The inspiration for this post came from a little gem I found on the Passive Guy’s Newsletter (if you aren’t already a subscriber, what are you waiting for? It’s free!). After some heavy editing, it ended up as this post.
The original post came from the Self Publishing Review, if you wish to see it in its entirety.
Writing a Book Blurb
By far, the weakest part of many self-published books is the synopsis*. Writing a decent blurb is an art form totally separate from writing a book.
Authors, myself included, often feel this is their least favorite part of the process. It can make you feel icky writing superlatives about your own book. At the same time, too many superlatives can literally be icky (“A work of genius” comes to mind). A good blurb needs to strike a balance between being informative, but not too informative, salesy, but not too salesy, while somehow seducing a stranger into spending money. It’s difficult, to say the least.
That said, there are some very common errors that show up time and again, and are pretty easy to change.
The main issue is too much plot. You can see the writer’s process: they’ve lived with their plot for months, they know it inside and out, they think it’s pretty cool, and so they load up a blurb with plot points. Writers are forgetting that a new reader is coming to a synopsis blind. For anyone reading it the first time, a flat plot description just reads like a flat sentence.
What to include
So, what should you include in your blurb? Basically, you only need the following information:
- Who is your hero?
- What do they want?
- What is stopping them from getting it?
- What’s at stake if they fail? (this from jfredlee)
That’s it. The relevant back story details will emerge as a result of providing readers with the above information.
Some further tips on things to do to create that perfect blurb:
- Short is sweet. Make it 100-200 words at most. Use line breaks as well.
- Tell, don’t show.
- Use present tense for immediacy.
- Use bold and italics, such as for awards, or “#1 Bestseller,” if you’re so lucky.
- Remember to add genre keywords to your description (mystery, dystopia, thriller, and so on), but don’t overdo it.
- Tell us about your lead character! A reader is looking to identify with a central protagonist.
- Use exciting adjectives to describe your characters.
- Condense the plot as much as you can to its feeling, rather than a line by line retelling of action.
- This from Olga: If you’re writing in a particular genre, check what reviews of best-sellers in that genre say, and use some of the same words.
- These from Fleur and Frostie: Only mention in the blurb up to 2 character names and end the blurb with no more than two questions.
I mentioned some common mistakes before. Here are the pitfalls to avoid:
- Write 200+ words, with no use of paragraph breaks. Stay away from one gigantic paragraph.
- Include spoilers. Seems like a no-brainer, but a spoiler can sometimes be the most exciting part of a book, so you’ll be tempted to put it in to tempt readers.
- Summarize the entire plot. General is better, less is more.
- Be overly flattering of yourself. People are aware an indie book’s description is written by the author, so “The next Stephen King” is going to be transparent.
- Talk about the “writing” instead of the book. Even if your book is the perfect example of lyrical transformative writing, you still need to mention the plot.
- Don’t focus on the author. As Susan Lindsey points out, readers are interested in the book, not the author.
Jackie Weger has posted a couple of great posts on writing a book blurb, which you may find useful:
* Synopsis vs. Blurb
As Susan Toy, Ali Isaac and Sue Coletta point out in the comments, technically speaking a synopsis is different than a blurb. I decided to use the terms interchangeably here, as that’s what most people seem to do nowadays, and I didn’t want to confuse you.
Susan explains it best in her comment:
“A synopsis is the piece written either by the author (or preferably by the editor) that describes the book in a succinct manner. The blurb, however, is praise for the book written by another author or publishing professional (think of it as an advance review of the book.)
That way, it’s someone else who is writing that this is “the greatest book ever to be published” and not the author who is telling the reader. The blurb is an endorsement that can then be used in publicity or as a bullet on the back cover. The synopsis is what you use on Amazon or for querying publishers or generally drawing interest to the book.
By the way, an author should never pay another author to write a blurb for their book. What the blurbing author receives is a shout-out for their endorsement.”
Thanks Nicolas. Great post. Back to the drawing board for me.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve changed mine 😀
Good advice. Thank you.
Thank you, I’m so glad you found it useful 🙂
Some good advice, even if I’m a bit late to the party.
(Oh, and I think when you wrote “in a succinct manor”, you meant “in a succinct manner”… 😉 )
Lol – now I’m trying to think of a laconic house 😀
Reblogged this on Mutterings of a Fantasy Fanatic and commented:
I am saving this information. I want to try and self-publish this December, so thank you.
So glad you found it helpful! Best of luck with the launch. What’s the book about?
Reblogged this on Kim's Author Support Page and commented:
I needed this. Thanks, Nicholas!
Reblogged this on Anna Dobritt — Author and commented:
Some good information here
Okay, Tales From the Family Crypt needs a new blurb. At least that’s what I learned from reading this! Off to give it a go! Thanks for the best advice on blurbs I’ve seen to date.
Wow, that’s high praise indeed! Thank you 🙂
Nope, it’s thank you. 🙂
Reblogged this on quirkywritingcorner and commented:
For me, writing the jacket cover was harder than writing the novel. This is the best and clearest explanation I’ve read yet. My next book cover will be much better and I might even be a little more concise when I’m talking about my book. Not that I tend to ramble…
Best condensed synopsis advice I’ve seen yet (and I’ve read a few!) I’m still struggling unsuccessfully in this area and I’ve researched enough to know it’s crucial, so gonna go over this thoroughly and implement..
Thanks for following by the way. I don’t usually follow back unless there’s been some actual “footprints” on my blog, (there’s so much strategic following) but OK this stuff is good. You got me! lol!
Lol – I’m glad you approve 😀
I wish I had the time to be more strategic in my follows – or, indeed, to read as many posts as I’d like… 🙂
I’ve the luxury of being retired, can’t imagine how I’d do it otherwise. I’ll be back to browse around for more good info. have a good day!
Thanks, you too 🙂
Reblogged this on Memoir Notes.
Reblogged this on Mandy Eve Barnett's Official Blog and commented:
Great tips for reference on blurb writing. Thank you Nicolas
Great advice, Nicholas!
Working on my “Ithaca’s” introduction has been sort of a struggle for me. Your post on how to write a synopsis and a blurb offers good ideas that I could apply to my intro as well as to any synopsis or blurb that I might write for another book.
I wanted to re-blog, hoping to help those who need your guidelines but I am not sure of the process. If you could help on that, I would appreciate it.
Always something great to learn in this blog! Thank you!
Thanks for offering to reblog 🙂
If you’re logged into your WordPress blog, there should be “Reblog” button at the top-left corner. Simply by clicking on it, you can do so.
If that doesn’t work, just copy and paste into a new post in your blog, with a link to the original post 🙂
I think the whole point is that the blurb is NOT a synopsis, but an advert for the book. I don’t necessarily agree with all this #1 Bestseller stuff, either – too many writers get to #1 in an obscure genre chart for about 2 days, or during a free promotion, and forever after call themselves a bestselling Amazon author, despite the fact that their book now sells only 5 copies a week. But hey, I’m guessing it might fool the odd person into a sale!!
I think different people use the terms blurb and synopsis differently. In my mind, this simply has to do with geography and the changing use of language, rather than being a right vs. wrong issue.
As for the #1 bestseller matter, obviously I wouldn’t advocate lying about it (making up numbers or claiming to have been in the New York Times list). However, as long as it’s clear a book has reached #1 on an Amazon genre, I don’t see the harm in mentioning it. In fact, I strongly encourage it, as it gives one much-needed peer validation, in a marketplace where some 6,500 books are published daily.
As such, I think the term “fool the odd person” is a bit unfair. After all, plenty of NY Times bestsellers sell 5 books a week as well… 🙂
I’m with Terry on this one. “Best-selling author” has become too much of a cliche. So many authors now use this “selling point” it is meaningless. It actually puts me off a book unless it’s backed up by proper numbers or comparisons. And who is defining “best seller”? Still, you might lose me as a reader but gain four others, in which case I guess it would be worth it. But really, you are writers – surely you can think of more compelling reasons people should buy your book than (what I think of as) a dodgy claim to being a best seller (unless, of course, you ARE a best seller, in the true meaning of the term).
People seem to fall in one camp or another in this.
You are right; it’s an arbitrary thing. I’m all for making it more concrete by defining what kind of best-seller (NY Times list? USA Today? Amazon genre?) However, I’m surprised to hear you say it actually puts you off from buying a book.
As for the true meaning of the term, I’m not sure there is one. I was having this conversation with Lorelei, who suggested a best-seller is a book that has sold a certain amount of copies (I think over 30,000 a month? I can’t remember now). However, we were unable to find a definition that supported that; different sources seem to come up with different definitions. I’m curious as to what your is.
When I say “puts me off”, it wouldn’t stop me buying a book on its own, but it definitely gets added to the minus side of my mental tick list for weighing up whether or not to read a book. I think it’s because so many authors do include it as a hook. As a statement without qualification it is meaningless – I want writers I read to be more inventive. For example, George Mahood says in his Amazon bio: “George Mahood is an award-winning writer. Specifically, he was placed third in the Little Brington Village Fete’s limerick competition (Under 11s category) in 1988.” That made me smile and put a plus point on the weighing scales (and I bought the book).
As for the definition of “best seller”, I don’t think you can put a number on it. I guess I would expect it to mean the book has been on a Sunday Times (or similar) list. That’s not much of a help for self-published authors generally, so they have to be more careful and upfront about how they use the term. Hitting the number 3 spot for half an hour in a the kitten-owning vampire papercraft category three months ago won’t cut it.
Lol – great Mahood quote.
As for the lists, the odds are stacked against Indies as it is. Many traditional lists don’t include Indies, just like many reviewers don’t accept them, and many awards exclude them (indeed, these are all reasons mentioned by a recent guest post by Alex Hurst to encourage people to go the traditional way).
For many Indies, then, the only way of showing that they are serious about their work to the average reader is to mention a high genre listing.
I do agree, of course, that people need to be very upfront about this. Heck, it’s why I wrote my A-Z detailing exactly what I did to reach #1 in my genre and what it means, in the first place.
Reblogged this on Barrow Blogs.
I must admit I find writing a blurb the most challenging part of writing. I tend to write a few drafts then ask for feedback from my beta readers.
Same here! 🙂
The tips in the article are great. I would add: don’t focus on the author. Unless you’re someone famous, the reader isn’t thinking, “Gee, I wish I knew more about this author. That might convince me to buy this book.”
I’ve seen a lot of self-published books where the author’s bio dominates the back cover. Sorry to break the news, but prospective buyers typically don’t care about who you are. It isn’t relevant. They want to know what the book is about and if it’s worth buying and reading.
Keep the “about the author” stuff very short (a couple of sentences) and put it at the bottom of the back cover. Better yet, If you are a fiction writer, put it inside. If you’re writing nonfiction, the author’s background is somewhat more important to establish expertise and can remain on the back, but keep it short.
Excellent tip. I’m adding it to the post 🙂
Always great to read another author’s interpretation of blurb writing. Indeed it’s a toughy! Excellent post as always. 🙂
Aw, thanks! 🙂
Thank you. I really needed this!!! 🙂
So glad to hear it! Thanks and welcome 🙂
Reblogged this on Coffee n' Notes and commented:
Great tips to get me started 🙂
such rich words and presentation!
Reblogged this on Thoughts by Mello-Elo.
Looks like a book blurb needs the same elements of a pitch tweet 😉
Doesn’t it just? 😀
I think “blurb” means different things in different countries. In the UK, blurb is the back cover summary; in the US it means endorsements (or “puff quotes”).
The endorsements are becoming more and more insignificant (and irritating for this reader). I’ve read too many from authors I like on books that are badly written – I’ve wondered whether the endorsing author has actually read the book, and have come to the conclusion that they probably haven’t, or are writing the endorsement because their publicist or publisher has told them to, or because they are being paid to. The result is that I am actually put off reading books by the endorser as well as the endorsee (which probably isn’t a word).
If the endorsement is from an Amazon reviewer I assume it’s the author’s auntie or child’s best mate’s mum.
If it’s a self-published book and so I know the blurb has been written by the author, I cringe (and am put off) by reading favourable comparisons to famous authors or books. I particularly hate (I realise I am getting into rant mode now) when authors tell you their book is “hilarious”.
There is such a fine line in self-promotion – how do you make yourself sound wonderful without coming across as delusional?
Lol – beats me. If you do find out, please do let us know! I’ll even give you a guest post to do so 😀
Great advice. I was under the impression that the blurb i the bit on the back of the book that tells you what the books about. A synopsis is more like the whole book (ending included) summarised for sending out to publishers, etc. I’m feeling a little confused.
Hope Susan’t explanation has helped clear things up, although to be honest I think that most people just use the two interchangeably 🙂
Reblogged this on The Writing Chimp and commented:
Great tips on book blurb 🙂
Reblogged this on The parasite guy and commented:
Getting ready to write a blurb or synopsis? Then check this out!
Great advice, Nicholas! I’m editing a screenplay and need to “help” the screenwriter with a blurb or summary. Think the exercise is a lot like writing one for a book. A blurb is a blurb! Christine
So glad you found it useful! 🙂
Reblogged this on chrismcmullen and commented:
Great tips for such an important part of your book’s merchandising.
Reblogged this on Jeanne Owens, author and commented:
Some very helpful tips for a very tricky part of the publishing process
Reblogged this on Romance Author ~ R. Lynn Archie and commented:
Reposting ~ good article.
To these wonderful tips, I have two more to add: mention in the blurb up to 2 character names only and end the blurb with 1-2 questions maximum. I got a bit of help revising mine from two best-selling authors in my writer’s group, #eNovAaW, so I count myself lucky. I got better in time, I used to be useless, doing all the wrong things, LOL
Good ones! I’ll add them to the post. Thanks for sharing 🙂
I was going to say I’ve read plenty of advice about writing fairly lengthy summaries, but it’s true that a blurb is a different thing altogether. Recently I read something that made me think. If you’re writing in a particular genre, and you want to write something effective about your piece (it was talking about marketing, but it occurs to me that it would work for a blurb too), check what reviews of best-sellers in that genre say, and use some of the same words (of course if they apply)….
Thanks for the tip! I’ll add it to the list 🙂
Very helpful piece, Nicholas – thanks for the tips!
So glad you found it useful, Bro 🙂
Great post, Nicholas. The do’s and don’t’s are especially good advice. We’ve all read some really awesome book blurbs, and some absolutely horrible blurbs.
Yes, but it’s like trying a dish: you know what you like and what you hate, but when it’s time to enter the kitchen yourself, it’s a different story altogether 🙂
As usual I learnt much from your post. I’m not sure I can correct my blurb, but will give it a try. I also enjoyed many of the comments of your bloggers.
Thanks, I’m very lucky in my friends 🙂
Excellent post. Thanks for breaking it down into do’s and don’ts. I have to write a blurb now for the next book – so the timing couldn’t be better!
So glad to hear it! 🙂
Thanks, Nicholas, for the to-the-point and thorough information. You’ve made it plain and easy to remember. 🙂
So glad you found it useful 🙂
Another rule I’ve read is to never introduce more than 3 people.
The timing on this post is perfect. 😀
Also sounds like the 3 rules for writing a book 😀
Who is your hero?
What do they want?
What is stopping them from getting it?
Lol – fair enough. Although I prefer the one that writing advice that goes, “put hero on tree. Throw stones.” 😀
That’s a great rule, actually!
So glad to hear it! 🙂
This is the tough one for sure. Great advice. 🙂
Hope you found it useful 🙂
Yes, I did. 🙂
Excellent, simple advice. It’s amazing how we can write a full-length novel without much of a problem, but a tiny blurb has us crying in a corner. I think in college, I compared it to an animal enjoying the open wilderness and then getting abruptly put in a box. Though I was rather over-dramatic those days.
Funny thing about the spoilers is that it gets harder and harder to do when you have a series. Simply mentioning a character from a previous book can rile somebody because it shows that character survived. I guess in this respect, ‘sacrifices’ can be kind of made.
Lol – true. It’s one of the decisions I made when naming my chapters – they have the date and name of the character they refer to, thus making clear who’s still alive.
Chapter titles always drive me nuts, which is probably would I only use numbers. At least with the current series. I have a future one where each chapter introduces a new monster to fight, so that’s what I use for the name. I guess an easy way to do it is to make it a whimsical title that denotes the even about to take place. I think that’s what Tolkien did, but I’m too lazy to go check my copy.
Lol – fair enough. Mercifully, I have my copy next to my desk, so I did check. He uses descriptive titles like “The Departure of Boromir” and places like “Helm’s Deep” along with monster names like “The Uruk-Hai.”
Best one to me is ‘Riddles in the Dark’. 😀
The same principal applies for writing query letters. Same word count 100-200, same “formula”, so to speak. Be happy that as an Indie you don’t have to boil your entire plot, including the ending, down to one page. It’s awful! Interestingly enough, that’s what my next post is about. Great minds…
Interesting; I hadn’t thought of that! Looking forward to that post 🙂
Reblogged this on A place to write, read, discuss and explore the literary world. and commented:
Nicholas C. Rossis shared some fabulous tips on writing a book blurb.
Great advice Nick, but unless I’m reading this wrong, you seem to mention blurbs and synopsis interchangeably when they are two seperate, very different things…
I find it VERY hard to write blurbs, and have tried numerous versions. Still dont think I’ve cracked it. Soooooo much harder than writing a 120k novel!!!
Lol – I was wondering if someone would comment on that. Yes, I’ve consciously used them interchangeably here. I believe that’s what most people do, nowadays, and I didn’t want to confuse my readers. Nice catch 🙂
You did notice that I was good and didn’t call you on it, right? 🙂
Lol – to be honest, I half-expected you to 😀
I was going to make this comment, too, so I agree with Ali, but with one further clarification – a synopsis is the piece written either by the author (or preferably by the editor) that describes the book in a succinct manor. The blurb, however, is praise for the book WRITTEN BY ANOTHER AUTHOR OR PUBLISHING PROFESSIONAL. (Think of it as an advance review of the book.) That way, it’s someone else who is writing that this is “the greatest book ever to be published” and not the author who is telling the reader. The blurb is an endorsement that can then be used in publicity or as a bullet on the back cover. The synopsis is what you use on Amazon or for querying publishers or generally drawing interest to the book.
By the way, an author should never pay another author to write a blurb for their book. What the blurbing author receives is a shout-out for their endorsement.
Comfort in that clarification Susan!
Thanks for the clarification! I’ll include it in the post, in case someone doesn’t read the comments 🙂
Great tips and advice Nicholas. I will remember this post, and come back to it if I ever get around to writing a book!
Best wishes from England. Pete.
In that case, I hope it won’t be long 🙂
Excellant advise for authors – there is nothing more off putting for readers than reading an authors ‘essay’ style summary of their latest book – at least for me. Long summaries swamp me with too much information, half of which I can’t remember by the time I’ve finished reading what the book is about. Alternatively, a one sentence summary – yes, I’ve read a fair few of those on Amazon – just doesn’t give enough information to the reader about what the book is about and probably like me, they don’t end up buying the book. I guess what authors have to remember is that they are the marketers of their books – they may know they have a great story, but the reader wont know this when there is a poorly written and uninteresting blurb about their book. It sounds kind of mean but folk who love reading want a book they can sink their teeth into – they want new characters to fall in love with and plot-lines that sound interesting. A well written blurb does that – it’s why I really, really love the Pearseus books; the blurb sounded cool 🙂
Really? I’m so thrilled to hear you say that! Thanks 🙂
Reblogged this on The Last Wave: An NDE, Ebook and commented:
Great article about writing book ‘blurbs’. Hearing that word or seeing it always makes me want to laugh, because the first time I heard it, I thought it was slang, but there really is the dictionary meaning for the word!
BLURB: a short description that praises something (such as a book) so that people will want to buy it. i.e. a blurb on a book jacket!
I am working on mine and was considering paying someone to write it, but here I see that with following these directions, I can write my own blurbs!
Plead guilty to some of your defined ‘crimes’. What say you to someone ELSE saying a book ‘Reflects the act of genius’ when the book in question is mostly about (other) genius seen in a new light?
All those weighty handles ‘erudite’, ‘magnum opus’ ‘magisterial’ are mis-representative of a light-hearted Odyssey. Cut them out and what is left? I’d be interested in your solution?
This book trawls the seas of Western culture and lands a strange fish called Memory? It bites those who plumb deep when they are not attending…perhaps not as mad as it seems?
Lol – most of those crimes are there because I’ve committed them myself, at one time or another 🙂
I’d have to read your book to be able to help you, to be honest, but as long as you’re happy with your blurb, that’s all that matters. No one knows or understands your book better than you 🙂
NO, I am not happy with afflatus and hyperbole but when EVERYBODY says ‘get endorsements’ and those ARE the endorsements it would be both churlish and ungrateful to ignore them. BUT how understanding are the readers of them, because self promotion is assumed. So do you put a health warning
‘The opinions quoted below are not those of the author’?
A quandary since that kind of self promotion is pretty despised, as you point out!
You’re right; it is quite tough. I usually err on the side of not using some of the best things people have said about my work, which is just plain silly.
I agree! I have just spent one week writing the ‘blurb’ for my new novel, Harry the Louse, which I am putting out as part of a pre-release message. I must confess, that after reading this, I am hoping I have done a good enough job? I have already decided to cut out the last two sentences as I feel they make it unclear that only one of the women is really important to the story. Perfect timing Nicholas.
I’m so glad to hear it! Thanks 🙂
Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
An excellent guide to writing your book blurb… from Nicholas Rossis – It is your ‘come buy me’ pitch as well as an example of your writing style and skill.
I love writing blurbs. 🙂 It’s fun for me, because in the process, you can also come to understand the essence of your story better. But this is a great list!
I wish I could say, “you and me both,” but sorry, you’re on your own here 😀
Care to do mine, one day?
If you want me to, haha.
Sure! You’d be doing me a favor if you checked them out and told me what you thought!
I completely agree with Nicolas on this one. Haha
Reblogged this on Books and More.
Thanks for the advice on how to write a blurb about one’s book.
It’s a tough one. I should probably redo all of mine at some point 🙂