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On writing blurbs for conventions

Part I - Writing blurbs for tournament games

You only get one chance, so this had better be good.

What am I talking about? Selling your game of course. When you are running a game at a convention, typically the only way you get to tell people about your game is by the blurb you submit.

It is one of the most important parts to writing your game, because if you don't attract any players, why are you spending all that time writing the rest of the module. How many times have you heard someone pick up a con entry form, flick through it and say "well nothing really grabbed me". One of the ways to get more people to conventions playing our games, is to make the games look like they will be worth playing.

Think of it as an ad campaign for your product, where the product is your game. Unlike big product launches in the 'real world', you don't have the budget or the opportunity to run a series of ads, you only have the one. Like any other form of advertising, perceptions are half the battle. This can make it a little tricky.

The blurb needs to communicate a number of things in a very small space. Firstly you are introducing yourself to your potential players. Some people choose games on the name of the author alone, either because they've heard good things about them, or they deliberatly avoid games where they have heard bad things. Use of team names can appear exclusive if the person reading the blurb has never heard of them before. While they may never have heard of an individual before, at least someone is 'owning up' and 'taking responsibility' for running the tourament, and not some faceless, unidentifiable conglomeration. If you really want to use a group name, try to either refer to something you've done before (from the people who brought you "Dogstar - the Awakening") or provide some kind of contact details, this makes the group more 'real' and accountable.

The blurb should give the potential players a reasonable and accurate idea of what your game is going to be about. This means one really important thing, YOU have to know what your game is going to be about. In a writer's workshop with Terry Pratchett, he told us that he writes his blurbs when he has about two-thirds of the book written. It's a way of touching base with your concept and making sure you really understand where it is going. It's also a really good idea to keep a copy of your blurb to hand when ever you are working on your game. If you start to suffer a bit from writer's block, have another look at your blurb to remind you of what you had in mind when you started.

The blurb should convey the genre of the game, and how much genre knowledge will be required by the players. It should also convey the level of seriousness of the game. Most Australian cons now have ratings sections at the end of the blurb that allow you to state this with numbers. This is a good way of making sure critical information is made clear, but a much better way of doing it is by the mood and language of your blurb. If you are using a ratings system, make sure you understand it. If you are not sure what low/medium/high seriousness, rules or genre knowledge really means when compared to other games in the book, talk to one of the convention organisers for advice.

The blurb should be a taste test for the real thing, if it's a tale about pillow women and samurai, try writing a few haiku, if it's a story about the Cat in the Hat, try writing in the style of Dr Seuss. Paranoia blurbs are frequently written as censored mission briefs, StarTrek as uncensored mission briefs. Language can be a very powerful tool for conveying mood and culture, but it takes practice to use it well.

In addition to the flavour of your game, you want to convey to your adoring public the quality you intend to deliver. That means you want the quality of your blurb to be good. That sounds obvious, but poor spelling and grammar just come across as hurried and ill considered. Check the spelling, and then get someone else to check it again. Ask someone who doesn't know what the game is about to read the blurb out aloud to you, and listen to how they say it. Did it sound right to you, did it roll off their tongue? Did they stumble or have to struggle their way through it? If they did, chances are you didn't write it the way you'd intended. Ask them to describe what sort of game they think it describes. Is it a comedy, historical, futuristic or dramatic? Did they get it right?

It is easy to write a mood piece if you have a few pages to do it in, but you don't. Try typing out your blurb at 18 point. Put in all your paragraph breaks. Print it out, fold the page in half. Can you see all your text? If you try the same thing at 14 point can you see all the text. If the answer is no to both those questions, you will need to do some serious editing. In most con books you will be given half an A5 page. From a production point of view, these are frequently produced by creating the page as an A4 and reducing it by 71% in a photocopier, anything smaller than 14 point can become difficult to read once reduced and duplicated, 18 point reduces to a very clear 13 point approximation.

If you really need to communicate additional information to your prospective players, create a webpage for the game and provide the URL in the contacts section of your blurb. There are many free homepage options available these days, from through to, it doesn't have to be flash to be informative.

A checklist for information your blurb must clearly communicate:

  • the TITLE of the game
  • the GENRE or SYSTEM being used
  • the team SIZE for a team entry game
  • the NUMBER of sessions, and if they must be done consecutively
  • expected level of genre or rules KNOWLEDGE required
  • the indended SERIOUSNESS of the game
  • if the game will contain any ADULT content
  • who is the AUTHOR, preferably with some kind of contact details for enquiries

Part II - Submitting your blurb for inclusion in an Convention Entry Form

All right, you wrote your blurb, you proof read it and got someone else to check it too. Now you need to submit your blurb to a convention. When you've decided which convention you wish to offer your game to, make sure you know who you have to send the blurb to, and what is the deadline for submission.

Some cons allow you to provide artwork to go with your words, use pictures sparingly and with care. Remember that the books are going to be photocopied, and any high resolution details will be lost. This means that photos are almost always bad, look for silhouttes or line art, where you have a high contrast image. Silhouttes are good for placing high impact reversed text (white text on a black background) for important pieces of information such as game titles. There are tricks to incorporating graphics into layouts, if your not sure what you are doing, the best advice is to keep it simple.

You've got your text, you've carefully typed it up, agonised over fonts and clipart, and finally think it's perfect. You're almost there, just a few steps to go. Get another person who is not familiar with your game or the blurb to proofread it, if you want the con to use your finished art work, make sure it contains no mistakes. Get a good size envelope and two pieces of A4 cardboard, write in big black exta on the envelope "Do Not Bend". If you have put all this effort in, you don't want someone destroying your masterpiece by accident. If you can, hand deliver your blurb, alternately post it and pray.

Some cons, with the intention of producing a more professional looking entry form, now prefer to do thier own layout with standardised formatting. In these circumstances they will require that you submit you blurb in an electronic format. This will probably be done by email, in which case here's a few simple rules for sending attachments. Unless the con has specified otherwise, send the blurb as a text file (*.txt), not everyone has access to the latest version of MS Word, and only freaks use LaTex (sorry) or XML. Never, ever, send it as the body of the email message, or the editor will have to remove all the carriage returns.

There are pros and cons to this method (no puns intended), should there be any errors in your blurb, softcopy is much easier for the person editing the entry form to correct it, however this also means it is much easier for them to unintentionally change an intentional mistake. As a writer, it really ticks me off if someone changes something I've written without consulting me. Sometimes, due to deadlines, the editor will not have time to chase down every person who submitted copy. If you are fussy, do yourself a favour, get it to them as early as possible, make it really clear that you wish to be consulted on ANY and ALL changes. If you have deliberately littered your blurb with errors, note this in a covering letter, it will save everyone time and grief.

If you want to send them graphics, you should probably try to send both an EPS and a TIFF file as being the formats which will give them the most options for producing the best possible output. If you don't have to software for creating EPS or TIFF graphics, you may not be able to create files that will reproduce with sufficient quality to be used. Remember that they are trying to produce a professional looking document, low resolution GIFs and fly specked images torn from newspapers can bring down the look of the whole booklet.

Be aware that cons requiring softcopy may not accept graphics without prior arrangements. While everyone wants to present the games in the best possible light, it is difficult to tell someone tactfully that their designs are not up to the standard the con is aiming for, and as a result, they will make a blanket decsions not to accept any artwork. If you really, really think you need the graphics, talk to the person arranging the book, it is possible that they may be able to place a seperate "Ad style" blurb if there is space available. I would recommend sending them a PDF or clean hardcopy of your proposed artwork so that they can see what you have in mind.

When talking to the editor, it is really important to keep in mind that you are not the only designer they are dealing with, they are trying to juggle the requirements of close to fifty different designers and contain the costs of producing the book to an affordable level. If you are prompt in meeting any of the convention's deadlines and reasonable in your requests, they will normally try to accomodate you if possible.

This is written by Sara Hanson.
Sara has a degree in Planning and Design, and hopes to one day be paid to write. She currently works as an analyst, which means she gets paid to sound authoritative and point out when people are being idiots.

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