Thursday, March 3, 2011

Writing Blurbs

I’m trying to write a blurb for “The Girl Most Likely” and it’s not going as well as I would like. So I dug out this post that I wrote for the Prairie Chicks Write Romance blog. Maybe it’ll give me some inspiration!
Picture this. You’re in a book store perusing the shelves, looking for some interesting reading.  As you thumb through the spines, an intriguing book cover catches your eye, so you pick it up to see if the book is by one of your favourite authors.  Even though the author is unfamiliar to you, you read the back cover copy, otherwise known as the blurb.  But the ho-hum blurb does not inspire you to read further, so you put the book back onto the shelf and move on. 
Another writer loses a sale.
According to Dan Poynter of Para Publishinga writer has a very short timeframe to entice the reader to buy her book:
“Initially, all a potential buyer sees is the book’s spine. If the browser takes it down, he or she will gaze at the cover about four seconds and then flip the book over to read the back cover. On average, he or she will spend just seven seconds here so the trick is to keep them reading longer. Your copy has to be punchy and benefit-laden; it has to speak to the potential buyer.”

The blurb is vitally important in making a sale, whether in an electronic bookstore or in one made of bricks and mortar. But long before your book gets to the bookstore, your blurb will help get the attention of editors and agents.  Agent Kristin Nelson says the uniqueness of the blurb in a writer’s query letter is what helps her decide whether to ask for sample pages:

“Too often I see historical romance pitch copy that reads something like this: she’s desperate but the belle of the ball and he’s a rake. It’s too generic. I need some original element (character, plot device, etc.) to grab my interest or I’ll pass.”

After the book is published, your blurb can help get the attention of reviewers. Review site owner Marianne of Long and Short Reviews, says your blurb is often what persuades reviewers to select your book from a long list of others they have the choice of reading and reviewing:

“…when we offer books for review, we post the blurb in our reviews group -- that's what our reviewers have to go on, so make sure it's well-written.  That's what will sell your story the best -- both to my reviewers and to the world in general.”

Getting the blurb right is crucial.  Here are some tips to remember when writing blurbs:

1.       Don’t write a synopsis.  While a synopsis gives a brief summary of the entire novel, including beginning, middle and end, the blurb’s job is to intrigue readers into reading more, whether they are editors, agents, reviewers, or lovers of fiction. The blurb accomplishes this by giving the highlights, including the names of the main characters and their goals, conflicts and motivations.  In a suspense, show how the tension is rising.

2.      Don’t give away the game!  Never reveal the conclusion of your story and be careful not to reveal too much information.  A blurb walks a fine line between revealing just enough information to entice while not giving away too much of the story. But you definitely want the mood of the book to shine through in the blurb.

3.      Make em’ laugh, make em’ cry!  Use action verbs and keep the use of adjectives and adverbs to a minimum.  Emotive words give the blurb an emotional tug.  For instance, in my blurb for my novella “Flawless” I use phrases such as “passionate response” and “maelstrom of attraction” to convey the love story between Hunter and Madeleine.  With words such as “betrayed”, “survive”, and “revenge”, I hope to evoke the emotion of a suspenseful read.

4.      Keep it short!  In her article “Writing Great Blurbs”, Mayra Calvani says that blurbs should be no more than 100 to 250 words.  Often publishers want even shorter blurbs for back cover copy.  For example my publisher, The Wild Rose Press, ( ) requires no more than 100 to 150 words.  Ruthlessly read through your blurb and remove any extraneous words. Replace passive verbs with active ones that give your blurb more power and life.

5.      Give your readers a reason to buy/read your book.  In her article “Writing a Short Book Blurb”, Marg McAllister says to end the article with an enticement, a promise.  “This can be in the form of a statement or a provocative question.” For my book “Till September”, I ask this question in the blurb:  Can Hannah Kramer, a woman determined save her family’s farm, find lasting love with Quinn Anderson, a man equally determined to take it from her?

Sometimes I prefer to make a powerful statement instead of asking a question. For my novella, “Flawless”, set in occupied France in WWII, I make the following ending statement:  “Madeleine must decide if her loyalties lie with her dead husband and the Resistance or with the greatest love of her life.”

The blurb is your selling tool, so don’t sell it short. Give your blurb as much attention as the story itself and it will help tell the world about your book. Do you find blurbs hard to write, or do they roll off your pen with ease? Care to share one of your blurbs here?


  1. Great post (revisited), Jana :)

    Surprising, I'm finding these days it's easier to write the blurb. I think of that voice over in movie trailers and try to write the blurb like that. Now, if I could only follow up the great blurb with a great manuscript!!

    FYI - I prefer blurbs that don't ask a question at the end. I guess it's more active - a passive question seems to fall short.

    BTW - I loved your blurb for FLAWLESS. Good luck with this one!

  2. Hi Janet,
    I'm huge on blurbs. When I'm picking out a book to purchase, first, I notice the cover. If the cover is gorgeous, sexy or in some way interesting to me, then I'll pick it up. Then I check the back cover. That back blurb determines if I hold onto the book for a little longer or set it down to look at the next one.

    Great checklist. Good luck on flawless - it'll be great!

  3. Hi Janet,
    I'm glad that you're getting into the groove of writing blurbs. And you're exactly right; they are much like movie trailers. Their job is to hook the reader and convince her to give your book a try. That's a lot to ask of a piece of writing that may be less than 150 words!

    I agree about ending the blurb with a question. I try now to avoid doing that. In a blurb class I once took, the comment was made that too often a question can be answered by the reader with "Who cares?" At this point, they aren't invested enough in the characters to care. Better to entice them into your story world first.

    And I know your follow through will come. First the blurb then the rest of the story!


  4. Hi Joanne,
    I think your book-buying procedures are pretty common with most readers. Unless it's a book by a must-read favorite author, readers spend only a few seconds checking out a blurb. It has to reach out and grab that reader or she'll be moving on to something else.

    Thanks for the good wishes for "Flawless".