Writing a Blurb for Your Book Cover

“Blurb” is such a funny word to say, but it’s a word that writers everywhere should know, because the blurb can have so much influence on who and how many people buy or download your books. According to Wikipedia (not the best source I know, but it’s quick and convenient, so what are you going to do?), a blurb is “a short summary or promotional piece meant to accompany a creative work.” In the context of a book, a blurb is usually the summary text on the back of the book describing the story, but it can also refer to reader reviews, promotional taglines, and author biographies. For the sake of brevity, I’ll focus on the summary text on the back of a book, since that is what often plays a role in any reader’s decision to buy a book.

Generally blurbs are at most a paragraph or two, and give a brief idea to the reader what they can expect before they open up the book to read it. This brief idea is given in three parts: the explanation, the mystery, and the promise. Here’s what I mean:

Nathaniel is a magician’s apprentice, taking his first lessons in the arts of magic. But when a devious hot-shot wizard named Simon Lovelace ruthlessly humiliates Nathaniel in front of his elders, Nathaniel decides to kick up his education a few notches and show Lovelace who’s boss. With revenge on his mind, he summons the powerful djinni, Bartimaeus. But summoning Bartimaeus and controlling him are two different things entirely, and when Nathaniel sends the djinni out to steal Lovelace’s greatest treasure, the Amulet of Samarkand, he finds himself caught up in a whirlwind of magical espionage, murder, and rebellion.

The Amulet of Samarkand, US edition

This was the blurb on the back of The Amulet of Samarkand, the first book of the Bartimaeus Sequence by Johnathan Stroud. I was maybe ten or eleven when I first read this book. I was just coming out of my Harry Potter junkie phase and wanted something new to read. I wasn’t at first really interested in the book, but then I saw the blurb on the back and I was immediately hooked. I ended up reading the entire trilogy and the prequel, really enjoyed them, and I’ve been influenced by it ever since. And just based on that one blurb it got me to read the first book.

Let’s look at this blurb using the parts I named above. First, we have the explanation, which tells us what the novel is about. Judging from that, the reader learns that the main character is Nathaniel, he’s a magician’s apprentice, and he decides to send a djinni named Bartimaeus to get revenge for him by having him steal an amulet from Nathaniel’s enemy. The explanation stops at telling us what happens next and how it leads into “a whirlwind of magical espionage, murder, and rebellion.”

That’s what the mystery is for. The mystery’s purpose is to say that although a little bit of the story has been revealed to you in the explanation, the rest of it you’ll have to read the book to find out. All we can tell you is that there’s a lot of cool stuff there, in this case magical espionage, murder and rebellion. Usually the mystery is held off until the last sentence, meant to leave the reader intrigued enough that they’ll open the book to find out more.

Last but not least, the promise is found throughout the blurb, and it is as it’s called: a promise. In this case, the promise is telling us that this is an awesome story geared for readers just like the person reading the back cover, and that they will miss out if they do not open the book. This should be the main goal of the author when writing their blurb.

Of course, there are some things you should and shouldn’t do when writing your blurb. For instance, it may be tempting to make it seem like your book is the greatest thing that’s ever been written. For all I know, it has. But if the message from your blurb is “It’s new! It’s great! You should read it and make sure everyone else around you reads it!” and that message is too obvious or strong, it might turn away readers rather than make them want to read more. We want people to read our works of course, but coming on too strong never got anyone anywhere.

The best way to do is let the blurb and the story it’s summarizing do the talking for you. Instead of coming on strong, let the blurb subtly entice the reader into wanting to check out the story and find out more. Another way of looking at this could be like thinking of the blurb as a free sample in a grocery store or shopping mall. You get a small taste to begin with, but if you want more, you’re going to have to buy the whole product.

Another thing to keep in mind is not to put too much information in the explanation part of your blurb. Give them just enough information to form an impression, maybe give them a few images in their heads, but not too much that they’ll have a basic idea of where the story is going to go and what will happen, so why bother picking the story up? Make sure to leave some room for the mystery in the story to hint at what’s to happen so the reader will be intrigued enough to open up the book to page one.

And finally, try to do all this in as few words as possible. The blurb above is less than a hundred words and still manages to grab your attention. You should aim to write an effective blurb around a similar length that does the same thing. This isn’t just because keeping it brief is good for giving hints and mystery, though that’s part of it. It’s also because practically speaking you only have so much room on the back of your book, so you should try to keep the word count around one hundred so that the printed summary doesn’t feature tiny, tiny letters that make it difficult to read. And if the reader has difficulty reading the back cover, what are the chances they’ll want to read what’s on the inside?

What tips do you have for writing blurbs?

The Blurb: Writing a Creative Blurb for your Back Cover

I’m posting this guest post for Sarah Kent. I’m not sure about you, but I could always use some help on how-to write a Creative Blurb for your Back Cover. Thanks!

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For many of your potential readers and reviewers, your book’s back cover blurb is essential. These days, blurbs appear everywhere, as a summary on your website describing your book, on Amazon and practically anywhere you may find people discussing your work. Book reviewers often use the blurb on their websites to show their readers exactly what your book is about too so you need to be sure it’s absolutely perfect.

Whether you’ve written an academic text book or a romping romance, the blurb you create needs to be appropriate for your audience. In more general categories, you can be a little more creative but there are some standard features which should always be present in your blurb, if you’re looking to attract more readers anyway.

Hints and Suggestions

A well written blurb will hint and make suggestions to where your plot may lead without giving anything too essential away. Keywords such as ‘secret’ and ‘hidden’ feature heavily in blurbs and are great for drawing potential readers in, they want to know what this hidden secret is and are more likely to read or buy your book on this basis.

If you’re novel relies on an extreme and climactic twist, you can say this but obviously don’t reveal anything more, interesting readers who are particularly drawn in by mystery and intrigue.

Genre Specifics

If you are a genre writer, you can stick to the conventions of your specific genre and try and choose words and phrases that while applying to your novel of course, also resonate with readers of the genre. In the romance genre for example, readers are keen to relate to their heroes or heroines so naming them fully is always extremely successful and again, hinting as a touch of lust or heartbreak somewhere within the blurb will also draw in more readers. Crime or thriller genre writers should obviously hint at the heart of the action, dirty dealings and what aspects of the underworld are going to be drawn out in their work. Your blurb is designed to captivate your reader and you want them to feel like they cannot live without finding out what happens to Kate Johnson or where Austin Keller hid the gun. If you’re a crime or science fiction writer the importance of setting is also high, especially if you have created your own world or scenario for the characters to exist in.

Characters and Settings

Your characters are likely to be essential to your plot and they’re also the key way of connecting with your reader. Naming your protagonists and characterising them in some part is essential in your blurb for example, “Charlie Jones, car thief extraordinaire” or “Tracy Hellman, never been kissed” as this draws in your reader further and they want to know exactly why these characteristics have become so ingrained into these characters. You want your reader to engage and relate to your characters you need to make them sound interesting or at least make them sound like something interesting is about to happen to them.

The same can be said of setting or place. Whether you’ve created your own planet in your fantasy novel or your book is set in your local neighbourhood, a quick nod to this effect will further interest different readers. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a specifically named place but even mentioning ‘the rolling hills’ or ‘the red brick university’ is enough to give the reader a sense of place and help them to fall into your novel with ease.

Rhetorical Questions –do they work?

Plenty of blurbs are packed out with questions to the reader, questions that can only be answered by reading the book and sometimes this works and other times it puts people off. Rather than reeling off a multitude of different questions, perhaps just stick with one very important one such a “Will Johnny ever escape the fate of his birth?” or “Will Sammy come back alive?” as these types of questions, set aside on their own, really do speak to potential readers and have much more impact than a long list of roaming questions which can easily be forgotten.

Writing your blurb is essential to the whole production of your work and can be the difference between 10 and 100 book sales. It shouldn’t exceed 250 words and so, should be easy in comparison to your magnum opus? However, don’t underestimate its importance and think carefully about every word you choose as each one could interest a different type of reader.

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Sarah Kent is a freelance writer offering advice for individuals and small businesses on marketing tactics and tools. She is keen to offer practical and useable hints and tips that are effective and yet don’t cost the earth.