A few months ago, in response to a personal conundrum I shared with you, we debated the merits of wrestling a novel that wanted to be written in first-person into third, and whether that would be wise from a marketing perspective. Positions were expounded, personal research advanced, and a few minds possibly changed or stretched. Well, my friends, if you are an indie writer, or traditionally published but able to influence your book’s marketing campaign, the first-third debate doesn’t end there.
You have yet another decision to make.
To wit, have you noticed the accelerating trend toward first-person marketing copy? i.e. taglines or back cover copy written from within the point of view of one or more characters? (Click here for a peek at the current #6 book in the Kindle US store.)
At the time I was putting out Cold and Hottie, given its frequent use by some of contemporary romance’s bestselling authors, I certainly did. But would it be the right move?
To get a handle on best practices, I did an unofficial survey of followers on my Facebook page—presumably people open to my fiction—and asked them what they thought of first-person book blurbs. Before I summarize what they said, I should make it clear that my author page skews heavily toward other writers. Their collective wisdom, therefore, might not extend to readers in general or your genre’s readers in particular. As you might have noticed, a good number of us get hung up on rules that readers don’t see as necessary.
With that said, here are the results:
- First, the response to my question was, shall we say, passionate. In fact, comments came with such speed and enthusiasm that Facebook stopped throttling the post’s exposure (!), making it one of my most viewed and active posts ever.
- A sizable number of commenters weren’t aware that first-person blurbs are a thing. Upon discussion, some were intrigued but most thought it a strange and misguided trend.
- Conversely, for a cadre of readers who dwell within specific genres, first-person blurbs had become the norm. In fact, one commenter knew of a publishing house that finds it to be such an effective sales tool it has become their default choice.
- A small group said they found first-person blurbs intrusive. Like the author was trying too hard. Of note, I had no mechanism for teasing out whether these people would have been hostile to a first-person book. In other words, perhaps a first-person blurb would actually help filter out readers unlikely to enjoy the novel while successfully targeting the book’s niche readership.
- A sizable number of people don’t care about mechanics. They just want a good story and see the rest as background noise.
- Some people feel that a blurb’s voice should always reflect the voice of the book, and feel duped if they differ. (Of note, it’s a common practice to sell books written in first- using a third-person blurb; nobody objected to this. But they did object to a first-person blurb for a third-person book. This makes me wonder if the real issue is their unfamiliarity with the practice. Also, how many people one-click based on the blurb and don’t take a moment to read inside, to ensure the voice and editing is to their taste? Surely this is a case of once bitten, twice shy…)
- Several people theorized that the blurb was intended to speak to bookstore acquisitions staff, rather than readers. As such, they felt it would benefit from the big-picture editorial perspective of third-person.
In summary, I discovered that some people ardently love blurbs in first. Some people vehemently oppose them. Many people don’t appear to care.
Given the lack of clear direction, what’s an author to do?
Here are my thoughts.