If someone were to ask what has been the hardest thing to learn since writing and self-publishing, I would have to say writing the blurb/back copy would be in the top three.
If you’ve ever had to write a book blurb (that little teaser on the back of a book) then you know what kind of hell it is. As a reader it probably seems like the easiest part. It’s like writing a trailer.
It’s the one chance authors have to entice you apart from their cover and title. In case you hadn’t guessed, those are the other two in the top three hardest things I’ve had to learn.
As authors, we get one fleeting chance. We have a second to hook your eyes with our cover, another second with the title. If those two make the grade, you may just read the blurb. But if that fails to interest, explain the book, or leave enough of a mystery, that’s it for us.
At this point in my career, I’ve only published one book thus far, Shattered. I’ve had some readers say they love the blurb and a few didn’t. If you’ve read Shattered, you know it’s one mystery and twist after another. So what could I say in the blurb that wouldn’t give it away? So I went for the vague approach to give you a feel for the book instead of telling you what happens. Some liked this because it didn’t spoil anything. Others expected something different. So you really can’t win.
However, I shall continue to try to perfect the art of blurb writing. I am considering offering it with the book to my betas and asking if it is a good teaser after they’ve read the book. BUT I do try to stick to some rules when it comes to writing my blurb. And you should too. Guidelines, not rules, necessarily. 😉 So here they are!
You’ve seen blurbs. They are pretty short, some shorter than others. Try to keep it below 200 words. It should only be 1-3 paragraphs. But keep it punchy.
Just like writing your novel, you must hook your reader. You can do this with your protagonist or your world. But you should always do at least one so the reader knows who the story is about and/or where it takes place. This not only serves to entice them but also to ground them. Perhaps offer a line about her normal life, introduce the status quo and tell the reader what they are: “Rocket scientist Harry Shore from D.C.” or “College student Alexandra Bowen.”
What happens that changes things? Where is the problem? The twist is just as important as the status quo. We should have both.
What does the protagonist stand to loose if she fails? You must make the reader care in those small moments. If the protagonist stands to loose nothing, then who cares?
End with a question or prompt. Don’t make the ending predictable. Your goal is to make the reader buy the book to find out what the protagonist chooses. If you ended with “Can she sacrifice cake to save her brother?” then obviously the reader knows there is no real question. BUT if this cake happens to provide her with vital sugar necessary to live, that might change things. It must end in conflict. It must!
Carefully comb through your blurb. Is everything necessary? Did you spoil any surprises you’d slaved over? It’s wise to stop at a certain point in your novel, say half way or 3/4 through and not reveal anything more. So even if the stakes change, the risks change or the goal changes based on twists and turns, don’t reveal that to your character. Your intro challenges should be strong enough to make them want to read it without finding out there is more to your story.
I keep forgetting this myself, but it helps to read lots of blurbs while writing your own. Especially in your genre. You’ll notice what works, what doesn’t and how to imitate that. Not copy, just imitate. You’ll see a pattern that works and your blurb may just pour out of you naturally.
Taglines and Shoutlines
Does your story need them? I personally love them. It’s just a couple more ways to entice that reader to read your back blurb. After all, if you see four to ten words strung together, it’s difficult not to naturally read them. For example, Shattered’s tagline was “Don’t Ask Questions” and the shoutline on the back was “What would you sacrifice to learn the truth?” I was able to (hopefully) give readers a lightning fast glimpse into the story without them even having to read the blurb. But this is totally up to you and must fit your story.
Try, try, try to avoid these common cliches. Even I’m still working on these. (Particularly difficult in a thriller/mystery.) So if you can, weed these out.
- Little did he know
- Comes back to haunt her
- Race against the clock
- Vows to expose
- Web of deceit
- Determined to unmask
- Wants nothing more
- World falls apart
- Forced to confront
Remember, all authors hate writing and have trouble with the blurb. But don’t slack on this part. It is crucial to your book. If you wouldn’t slack on the cover, don’t slack here either. Remember, these are your trailers, your teasers for your book. Make them as best you can. Have friends and strangers read and ask if they’d read the book or for their impressions. Getting a second opinion never hurts!
What about you? What guidelines do you use for writing a blurb? Any fantastic blurbs you’ve read recently? Tell me about it!