Monday, August 14, 2006

Writing the blurb

An important part of selling a book is ‘the blurb’ - promoting your book in a few sentences. When I read Continuum’s it just didn’t leap off the page, it was the John Major of blurbs – safe, boring and non-descript. No offence but what had the copywriter been working on before – the Horlicks account?

So I wrote my own…

‘If you thought reading Gervaise Phinn was like drinking a warm cup of tea, this book will knock you over with the force of a vodka slammer. Mr Read survives the nightmare of planning, Ofsted and an incompetent head...He also takes the class to Ireland, the House of Commons and wins a film award. We guarantee "Christmas Lights", "The School Trip" and "Stressbusters" will make you laugh out loud. A searing indictment of our joyless, exam ridden primary curriculum...'it will take a bare-knuckle fight to save its soul.' Down-to-earth and outrageously funny, this guide will prove essential reading for all teachers everywhere.’

I’ll have to admit that ‘down-to-earth’ got left in from the previous one, somehow it just brings up images of that Hovis commercial with the lad wheeling his bike up that steep hill, but at least ‘the blurb’ does now encapsulate the logic behind the book.

The next task is to make sure the art work will sell the book. It needs something irreverent and eye-catching. One thing I’ve learnt is while not being OCD or a control freak when it comes to your own material always check what they’re doing to it.

I read an interesting interview in The Guardian with author Malorie Blackman, when she started writing she accumulated 60-70 rejection letters. In her first year as a full time writer she only earned £800 and that was for film rights, when she saw the script the girls had become boys and the black characters transformed to white. Welcome to Hollywood! Her first seven books were all produced by different publishers because they weren’t confident her books would sell.

I’m grateful to Continuum for taking a chance with How Not To Teach but after initial enthusiasm about a second book they now want to see how ‘sales and reviews’ progress before taking a decision. I had to smile, reviews? I’ll probably be lucky (apart from the TES) if it’s reviewed anywhere and I'm sure that isolated phrases will be used to savage the book.

In our culture criticism is not tolerated, look at Ken Loach’s film The Wind that Shakes the Barley, some of the so-called commentators rubbished the film without even seeing it – incredible.

Could anyone out there give me any advice on getting your book reviewed? I’ve mailed the dailies and some of the education press and I’m still waiting for replies. Of course reviewing is a bit of an incestuous, mutual back-scratching and luvvie air kissing activity. A writes a review about B’s book, “An absolute joy that would grace any bookshelf.” B then writes a review of A’s book, “An absolute joy… (see review above)”. I’m trying to break into the magic circle here and not wanting to overdo the Uriah Heep humility touch but I don’t have Professor at the start of my name and I haven’t been in the Downing Street Enforcement Unit for years.

Some teachers have ventured into print, recently we had, Everything You Need to Survive Teaching by ‘The Ranting Teacher’, it sounded promising but it was another ‘down-to-earth endurance guide’ that didn’t ask many questions about why everyone is writing survival guides or what impact Ofsted and league tables have had on education.

Another was I’m a Teacher Get Me Out of Here by ‘Francis Gilbert’, which seemed to take as its premise that our main problems are feckless parents and hormonal teenagers. It came over to me as a toff slumming it in the state system.

My way of promoting How Not To Teach is to use the internet and in lieu of getting recommended by ‘Richard and Judy’s Book Club’ I’m going to have to rely on that tried and tested system - word of mouth. Maybe the book will become a sort of underground success, dog-eared copies surreptitiously passing around staff rooms. A similar thing happened in the Soviet Union where rebellious magazines called ‘Samizdats’ were an alternative to the official press.

An important element of writing is always to review your work. I’ve looked again at the blurb, ‘a bare-knuckle fight’ - ever since the testosterone levels began to decline I’ve become more of a pacifist. ‘Bare-knuckle fight’? Ged ouda here! It’s just too macho, you see this in politics where erstwhile Education Secretary Charles Clarke was a self-styled ‘bruiser’. What the hell does that say about the man? So I’ll replace it and finish the blurb with my final paragraph from the other week…

‘I want everyone to imagine primary schools without SATs, league tables, Ofsted, strategies, wall-to-wall planning….Imagine – you may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one.’


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