Book Writing 101: The Blurb

When you scout out a book on any book sale site, the one or two paragraph description is the “blurb”. On a print copy it is also called “the back cover blurb”. It sums up the story, except for the ending. The blurb is like a salesman pitching a product in hopes of making a sale. Below are a few tips to write a blurb that will get you the sale.

1. Keep it short.
Typically a blurb is under 150 words. People surfing the Internet on book sites or social media, usually notice your book cover and, if they are intrigued, will read the description. You usually get a couple of minutes to make them interested enough to consider buying, or perhaps a little longer if they pick up a paperback copy in a bookstore. Your blurb is important since it will not only be used as a description next to your book cover, but will be valuable as one of your main marketing tools on other sites (another reason to keep it short).

2. Describe the premise.
You don’t want to include the backstory, sub-plots or go down any “rabbit holes”. This is only a summation of the plot (again, without revealing the ending). Pretend someone asks what your book is about and you only have a minute to tell them. Write down what you would say, then keep tweaking it until it sounds like something that would hook a reader. Another good idea is to write an outline with only the major points of the story. Keep trimming it until you get rid of anything but the bare bones of the book.

3. Main characters only.
While we love all our characters, the blurb is not the place to showcase them. You usually want to include the antagonist (the hero) and the protagonist (the villain). If your book is a romance, the main characters should be the hero, heroine and the bad guy who is trying to keep them apart. You could briefly mention sub-characters, but only in the framework of their importance to the main characters.

4. Describe the conflict in a couple of sentences.
This ties into the premise, but lets the reader know the character’s main struggle. Most of the conflict for the story revolves around the protagonist, the antagonist and their goals. Sometimes the conflict doesn’t involve two people, but a person and an event (such as a natural disaster or other calamity). In “The Lord of the Rings” one of the main conflicts was between the character, Frodo and the destruction of the Ring. It was this conflict that moved the story forward.

5. Read other author’s blurbs.
To get inspired when writing my own blurb, I read what bestselling authors had done. Choose several within your own genre and study how they packed their story into one or two paragraphs. What might entice you enough to consider buying their book? Incorporate those elements into your blurb.

Here is the blurb for “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien that sums the story up nicely:

Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely traveling any farther than his pantry or cellar. But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard Gandalf and a company of dwarves arrive on his doorstep one day to whisk him away on an adventure. They have launched a plot to raid the treasure hoard guarded by Smaug the Magnificent, a large and very dangerous dragon. Bilbo reluctantly joins their quest, unaware that on his journey to the Lonely Mountain he will encounter both a magic ring and a frightening creature known as Gollum.

Notice that the first sentence tells about the main character, Bilbo Baggins. The second line introduces another main character, Gandalf (the dwarves are mentioned as a group). The dragon, Smaug and creature, Gollum are mentioned because of their importance to the story, however the paragraph is centered on Bilbo and his adventure. The blurb writer also uses words that bring life to the paragraph (unambitious, whisk, launched, adventure). Using such words judiciously is another way to attract the reader’s interest.

6. Don’t delete anything.
Since I tend to ramble, writing the blurb for both of my books was one of the most challenging aspects of marketing, but one of the most essential. Until you can mentally write “The End” at the bottom of your blurb, keep every snippet that you’ve written. Sometimes a few words or a sentence that were going to be deleted can fit nicely into your final blurb.