By Sharla Rae
Readers choose a book in one of three ways: They like the author, it was recommended or they read the back cover blurb. After people-watching in Barnes & Noble, I’d venture to say most books are chosen by the last method. For people ordering e-books, blurbs are especially important.
That makes blurb writing pretty darn important. There are many ways to tackle the job. If you check the links below, you’ll discover how true that is. In any case, I hope my method helps those of you who are struggling with this.
If you have written a query letter, you already know how to write a back cover blurb. Sort of. A query letter blurb uses your writing style to relay facts about the two main characters, their goals, the conflict and how the problem is solved.
A back cover blurb does the same thing as a query letter with two exceptions.
- It does not reveal the end of the book.
- It ends byposing a question or a hook statement that leaves the reader wanting more. This hook or the gottcha statement as I call it, is the part you’ll have to add to your query blurb.
Blurbs vary in length. Some are one long paragraph, some have up to four paragraphs. Two to three are most common.
All blurbs contain the same basic information.
- Name of character with her/his goals and motives and the obstacles to those motives.
- Name of conflicting character, be it a real person or mother nature; how the second character figures into the story. If it’s a real person, for instance a romance hero, than his motives and goals are presented in relation to heroine’s. Usually a conflict of interest enters the picture.
- The last section of a blurb presents a wrench thrown into the works and the gottcha lines.
As mentioned, if you’ve written a query, you’re way a head of the game. If not, I’m betting you have at least written a synopsis. Even self published authors need them for marketing and reviewers who request them.
Condensing an entire book into a short synopsis for an agent or publisher is hard enough so you might think summarizing a story in a few short paragraphs is worse yet. Wrong.
A blurb is much easier to write.
Let’s pretend you haven’t done a query and must use the synopsis to write the blurb. Generally, the hero and heroine are introduced in two separate paragraphs in a synopsis along with their conflicts and goals.
- Pluck those two paragraphs out of the synopsis and paste them into a new blurb document.
- Now pare down those two paragraphs and rework them using strong action verbs as well as words that evoke emotion. Be sure you have the basic info I listed above. Have fun! Pretend you’re writing an action-packed movie trailer.
- If you choose to use a three-paragraph format, summarize the conflict in the last paragraph with one sentence and pose your gottcha question or statement in a second sentence. [In the case of a romance, this hook may represent the obstacles in the path of the romance]
- In a two-paragraph blurb, the gottcha lines appear at the end of the second paragraph.
I’m a huge Dean Koontz fan so I pulled Brother Odd off my bookshelf to look at the blurb. It’s only one long paragraph. That makes sense. There is one main character, Odd Thomas. Yeah, there are sideline characters but Odd Thomas is the star of the show. One paragraph is enough.
The blurbs on the back cover of my first two books used the two-paragraph format. In Song of the Willow, the first paragraph describes the heroine and the problem that develops when she meets the hero. The second paragraph is about the hero, his undercover assignment and how it conflicts with the fact that he’s falling in love the daughter of his target. The gottcha lines? He knows he must do his duty and risk losing his woman.
From Song of the Willow
Ladies don’t wear men’s pants or herd cattle, nor do they curse or sneak whiskey, but Willie Vaughn does. Growing up in a household of five men, Willie could play baseball, rope a cow and hold her own in a brawl. But she never thought she’d want to seduce a man, not until she met the handsome and dangerous Rider Sinclair.
Going undercover to unmask Vaughn’s arms smuggling, Rider was prepared to romance the man’s only daughter. But nobody warned him about the infuriating pixie with the luscious figure and stubborn temper. And Rider certainly didn’t count on falling in love with her. There was no way out of it. He had to separate duty from desire and put her family behind bars. The betrayal meant he’d risk the one thing he cherished most – the fiery hellcat who’d stolen his heart.
When the three-paragraph format is used the first two paragraphs contain the basic character info. The third paragraph contains only the hook/gottcha lines – usually not more than two sentences. This format emphasizes the gottcha lines, sort of an extra punch to the gut. With Song of the Willow, the last lines could have been reworded slightly and put into a third paragraph.
While it’s rare, I’ve seen as many as 4 paragraphs used a blurb. I just started reading The Belly Dancer by DeAnna Cameron. The blurb is 4 long paragraphs. That threw me until I thought about it. The blurb went into more detail about character growth and steps getting there. I realized that this book’s appeal spans several genres, Women’s Fiction, Romance, and Historical Fiction. That’s a marketing tool that can’t be ignored – the blurb needed to reflect the wide reading base.
When all is said and done, two or three paragraph blurbs really are the norm. I believe there’s a reason for that.
Everyone is in a hurry. Readers want quick bare facts [albeit interesting facts] so a fast decision can be made: Buy the book – don’t buy the book.
Blurb Writing Tips
- You probably used some word or phrases in your book that you really like to describe the characters or a situation. Don’t be afraid to recycle them in the blurb. This allows you to demonstrate your writing style as well.
- If you’re really stuck in the mud for selling words, search for ideas in books like Phrases That Sell, by Edward Wertz & Sally Germain and More Words That Sell, by Richard Bayan. Believe it or not these books cover everything from color to youth slang. I was surprised to learn this helpful little secret. Sometimes just thumbing through books like these helps you think of ways to better express your blurb.
- Have fun; get excited. Remember when you were a kid and you saw a really cool movie? You couldn’t wait to share some of the action with friends and gave them a glowing rundown. Do the same with your book. Make readers eager to slap down their cash.
Links On Blurb Writing
How to Write a blub by Marylyn Beyerly : This author separates the blurbs by genres. Very interesting.
Tips On Writing An Engaging Blurb: A three paragraph format
5 Tips For Writing A Compelling Book Blurb: at Romance University
How To Write A Blurb: at Penguin Blog
Writers are readers too. We’ve all made grocery store, Walmart and airport book purchases. For now, forget the books you bought because you love the author. Read the blurbs of the books you purchased because the blurb sounded exciting. What is it about those blurbs that convinced you to buy the book? Characters? Setting? Situation? Genre? Let’s talk about it.
Sharla, this is a wonderful post for someone like me. Yep, I have spent copious hours writing, rewriting, getting critiques, changing and refining the #$#%#$ query. I did it and I was happy. Then I turned to the synopsis and as my CP told me … it was suddenly a dull rendition of Mary had a little lamb and who cares? Drat. Back to the drawing boards on that one. What she did tell me was what I thought of while reading this post. She told me that the book was good, that the query was finally worthy, but that if she were an agent that read the synopsis before any of my pages, she would have put me in the slush pile. She feels the synopsis must be a longer version of those two to four paragraphs and must keep the same promise.
The blurb on the back or the jacket cover often draws me into the story and convinces me to plunk down my pennies. They are the promise we give the reader and as in most of life … it’s important to keep that promise. When I find the book is less than the blurb I feel cheated … not because I’ve lost my pennies, but because I’ve lost my trust in that writer. It only takes once to lose me.
You’re right about the importance of the blurb. I think they are esp. important now for e-authors who have to do all their own marketing. I never have been a good sales person but I can write a blurb and in fact rather enjoy putting one together.
THANK YOU for this post. Great ideas that work.
Thanks for commenting Patricia.
Great post, and something I needed.
Thanks Jeanne and thanks for commenting.
This is wonderful. I hate writing synopses and blurbs are almost as bad. Thank you for giving me such easy guidelines!
Well since we “have to” write a synopsis, might as well make them serve double duty.
Sharla, this is fantastic. For me, a blurb is almost scarier than a synopsis because it has to be so much sharper. Thanks for the great information!
Welcome Sheila. You are right about the blurb because its end-user tool and it’s the end user who is spending the money our books. I hope this method will help. I dread the synopsis like all authors but knowing I can put it to work for me in other ways cuts the pain in half. 😉
Blurbs don’t scare me as bad as taxes or the dentist….but it’s damn close.
This is a wonderful post. I can’t wait until I have a book being published that I can write it for.
I bought French Dirt, The Story of a Garden in the South of France, by Richard Goodman for these reasons: location, location and texture. I dream of going to the French Riviera, and I love vegetable gardening, but the texture of the book’s cover and pages is what made it feel like a delicacy every time I picked it up! Weird, huh?
No, not weird at all. Any time a book evokes any kind of emotions, that’s a very very good thing.
Keep the faith and it will happen, Ella.
Great post, Sharla Rae. I’m still hoping to get published traditionally so I won’t have to do this myself, but it can’t hurt to practice. This method is equally great for writing query letters.
Ally, years ago when I published with Leisure books, they asked me to write my own blurb. They didn’t promise to use it but they did and cnanged only a couple words. It’s good to write one and send it in even with a traditional publisher because so often they mess up! They said one of my books was set in Colorado when it was actually set in Montana. And that mistake is not as bad as some I’ve heard about. Worse, once the cover is set to go, they refuse to correct errors, saying it’s too expensive. So writing your own blurg “may” save yo some headache in that even if they don’t use it, they can reference it and get the facts right. 🙂
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Great post, Char. Nice connections between the query letter and the blub and good examples. You always provide such super resources. Thanks.
Thanks Marsha. I’m late answering my comments today. I’m over in TX for a couple days so sorry about that. 🙂
Hi, Sharla! Great post! I often wish my publisher would have gone with my original cover copy, which was shorter. Oh well. I’m glad you thought it worked for THE BELLY DANCER anyway 🙂
Deanna, Like I said, your book needed that blurb and I know for a fact what a big hit it was when it came out! I wanted to put your blurb up but I wasn’t sure about copyright stuff and didn’t want to pull a no no. 🙂
What an awesome post! I’m working on the blurb for my novel out in November and for the one I’m currently writing, and this is the best “how-to” explanation I’ve seen. Thank you so much for doing such a great job with this:)
I’m blushing Stacy. Glad it helped. I know there’s lots of good explanations out there but we all have to find the shoe that fits as it were. 🙂 I always go for easy. The synopsis is always a bugger so might as well make it work “for me.”
This is a very useful post and contains great information. Thank you for sharing this!
And thank you for stopping by and commenting Penny.
I found this SO helpful! While constructing the blurb, you are paring down your story to the nitty gritty, the vital organ as it were – helps to keep your writing on track, especially when you write l-o-n-g synopses, like I do. Sometimes I get lost in the maze of scenes. This post is a keeper!
Thanks Barb. I’m thinking we should all be able to find or at least develope high concept lines from a blurb, too. After all, blurbs are selling tools and so are high concept lines. Hmm, I need to study that idea some more.
Great post, Sharla. I never thought about, or noticed that some blurbs were more than one paragraph, or why. This makes perfect sense, though. Isn’t it funny, the holes in your education, due to somebody losing the @%$ manual?!!
LoL Laura. I actually came into this world backwards — if you know what I mean and it seems I’ve been learning that way ever since. Ha!
Hi Sharla! Yeah I had to cut & paste this post because this is going to be very useful in future. I too am the type who goes by the blurb first before I even open a new book. I was late to the books by Christopher Paolini, missing Eragon, but stumbling upon Brisingr, (the sequel) in a market. The blurb captured me. It starts ‘Oaths sworn…Loyalties tested…Forces collide.’ I thought that was sheer poetry and powerful words used to maximum effect!
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I guess I’m a bit out of the norm.
When I go into the book store I like to take my time- not hurry.
I do gravitate to my favorite authors. I do read the back blurb.
Even my favorites write some stuff that I just don’t get into.
If I am interested I always read the first page. Even with my favorite authors.
I also love to take time and find the author I’ve not heard of who might be wedged and lost between two favorites. I read their blurbs also and the first page.
It’s the first page for me with both the new and the old.
The High Concept blurb is like that trailer for the movie that usually is all the exciting climatic points in the movie. Now I’ve just seen the whole movie so why go see it again.
I buy a book so I can sit down and have a conversation with the author-listen to his/her voice. The voice that is in the pages in each paragraph in each sentence. And in some rare instance in each word.
Yes I know in some ways that makes me a poor blurb writer. Also a struggling query writer. I really do struggle when it comes to High Concept.
The notion of High Concept almost makes a person suspect that the doorman between the writer the reader has no real interest in the writers voice or the readers listening ear. I know that’s not true and that things are in place to help the writer deliver what the reader will enjoy. And that’s inside the book and not on the cover.
So, if you really feel you need to hit me with a two by four to get my attention that two by four better have some clear visible significance inside the pages. I suspect most times the two by four won’t show up in the first few pages so there better be something there to grab me also.
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