Blurb Doctor: A Ransom of Flames

Anela has asked me to look at the first draft of a blurb for her upcoming work, “A Ransom of Flames”.

A deadly blight. A crownless queen. A journey to the edge of the world.

A mysterious blight is destroying the world of Aeden. At the return of each full moon the Vehlek, immortal men forged by fire and stone, come to retrieve the blood sacrifice that will hold back the tide of death. For Maleia, the next sacrifice brings with it a terrible loss.

Married to the son of the man who stole her throne, she has sworn to find vengeance. But when a cure to the blight is found, Maleia decides that even without a crown, she must protect her people. Guided by the Vehlek, she undertakes a dangerous journey across the world to find it. But every day that passes, the blight grows stronger and the road more perilous. With the lives of all hanging in the balance, it’s a race against time, one that will bring an end to the blight…or to the world of Aeden itself.

Let’s break it down:

A deadly blight. A crownless queen. A journey to the edge of the world.

  • In today’s self-publishing market, I wouldn’t recommend leading with this structure. Some readers might glance at it and mistakenly decide the author couldn’t form full sentences.
  • Crownless queen raises too many possibilities. Was she deposed? A thief stole the crown? She sold the crown jewels to finance a war?

A mysterious blight is destroying the world of Aeden.

  • Some readers might not like “is destroying”. Maybe we can change it to ‘devastates’ or something along those lines.
  • This might be a good place to mention how horrible the blight is: withered crops, ponds with dead fish floating, sheep with bare skin instead of wool?

At the return of each full moon the Vehlek, immortal men forged by fire and stone, come to retrieve the blood sacrifice that will hold back the tide of death.

  • We don’t need to say “at the return of”, since we know the moon’s appearance is cyclical. We’ll just start with “Each full moon”.
  • I don’t understand how the men were forged by fire and stone. Are they magma men? A secret society whose members must survive a fire ritual and a stone ritual?
  • They shouldn’t “retrieve” the blood sacrifice, as this implies they left it there previously. They can ‘receive’ or ‘claim’ it perhaps.
  • If I’m reading this correctly, the sacrifices somehow lessen the blight? In this case, they don’t “hold back the tide of death”, as the blight probably isn’t something that cycles like a tide. In fact, since they are lunar-driven, it might be more correct to say the sacrifices ARE a tide of death.

For Maleia, the next sacrifice brings with it a terrible loss.

  • The name Maleia just popped in here with no introduction. It’s not clear until later that she is actually the deposed queen.
  • For me, this is too vague, so I don’t care. Tell me the next sacrifice will be her sister, and now I care.

Married to the son of the man who stole her throne, she has sworn to find vengeance.

  • The two halves of this sentence don’t quite fit. It seems like she’s sworn vengeance for the marriage, not the throne stealing. Did she marry the son as part of a revenge plot? The kind of people who steal thrones probably tightly control their sons’ marriages. Was she forced into the marriage? That makes more sense, but needs to be stated.
  • I’m not sure this sentence really belongs in the blurb at all. From the next few sentences, I’m getting a vibe from the story – a deposed queen goes on a perilous journey to save her people because nobody else will do it. Revenge is a different story, and not mentioned in the rest of the blurb.

But when a cure to the blight is found, Maleia decides that even without a crown, she must protect her people.

  • Now that there’s a “cure” for the blight, I’m wondering if it’s more of a human affliction, in which case ‘plague’ would be a better word than blight. I usually hear the word blight in reference to plants, but if it’s a fantasy affliction of both plants and animals, then perhaps the word “cure” still works instead of something boring like ‘treatment’.
  • Again, I don’t like the crown reference, unless it’s a crown with magical powers that would have helped in her mission.

Guided by the Vehlek, she undertakes a dangerous journey across the world to find it.

  • I’d been assuming the Vehlek killed her sister, now she’s working with them? This might need some explanation.
  • I don’t want to be told there’s “a dangerous journey”. Tell me she’ll have to sail between Scylla and Charybdis. Tell me the cure is on the other side of the Dark Forest of No Return.

But every day that passes, the blight grows stronger and the road more perilous.

  • If the blight is growing stronger, this implies it’s some type of entity. If that’s not true, we can say ‘the blight covers more fields’ or ‘more people are stricken with the plague’.
  • I don’t mind the vagueness of a perilous road as much in this sentence, but if there is one specific reason for the peril, it could be mentioned – ‘the king sends more men to hunt her down.’

With the lives of all hanging in the balance, it’s a race against time, one that will bring an end to the blight…or to the world of Aeden itself.

  • We’ve got two clichés back to back here, “hanging in the balance” and “race against time”. We should lose one. Losing both would be better.
  • We could consider scrapping this whole sentence, we’ve already established the danger of the blight and the time pressures, and the previous sentence would make a suitably powerful ending.

Here’s an ultra-rough first draft of a rewritten blurb:

Deposed queen Maleia watches as a blight devastates the countryside of Aeden, withering crops and poisoning wells. Every full moon, a blood sacrifice slows the spread of the blight. At year’s end, the sacrifice will be Maleia’s sister.

A merchant arrives with rumors of a cure, but the usurper king shows no interest. Meleia may no longer be queen, but the suffering peasants are still her people. She will cross the Dark Swamp to bring back the cure, and she’ll do it before her sister’s sacrifice.

As I haven’t read the story, I’ve probably butchered the plot. However, I’ve focused on the aspect of the blurb I found most compelling: a character who sees that nobody else is going to do the right thing, and decides to do it herself. Let me know in the comments section if you think I focused on the wrong aspect of the story.

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12 comments

  1. Interesting exercise. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Reblogged this on Amid The Imaginary and commented:

    With plans to publish my first book next year, I took my blurb for a check-up with the Blurb Doctor at Planetary Defense Command. Proof positive that blurbs are hard! Thanks for the prescription, doc!

  3. Respectfully, I disagree on Anela’s first three sentences.

    “A deadly blight. A crownless queen. A journey to the edge of the world.”

    I think this is a quite powerful opener. R.S.A. Garcia uses this same structure for her short blurb for her novel Lex Talionis, which won a Silver Medal for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Ebook from the Independent Publishers Book Awards (IPPY Award).

    Here’s Garcia’s teaser / short blurb:

    “A resurrected girl. A mute alien. A wounded solider. Find out what connects them. LEX TALIONIS.”

    1. I certainly could be wrong about that (or any other part of my advice), so I’m glad to hear an opposing viewpoint.

      I’m just thinking about a customer who is quickly browsing through a dozen or more new releases at a site like Amazon, and how they might react.

      I think the short blurb like Garcia’s would be brilliant on twitter, or maybe in some kind of paid ad in a sidebar. All authors probably should make these short form blurbs for those purposes.

      I just went to the Lex Talionis listing at Amazon, and see that Garcia is using a longer format blurb there.

  4. The opening sentences sound good to me! The rest of your assessment is thorough and makes a lot of sense. Might have to apply this to my own blurbs, which I definitely found harder to write than the books!

    1. Ah, a second vote for the short-form opener.

      Blurbs are tough. It seems like you really need to get some eyes on a blurb that haven’t read the book. Many authors are so excited about their story, that they want to tell you it includes this, and that, and this other thing, but one or two unique/intriguing elements are really all a blurb needs. The reader will see all that other cool stuff later.

      1. You’re right… and the blurbs of famous authors are the worst, because they dont really need them to sell their books, people will buy them anyway. As I found out when I was looking for examples to follow.

        1. Yes, I don’t understand why publishing companies, who have great writers as assets, use interns to write their marketing blurbs.

          1. Yeah its crazy!

  5. Glad to have found a good doctor for these types of ailments, thanks!

    I thought your advice was spot on. I’m not a fan of the original intro sentences. For my money, they evoke little emotion and don’t give a strong enough pull to the reader. Unless each item builds on the next, I end up with the feeling that the author was just trying to cover as many genre bases as possible.

    Zombies. A Princess in trouble. Spaceships battling for supremacy… more zombies!!

    This story has some great emotional elements and I think your edits shifted the piece so we could increase focus on that aspect. Well done! Best of luck to the author of “A Ransom of Flames” I think the story sounds like a great one and would love to read it.
    -A

    1. A zombie princess in trouble. Spaceships battling zombies.

      😉

      1. Now that sounds like a fun read ^_^

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