans and business people are often warned not to waste time or resources in trying to reinvent the wheel. In this instance, I’ve learned the opposite is true. It helps to be willing to reinvent the wheel for different purposes and vehicles. Thinking about this, it may be common sense that the same wheel would not suit all purposes, nor does the same brush.
I have discovered, time and time again, that one person may be a visionary while others must get on board with the business sense, varieties of production needs, or sales in order to make the business succeed. Each person must use ingenuity to succeed in creating a full picture from the puzzle pieces.
NOT EVERY CREATED THING IS PRODUCED FOR ALL
Some people mass-produce their art for those who decorate personal spaces with reproduced poster art printed on less quality paper, sold, and appreciated en mass, ie. think the paperback novel or Kindle readers.
Some people want to see their own work up on the wall, ie. think the vantage press hardcovers or those who use their books for establishing a legacy.
Some only want to produce enough work to give gifts to friends, club members, and business associates. Others need to make a living and are able to gain the aid of professionals to either become a classic household name in a genre or form.
In readers as in the art world, there are those who collect, those who invest in local artists and masters. You understand, if you have an original signed and dated piece from a local artist, author, or a master in any era, it is safe to say that only those who come into your space will likely see it.
Like showing off a beloved library, an original art piece may be the dictating factor for how the rest of the space is decorated and furnished.
KEEP UP WITH HUMAN APPETITES
Finding and selling to the markets basically means that the creator has discovered a way to feed someone’s appetite. It comes down to that.
It’s great to create new stories and new things, but there are some things that are universal patterns and needs requiring some pattern of format or reformatting. This is true in writing a widely read book.
A novice author dreams of seeing his or her book mass-produced. For me, when the self-publishing phenomenon happened, when all manner of marketing and social networking advice overwhelmed me, I floundered and moved into low gear. The transformation of the bookselling industry was about to spit out the hobbyists from the author-entrepreneurs. And, I wasn’t ready to give up. In digging in my heels, I had a lot to learn.
One of the things I learned related to finding a niche of readers, and describing my book as the answer to their appetite for discovering the source of creativity and learning to follow a true pattern of success.
In 2020, when I approved the final revision of my book, Welcome to the Shivoo!, I smiled thinking, “That’s a book I want to buy and read myself!”
Authors and publishers aim for more readers and merrier times. Whether this dream becomes fact, real art always comes from the heart. When an artisan believes in his or her process and skill, adapting ideas to reproduce stories in a bigger way and by a preferable means becomes real-world work.
What a delicious assurance.
Occasionally, authors believe they have written their only masterpiece. With the work and expense required to establish themselves, it feels unlikely that another manuscript so heartfelt and well-researched will ever pour from their fingertips again. They want their books to be mass-produced, and when at first this fails to happen, spirits fall in chorus like a requiem.
It’s simply the excitement and pathos of a first book singing out a delicious moment. But, there is a whole new career awaiting.
Getting a book published produces a bell-curve of an overwhelming high and extreme low of emotion before the reality of the artisan’s business work ethic sets in. However, it is unfounded to think that new inspiration can never spurt to the surface again considering the wellspring of ingenuity contained in the life events of any artisan.
When a writer has found one passion, another passion will likely emerge parallel to the appetites sparking at the time. An opportunity to produce a sequel or a similar brand of book will begin to tug at a sleeve. The question is, will the creator accept being the vessel in the future? Will the creator continue to find the hope and motivation as Braun found to prepare for a future society, to accept this new manuscript in the new language of a new people?
I like to keep a notebook, camera, and recorder nearby to document the interesting things that pass through my life so that I may one day adapt them into new art, or writing, or sales systems.
Every day, you and I are just like Emanuel Braun who was beckoned and wooed by life’s need to survive in New York’s transitioning society and the crux of needed creativity. You cannot blame your competitors who found a rung on the ladder before you did. Learn from them. You cannot hold customers captive without new products. Keep inventing.
You and I are the ones who must continue to get gritty, work late nights and early mornings, research, edit, barter, and train.