While it’s true that no one knows your novel better than you, writing a catchy blurb and directing it to your target audience takes a lot of practice, a lot of research and a lot of help from your literary friends.
In today’s article we’ll zoom in on the specifics: blurb formula, mistakes to avoid, and powerful opening statements. If you’re curious aboutThe Journey From Writing To Publishing, you’re only one click away.
I also took the liberty to ask writers for advice, and they were not shy sharing their wisdom along with tips and tricks for the upcoming author.
What Is A Blurb?
The blurb is a promotional description, found on the back of the book. Here’s where things get tough: you have 100-200 words to impress and attract your target readers. It should introduce your main characters, give an insight on conflict, depict genre and arouse interest.
Keep in mind at all times the blurb is what sells the book, so concentrate that creativity to create the perfect sales pitch for your novel. If you ask me, it needs to sound like a movie teaser (without overdoing it).
Typical Mistakes When Writing A Blurb
Telling too much, selling too little
New authors want to make sure the readership understands the story, making the blurb sound more like a synopsis than anything. You’re not supposed to tell the story, you’re supposed to pitch it like the mother of revelations, focusing on the key aspects your target reader is looking for.
Using the wrong voice & style
If you’re dark in the novel, don’t be funny in the blurb! Try to keep the tone and style consistent so that the blurb maintains an accurate reflection of the literary content of your book.
Nobody can do it better than me
While that may be true for the writing process, you’d be amazed what fresh eyes can do. I was in awe when I asked for guidance from fellow authors on Goodreads!
Not only were they helpful, but some broke my blurb line by line explaining what didn’t sit well with them, what aspects were unclear and what was entirely missing from the definition of a good blurb.
From all the wonderful people I asked for advice, I learned valuable lessons, and that’s where the power of the writing community stands.
What’s The Worst Thing That Can Happen If My Blurb Doesn’t Rock?
Nailing that trial and error hassle is meant to have a happy ending if you get it right. If you get it wrong, however, the result could be tragic.
A misleading blurb
Based on what I’ve learned, if you’ve written a Paranormal Romance novel and you’re pitching it for hardcore Sci-Fi readers, this will have a negative impact on your reviews, and as a consequence on your sales.
Readers expect accuracy, and you’ll get severely punished if you don’t stay true to genre. Now, imagine heaps of angry, disappointed readers flooding platforms with equally daunting reviews!
Just because you were barking at the wrong tree. Intimidating, eh?
A mediocre blurb
If it’s true to voice and style, pitched to the right readership, yet still not good enough, it’s certainly better than a misleading blurb. That doesn’t mean you have to sleep on it!
Your book sales are the main indicator if your recipe for success is not witty enough. Most authors I know play with multiple blurbs to see what works for their audience, what boosts sales and reviews, and so should you.
Your work as an author is not done once you publish, in fact, it’s coming up with endless strategies in a trial and error game that’s supposed to teach you to be better for your next novel.
Let’s Nail That Blurb!
Now that we know everything that can go wrong with an unfit blurb, let’s focus on key elements that will help give your blurb the ultimate makeover: opening statements, gripping adjectives and engaging twists.
I also have a list of good and bad blurbs, because there’s nothing better than learning from example, so let’s see how authors do it.
Opening Statements For Blurbs
The sentence trio for maximum impact
“She’s a former thief. He’s an enslaved werewolf. Together, they will change everything.” – Necessary Magic, Val St. Crowe
“Four elite fae warriors. One mortal female. A magical bond they can’t allow—or resist.” – Power of Five: Reverse Harem Fantasy, Alex Lidell
“An invisible girl. A missing mage. A world in need…” – The Mage and the Magpie: Magemother Book 1, Austin J. Bailey
Before jumping into the blurb, a lot of authors count on the sentence trio to create impact and generate interest for their target readers. It’s a recipe for creating suspense while revealing the main characters or conflict.
It’s usually followed by a 2-4 paragraph blurb:
“Epic Fantasy. Magic. Love.
The city is failing and no one else can see it. Its soldiers exploit the castle’s servants, confident that deadly wielders have been exterminated; wars are fought to encourage otherwise absent mortality; countless people suffer from the terrible pangs of nalka, the hunger for intimacy; and all the while its king concerns himself with choosing which of his disappointing concubines to execute next.
The duty falls upon the king’s son, Kahr Morghiad of House Sete’an, to restore the city’s strength and the army’s purpose. In his attempts to right these wrongs, he uncovers darker horrors and encounters a woman with forbidden powers – a woman who could be his greatest ally or his greatest threat.”
City of Blaze, H.O. Charles
Based on this blurb I can see the story’s got action love, and magic. Even if the word “love” is present in the sentence trio, I understand the key focus is not on the romance itself considering the rest of the content.
Although it’s not set in stone, a new trend is arising: a lot of authors who have written their books in first person narrative, also maintain the same voice and style in the blurb, and I can’t see a good reason why not to. This is also great for giving a hint to readers, since so many of them have narrative preferences.
Strong opening statements are imperative in order to engage an audience and should sound like an advertisement for your book. Finding that balance is incredibly hard, but not impossible.
A lot of writers start out by writing a 500-700 word synopsis of their book and start trimming once they’re done. It’s a successful recipe for many authors.
The Winning Blurb Formula
Yes, in case you were wondering, burbs do have formulas as well, and every formula has the following elements in common:
Introduce your main characters
Important characters of the book should be introduced and some details such as age, profession, what drives them, key traits should be introduced to paint a better picture for the reader.
Introduce the pressing issue your characters have to face
Add the major obstacles standing in their way
What is at stake?
If it’s still confusing, let’s hear it from the established writers who were kind enough to extend a helping hand. I’m so grateful for your input.
“How long did it take you to write the blurb of your book? — How long is string? I never feel like mine are ever done. I just get bored re-editing them and finally go with it. (And since I have only done eBooks so far, I have edited my blurbs on Kindle and elsewhere several times … it’s never set in stone.)
What advice do you have for writers who are in the process of writing theirs? — A blurb is not a plot summary, it’s an advertisement. Don’t obsess over trying to fit in every character, every twist and turn, every world building eccentricity of the book.
You have to be brutal about self-editing and economical with your words while still conveying enough information to be tantalizing and informative. I think your blurb should make clear who the main character is and what is their central struggle. The setting should also be clear, especially if you’re writing genre fiction. And you need a hook, something to make the reader want to find out more.
Writing is hard. Editing is harder. Writing an effective blurb is herculean.
Did you ask for help? — Yes. I used forums like Goodreads, plus my beta readers and I’m still not happy with any of mine. (I have a difficult time following my own advice.)” Micah
“How long did it take you to write the blurb of your book?
About 15 minutes. I go with my gut on blurbs because most of what I want from a blurb are the big, fat emotions – the stuff that slaps the reader in the face. The other part is the right tone -funny, serious, suspenseful, etc.
What advice do you have for writers who are in the process of writing theirs?
— Hook question that involves the characters and the main conflict. (Can the uptight lawyer overcome his dislike of oregano enough to fall in love with the nurturing herb gardener?)
–Introduce the MC and their original conflict (not necessarily the big story conflict, but how the heck did they get involved in this mess.)
–Introduce the other MC (esp in romance) and their original conflict.
–Connect them both to the main plot conflict, and the struggle to grow from identity to essence.
–Oh noes! Will they make it through the Black Moment?!?
Did you ask for help?
I always run a blurb past my critique group before it’s finalized.” Sela
“It takes me months to write a blurb. I start working on it even before the book is finished. I find it difficult to condense the story down to around 200 hundred words. You’d think that would be easy after writing a 80,000 word novel, but it isn’t. At least, not for me.
My advice for anyone writing a blurb is to read blurbs of bestselling authors who write your genre. From doing that, you’ll get an idea of how they put sentences together, how they divide the plot between the main characters, and how much information to include.
I always ask for help. I’ll draft a couple of choices and post them on a writing site I belong to, as well as running them by my local critique group. Once you get that many people offering advice, they’ll help you whip it into shape!”Ann Everett
“Unless one has personal experience in such undertakings, I suggest leaving blurbs and marketing up to the professionals.
It took me 14 months to produce what I considered to be a completed, polished manuscript, then submitted it to the acquisition department of five publishers and was accepted by one of them.
I spent the next 11 months working with and learning from the assigned copy editor, conceptual editor, layout design artist, and graphic design artist. Throughout this exercise my ego was severely tested as I began to realize that the completed, polished manuscript of which I had been so proud was not yet completed or polished.
The novel was released on Aug. 9, 2011 and was available until Dec. 31, 2016 when the publisher filed for bankruptcy and went out of business. Although not a commercial success by industry standards, it did sell more units than I had ever dreamed it would and garnered some positive ratings and reviews.” Jim
“For me, writing a blurb about my latest book(s) takes me only minutes, but that is after mulling over and thinking about it for hours and even days at times. I find it much easier to write my blurb AFTER thinking about it at length, not while still deciding what to say. As for what to say in the blurb, I would list these points to the would-be authors who are asking questions on this subject:
– Don’t use superlatives to describe your book or story: it will make you look pretentious and may repel quite a few readers.
– While not giving away the various punchlines of your story, try to mention why your story should be an interesting one while not writing spoilers. A touch of suspense always helps.
– Avoid declarations that may be politically, socially or religiously sensitive, but don’t be hypocritical about your story’s content. If there is going to be provocative or sensitive elements, like nudity, descriptions of sexuality war or strong political opinions, then warn your readers about them in a gentle way. Selling away an inaccurate description of your book may result in a delayed but severe backlash by readers, who will then blacklist you on a permanent basis.
In other words, be aware about the sensitivities of your readers but be truthful as well. I often have sensitive subjects included in my novels, but I always place warnings and disclaimers as needed at the start of my books and in my blurbs. As an example, in a blurb about an erotica novel I wrote, I stated that ‘this novel is meant strictly for adult readers’.
– I always compose my blurbs alone, as no one else knows my novel like I do.” Mitchel
“I totally agree with what others have said about not using superlatives (“thrilling”, “compelling”, “exciting”, etc.) in your blurbs if you plan to write it yourself – it comes off as pretentious and arrogant to most readers. Indeed, if I see a self-published book with a blurb like that, I generally won’t touch it.
-Keep it short enough to fit on the back of a physical book. Even if you only plan to release your work electronically, such a limitation will help keep you from giving too much of your story away.
-Save any content warnings for inside the book itself; they’ll be at the beginning (in the “teaser” part would-be readers will see if they click on ‘Look Inside’) and that’s enough of a warning.
-Make sure your blurb accurately reflects your story’s content and themes! A big problem I’ve seen (numerous reviewers have complained about this on GR) is books which have blurbs that make them sound like one genre (like mystery/thriller) but end up being more representative of another (romance…usually romance). Readers hatebeing ‘snookered’ like this, and will usually not go back to the author’s work again.
-Don’t let your blurb give your whole story away. This is particularly crucial in genres like mystery and thriller, where so much of the excitement is rooted in how the plot resolves.
-Avoid ‘cheap tricks’ in general. An example of a cheap trick is a romance blurb that has some variant on “will they or won’t they?” If its genre romance, of course they will – an ‘HEA’ is a requirement for the genre, and a blurb which implies they might not will probably cause experienced romance readers to side-eye that book.
“Did you ask for help?”
Yes I did, and I get my help from two sources; one is a beta reader who has finished the text, and another is a fan of the genre I’m writing in. For the first I ask “is this an accurate summation of my story’s plot/theme?” The second, I ask “would this blurb make you curious about my book enough to buy it?” If either answer is no, I ask them why and possibly make tweaks accordingly.
Remember, a blurb is a sales pitch. It needs to appeal to people (strangers in particular) who don’t know you and haven’t read your book, so IMO its important to seek outside advice on such matters before publishing.
However, I always compose my blurbs with no one looking over my shoulder.” Eric
“I may not be the best person to advise on blurbs because either give me more trouble that I care for. I tend to write complex stories with many strands, and when the time for a blurb comes, the problem is what to include? You do not want to mislead the reader, because that pleases nobody but you can’t include everything.
What I do is ensure that what I put in the blurb is sufficiently prominent in the story that nobody will say the blurb mislead. To do that I have to find the most significant problem for the most significant character and try to write it in a way that hints of suspense, and try to show what sort of story it will be. I agree with Michel – whatever else, do not be pretentious, and do not try to give the story.” Ian
“Having gone through this horrible experience with my upcoming book, Acre’s Orphans, I hope this is at least a little bit helpful…
1) It took me about a week to get it right. Not that I just sat at my keyboard, but I’d try to type something, hate it, go for a walk, note lines on my notepad, try again, lather rinse repeat for over a week.
2) The best advice is go to your bookshelf and start pulling down your favorite books and look at the blurbs on the back. There are patterns there, and if you pull out the unique points of their book and play madlibs with yours, it’s amazing how you can come up with a serviceable, not-completely-awful first draft.
3) Once I had something halfway usable, I sent it to a couple of Facebook groups (book connectors is a godsend) as well as my writer’s group for feedback. I still changed it three times after that including two hours before submitting the cover to the printer.” Wayne
“How long did it take you to write the blurb of your book?
Usually about a week but that is working on it for around an hour to get the main things down. I let it sit for a few days to a couple of weeks, then go back to it to distill it down.
What advice do you have for writers who are in the process of writing theirs?
You need your main character/protagonist and something intriguing about them. Include your villain/antagonist and what they want. Then you want something about the story. It should all be done in 100-150 words maximum. The shorter, the better. To get an idea of what you need to do, go to a book store and pick out well-known authors and ready their blurbs to get an idea of what it should include.
Did you ask for help?
I did on my first one as I had no idea of what I was doing. I’ve been practicing on the books I have completed (rough drafts) and find the more I do, the better I get.” B.A.
“What works best for me is to write a partial blurb at each major milestone during the drafting stage. Never copy and paste, always write it fresh in a new document (or just put it in the first draft). That way you’ll focus on new ideas, not worrying about where the commas go.
Write a blurb during:
Pre-writing First 10% Act I, Act II, and Act III Break After cover creation, After second draft
The benefit of having an early blurb is you can answer the dreaded “so, what’s your book about” question during the first draft. Then, you can finalize the blurb after the second draft, and put the book up for pre-sale.” E.C. Stever, Author of ‘Dragon Removal Service’