Why Are Blurbs so Important?
If you’ve managed to entice a potential reader to pick up your book (or look at your book’s page in an online bookstore) thanks to a genius title or an eye-catching cover, the hardest part is over. The blurb is usually the third aspect of your book that a potential reader inspects, after the cover and the title. If you think of the first two aspects as your book’s CV, then you can compare the blurb to a job interview or a sales pitch.
In other words, by the time someone decides to read your blurb, you’ve already managed to pique their interest. Now it’s time to turn that interest into fascination. You want them so intrigued that they buy the book. How do you know whether your blurb is interesting or not? While it will ultimately come down to your writing ability, there is a general formula you can use to get on the right track. Before we discuss it in detail, however, we thought you might like to see this formula summarized in a handy infographic:
Deconstructing a Great Blurb
To really get into the nitty-gritty of good blurb writing, let’s start with an example! Take a look at the blurb of Gillian Flynn’s bestseller Gone Girl:
Who are you?
What have we done to each other?
These are the questions Nick Dunne finds himself asking on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, when his wife Amy suddenly disappears. The police suspect Nick. Amy’s friends reveal that she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him. He swears it isn’t true. A police examination of his computer shows strange searches. He says they weren’t made by him. And then there are the persistent calls on his mobile phone. So what really did happen to Nick’s beautiful wife?
It’s a great blurb, and in order to help you write an equally great one yourself, we’re going to unpack it and work out a general formula. First, let’s look at how different parts of the text achieve the desired effect. Afterward, we’ll distill the various sections into a handy checklist for you to write your own bestseller blurb.
Why Does This Blurb Work?
Right off the bat, the first sentence engages the reader by encouraging introspection; “who are you?” is one of those questions which we can’t help but consider.
By the time readers get to the second sentence and realise that they aren’t the ones being addressed, it is the ominous undertone of “what have we done to each other?” that encourages them to read on; what have these people done to one another and how bad could it possibly be, after all?
The third sentence, which lays out the premise of the story, is what seals the deal. It presents the reader with a titillating mystery, and combined with the previous two sentences, it hints at dark secrets that are waiting to be uncovered, should the reader decide to dive into the story. The rest of the blurb is pretty much icing on the cake, finishing off by spelling out the question which has already formed in the reader’s mind: “What really did happen to Nick’s beautiful wife?”.
A Checklist for Your Blurb
The first two sentences: “Who are you?” and “What have we done to each other?” serve to establish an atmosphere tying into the contents of the book, and whetting the reader’s appetite. It then proceeds to introduce a situation: Nick’s wife has suddenly disappeared. Right after that, we’re presented with a problem: the police think Nick did it, and there’s evidence against him. The final sentence then hints at a twist: “what really did happen?”, implying that things aren’t like they seem.
Now that we’ve thoroughly unpacked this blurb, we can identify 4 main components: the situation (1), the problem (2), the promise of a twist (3), and the atmosphere (4). The first three components should be strung together in the order we’ve listed them, whereas the atmosphere can be introduced throughout the text, and should ideally be a natural side-effect of the blurb itself.
Lastly, if your book has good public reviews floating around online, you might want to include a few after the blurb itself. This is not essential and probably hard for many of you to do, but might be worth considering if you’re publishing a new edition somewhere down the line.
Leave Readers Wanting More
On the topic of the 3rd blurb component, the promise of a twist, it’s worth noting that in the cutthroat world of self-publishing, you can never go wrong with a cliffhanger. It’s one of the most effective tools you have to generate interest and get people to invest their time and money in your book rather than someone else’s. This applies to your blurb as well. Once you’ve set up an intriguing situation with an engaging problem, you have to make the twist count.
Keep Your Blurb Short, Sweet, and Juicy
Another good rule of thumb is to keep your sentences short. You may have gotten someone interested enough to start reading your blurb, but they’re most likely going to be skimming through it anyway. Keeping your sentences brief and punchy helps retain interest while keeping the message behind your carefully crafted blurb coherent to all the casual skimmers. Just look at the Gone Girl blurb again to see what we’re talking about.
Introduce at Least One Main Character
It’ll be a lot easier for a potential reader to get invested if they associate all the emotional triggers in your blurb with your main character. Notice how in the Gone Girl blurb, the names aren’t just dropped into the mix but put into a compelling context. Nick isn’t just the name of the main character of a book, he’s the husband who is under suspicion of murdering his own wife whilst claiming he’s innocent. You should strive to do the same; try to introduce at least one of your main characters in a succinct but interesting way to make people care about their story.
Stay True to Your Style and Audience
Your blurb is a window into your story. As such, it ought to give as authentic a glimpse as possible of the contents. Disappointment leads to bad reviews, so make sure people that decide to buy your book do so for the right reasons.
You should also use the same writing style in your blurb as you do in your book. If your story utilises a first-person narrative, for example, use the same perspective in your blurb. Also, don’t drastically change your tone by employing a different vocabulary Again, this is to maintain consistency and prevent readers from unpleasant surprises.
A Little Hyperbole Doesn’t Hurt
While staying true to your audience and your voice is important, it is vitally important to seize a reader’s attention and spark their imagination. Hyperbole is a useful tool for this, and if used in moderation, it can create that sense of excitement that will compel a reader to buy your book.
We’ve all probably talked rapturously about a book to a friend, hoping to convince them to read it so that you have someone to discuss it with. That’s the kind of effect you want to strive for – make it sound like someone who read the book and loved it is trying to explain what it’s about.
People don’t have time to read bad books. In fact, they barely have time to read a bad blurb. As such, the slightest indication that a book is going to be unoriginal can cause a prospective reader to put down your book and move on to the next one. This is especially true for self-published books, unfortunately, due to the misconception of them not being “good enough” to be picked up by a traditional publishing house.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t write your vampire love triangle drama, or your gritty thriller featuring an aged, grizzled, and substance-abusing police officer obsessed with the case he never managed to solve. You just have to be clever about the way you present it. Use the blurb to hint at a twist that will dispel perceived cliches, or avoid focusing the text on elements that would be perceived as tropes, focusing instead on character dynamics or other unique aspects of your story.
Add Some Review Excerpts if You Have Them
We devote a lot of time to talking about how best to market your book on this blog, and last time we even covered how to contact book bloggers for reviews. While it does involve a lot of work, this is one of the situations where your efforts can pay off. Including a quote from a positive, third-party review as part of your blurb can do wonders for the perceived legitimacy of your book, especially if the source of the review is a respectable blog or website.
Proof-Read and Re-Write!
Same as with everything you write: after a first draft, let it sit for a while and allow your thoughts to marinate a bit. If possible, have some other people read it and give you feedback. If you’ve done this, we guarantee you’ll want to rewrite some parts afterward.
We hope you enjoyed this article about blurb-writing, and that it managed to help you on your way to author-hood. If you have any opinions on the article, thoughts to add, or questions to ask, leave us a comment below! Or alternatively, you can shoot us an email. We’re always happy to hear your feedback and answer your questions.