From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:
Your blurb (aka Production Description on Amazon) has one — and only one — purpose: to make the reader an offer s/he can’t refuse.
How do I know?
Because over the years, I’ve written hundreds — more likely thousands — of blurbs.
From the slush pile to the editor’s office.
When I started out in publishing at Bantam, my first assignment was to slog through the slush pile.
The second? Write the d*mn blurbs.
Because no one else wanted to.
I was clueless and inexperienced, but I learned right away that the “real editors” (unlike novice moi) didn’t like (hated) writing blurbs.
Not knowing any better or even what to do, and too intimidated to ask for advice, I studied the company’s current releases. I paid special attention to:
1— the front cover tag line
2 — the back cover sell block
3 — the first page (more sell text)
When I finished emulating them as best I could, I was required to take my efforts to my boss, the Managing Editor, a savvy old-timer, for his OK. We met in his office almost every morning when he would go over my attempts and show me in word-by-word detail how my blurbs could be improved.
Which was by a lot.
. . . .
Those blurbs went through draft after draft until the ME was satisfied, and I was unleashed on the next month’s list. And so it went, book after book, month after month, year after year.
I learned to write headlines, how to use reviewers’ quotes to their best advantage, how to write short, appealing sell blocks.
I wrote blurbs for genres ranging from westerns (Louis L’Amour anyone?) to nurse romances, from to scifi to classics, from horror and thrillers, from gothic suspense (remember Victoria Holt?) to mysteries, and big-ticket mmpb reprints of hardcover bestsellers to which Bantam had acquired the rights.
. . . .
After the ME retired, I endured an epically neurotic and insecure EIC who stroked his mustache and agonized over whether compelling or fascinating was preferable.
After lengthy consideration, he would — finally! — make a decision.
The next day, he’d require me to rewrite the d*mn thing again. Under his direction, I’d swap compelling with unforgettable and, after the obligatory period of extended anguish, he’d finger his mustache and bestow his approval.
And back again the day after that, when he would reverse his second opinion and I would have to replace unforgettable with memorable.
He would hem and haw, dither and dawdle, furrow his brow, and pull at his mustache while I wracked my brain for another synonym for whatever adjective was currently causing him such psychic pain.
In the end, only the demands of the printer’s stringent deadlines forced him to eventually make a decision.
Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris
One of the main benefits that traditional publishers say they offer authors
is marketing and promotion expertise.
PG will note that none of the individuals mentioned in the OP gives any
indication that they had any training, experience or background that suited
them for writing advertising copy, which is what a blurb is.
Does a literature degree prepare one to write compelling advertising copy?
Does a creative writing degree prepare one to write compelling advertising
PG thinks not.
A very long time ago, PG worked for a massive advertising agency with
clients spending many millions of dollars for compelling advertising. Fall
short in that task and the agency lost the account to another agency that did a
better job. If the agency lost an account, people expected to be fired.
PG was not in the creative department, but he worked with people in the
creative department because he was responsible for talking with the client
about what the client was looking for and making sure the client would be happy
with what the agency produced.
During that time, PG worked with copywriters who wrote copy for print ads,
billboards, television commercials, etc.
PG thought he was a pretty good writer, but these folks were writing
geniuses. They always had limited space (billboards, for one example) limited
time (for television and radio commercials), but the most important challenge
they had to overcome was limited attention span on the part of people who would
be reading what they wrote.
The agency had conducted studies concerning consumer attention spans for
advertising materials. PG doesn’t remember specifics, but the bottom line was
that an advertisement had only a low-single-digit number of seconds to engage a
reader/viewer, etc. Failure meant the consumer’s attention went somewhere else,
and the advertisement did no good for the client. If there were many failures,
the client went somewhere else and management took a close look at the people
involved in the failure to keep the client satisfied.
Everybody involved would have been fired if a brand-new copywriter was assigned
to write advertising copy for anything more than the in-house announcement of
the Agency Christmas Party without going through a serious learning curve
working with a very experienced copywriter. PG doesn’t ever remember the agency
hiring anyone to write copy straight out of college. It was more efficient to
watch for good copywriters at smaller agencies and pirate the best who were
One final point: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Salman Rushdie, Dorothy Sayers, Don
DeLillo, Joseph Heller and Helen Gurley Brown each worked as advertising
copywriters early in their careers .