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How to Write a Book Blurb

13 April 2015

From Self-Publishing Review:

By far, the weakest part of many self-published books is the synopsis found on Amazon and elsewhere. Worse than the cover, worse than the writing in the book itself, there are a lot of blurbs on Amazon that are pretty near atrocious. I include my own books in this category. Writing a decent blurb is an artform totally separate from writing a book.

Authors are also on record saying this is their least favorite part of the process. It can make you feel icky writing superlatives about your own book. At the same time, too many superlatives can literally be icky (“A work of genius” comes to mind). A good blurb needs to strike a balance between being informative, but not too informative, salesy, but not too salesy, while somehow coercing a stranger into spending money. It’s difficult, to say the least.

That said, there are some very common errors that show up time and again, and are pretty easy to change.

. . . .

Blurb Do’s

  1. Make it 100-200 words at most. Use line breaks as well.
  2. Use bold and italics, such as for awards, or “#1 Bestseller,” if you’re so lucky.
  3. Remember to add genre keywords to your description (mystery, dystopia, thriller, and so on), but don’t overdo it.
  4. Use adjectives to describe a character. See: FSOG above. Christian Grey is “beautiful, brilliant, and intimidating.” We don’t need examples of this, adjectives are a good stand-in.
  5. Similarly, condense the plot as much as you can to its feeling, rather than a line by line retelling of action.
  6. Tell us about your lead character! A reader is looking to identify with a central protagonist.

Blurb Don’ts

  1. Write 200+ words, with no use of paragraph breaks. Stay away from one gigantic paragraph.
  2. Include spoilers – seems like a no-brainer, but a spoiler can sometimes be the most exciting part of a book so you’ll be tempted to put it in to tempt readers.
  3. Summarize the entire plot. See The Hunger Games blurb above. Basically: There’s this thing called the Hunger Games where people fight to the death. Katniss is selected to enter the games. That’s it. General is better, less is more.
  4. Be overly flattering of yourself. People are aware an indie book’s description is written by the author, so “The next Stephen King” is going to be transparent.

Link to the rest at Self-Publishing Review

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51 Comments to “How to Write a Book Blurb”

  1. DON’T talk about the “writing” and not let on what the book is about. Whenever I see a series of blurbs for a book that mention lyrical transformative writing – but no mention of even the barest elements of a plot – I run.

  2. Or, get Libbie Hawker’s book on how to write cover copy.

  3. Stephen Gradijan

    A good blurb needs to strike a balance between being informative, but not too informative, salesy, but not too salesy, while somehow coercing a stranger into spending money.

    Coercing is an unfortunate word to use here, and it is also incorrect. “Convincing”, “persuading”, and “enticing” are all wonderful words that are not synonymous with “coercing”, but are good fits for what I believe the writer intended to write.

  4. In romance, one of my pet peeves is a blurb that finishes: “Can He and She find happiness through (insert challenge or story problem here)?”

    In romance, the answer is generally “yes,” so asking the question makes very little sense.

    • I know, but that’s why people read romances, they expect an HFN or HEA. If the characters didn’t, it wouldn’t be a romance.

      I hate writing blurbs. If I could hire that part out, I would in a heartbeat.

      I have only one counter point to the article: Hugh Howey. Have you read his blurbs? Short sweet and to the point. Love it!

      • You know, it CAN be hired out. I’m not the only regular here that does this kind of work, either. For the occassion, I’ve changed my website link to my cover copy site.

        And I agree that “entice” is a much better word than coerce. And I loathe that final question of “will they get together”, in romance. I usually try to avoid ending on a question at all. I’d rather just emphasize the conflict, the trials they will be facing. In romance it’s more about HOW they overcome the obstacles, not whether or not they will.

  5. When you are with a publisher, your editor writes the blurb. Fortunately they ran them by me. Blurbs are hard, but I do a better job than they did. Maybe because I work them over several times.

  6. They’re misusing the word blurb as a synonym for synopsis.

    Traditionally, a book blurb is a short encomium for your book written by another author to grace the back of the dust jacket.

    • Robert Forrester

      I think that ship sailed long ago, Peter. Much like the phrase indie writer, which also had different connotations. In the indie world, blurb is now pretty much regarded as the book description, not other author praise.

    • In the UK, we called them blurbs for as long as I remember. Of course that may just be me and the people I know.

  7. Imagine my shock–I agree with you. But in previous discussions here on the subject it emerges that lots of people call a plot synopsis a “blurb,” though that’s never been my definition either.

  8. One thing no one has mentioned – check your grammar, spelling, and punctuation! I know it’s basic, but so many books these days leave me cold because of this. I’ve passed on a lot of books that sound like a good story, but if there are mistakes in the synopsis, can the writing inside be good?

  9. I suck at blurbs. I know I suck at blurbs.

    So what I do is post the crap blurb I wrote on Kboards’ Writers’ Cafe and ask for help. Two, three days later, I have a good blurb.

    Works for me.

    YMMV.

    • I read book blurbs all the time, and not just from indies or first timers and I think: wow, that blurb really should have been posted on KB for a tune-up.

  10. Robert Forrester

    I think I must be the only person on the planet that loves writing blurbs. They are my favorite aspect of production save the actual first draft writing. I don’t profess to be great at it, but the journalist in me loves trying to get the essence of a novel down in 100 words or so.

    Worst blurbs are those that tell me its a “taut, faced-paced thriller” or “a seat of your pant ride” (I’ll be the judge of that) or those that include all the fantastic reviews and how fabulous the author is before telling me what the damn thing is about.

    In my opinion, the author of this piece is spot on. Short is sweet. Exciting adjectives rule. Tell don’t show. And present tense for immediacy.

    I think too many people over think blurbs and make the mistake that they are like a query letter or have to demonstrate some sort of profundity or amazing writing. You need the tone of the book, but essentially, they are an elevator pitch, a short and punchy essence, a way of enticing a reader to grab the sample or buy it. Not a bloated description of the intricacies of the novel or a synopsis or how it may make me feel. A who, what and why will do. Better to leave them wanting more than risk losing readers in an overly long blurb.

    When writing a blurb, I imagine I have fifteen seconds to sell my book to a reader (probably far more than we get) and rattle off the best description with the fewest but most exciting words I can.

    YMMV of course.

    • One trick I use: Smashwords allows only 300 characters for their “short blurb.”

      I’ve discovered that distilling my 300-word blurb down to 300 characters really shows me where the flab is.

      After I create the Smashwords short blurb, I use the insight to prune the “long blurb” down.

      Sometimes the short blurb becomes the long blurb. But even when it doesn’t, the long blurb is the better for the forced pruning.

      • Robert Forrester

        Great advice. When it comes to pruning, there’s always one more snip you can make even when you think you are down to the bare bones.

      • I keep a spreadsheet for metadata about the books, and it includes several different columns for blurbs, incl. Unlimited, Long, Medium, Short, Mini.

        When I write (or re-write) a blurb, I rework them all.

        I also include one of the shorter blurbs inside the front matter of the ebook, as the first page following the cover. I find if an ebook has been sitting on my reader for a while, it’s a good reminder of what the book’s about, for the person debating what to read next.

        I find the pages of endorsements in the front matter of some trad-published ebooks to be a serious waste of space for the Amazon “Look Inside”, as well as an annoyance to the reader. That stuff belongs only at the very bottom of the online book description, (or on the book’s page on your website) (and maybe on the back cover).

        • I hate that so few ebooks include the book description behind the front cover! Nothing is more likely to make me turn on the tv than reading is not remembering what any books are about and having to look them up somewhere external.

    • I’ve started writing a first draft of the blurb before I write the book, so, if I get lost while writing, I can read it and figure out where my plot left the path I’d been aiming for.

      • I’m 2/3 of the way thru the current WIP, and I had a heck of a time producing a stand-in blurb as I constructed the book page for it in anticipation of completion.

        This is the first book that gave me the problem. It’s also the first one that I’ve written “into the dark” (w/o outline).

        Next time I’ll write the blurb first.

      • While writing the blurb for my first novel I realized that I was writing a completely different book than I had envisioned. I’d gotten sidetracked into minutia that did not advance the plot. My blurb set me straight and helped me clarify the story I really wanted to tell.

        Now when I am stuck mid-story I write the blurb.

      • ^This^, Edward.

        Tip I picked up from a screewriter: reduce your basic story to one sentence and keep it somewhere you can see it while writing: “This is a story about ____.” It has kept me from wandering off many a time.

    • You’re not all alone! I enjoy it and think i do a good job with it. 😉

  11. It also helps to read other authors’ blurbs. Write yours first, then read. Then use their rhythms to edit yours.

  12. Blurb is different from Synopsis, IMHO. The chief difference is the audience.

    A Blurb is directed at a potential reader. It’s purpose is to get the potential reader to seduce him/her into becoming an actual reader. Only enough of the story is provided to tantalize and the ending is usually not spelled out (never spelled out if there is a twist or surprise).

    A Synopsis is typically directed at a traditional publisher, or a writing contest. The goal is to get the publisher to invest in the work. A fuller description of the plot is provided, including the story ending (even if it is a twist or surprise ending). Synopsis is typically longer than a blurb.

  13. Another technique for developing “weaponised” blurbs (their word):

    http://www.unstressedsyllables.com/?p=3936

  14. Question (and I know this isn’t KBoards but…) what are people’s feelings/experiences with this paid review sites like Self-Publishing Review and Kirkus Reviews? What’s the point of them exactly? Amazon allows you to put them in a different section of the blurb?

    Do they help with sales?

    • Robert Forrester

      If they are good reviews they might. Some people believe Kirkus reviews hold some weight, but they are expensive and whether or not any additional sales covers the cost could be impossible to judge – whose to say you wouldn’t have sold the same number of copies without the review? You also run the risk of the reviewer hating the book so it might be money down the drain (although you can normally find a word or two to quote that makes it sound like they liked it).

      • Paid reviews are by definition biased and untrustworthy, much the same way reviews by your friends and fellow authors are.
        Kirkus and PW used to be the important reviewers of the past. Now they charge money for their reviews. Thus they’ve lost all credibility.

        (It’s possible that the paid reviews are signed by a special sub-agency of Kirkus and PW, while the main reviewers are still above board. It’s been too long for me to know what has been happening there).

        As for sales: yes, well, readers don’t know this, so they probably help.

        • Robert Forrester

          I think you are right to a degree, although Kirkus paid reviews don’t guarantee a good review, unlike asking friends and family. A really bad book will most likely get a negative review, which it wouldn’t if you ask friends or family to review it. Still, I imagine they set their bar a little lower than none-paid review sites because too many bad reviews would mean people stopped asking/paying for them.

    • Do they help with sales? No idea.

      They might help if you use them elsewhere. Place them on your web site’s book page. Attach them to your book page on Amazon and Goodreads. Spread the word. It might give your book an air of legitimacy.

    • What’s the point of them exactly?

      To make money for Self-Publishing Review and Kirkus.

      What’s the point for authors? Nothing as far as I can tell.

  15. I’ve redone my blurbs so many times. If sales are lagging I try that method and sometimes it helps. What also helps is to ensure your first few pages are as catchy as your blurb, if not more.

    I review books for Readers’ Favorite and sometimes the reviews I write sound like a better sale than the blurbs I write for my own work. So I tried writing a review of my own book…didn’t really work…too wordy.

    I find the shorter the better, and don’t place review copy (from other people’s reviews of your book) in the blurb. Readers want your words, not another person’s take. That’s what customer reviews are for.

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