By Mayra Calvani
A great blurb can make the difference between a customer taking out his/her wallet to buy your book or putting the book back on the shelf. Great blurbs sell books.
But what is a blurb, exactly?
A blurb is the copy on the back cover of your book. After the cover, the blurb is the first thing a customer will check when considering to buy a book. It should hook, intrigue, and grab the reader right away.
“Book blurbs are eye candy to the consumer,” says publicist Penny Sansevieri, founder of Author Marketing Experts.
Not only to customers. A great blurb can help you find a publisher or an agent, too.
Last year I sent dozens of query letters in my search for an agent. As you probably know, most query letters are composed of a blurb of the book (the hook), some info about the book (genre, word count, etc.), and a short author bio or list of qualifications. The agents who responded said “No, thanks.” I’m not surprised. The blurb was as flat as a French crêpe. One of these agents wrote to say she wasn’t particularly excited about my book, but asked if I had something else to show her. By this time I had improved my blurb and had a completely new version. I mentioned this to her and asked her to consider my edited blurb, which she did. Her response was “Well, I have to admit this is a pretty convincing blurb.” She requested the first three chapters. To make a long story short, she took me in based on the strength of those three chapters. In this case, my blurb was the key factor in getting the agent’s attention.
This is the blurb I first included in my query letter:
Can a good man be persuaded into committing murder and still retain his goodness?
Lullaby is about the restless soul of an aborted infant who, in order to become powerful enough to be reborn, must tempt humans into committing evil acts. Having temporarily acquired the form of a beautiful woman, this being plays mind games with the protagonist, bringing back memories of his tragic childhood. As deeply buried feelings of hate and revenge spring to the surface, the protagonist must struggle with his conscience to do the right thing. But will he, when his own ideas about justice and the higher good tell him it is right to kill?
Now compare it to the second one which got the agent’s attention:
At a trendy Turkish tavern one Friday night, astrophysicist Gabriel Diaz meets a mysterious young woman. Captivated out of his senses by her physical perfection as well as her views on good and evil, he spends the next several days with her. After a while, however, he begins to notice a strangeness in her—her skin’s abnormally high temperature, her obsession with milk products, her child-like and bizarre behavior as she seems to take pleasure in toying with his conscience.
The young woman, Kamilah, invites him to Rize, Turkey, where she claims her family owns a cottage in the woods. In spite of his heavy workload and the disturbing visions and nightmares about his sister’s baby that is due to be born soon, Gabriel agrees to go with her.
But nothing, not even the stunning beauty of the Black Sea, can disguise the horror of her nature. In a place where death dwells and illusion and reality seem as one, Gabriel must now come to terms with his own demons in order to save his sister’s unborn child, and ultimately, his own soul . . .
Here are some guidelines to help you create great blurbs:
Guidelines for Creating A Great Blurb
- Keep it short (100-250 words). The aim is to convey what makes the book unique in a small amount of space.
- In it set the mood, the scene, and the conflict or enigma.
- It should have mounting tension. The beginning should hint at the conflict or threat, yet remain pretty innocuous (look at my blurb number two: boy meets girl in a tavern). By the end of the blurb, the conflict or threat should be imminent (protagonist must save his sister’s unborn child and his own soul).
- Think of the best angle to approach your story. Both of my blurbs describe what happens in my novel, yet the second one sounds much more exciting.
- As with a good book review, never put “spoilers” in the blurb. You can do this in a book summary or synopsis, but never in a blurb. (Look again at my blurb number one. In it I make the big mistake of revealing the nature of my “evil” female protagonist—she is the soul of an aborted infant. In blurb number two, you suspect there’s something wrong with her, but you don’t know what. You’re left wondering).
- Think about what makes your book different.
- Question marks can be used to leave the reader intrigued.
- Often ellipses are used at the end to leave reader asking questions.
- Keep adverbs and adjectives to a minimum and use action verbs.
- Needless to say, make sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors.
- If your book is nonfiction, does it have special features like pictures or diagrams? What is the aim of the book? What are you trying to accomplish? Does it teach anything? How is this book different from others in the field?
- Remember that blurbs are not summaries! Don’t tell the whole story—only the exciting part of it so that the reader will want to know more.
- Don’t exaggerate or sugarcoat it. Be professional.
- Study the blurbs from your bookshelves, paying special attention to their style, language, and content.
- Write and rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. Then show it to people who can offer honest feedback.
One last tip:
Do you know that powerful, dramatic voice that you hear in the cinemas during movie trailers? That alluring voice, often exaggerated, that describes the movies? Well, read your own blurb with this voice in your mind, matching its tone and pitch. You’ll be surprised to find out how much that helps!
Copyright ©2005, 2007 by Mayra Calvani / All Rights Reserved.
Mayra Calvani writes fiction and nonfiction for children and adults and has authored over a dozen books, some of which have won awards. Her stories, reviews, interviews and articles have appeared on numerous publications such as The Writer, Writer’s Journal, Multicultural Review, andBloomsbury Review, among many others. Mayra Calvani has a Website.