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.