While browsing the table displays in a bookshop, what is the first thing that catches our eye? The front cover, yes, but it’s the back cover or inside flap (in a hardback) that convinces us to actually buy the book. That short description of the book is what we call a blurb.
A blurb may seem like a simple thing to write… I mean, how hard can it be to produce 150-200 words that describe your book effectively? The truth is that getting a blurb right is no walk in the park. It can make or break a book and hence it has to be very carefully crafted.
In this article, we will explore how to write a blurb that not only perfectly describes your book, but also has the potential to maximise your sales.
What Is A Blurb?
As mentioned earlier, the blurb is what appears on the inside flap of a hardback book and the back cover of a paperback – and in most cases, it’s also used to promote the book on online bookstores and in the press.
A blurb is very different from a synopsis. A synopsis is a (rather boring) one-to-two-page summary of your book that includes the entire plot including twists and the ending. A synopsis is usually sent to an agent or editor so they can quickly grasp what your entire book is about. A blurb, on the other hand, keeps all the secrets hidden and is created in order to convince people to spend their money on your book! The primary function of a blurb is to entice readers, giving them enough information about your characters, the story conflict and stakes to want to read the book (but without giving away the climax).
Blurbs, Genre And You
Every genre has its own kind of blurb. While blurbs for thrillers and crime novels start off with a bang (not a literal one!), the ones for literary fiction can sometimes take a languid pace. For non-fiction, the focus is not on the characters but the overall concept behind the book.
All self-published authors must get their blurbs right, as a good blurb sells books. Traditionally published authors may receive help from their agent or editor, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t learn how to write a blurb and get to grips with what a great blurb looks like.
Later in the article, we will examine some examples of a good blurb.
What Does A Blurb Contain?
A blurb needs to sell the book, and that means that often it contains more than just a condensed summary of the story. If you’re wondering how to write a book blurb, look no further. Here are six things a blurb should (and often does) contain:
1. The Author’s Popularity
If you’re a well-known author, that’s what the blurb should start with. There are countless times when we’ve bought books just because they’re from a USA Today or Sunday Times bestselling author. Also, if you’re the recipient of an award, that should also go straight in the blurb, if it isn’t already on the cover.
Fortunately (or unfortunately) the prestige surrounding these labels counts. I remember discovering Donna Tartt for the first time through her Pulitzer winning novel The Goldfinch. I knew nothing about her, but I bought her book because of the award. I then picked up The Secret History which turned me into a die-hard Tartt fan.
You don’t need to put your entire biography in the blurb, although some publishers in the United States tend to do that, but it is useful to give readers a little flavour of what you’ve achieved in the past as it often helps them decide whether to invest in your book or not.
Remember, hardbacks are not cheap – so a blurb needs to do double (or triple) duty if possible.
2. The Story Description
Once the author’s major achievements have been listed, it’s important to get straight to the point with what’s inside the book. Often, publishers like to give a little taste of the overall content of the book with phrases like ‘The Crime Novel Everyone is Talking About’ or ‘A Story You Won’t Forget In A Hurry’. These are meant to tempt the reader to read further and discover what the book is about. With such catchy headlines, it’s quite probable that the reader will want to read on.
3. A Great First Line (Or Two)
Hooking the reader with the first line is the best way to get them to want to buy your book. In the blurb of Laini Taylor’s first book of her YA fantasy trilogy, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, we get a first line that intrigues, then a second line that sends shivers down your spine:
Around the world, black hand prints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.
In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.
And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherworldly war.
Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real, she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”, she speaks many languages – not all of them human – and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.
When beautiful, haunted Akiva fixes fiery eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?
However, what really stands out in a blurb is the main character…who (or what) is Akiva? Why is he haunted? Why is Karou’s hair blue and why doesn’t she know who she is? The only way you will find out is to read the book. A blurb that works!
Let’s take a look at blurbs and their characters in more detail…
4. The Main Character
It’s important to remember that the protagonist is often the main aspect of your story that will draw readers to your book. A blurb should do a good job of introducing the main character, but in a way that leaves room for intrigue. The trick is never to give the game away, because the blurb is meant to entice the reader to buy your book. If you tell a potential reader all there is to know about the main character and plot, then there won’t be any incentive to buy the book.
Here’s a look at the blurb for Gone Girl, a book that has defined a generation:
Who are you?
What have we done to each other?
These are the questions Nick Dunne finds himself asking on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, when his wife Amy suddenly disappears. The police suspect Nick. Amy’s friends reveal that she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him. He swears it isn’t true. A police examination of his computer shows strange searches. He says they weren’t made by him. And then there are the persistent calls on his mobile phone.
So what really did happen to Nick’s beautiful wife?
As you can see, the focus of this blurb is on Nick Dunne, the main character. We instantly need to know whether Nick is guilty or innocent, and we can tell straight away this is going to be a book full of twists and turns.
The blurb for Gone Girl does everything it’s required to do. It has a hook at the start that propels the reader to read on. And as they do, they’re introduced to the main character who’s in a major conflict…which is the next topic of this discussion.
5. The Conflict
People read books for the drama (even gentler books need something to happen in them). They want to see the protagonist go through impossible situations and root for them. Books offer a necessary distraction, especially now the world has become such an impossible place, and for a book to properly entertain us there needs to be conflict.
Therefore, the blurb needs to reflect that conflict too.
As soon as we introduce the main character in the blurb, it’s important to throw them into a dilemma or conflict. For example, looking at the above blurb, it’s obvious that Nick is dealing with the disappearance of his wife which forms the major conflict in the story. Why did Amy disappear? What could have possibly happened? That is the stuff of drama.
Let’s look at another blurb, this one is from The Kindness of Psychopaths by Alan Gorevan:
How far would you go for those you love?
When Valentina López Vázquez vanishes from her home one morning, it’s obvious that she was taken by force. What happened to her next is not so obvious.
The disappearance forces two men on a gruelling search for the truth: Barry Wall, Valentina’s frantic husband, and Joe Byrne, the nihilistic detective in charge of the investigation.
They are locked on a devastating course that will take them to places darker than they ever dreamt – places without limits…
Don’t miss this page-turning thriller. Perfect for fans of Shari Lapena, Peter Swanson, Jennifer Hillier, and Linwood Barclay.
As you can see, this blurb starts off with an intriguing hook and then dives straight into the main characters and the overall conflict, which is the disappearance of Valentina Lopez Vazquez. Creating intrigue around the primary conflict is what will get people to buy your book. While there may be plenty of internal conflicts going on in the main character’s head, they are not suitable to include in a blurb. Since the blurb is brief and to the point, the physical aspects of the conflict are what should make an appearance.
If you look at the above blurb, it also introduces us to another useful device that ought to be used in a blurb: WHY should readers buy the book?
6. Why Should Readers Buy The Book?
That is a question readers will be asking themselves when they’re reading your blurb. They will be looking for a sense of familiarity, something that connects the book to one they’ve read and enjoyed in the past.
In the blurb of The Kindness of Psychopaths, it mentions that fans of Shari Lapena and Peter Swanson will love the book. That’s the connection readers will be looking for… a reason for them to buy the book.
Much like when supplying comparative titles when pitching your books to agent and editors, those same titles can be used in your blurb. So, if you feel your book is similar in theme to the books of a famous author or similar to a popular TV series or movie, mention that in your blurb. It may be a short line, but it’s an important one.
What Makes A Good Blurb?
Looking at the above points, here is a brief checklist of what makes a good blurb and what doesn’t:
A Good Blurb
- A brief note on the author’s popularity
- An intriguing opening line that hooks the reader’s attention
- Introduction to the main character
- Introduction to the primary conflict and stakes
- The reason why a reader should buy the book
A Bad Blurb
- Focuses on the internal conflicts of the main character
- Introduces unnecessary characters
- Summarises the entire plot (intrigue sells)
- Gives away the climax
- Fails to establish the stakes
- Fails to identify the author or compare them to other similar authors
The blurb is one of the most important things you will write for your book, especially if you are a self-published author. Since you only have 150-200 words before you lose your reader’s attention, you have to make every word count. Even more than the cover, it’s the blurb that will make the reader consider whether or not they want to buy the book.
So get your sales hat on, think commercially, and hook your readers with a fantastic blurb they won’t be able to ignore. Make them ask ‘what happens next, then?’ and ensure that the only way they can find out is by buying and reading your wonderful book!
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