Saturday, October 03, 2009

Mayra Calvani Shares Secrets on Selling Your Book to an Agent

This has been Mayra Calvani's month as a guest blogger. I preach (nay, nag!) authors to share liberally with one another. Maya personifies an author who does just that. This is her third article. You can go back in the archives for her others, one on "Demystifying Virtual Book Tours" and one urging you to promote this Halloween!


By Mayra Calvani

A great blurb or mini synopsis can make the difference between a customer taking out his/her wallet to buy your book or putting the book back on the shelf. Great blurbs sell books. It's the same for an agent.

But what exactly is a that mini syopsis or blurb?

A blurb is the copy on the back cover of your book (and sometimes other places). After the front cover, the blurb and mini synopsis on the back cover is the thing a customer will check when choosing to buy a book. It should hook, intrigue and grab the reader right away.

“Book blurbs are eye candy to the consumer,” says publicist Penny Sansevieri, founder of Author Marketing Experts.

Not only to customers. A great blurb can help you find a publisher or an agent, too.

A few years ago, I sent dozens of query letters in my search for an agent. As you probably know, most query letters are composed of a brief synopsis, logline or blurb of the book (the hook), some info about the book (genre, word count, etc), and a short author bio or list of qualifications. There are several chapters in Carolyn's The Frugal Editor that will help you write a picture-perfect query letter. Unfortunatly, when my query letter went out, the agents who responded said “No, thanks.”

I’m not surprised. The tool I used to sell my book was as flat as a French crepe. One of these agents wrote to say she wasn’t particularly excited about my book, but asked if I had something else to show her. By this time I had improved my mini synopsis and had a completely new version. I mentioned this to her and asked her to consider my edited version, which she did. Her response was “Well, I have to admit this is pretty convincing.” She requested the first three chapters. To make a long story short, she took me in based on the strength of those three chapters. In this case, my new query letter--specifically the way I capsulated the plot--was the key factor in getting the agent’s attention.

This is what I first included in my query letter:

Can a good man be persuaded into committing murder and still retain his goodness?

Lullaby is about the restless soul of an aborted infant who, in order to become powerful enough to be reborn, must tempt humans into committing evil acts. Having temporarily acquired the form of a beautiful woman, this being plays mind games with the protagonist, bringing back memories of his tragic childhood. As deeply buried feelings of hate and revenge spring to the surface, the protagonist must struggle with his conscience to do the right thing. But will he, when his own ideas about justice and the higher good tell him it is right to kill?

Now compare it to the second one which got the agent’s attention:

At a trendy Turkish tavern one Friday night, astrophysicist Gabriel Diaz meets a mysterious young woman. Captivated out of his senses by her physical perfection as well as her views on good and evil, he spends the next several days with her. After a while, however, he begins to notice a strangeness in her—-her skin’s abnormally high temperature, her obsession with milk products, her childlike and bizarre behavior as she seems to take pleasure in toying with his conscience.

The young woman, Kamilah, invites him to Rize, Turkey, where she claims her family owns a cottage in the woods. In spite of his heavy workload and the disturbing visions and nightmares about his sister’s baby that is due to be born soon, Gabriel agrees to go with her.

But nothing, not even the stunning beauty of the Black Sea, can disguise the horror of her nature. In a place where death dwells and illusion and reality seem as one, Gabriel must now come to terms with his own demons in order to save his sister’s unborn child, and ultimately, his own soul…

Here are some guidelines to help you create a great synopsis for your book:

*Keep it short (100-250 words). The aim is to convey what makes the book unique in a small amount of space.

*In it set the mood, the scene, and the conflict or enigma.

*It should have mounting tension. The beginning should have a “hint” of the conflict or threat, yet remain pretty innocuous (look at my blurb number two: boy meets girl in a tavern). By the end of the blurb, the conflict or threat should be imminent (protagonist must save his sister’s unborn child and his own soul).

*Think of the best angle to approach your story. Both of my blurbs describe what happens in my novel, yet the second one sounds much more exciting.

*As with a good book review, never put “spoilers” in the blurb. You can do this in a book summary or in a full synopsis, but never in the mini synopsis or blurb. (Look again at my blurb number one. In it I make the big mistake of revealing the nature of my “evil” female protagonist—-he is the soul of an aborted infant. In blurb number two, you suspect there’s something wrong with her, but you don’t know what. You’re left wondering).

*Think about what makes your book different.

*Question marks can be used to leave the reader intrigued.

*Often ellipses are used at the end to leave reader asking questions.

*Keep adverbs and adjectives to a minimum and use action verbs.

*Needless to say, make sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors.

*If your book is nonfiction, does it have special features like pictures or diagrams? What is the aim of the book? What are you trying to accomplish? Does it teach anything? How is this book different from others in the field?

*Remember that these enticing pieces are not summaries! Don’t tell the whole story—only the exciting part of it so that the reader will want to know more.

*Don’t exaggerate or sugar coat it. Be professional.

*Study the blurbs from your book shelves, paying special attention to their style, language, and content.

*Write and rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Then show it to people who can offer honest feedback.

One last tip:

Do you know that powerful, dramatic voice that you hear in the cinemas during movie trailers? That alluring voice, often exaggerated, that describes the movies? Well, read your own blurb with this voice in your mind, matching its tone and pitch. You’ll be surprised to find out how much that helps!

Guest Blogger Bio

Today's guest blogger Mayra Calvani is a multi-genre author, reviewer and animal advocate. She enjoys writing for children and adults. A regular contributor to Blogcritics Magazine and American Chronicle, she's a member of SCBWI, CWCC and Broad Universe. She keeps two blogs, Mayra's Secret Bookcase ( and The Dark Phantom Review (

Additionally, she's the co-author of the ForeWord Best of the Year Award winner, The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing. (

Visit her newest, fun blog, Pets and Their Authors (, where her golden retriever interviews authors' pets.

Mayra does Spanish translations of children's picture books and is the National Latino Books Examiner for (

Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and two how to books for writers, The Frugal Book Promoter: How To Do What Your Publisher Won't and The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success. Her FRUGAL book for retailers is A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. She is also the author of the Amazon Short, "The Great First Impression Book Proposal". Some of her other blogs are, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor blog.

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