Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Writing a 'blurb' for your story

Writing a blurb is probably about ten times harder than writing a synopsis, but back-cover blurbs are one of your main selling tools. In my case, I’d say that it’s the blurb (rather than the cover) that influences my decision to buy or not to buy.
First of all, go into your local bookstore – or, even easier, open the Amazon site – and look at the blurbs of the same genre books as yours. What attracts you to a book? What puts you off? What clues did the blurb give you about the characters and the setting? Did it give you too much information, or not enough?
Here I’m going to talk about the blurb for romance novels, since that is what I write. Blurbs for thrillers, science fiction, paranormal etc may be different, of course.
When I was writing romance in the sixties and seventies, the publisher wrote the blurb for me. My first novel had this back-cover blurb:
Christine thought it was too good to be true when Don Bowden, whom she had loved for so long, confessed that he felt the same way about her. It was too good to be true ...
Short, but straight to the point – and, of course, it raises an immediate question in the reader’s mind. Why was it too good to be true?
The setting for this story wasn’t mentioned in the blurb because, in this case, it didn’t form a pivotal part of the story. The two main characters were teachers but they could quite well have been in any other profession, since the emphasis was on the relationship between them and not on the setting.
In my second novel, however, the setting was paramount to the story, and this was reflected in the blurb, which was longer this time:
Janet Harris and Philip Morton were on opposite sides of the fence. The future of Janet's beautiful Lakeland village home was at stake, and she put the blame squarely on Philip. Falling in love with each other should have been the solution. But somehow it only complicated an already tense situation. Then Fate took a hand. But was it too late?
Even though it’s over forty years since those blurbs were written, this is one occasion where things haven’t changed much over the years. Blurbs continue to be the ‘sales’ pitch, and should arouse curiosity. You’re seducing the reader and persuading them to buy your book. Give enough to whet the appetite, and don’t give too much away.
For romance novels, the blurb needs to concentrate on the characters—who they are, the first major ‘plot point’ of the story, and what stands in the way of their happiness together. If the setting or their occupations are a contributory part of the challenges or conflicts facing them, then these get a mention too. The blurb should also leave the reader asking questions (even if you have to spell it out for them!).
This is the blurb I wrote for ‘His Leading Lady’:
Jess Harper’s predictable life is turned upside down when she discovers that Lora, her twin sister, has disappeared. It’s just a week before rehearsals are due to start for a new West End musical in which Lora has the lead role. Jess decides to pose as her sister in order to save Lora's career, and this brings her into close contact with arrogant theatre director Kyle Drummond. Attraction sparks between them but there’s also evidence that he had been dating Lora. So is Jess simply a substitute – in real life as well as in the show? And what will happen when Lora eventually returns?
Two years on from when I wrote this, I can already see ways I could improve it! But the salient points are there – characters, first plot point, reference to the setting/occupations, the potential conflict(s), and finally, the question.
Basically, the blurb ‘leads’ the readers into the story, but without giving too much away, and provides a ‘hook’ which hopefully will leave them wanting to know more.
Here's the blurb for my latest release, Changing the Future:
How do you write your blurbs?


  1. Great topic, Paula! I wish, when I wrote my first few blurbs, that my publisher had told me even a little of what you've pointed out here. All they said was "x many words." So my first few are dismal. I wonder if I can go back and change them?

    As I've gotten more used to the promotion process and to the idea of "log lines," I've changed both my blurbs and my promos. You've pointed out all the salient points.

    I think a colleague of ours recently asked the question of what readers look for when they buy a book. One of the top responses was "good blurb." Ah, how I wish I could go back and "change the future." ;) Erin

  2. I owe so much to my sister-in-law. When I sent her my first blurb she said, "This won't do. It's supposed to make them want to buy the book." It had honestly not occurred to me! I had just written what was basically a synopsis. I am much better at them now. Thank you, Moira. And thank you Paula. You've probably rescued a few more books with this blog!

  3. Erin, it's the blurb that influences me the most, far more than the title or the front cover, so I work hard at creating a blurb that would make ME want to buy the book! I've seen blurbs that are far too long, and others that are too short and tell you nothing about the story. I don't really know what the 'ideal length is supposed to be, but mine tend to be between 75 and 100 words.

  4. Your sister-in-law was right, Jenny! I might glance at the title and the cover, but it's definitely the blurb that sells the book! I'm not saying my method is the perfect one, but it works for me!

  5. Okay, Paula, first of all, you and I need to team up one day, because the things you dislike/find difficult are the things that I enjoy and visa versa!

    I like writing blurbs, but that could be my marketing background.

    Yours definitely whet my appetite!

  6. I've no marketing background, Jen, so maybe I need your advice there! Some blurbs are easy, others I struggle with. I don't dislike doing them but I do play around with words until I think (hope!)I've got them right!

  7. The blurbs for your older novels are great. It shows blurbs haven't changed as much as other aspects of writing.
    Blurbs are what I base a purchasing decision on, unless I know the author.

  8. Thank you Paula for an eye opener. I actually look for seductive covers, like deep blue or purple before I read the back cover.
    Una Tiers

  9. Agre, Ana. It's the blurbs which are the deciding factor for me too.

  10. That's interesting, Fiona/Una. I look at a cover thinking it's just a cover artist's portrayal of the story and may not represent either the story or the characters. One of my early novels (where I had no input whatsoever into the cover picture) showed the two main characters on horseback - and I'd never even mentioned horses in the story! I was so disappointed with that cover picture.

  11. I love being able to write my own blurbs. I usually start with a portion of each characters' G-M-C statement from my synopsis. Then I add a few sentences here and there that hit on hit points of the external and internal conflict of the story. I find that I often end with a question....which hopefully a prospective reader will want to find the answer to!

  12. Seems like we follow the same kind of pattern, Debra!