Monday, August 30, 2010

Writing Blurbs

Picture this. You’re in a book store perusing the shelves, looking for some interesting reading. As you thumb through the spines, an intriguing book cover catches your eye, so you pick it up to see if the book is by one of your favourite authors. Even though the author is unfamiliar to you, you read the back cover copy, otherwise known as the blurb. But the ho-hum blurb does not inspire you to read further, so you put the book back onto the shelf and move on.

Another writer loses a sale.

According to Dan Poynter of Para Publishing, a writer has a very short timeframe to entice the reader to buy her book:
“Initially, all a potential buyer sees is the book’s spine. If the browser takes it down, he or she will gaze at the cover about four seconds and then flip the book over to read the back cover. On average, he or she will spend just seven seconds here so the trick is to keep them reading longer. Your copy has to be punchy and benefit-laden; it has to speak to the potential buyer.”

The blurb is vitally important in making a sale, whether in an electronic bookstore or in one made of bricks and mortar. But long before your book gets to the bookstore, your blurb will help get the attention of editors and agents. Agent Kristin Nelson says the uniqueness of the blurb in a writer’s query letter is what helps her decide whether to ask for sample pages:

“Too often I see historical romance pitch copy that reads something like this: she’s desperate but the belle of the ball and he’s a rake. It’s too generic. I need some original element (character, plot device, etc.) to grab my interest or I’ll pass.”

Ms. Nelson also says that with cutbacks in large publishing houses, authors are being asked more and more to write their own blurbs. It’s a skill the writer needs to learn:

“… but yet another reason to nail your pitch blurb paragraph in your query letter. You might actually be called upon to significantly contribute to the final copy that will go on your book jacket. You might as well master the craft now…”

After the book is published, your blurb can help get the attention of reviewers. Review site owner Marianne of Long and Short Reviews, says your blurb is often what persuades reviewers to select your book from a long list of others they have the choice of reading and reviewing:

“…when we offer books for review, we post the blurb in our reviews group -- that's what our reviewers have to go on, so make sure it's well-written. That's what will sell your story the best -- both to my reviewers and to the world in general.”

Getting the blurb right is crucial. Here are some tips to remember when writing blurbs:

1. Don’t write a synopsis. While a synopsis gives a brief summary of the entire novel, including beginning, middle and end, the blurb’s job is to intrigue readers, whether they are editors, agents, reviewers, or lovers of fiction, into reading more. The blurb accomplishes this by giving the highlights, including the names of the main characters and their goals, conflicts and motivations. In a suspense, show how the tension is rising.

2. Don’t give away the game! Never reveal the conclusion of your story and be careful not to reveal too much information. A blurb walks a fine line between revealing just enough information to entice while not giving away too much of the story. But you definitely want the mood of the book to shine through in the blurb.

3. Make em’ laugh, make em’ cry! Use action verbs and keep the use of adjectives and adverbs to a minimum. Emotive words give the blurb an emotional tug. For instance, in my blurb for my novella “Flawless” I use phrases such as “passionate response” and “maelstrom of attraction” to convey the love story between Hunter and Madeleine. With words such as “betrayed”, “survive”, and “revenge”, I hope to evoke the emotion of a suspenseful read.

4. Keep it short! In her article “Writing Great Blurbs”, Mayra Calvani says that blurbs should be no more than 100 to 250 words. Often publishers want even shorter blurbs for back cover copy. For example my publisher, The Wild Rose Press, wants no more than 100 to 150 words. Ruthlessly read through your blurb and remove any extraneous words. Replace passive verbs with active ones that give your blurb more power and life.

5. Give your readers a reason to buy/read your book. In her article “Writing a Short Book Blurb”, Marg McAllister says to end the article with an enticement, a promise. “This can be in the form of a statement or a provocative question.” For my book “Till September”, I ask this question in the blurb: Can Hannah Kramer, a woman determined save her family’s farm, find lasting love with Quinn Anderson, a man equally determined to take it from her?

Sometimes I prefer to make a powerful statement instead of asking a question. For my novella, “Flawless”, set in occupied France in WWII, I make the following ending statement: “Madeleine must decide if her loyalties lie with her dead husband and the Resistance or with the greatest love of her life.”

The blurb is your selling tool, so don’t sell it short. Give your blurb as much attention as the story itself and it will help tell the world about your book.
Have you written blurbs, either as part of a pitch to an editor or agent, or as back cover copy? Do you find them difficult to write, or do they roll off your pen with ease? Care to share your favorite blurb, written either by you or another writer?


Fabian Black said...

I dread writing blurbs, I really do, so I found this blog post extremely useful and interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Pat Dale said...

I agree that the blurb is one of the most important things an author will ever pen. Your advice and suggestions are spot on. Thanks for sharing with us.
Pat Dale

Jana Richards said...

Hi Fabian,
Thanks for joining us here on the Prairies.

I don't hate writing blurbs, but I certainly find them difficult. Trying to get the essence of a story into less then 200 words is definitely tough. But it's a skill worth honing because it's a vital selling tool.

Good luck with getting your blurb in shape.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Pat,
I hope you can use the information in this blog when you're writing your own blurb.

All the best,

Margie Church said...

The dreaded blurb...great tips for making sure we nail them. I know I've agonized over mine. It's a killer to get a full novel crystalized into fewer than 200 words but it's one of our challenges. Thanks.

LK Hunsaker said...

Hi Jana, I often say writing a blurb is harder than writing a novel! I've always written my own and then I send them to others for opinions before rewriting (repeat as needed).

I think this one is my favorite of the five so far:

"Riveting" Ryan Reynauld is immersed in a world of music, parties, and temporary companionship. Having risen to the top of the pop charts, his biggest concern is objecting to the way his music is produced. That is, until he finds a young woman standing on a window ledge. Against the advice of family and friends, and through media attacks and fan protests, Ryan determines to care for her himself, making a promise that threatens to destroy his career.

Convincing the skittish girl she can learn to trust again comes with a steep price. Sometimes the path to recovery begins by allowing your world to implode.

When I need a shorter version, I use only the top paragraph. And if still too long, then:

When "Riveting" Ryan's pop star world collides with a girl on a window ledge, he makes a promise that threatens his career, and their safety.

I do think it gets easier with practice.

sue fineman said...

Ah, the pesky blurb! I wish I'd read this last week, before re-writing the blurb for my next book, The Mitchell Money.

Karyn Good said...

The blurb on the back of the book is a deal breaker for me. It's how I decide to read the book or put it back.

Thanks for all the great tips because soon I'll be querying and needing to refine the blurb of my wip. Perfect timing! And I have to admit, I love to write blurbs.

Great post, Jana!

Mary Ricksen said...

It's what makes me decide if I want that book.
Great advise is always welcome!
Thanks Jana and good luck with your books!

Redameter said...

My best blurb came with my contemporary romance, Nick's Baby.

It goes:

She was champagne and caviar, he was hot dogs smothered in 'kraut. She knew nothing of being a mother, he knew everything about being a family. They were worlds apart, but Kelsey knew she wanted...Nick's Baby

Jana Richards said...

Hi Margie,
Thanks for dropping by.

I know what you mean about agonizing over a blurb. I agonize over ever word, every phrase. Do I leave this in? Is there a better way of saying that without using too many words? It's definitely a struggle, but worth the effort.


Jana Richards said...

Hi LK,
Thanks for sharing your blurb. It's a great blurb, and I like the way you can tailor it for whatever length you need. Unfortunately, one size does not fit all when it comes to blurbs. One of my publishers requires blurbs in three lengths, to suit different places advertising for the book will be placed.

Since you shared, I'll share my blurb for my newly contracted manuscript, "Flawless":

France, 1942. The Nazis have stolen the infamous blue diamond, Le Coeur Bleu, intending to barter it for weapons that will destroy the Allies. Jewel thief Hunter Smith is given a choice; help the Resistance steal back the diamond and avenge the death of his best friend, or stay locked up in an English prison. He chooses revenge.

Resistance fighter Madeleine Bertrand's husband died when he was betrayed by Hunter Smith. How can she now pretend to be married to the arrogant American? How can she betray her husband's memory by her passionate response to Hunter's kisses? Neither is prepared for the maelstrom of attraction that erupts between them. To survive they must uncover the mysteries of the past and conquer the dangers of the present. But first Madeleine must decide if her loyalties lie with her dead husband and the Resistance, or with the greatest love of her life.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Sue,
Thanks for joining us. The blurb is definitely a pesky beast. But as LK said it does get a bit easier with practice. Sort of.

Hey, if you come back, post your blurb here. I'd love to read it.


Jana Richards said...

Yes, Karyn. I bow down to the Queen of the Blurbs. You definitely have a knack for them that will really help you out when the time comes to sell your books.

I agree with you about the back cover copy being the deciding factor when it comes to buying a book, especially if its an author I'm not familiar with. If I'm intrigued by the blurb, I just may shell out the cash to buy the book.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Mary,
Nice to hear from you! Back cover copy not only sells books to readers, it encourages reviewers to review your books, and it may be what sells the book in the first place to editors and agents. That little blurb in the query may be the difference between a contract and a rejection.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Redameter,
Wow! I love this blurb! I would definitely buy this book. It's got everything you want in the blurb; brevity, a good description of the characters and what they're like, a hint at the conflict.

Well done!

Janet said...

First, great blurb for Flawless, Jana. Since I know the story, I'd say you nailed it!

And might I say this is a great post - and great comments today! I hate blurbs, but they are a necessary evil. I'm considering talking Karyn into opening her own business (Blurbs by Karyn) so that I can pay her to write mine!

Hayley is another excellent Blurbess. And she helped considerably when I had to narrow down my blurb/pitch for last year's conference. After I tackled Lady Bells with her, I did my own blurb for Jane and Ryan's story:

Potatoes or sex? Potatoes offer so many options, sex is, well, just sex.

Mad at herself for the demise of her marriage and the extra pounds she’s packed on since finding her husband in the arms of a Victoria-Secret-lingerie-clad secretary, Jane Green has had enough. The New Year and her thirty seventh birthday make a perfect excuse to take back her life. And she has a step by step plan complete with spreadsheets and timeframes.

That plan does not include one gorgeous personal trainer no matter how hard he tries to wangle his way into her life. Hanging out at her work, showing up at her apartment, recruiting fellow employees in an effort to show off his expertise will not sway her from accomplishing her goals on her own. She’s got to prove to herself and her cheating husband that she is independent and sexy, even in big girl panties and industrial strength bras.

Hmm, maybe gorgeous personal trainer will come in handy after all

Of course, I think it's too long, but I'll revise when I need to!

Jana Richards said...

Hey Janet,
When Karyn opens her new business, I'll be first standing in line!

Love your blurb, but you're right. You'd probably have to shorten it a bit for back cover copy. But it certainly gets across what the characters are all about, and tells the reader that this will be a funny read. Hitting the mood of the story is also important.

I can hardly wait to read Jane and Ryan's story. Send some of it my way if you need a reader.

Talk to you soon.