As an author, I find this specific skill to be immensely trying. Writing a book blurb means describing your book in 100-200 words maximum. Less than said word count looks like you didn’t bother spending time on writing it to the best of your ability but, on the other hand, writing anything over 200 words fails to catch a readers attention because it’s considered too long. So we have to find middle ground- namely 100-200 words.
Now comes the hardest part; describing an entire novel in so few words. Let’s be clear: Summarizing your novel isn’t writing a blurb. The intention of this is not to narrate every single thing that occurs- this would inevitably result in a jumbled mess that will confuse even you, the author. Also, keep in mind not to give away key clues so as not to spoil the novel’s intriguing components since this dissuades readers from buying.
Tips on writing a blurb that sells:
- Grab your story outline or, if you don’t have one yet, create one (This is a lengthy outline of every scene within your novel, including subplots as well as major plot developments).
- Be sure to analyze other authors’ book blurbs closely to get a sense of how these are concocted. This will teach you proper pacing, proper phrase formulations etc. It’s very useful.
- Look at your novel’s outline and highlight the key elements of your novel- in layman’s terms: the who, what, why, when and where. You’ll be presenting circumstances, people, problems, twists and hints of possible solutions.
- Your first “blurb draft” will likely be horrifying, but don’t let this discourage you. The first draft only provides a basis for you to build on. This draft will probably be much too long, jump from one thing to another illogically, there might not be any fluidity between the sentences etc but, contrary to popular belief, drafts like these can actually pave your way to getting the blurb to be exactly the way you want it. It might take days or weeks, but you’ll get there eventually.
- Make clear from the start what your genre is. Don’t make it seem as though the reader will be reading romance when it’s actually fantasy. They won’t forgive you for misleading them and you’ll have lost a possible buyer for your next novel(s).
- Don’t give away too many details as the point is to simply present your story. However, don’t give too few details either and leave it open for interpretation since this, again, might mislead your readers into thinking they’ll be reading one thing when it’s actually another.
- Make it about 3-4 paragraphs. The first is usually an introduction of who/when/where, the second describes the plot but conveys a sense of hope or doom and- if this is your final paragraph- the third will generally involve questions or hints of what will happen, or goes on describing another part of the plot before moving onto the fourth paragraph where final questions or plot hints are subsequently introduced.
- Don’t mention too many characters- you have too little space and in so few words it might muddle your readers. Use a maximum of 2-3 important protagonists. Try introducing your main protagonists from the start or somewhere within the first two paragraphs.
- Try not to over-compliment yourself or your book by saying it is the best or the most incredible book they will ever read. This instantly damages your credibility. There are many authors within any given genre who are amazing and your readers will know it too. If you disregard this, your readers will believe you’re obnoxious and, most likely, won’t bother to buy your novel.
- Be suggestive, persuasive. A book blurb in itself is marketing; it’s your sales pitch. This is marketing you can do by yourself and, if you’re a self-publisher, don’t have to pay for, so take advantage of this. If your sales pitch fails, the chance of succeeding becomes terribly slim.
- Look for a variety of synonyms when it comes to overused words. Looking at various book blurbs, you’ll see many words are typically related to a certain genre and often repeated, but eventually these become overused and can get on some readers’ nerves. Regardless, certain words/word combinations can’t be left out, even if overused, and with some readers this may- in contrast to what is generally the accepted norm- actually work to your advantage due to familiarity (Most humans crave familiarity and distrust change). So, I would say that here it’s up to you. Just try to avoid clichéd word combinations which have simply been done too much.
- Do not forget the importance of words like “unimaginable, inconceivable, unspeakable, unbelievable” and so on- hyperboles are renown for attracting attention in every sort of sales pitch. Use other words like “bloodthirsty”, “ancient”, “savage”, “beastly” and so on as they present setting as well as evoke atmosphere. These are the kinds of words that instantly entice people to read further by sparking their curiosity.
- Convey your story’s mood properly by maintaining the same mood in your blurb as is present in your written novel. If someone else is writing the blurb for you, it’s doubtful they’ll be able to manage such a feat without sounding artificial unless they’re experts at imitating writers’ voices.
- Decide whether or not you’ll be placing an “about the author” section underneath your blurb. Some people definitely encourage you to do this, but I know from personal experience that, on a general basis, many readers barely scan over it before they start reading. The story matters the most to them. I’ve personally never seen a reader not buy a novel because the author bio isn’t present under the blurb. So, to me, this seems more like personal preference. If you have a reason to conceal your author bio on your back cover, act on your first instinct. Your reason will be valid and the lack of its presence shouldn’t lessen your sales.
- Some authors suggest having your beta-readers write a blurb for you, but I would advise against this as there’s no one who knows your novel as intricately as you do. However, if you’re truly stumped, your beta-readers could give you a few ideas which might jumpstart your imagination. You can also ask them for their opinions once you’ve written the blurb, but be sure that you’re all right with receiving honest opinions. I mean, it’s pointless to ask a beta-reader’s opinion only to get angry if the reader reacts negatively and leave it the way you wrote it anyway. All it does is start bad blood between yourself and your beta-readers. Be open to their suggestions if you do decide to go this way. Sometimes readers may catch something that writers don’t.
This is an example of a great book blurb from Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice:
In a faraway land where members of the royal family are named for the virtues they embody, one young boy will become a walking enigma.
Born on the wrong side of the sheets, Fitz, son of Chivalry Farseer, is a royal bastard, cast out into the world, friendless and lonely. Only his magical link with animals – the old art known as the Wit – gives him solace and companionship. But the Wit, if used too often, is a perilous magic, and one abhorred by the nobility.
So when Fitz is finally adopted into the royal household, he must give up his old ways and embrace a new life of weaponry, scribing, courtly manners; and how to kill a man secretly, as he trains to become a royal assassin.
See how, in the first paragraph, the scene is set whilst simultaneously giving a hint of who the main protagonist is. The sentences aren’t too long or too short, but of perfectly suited length for the genre. Through the writing we already suspect Hobb is writing medieval fantasy but it becomes most clear in the second paragraph which continues to introduce the main protagonist. Hobb’s ability of exquisite characterization is immediately clear in the blurb and the writing doesn’t stray far away from her writing voice. Then in the third paragraph, we are given inklings of certain situations, finishing with the most important fact. As you can see, the level of characterization is immense and the plot is irrevocably linked to the characterization which is why there’s no need for hyperboles. If you’re planning to write this type of novel, I would definitely recommend this technique.
Another example from Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games:
Winning will make you famous.
Losing means certain death.
The nation of Panem, formed from a post-apocalyptic North America, is a country that consists of a wealthy Capitol region surrounded by 12 poorer districts. Early in its history, a rebellion led by a 13th district against the Capitol resulted in its destruction and the creation of an annual televised event known as the Hunger Games. In punishment, and as a reminder of the power and grace of the Capitol, each district must yield one boy and one girl between the ages of 12 and 18 through a lottery system to participate in the games. The ‘tributes’ are chosen during the annual Reaping and are forced to fight to the death, leaving only one survivor to claim victory.
When 16-year-old Katniss’s young sister, Prim, is selected as District 12’s female representative, Katniss volunteers to take her place. She and her male counterpart Peeta, are pitted against bigger, stronger representatives, some of whom have trained for this their whole lives. She sees it as a death sentence. But Katniss has been close to death before. For her, survival is second nature.
The two starting lines are magnetic. It is instantly implied there’s a game of some sort, which the title confirms, and it’s a game of life and death. Moving onto the first paragraph, the “where” is revealed with quite a bit of world building followed by a description of what the game entails. Simultaneously the writing divulges without saying that the game is the biggest part of the plot. Then in the second paragraph the main protagonist is introduced, digging deeper into what the game means for said protagonist, ending with the most important theme in the novel. There’s no use for questions here either since the writing itself already evokes dozens of questions in the reader’s mind. The intended audience is immediately recognizable as well and so is the mood; speaking of an adventure where there are only two possible outcomes.
There are many more examples of book blurbs and they can be analyzed much deeper than this, but this gives you a rough sketch of how to analyze blurbs. You’ll need to search within your own genre and pick the blurbs which draw you in the most to analyze.
If you follow these tips and those you can find from other authors and professionals within the industry, your book blurb will be superb. I know it won’t feel like it now when you’re facing the blank page- I’ve encountered this feeling myself, have vented my frustration more than once towards my family and I know how this plagues you day in day out- but in the long run, it will turn out fine.
Thank you for reading,