Write a Book Blurb that Sells: Steps & Examples
If you think that writing a book is a daunting exercise, you have never written a blurb. When writing a book, you are answerable to no one but yourself. (Unless your book is a commissioned one, in which case, you are answerable to whoever commissioned you.) When writing a blurb, you are answerable to a person other than yourself, which is the author.
Some editors dread writing book blurbs much more than editing books. And truly, it is a scary prospect. In under 150 words, the blurb writer has to capture the essence of the book, intrigue the reader, and convince the customer to part with their hard-earned cash. That is a tall order. Yet, every day, editors across the world do just that.
Let’s peep into the world of blurbs and find out what goes on behind the scenes. It is very helpful for the self-published author to promote their book.
What is a Book Blurb?
Pick up any book you have, especially a paperback, and flip it over. The blurb will be staring at you, or you will be staring at it. The description at the back of the book cover which tells you about the book is the blurb.
The blurb of a book is an overview of the themes, characters, goals, conflicts, and the mood and general atmosphere of the book. A brief description of a book is usually found on the back cover of a paperback or within the book sleeve of a hardcover book. For ebooks, the description is posted on a book’s purchasing page. With the increase in online book stores, blurbs are usually found on the product page of that particular book. However, no matter where they are found online and offline, every book needs a blurb, whether it is fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or children’s fiction. Genre is not a limitation for a book to have a blurb.
Chances are you have been reading blurbs all your life but haven’t quite focused on them till you had to write one. Let’s find out more about blurbs.
What is the Purpose of a Blurb?
The purpose of the blurb is NOT to tell the reader the story. If the blurb told the entire story before the reader has even opened the cover, it stands to reason that they would not read anymore.
Blurbs that tell the summary cannot entice readers. They either reveal too much information or frame it in an unexciting way. Neither of these two works for authors, booksellers, or publishers.
The main purpose of a blurb is to entice readers and fascinate them enough to buy the book. So you can say a blurb is a content marketing strategy that is on the book.
Why is Blurb Important?
After reading the title of the book, which is also designed to grab the reader’s attention, the reader flips the book over. That is when the blurb can make a difference between a book that flies off the shelf to one that is ignored and have to be returned to the publisher.
Let’s look at this in perspective. There are 1500 books published in fiction alone each year in India. Your book has to stand out among all others. The blurb does most of the work of making it stand out. Since the blurb has to convince readers to buy the book, you can also call it a sales pitch.
Now, what happens if your sales pitch doesn’t work? That means the book doesn’t sell. It’s as simple as that.
You might think that it’s a bit extreme to blame the blurb alone for making or breaking a sale. There could be other elements impacting the customer’s decision. Perhaps the title wasn’t exciting enough for the reader. Or the cover design didn’t convey what it should have. Or the price was not within reach of the customer. True, these are all valid concerns. However, a well-written blurb can override other concerns. It is that powerful. That is why the blurb is so important.
How to Write a Book Blurb
Now let’s look at how to compose this powerful blurb. A blurb should give important information about the book’s plot, including the setting, the time period, and the protagonists. Then it should outline the main conflict. Next, it should present the marketable themes, which are simplified versions of the complex conflict detailed in the pages. For example, all three books of ‘The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R Tolkien come to 1137 pages. But the theme of the book can be distilled into a few words: the victory of good over evil or the victory of David over Goliath.
Many eBook writers focus on the blurb at the last minute, which means they did not spend enough time on it. Well-written blurbs take time. If you need to write a blurb, you need to take time to craft one that is effective.
To get started, you can ask a few questions to find the focus for your blurb:
- If there was one thing the reader can take away from this blurb, what is it?
- What makes the book stand out from a crowd of similar books?
- Who is your ideal reader?
- What kind of reader do you want to attract?
- On what platform is the book going to be published—print or eBook?
The answers to the above questions will give you some idea about the broad content of your blurb. Now you need to get to the brass tacks. Here are the steps to writing a compelling blurb for any genre.
Step 1: Research Blurbs
You can start with your book collection. Think back to the time when you picked up those books. What made you buy it? Make a note of your answer.
Next, look up book blurbs in real life and online bookstores. Keep an eye out for the genre of your book. Compare the blurbs of five or six bestselling books in that genre. You will note that some common words or phrases might be repeated. That’s the stylistic similarity that you might want to incorporate into your blurb. For example, captivating, mesmerizing, beautiful, masterfully detailed, insightful are some words that are repeatedly used to describe a fictional story.
Step 2: Stick to a Consistent Tone and Style
While writing that blurb makes sure that the tone and style of the blurb match the book’s tone, a dark murder mystery should have a blurb that matches this tone rather than a light flippant tone. Any mismatch will put off the reader.
For example, let’s look at this blurb for the mystery from Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca.’
“Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
With these words, the reader is ushered into an isolated gray stone mansion on the windswept Cornish coast, as the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter recalls the chilling events that transpired as she began her new life as the young bride of a husband she barely knew. For in every corner of every room were phantoms of a time dead but not forgotten—a past devotedly preserved by the sinister housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers: a suite immaculate and untouched, clothing laid out and ready to be worn, but not by any of the great house’s current occupants. With an eerie presentiment of evil tightening her heart, the second Mrs. de Winter walked in the shadow of her mysterious predecessor, determined to uncover the darkest secrets and to shatter truths about Maxim’s first wife—the late and hauntingly beautiful Rebecca.
The blurb uses words like phantoms, sinister, eerie, mysterious, shadow, darkest, and hauntingly to convey a mystery.
As for the style of the blurb, a good rule to keep in mind is to vary the sentence lengths so that sentences of similar lengths don’t follow each other. Next, try to avoid repeating words even if they are spelled the same but mean different things to shatter. Then, stay away from exaggeration so that it doesn’t look like you have duped the reader into buying it. And finally, avoid clichés and stereotypes so that your book appears different from the rest.
Step 3: Start with a Hook
As you know, the first impression counts. The first sentence is your ‘hook’ with which you capture the attention of the reader. If that is a dull sentence, the reader will not read further, and neither will they buy the book. So you will need to work on that first line.
The blurb of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, a fantasy, hooks the reader. They want to continue reading to find out more about this world promised in the first line.
Under the streets of London, there’s a world most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, and pale girls in black velvet…
Step 4: Introduce the Protagonist
Right after hooking the reader with your first line, you need to introduce the protagonist. That is because novels are stories, and people want to know about other people.
Let’s look at the complete blurb from the same book, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. Richard Mayhew is the protagonist who makes an appearance right after the second line. The protagonist gives the blurb a point of focus. The reader will now be interested in following the protagonist’s story.
Under the streets of London, there’s a world most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, and pale girls in black velvet. Richard Mayhew is a young businessman about to find out more than he bargained for about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his safe and predictable life and into an eerily familiar yet utterly bizarre world. There’s a girl named Door, an Angel called Islington, an Earl who holds Court on the carriage of a Tube train, a Beast in a labyrinth, and dangers and delights beyond imagining . . . And Richard, who only wants to go home, is to find a strange destiny waiting for him below the streets of his native city.
Avoid listing too many characters in the blurb as it will only confuse the reader. Don’t give any backstories or detailed histories. The blurb is not the space for it.
Step 5: Keep the Readers’ Interests in Mind
While writing the blurb, keep an eye out for the readers’ interests. Not every book is for everyone. A well-written blurb will try to sell a book but not against the reader’s interests. What it does is help people find the book they are looking for. So you can draw similarities to other famous books to which it bears a similarity without sacrificing the book’s uniqueness.
Step 6: Keep It Short and Simple
Now you are almost close to wrapping up your blurb. As you finish writing it, keep in mind that it has to be short and simple. This means limiting the total number of words to 150 for print books and 100 to 250 words for eBooks. Your reader does not have time to read a long blurb, and also there might not be enough space on the book cover for it.
Here are some best sellers in various categories and a word count of their blurbs.
|Category||Title and Author||Word Count|
|Fiction||Children’s stories||Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White||109|
|Crime thriller||The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson||95|
|Historical fiction||The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory||149|
|High fantasy||A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin||62|
|Non-fiction||Astro physics||Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli||52|
|Psychology||How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie||119|
|Sociology||The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell||55|
|Children’s non-fiction||Amrita Sher-Gil: Rebel with a Paintbrush by Anita Vachharajani||109|
Examples of Good Book Blurbs
Now let’s have a look at some very well-written blurbs. The number of words is in brackets.
From the blurb of Mark Haddon’s ‘The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night-time’ (fiction).
The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night-time is a murder mystery novel like no other. The detective, and narrator, is Christopher Boone. Christopher is fifteen and has Asperger’s Syndrome. He knows a great deal about maths and very little about human beings. He loves lists, patterns, and the truth. He hates the colors yellow and brown and being touched. He has never gone further than the end of the road on his own, but when he finds a neighbor’s dog murdered, he sets out on a terrifying journey, which will turn his whole world upside down. (98 words)
Here is another one from the famous young adult fantasy Suzanne Collins’ ‘The Hunger Games’:
Winning means fame and fortune.
Losing means certain death.
The Hunger Games have begun…
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlining districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.
Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before-and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love. (149 words)
Some blurbs are quite clever like this one here from the famous book of fiction that John Boyne wrote, ‘The Boy with the Striped Pyjamas’. It refers to the nature of blurbs themselves and tells little or nothing about the book and yet makes the reader curious about it. But blurbs like these are rare.
The story of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is very difficult to describe. Usually, we give some clues about the book on the cover, but in this case, we think that would spoil the reading of the book. We think it is essential that you start to read without knowing what it is about.
If you do start to read this book, you will go on a journey with a nine-year-old boy called Bruno. (Though this isn’t a book for nine-year-olds.) And sooner or later you will arrive with Bruno at a fence. We hope you never have to cross such a fence. (104 words)
Here is a blurb from a memoir, Azar Nafisi’s ‘Reading Lolita in Tehran’.
In Iran in the late 90s, Azar Nafisi gathered seven young women – her former students – who gathered at her house every Thursday to discuss forbidden works of Western literature. Shy and uncomfortable at first, they soon began to open up, not only about the novels they were reading but also about their own dreams and disappointments.
Their personal stories intertwine with those they are reading – Pride and Prejudice, Washington Square, Daisy Miller and Lolita – their Lolita, as they imagined her in Tehran. Azar Nafisi also tells her own story, back to the early days of the revolution when she first started teaching at the University of Tehran, amid a swirl of protests and demonstrations.
Azar Nafisi’s luminous tale offers a fascinating portrait of the Iran-Iraq war and gives us a rare glimpse, from the inside, of women’s lives in revolutionary Iran. (143 words)
Here is a blurb of a book of poetry, Rupi Kaur’s ‘Milk and Honey’ written like a poem.
this is the journey of
surviving through poetry
this is the blood sweat tears
of twenty-one years
this is my heart
in your hands
the healing (34 words)
Books which go into different editions change their blurbs as well. For example, Harry Potter’s children’s edition and adult editions have different blurbs because they cater to different audiences.
From the first edition of ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ aimed at children:
Harry Potter thinks he is an ordinary boy—until he is rescued by an owl, taken to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, learns to play Quidditch and does battle in a deadly duel. The Reason: HARRY POTTER IS A WIZARD! (41 words)
From the same book aimed at adults:
When a letter arrives for unhappy but ordinary Harry Potter, a decade-old secret is revealed to him that apparently he’s the last to know. His parents were wizards, killed by a Dark Lord’s curse when Harry was just a baby, and which he somehow survived. Escaping his hideous Muggle guardians for Hogwarts, a wizarding school brimming with ghosts and enchantments, Harry stumbles upon a sinister adventure when he finds a three-headed dog guarding a room on the third floor. Then he hears of a missing stone with astonishing powers which could be valuable, dangerous, or both. (96 words)
Now you know all about writing book blurbs. You begin with researching them, then choose a tone and style similar to the book. Next you formulate the first line or hook to attract the reader, keep the readers’ interests in mind and write a short and simple blurb. What is stopping you now? Start writing that blurb today.
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