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.”