It can take a matter of seconds for someone to decide if they’re going to buy your book. Grabbing their attention with an awesome cover is the first step, but the blurb is what really matters, as it’s essentially the sales pitch. Here are some things to consider when writing a blurb:
As with many things, blurbs tend to follow a formula. They must answer at least the following:
- Who is the main character and what do they want?
- What is the conflict?
- What are the stakes?
- What are you promising?
The fourth is the most important—and usually comes in the form of a question, e.g. ‘Can they save the world?’ There, you’re promising the answer.
As an addition, having a big, bold statement (like: ‘The kingdom’s future was in his hands…’) before the main body text of the blurb is often effective in setting up initial questions or giving a first impression of what to expect from the story. Including a quote from the story to get across one of the four things above is also common.
Some blurbs also include reviews from trusted sources or awards for credibility (you will have no doubt seen: ‘From #1 New York Times Bestselling Author…’). The most important thing is to never write fake reviews yourself or to lie about awards, of course.
Another thing some authors do is liken their book to a merging of other stories (e.g. ‘Cinderella meets Back to the Future’). This can be highly effective in piquing interest, as you’re introducing your story with something familiar (something a reader knows they either like or dislike already). The only thing you shouldn’t do in relation to other authors and their work is call yourself ‘the next [insert famous author here]’ or say your story is ‘the next [insert famous book here]’. If you’re an indie author, people know you more than likely wrote your blurb, so pertaining to your book or yourself like this could come across as pretentious.
Blurbs should match the tone of the story or follow genre convention. If you’re unsure, take a look at blurbs from books in the same genre. Make sure your blurb is similar if there are any particular patterns, tones, or structures (e.g. if your story is a multiple POV romance, some blurbs are split between the two POV characters).
If you want your story to stand out from the rest, you need to include unique selling points. A great example is with detective novels—the detective stereotype is a middle-aged white man with a blasé attitude and a drinking problem. If your story breaks this, showcase that loud and proud! However, the pendulum swings both ways. If your detective is that stereotype, readers who love that familiarity will still want to read your book. Don’t hide it just because it’s a trope, as it could sell. Those who aren’t interested won’t pick it up—and that’s more than okay.
A reader will know what they do and don’t like, so a blurb shouldn’t be misrepresentative of the story to attract as many people as possible. That isn’t the goal. The goal is to attract the right readers. For example, I’m not usually a massive fan of historical fiction. If I read a blurb that starts with something like ‘England, 1788’, I immediately put it back—knowing it won’t be for me. What something like that does do, however, is signify that it is for historical fiction fans. Speaking to those who are more likely to enjoy your book will only bring good things your way if they love the story. As opposed to a disappointed reader who feels misled (and leaves a negative review saying such), you reach someone who is more likely to enjoy the story and come back for more. Building a readership is invaluable.
What Should It Look Like?
If the text color looks muddy against the back cover colour or the font is unreadable (as cursive generally is), a reader may give up before they’ve even started. Make sure (above all) that the text is easily readable and that it’s correctly formatted: use line breaks (don’t have it be one big paragraph), justify the blurb text and center any reviews.
What to Avoid when Writing a Blurb
As we’ve all probably experienced, the worst thing a blurb can do is include spoilers. Though it’s common to see a thriller or mystery blurb with a tagline along the lines of ‘A killer twist you won’t see coming!’, this is counterproductive. It completely ruins the twist because the reader is now aware of it and expecting it.
Another thing that is commonly wrong with blurbs is that it isn’t a blurb at all. It’s actually two-thirds of a synopsis. What’s the point in the reader buying the book if they read most of the story on the back cover? Try to keep it as short and sweet as possible (up to 200 words) to avoid accidentally doing this. Something else to avoid is giving new information in the blurb that isn’t in the book. If it isn’t in the book, it shouldn’t be in the blurb either.
Blurbs are a tricky balance, but persistence is key. The blurb is a crucial marketing tool, so it’s important to spend time on it. Just as you did with your book, write it, mull it over, then come back to edit it later. You’ll get there eventually, and it’ll be 100% worth it.