It was a rite of passage for me to be judging books for the RWA RITA Awards through February. As a member of RWA for thirty years, it really was a thrill to get seven books to read and judge as a published author.
For newbies to romancelandia, the RITA is to romance novelists as the OSCAR recognizes excellence in cinematic achievements. Only members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences vote on who will receive an OSCAR as only published members of Romance Writers of America vote on who will receive a RITA. The nominations, stipulations, and qualifications to be considered for either of these awards has been fraught with drama and intrigue for decades and is rather fascinating. Judging the quality of storytelling, whether on the page or on the screen, is very subjective and based on emotional criteria though judges promise to be unbiased.
If attaining one of these awards is appealing to you, keep it on your dream board and not as part of a career plan or as a personal goal. Both of these awards are presented based on art brought to the public during the most recent calendar year, and each award is presented on the judgment of about seven thousand voters. While award recognition from your peers could boost your career, it isn’t a benchmark to use in a strategic business plan for a romance novelist in search of an audience.
However, my first foray as a RITA judge did reveal something that could directly impact your success as a novelist. All the books I was sent to read and judge had a flaw that I feel will prevent aggressive sales and access to bestseller lists. Actually, if I hadn’t received these books to judge for a RITA award I would not have read the first paragraph on page one which would have been a shame as four of the novels were very entertaining!
What’s that flaw that could undermine your career as a novelist? The back-cover blurbs were lousy! All of them! A potential reader is first caught by the front cover, their second decision to read or pass on a story is The Blurb! Every one of these seven books had a sloppy or wimpy blurb. In my initial excitement to peruse unknown to me novelists and to choose which to read first I read all the blurbs immediately. My level of interest ranged from “What is the story?” to “That’s the only story?” to “Why would I want to read this story?” I would NOT have looked inside, or clicked on, any of these books except for my duty to the contest.
Make all the excuses you want about blurbs, it is the promise the author is making to the reader regarding the story, and answers the question as to Why The Reader Wants To Read THIS Story.
The cover is the First Glance enticement for a reader to be interested in your story. Of the seven books, three had great covers, two were good, one was a hot mess, and the final one was blurry. How often do you look at a blurry book cover and think it will be a great story? The cover needs to represent the flavor, genre, heat level, and more, regarding the story.
The blurb is the Second Glance and if it doesn’t deliver a promise those words are-the-last-glance. A sloppy or wimpy blurb may be forgiven for an award presented by your peers but it won’t win you an audience of dedicated readers. Harlequin solved this problem by branding category lines with a banner on the front cover to clarify if the story is a temptation, medical, sweet or steamy. Then the reader knew the initial promise of the story and looked to the back cover blurb for the tropes featured: comedy, drama, family saga, thriller, secret baby, second chance romance. When the setting is also in the blurb a reader knows if they will enter a college, hospital, small town, big city, different dimension, etc. Another addition to the blurb could include if there is a rite-of-passage event that matters to the story, like graduation; career change, childbirth, injury, illness, inheritance or empty nest.
Romance readers are savvy. They know it’s a relationship story with an uplifting ending. What they want from the cover is the tone, trope and type of love story they will find between the covers. Keep the blurb simple by telling readers what the story is; where it takes place, when, who the characters are and how they will challenge each other. Tease your readers with why THIS STORY is worth reading. Then deliver.
As a final point, that story with the blurry cover and a messy blurb was on the bottom of the pile. I expected to skim the pages. Instead, it was the best of the bunch! Totally my kind of contemporary romance. It’s going on my keeper shelf. I will read more of that author’s books and probably contact her, as a peer. I hope it wins and the love story between the covers gets reflected by the covers!