9 Tips for Writing Your Novel Blurb/Back Copy

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.

Exactly.

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!

Length
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.

Hook
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.”

Twist
What happens that changes things? Where is the problem? The twist is just as important as the status quo. We should have both.

Stakes
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?

Question
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!

Spoilers
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.

Read Blurbs!
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.

Avoid Cliches
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!

6 Lessons to Get Over Your First Bad Review

You’ve just published. It’s been out for a month or so. Or perhaps only a day! You’ve been told your book is amazing, the great reviews are trickling in and you couldn’t feel better about your novel. Perhaps you self-published and are trying to show those agents how wrong they were. Or perhaps your confidence was soaring because you were able to get a traditional publishing deal. Then it comes in. Big, ugly, hairy, and full of hateful words.

Your first bad review.

Those sad, lonely, one or two stars. It brings your average down along with your confidence. You read it over and over again. You dissect it. It haunts your thoughts.

Congratulations! You are a writer! Even New York Times Best-selling Authors have 1 star reviews. Believe it! If you didn’t go the traditional route, this is your initiation in place of a rejection letter. If you did go the traditional route, this is your first rejection!

You can’t please everyone. That is the first rule you must accept when writing. You simply can’t. Thing’s I’ve learned from bad reviews:

1. The reader often doesn’t even finish the book. They stop usually quite early. My bad reviewer couldn’t get past page 30. So that means they didn’t give the book a chance to resolve their complaints. It also means they didn’t read the whole book. So only what they read got 1 star. Not the entire book.

2. They don’t like your genre, not your book. One guy I was going to have beta read, couldn’t get past page 1 because what the entire book was about was not explained in the first page, the entire biography of my protagonist wasn’t laid out on the first page AND he also hated that the thriller book began with action. So clearly he was looking for a character driven book and not a plot. Or a thriller. 😉

3. They can’t say specifically what they didn’t like.  My review said “Dumb.” Well alrighty then. It was dumb. A lot of them weren’t worth the time it took for them to write the review. They offer nothing of use to readers or the author of the work.  Often they only leave a star-review and not a written one at all. These are a little naggy because we want to know why! Why did I only get 2 stars? Tell me what was so bad! At the same time, be grateful. If they had written what they hated, it might have been horrible. A simple star review does a lot less damage than a 3 paragraph 1 star review.

4. It makes your 4 and 5 star reviews more believable. Those that have 500 5-star and 0 1-star should make you question the authenticity of the reviews. They could be paid or simply fake. Believe me. It DOES happen. Let this be comforting. You are getting honest reviews. And if one person hated it enough to write a review, another person loved it enough to leave one as well.

5. They are silly! I had a review for Shattered that didn’t like that I had 2 POV. Only 2 but it was considered “jumping from person to person.” And it was just too much for them. They also didn’t like the mystery aspect of my Thriller/Mystery because they stopped reading after 30 pages because the answers weren’t all thrown at them in the first 30 pages. “Goes from her apartment to a hospital gown. What?” Yes dear, it’s a mystery. You must read to find out why. Sheesh. So even though the 1 star hurt, I just have to laugh. And I know that readers who read that review won’t think twice about it. If anything, that would make me want to read it even more!

6. Use them to get better! Only do this if the review is specific in what was wrong. Errors they noticed. Flat characters. Confusing head-hoping. Not enough conflict. Predictable ending. Things like that. Don’t take them to heart and don’t read every bad review with a pen and paper handy but just keep it in mind.  Just remember, some of them (most of them) don’t know what they’re talking about and will mention things specifically that others loved about your work. Such as my book beginning with action from page one. One person hated it, every body else loved it. So be selective in what you pay attention to.

Bottom line: BRUSH IT OFF AND GET WRITING!

You can’t change the review. You can only focus on writing your next piece and sharpening your craft. You’ll only get better the more you work. So ignore them. They’ve probably never written anything in their life worth reading, let alone a book! Be proud of your accomplishment and relish in the fans you are collecting. You don’t write for the 1 and 2 star people. You write for the 4 and 5 star people. They love what you’re doing. Which means you’re doing something right.

So. Go get a bowl of ice cream and read your 5-star reviews. Or better yet, turn your ice cream into a shake and get writing that next book! Writing should make you happy (hopefully) so go do it! And always remember, your next book will be better than the first. This is all a learning experience. These little  blows will only toughen your skin and make you stronger. They are necessary evils.

What do you think? What do you do when you get a bad review? What do you take away? How do you get over it? Love to hear from you!