On Writing Blurb Your Enthusiasm: An A-Z of Literary Persuasion

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

How do you sum up a whole book in a few words?

Your book is nearly ready to enter the world. You’ve got a title, a cover, even some endorsements. Then, something you’d almost forgotten rears its head: the jacket copy (or, as we call it in Britain, the blurb). It’s often an afterthought in the publishing process; the dowdy cousin to the dazzle of a cover design. But those few words can make a world of difference to a book’s fortunes. 

So how do you encapsulate your work in a way that is enticing? That creates instant appeal, a sense of place and character, mystery and intrigue, and makes anyone who picks it up think ‘I must have this book in my life, now’? (No pressure then). 

I have been a copywriter in publishing for over twenty-five years, and I know how hard it can be to find the right words. I began my career at Penguin Books, where there used to be an entire department dedicated to writing blurbs. There, in a quiet room lined with shelf upon shelf of books, we read, yes actually read at work, and learned how to distil thousands of words into just a few. Times have changed since those halcyon days, and we are folded into various marketing departments at what is now Penguin Random House. But is still our job to make every word count. 

. . . .

A professional copywriter is always thinking of their audience. At many publishing houses, blurbs are written by authors or editors or both. However, someone like me can bring a fresh eye to things. It’s hard to see the wood for the trees when a book has been part of your life for months, maybe years – some authors even say that writing the blurb is harder than writing the book. Here are some things I’ve learned: 

  1. Don’t leave your blurb until the last minute. Terry Pratchett recommended writing it as soon as possible because ‘getting the heart and soul of a book into fewer than 100 words helps you focus.’ I wrote one alongside my proposal. It forced me to think hard about the point of my book. 
  2. Identifying the core of your work can be an anchor for the rest of the blurb. The novelist Elizabeth Buchan, who used to write copy at Penguin, described it as ‘The backbone. In one sentence, what is it that makes that book that book? I wrote Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman. Its backbone was: “living well is the best revenge”.’ Buchan’s line snaps with the tension of opposing forces. Where does that fizz lie in your book? 

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books