How To Write A Book Blurb Part 1

Just in case you missed it, Thursday October 2nd was a big day in the book world: the day when 426 heavy hitters released their books for Christmas, including Philip Pullman, Jojo Moyes and Bill Bryson. This was swiftly followed by just last Thursday October 17th, when further probable blockbusters from mahoosive names including Elton John, John le Carré and Nadiya Hussain swamped the shelves.  So if you had a book coming out this autumn, and you HAVEN’T released it in the last 2 weeks… congratulations! You just avoided being stampeded by a herd of anxious, needy elephants in a race for column inches.

In previous posts, I examined when might be the best time of year to publish a novel, which concluded that Christmas might actually not be the worst idea, despite the flood of heavyweights. I also examined the effect of blockbusters on the sales of other books.

Assuming anyone out there agrees with any of these ideas (and I’m not saying they should. I am notoriously unreliable, and often cheat at Lego), you might be thinking about getting a book out there in the near future. So today I’m referring back to another former post, to look at how blurbs work – or don’t, as the case may be…

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The above is a perfect example of what a blurb shouldn’t do. Going off on a tangent, and then over-explaining it. A lot of blurbs-in-progress tend to say too much about things which aren’t sexy. This might sound odd, but think about it. Some points in a synopsis might be essential to the story (or beloved by the author), but they do nothing to incentivise a reader to pick up your book. And above everything, you want people to pick up your book. That’s what a blurb is for.

Dissecting The Blurb: It's A Formula, Not A Torture Implement

Blurbs are short synopses with cliffhanger endings. They’re not reviews, so if your book is brilliant, heart-breaking or mind-blowing, this should be put into a quote, not a blurb (with one exception – but more on that later).

Many blurbs are also preceded by the book’s tagline, or what I call the Killer Line. Sometimes it’s on the front cover, sometimes on the back – it’s the one-liner which catches your eye and piques your interest. It doesn’t even have to be that relevant to the story, to be honest. The best one I can think of offhand is from Girl On The Train:  “You don’t know her. But she knows you.” Bloody superb, that is.

The blurb is often the part of the bookselling process which gives authors the most headaches. How can 100-300 itty bitty words cause so much pain? But they do. If I ever want to torture an author who has wronged me, I will chain them to a desk in a bright room and tell them they only have 6 hours to write a blockbusting blurb for their book.

And yet, blurbs are just formulas – which was the basis of another post, where I ruined rewrote the blurbs for classic novels as if they’d been categorised as women’s fiction. Each genre has its own formula, and can be broken down accordingly. Many of them have the same ingredients, only in different order.

To tell the truth, I was shocked by just how formulaic genre blurbs were. For instance, most crime novel blurbs end in the dreaded elliptical dot dot dot. Historical fiction blurbs end with self-praise, which doesn’t seem to be allowed in any other genre. And less surprisingly, thriller blurbs are full of questions.

And now, to prove my point, because I’m stubborn like that, I’m going to break down a few bestseller blurbs. This turned into a very long post for one post, so today, I’m dealing with Thrillers and Romance, because they’re currently the most popular genres. Next time we’ll dissect the bejaysus out of Crime, Historical Fiction, and Science Fiction/Fantasy. And to finish up, I’m going to have oodles of fun with Short Stories, Self-Help and Literary Fiction.

Dissecting The Blurb: It's A Formula, Not A Torture Implement

  1.  Thriller/Mystery (Grip-Lit)

Let’s look at Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL. The paperback edition of the blurb online is as follows:

Who are you?

What have we done to each other?

These are the questions Nick Dunne finds himself asking on the morning of his fifth wedding anniversary, when his wife Amy suddenly disappears. The police suspect Nick. Amy’s friends reveal that she was afraid of him, that she kept secrets from him. He swears it isn’t true. A police examination of his computer shows strange searches. He says they weren’t made by him. And then there are the persistent calls on his mobile phone.

So what did happen to Nick’s beautiful wife?

BLURB FORMULA:

  1. Set up the intrigue with a ‘what happens when…’ question, or a character quote.
  2. Introduce your Main Character, who is [puzzled/afraid/upset], say what’s happened/happening to them, and what problem(s) this creates.
  3. Throw in some curveballs which use specific scenarios or keywords to create intrigue.
  4. Ask: what will Main Character do? And will the problem/mystery ever be explained?

Dissecting The Blurb: It's A Formula, Not A Torture Implement

  1. Chick-Lit / Romance

ME BEFORE YOU – JOJO MOYES:

Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.

What Lou doesn’t know is she’s about to lose her job or that knowing what’s coming is what keeps her sane.

Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that.

What Will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time.

BLURB FORMULA:

  1. Start with a short quote from your novel, and/or a logline question, such as: What happens when [romance-related theme or question being explored in this novel]?
  2. Explain how your Main Character thinks/does things a certain way, until they meet irresistible Main Character 2, and how this makes them change/question/learn.
  3. Ask: will Main Character ever [overcome obstacle to love]?Or will [non-love related obstacle] ruin everything?
  4. Repeat for Main Character 2, if applicable.

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Tune in next time for more amazing generalisations and crude dumbing-down.

  33 comments for “How To Write A Book Blurb Part 1

  1. October 20, 2019 at 11:48 am

    I think I hit some basic formulaic shizzle for the blurbs on the back of our 2 writing group books by accident because I’d spent ages on the typesetting and layout and just couldn’t be arsed to faff about with it any more. The trick is to allow 5 minutes and no more than a dozen lines. Bang that down, go away and look at it a couple of days later. It’s probably close to what you’re actually after because you’re not over-thinking it.
    Possibly.
    Hey, I’ve only done it twice. And the rest of the group seemed happy with them, so I’ll take that as validation 😊

    Liked by 3 people

    • October 20, 2019 at 11:55 am

      It’s a hell of a lot more than I’d take in validation, Nick (I once took a leer and a half-eaten packet of crisps as validation for my place in society), so it sounds good to me…

      Liked by 2 people

  2. October 20, 2019 at 1:02 pm

    Cheers Tara, just ran up a blurb for my current wip in 5 minutes using these!! It’s funny (as in it’s not funny at all) but if you write the blurb before the novel, it’s easier to lock down your thoughts and as babbitman said, not faff around or over think it. But when you’ve finished your novel a million years later, you’re faced with the epic task of trying to distill the very essence of your soul down to a couple of catchy, cliched lines and that’s what makes a lot of people drink. These are so good for focusing the mind, thanks 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • October 20, 2019 at 6:01 pm

      Couldn’t agree more, Evie, if only we knew enough about our stories to write a blurb before we wrote the book, we’d all be laughing! Sadly I’m not that organised when it comes to myself, which is why my advice only ever applies to other people 😂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. October 20, 2019 at 6:10 pm

    Very useful Tara, the blurb is such a key marketing element for a book, and I must have missed the memo to get my next bestseller out this week!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. October 20, 2019 at 9:48 pm

    These are good templates to use. They make me want to write a grip-lit or a chick-lit just so I can write the blurb. Or maybe I’ll write a blurb for a book not written and see if I can get an agent that way. Writing a book first doesn’t seem to work, which I’m finding out.

    Needless to say, I enjoy your humor (humour).

    Liked by 2 people

    • October 20, 2019 at 10:38 pm

      I think that’s an excellent idea, Stanley. Perhaps between us and attention deficit disorder, we’ll get agents so excited that they’ll forget all about the narratives and go straight into blurb publishing….

      Liked by 1 person

  5. October 21, 2019 at 1:24 am

    Hey, Tara. How are you? It is pretty interesting how blurbs follow genre formulas. I spent some time reading the blurbs of dark fantasy and made some adjustments to mine (not that it made much of a difference lol), but it was a valuable lesson. Hope you’re well.

    Liked by 2 people

    • October 21, 2019 at 11:25 pm

      Doing ok thanks Diana – hope all is well with you too these days. 2019’s been a weird year eh? But books endure and it seems blurbs endure even longer.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. October 21, 2019 at 10:18 am

    Long before the days of ebooks, I spent most of my career coming up with detailed synopsis for our books. (Mainstream publishers insisted on them back then.) Blurbs should be easier than a synopsis, being shorter, but somehow they’re not… I wonder why?

    Liked by 1 person

    • October 21, 2019 at 11:28 pm

      Blurbs remind me of the old quote saying ‘I would have made it shorter but I didn’t have the time’. Succinctness is SO hard!

      Liked by 2 people

  7. October 21, 2019 at 10:37 am

    I like this post. Trouble is, can you find a formula for MG/fantasy/crossover/historical/scifi?

    I think I nearly found one for the book soon out… picking up on Evie’s point; I wrote a blurb when I started editing – well at least for the last two runs-through. ‘What is this story about?’ made me cross darling things out which didn’t belong

    Thanks for the tips and looking forward to reading the next episode!

    Liked by 1 person

    • October 21, 2019 at 11:32 pm

      Thanks Jemima! Blurbs can indeed be both a blessing and a curse, although rarely at the same time. And if only I had a formula for 4-way crossovers, I’d sincerely hope I’d be making some money out of it 😂

      Like

  8. October 21, 2019 at 10:55 am

    Great post. Now you’ve sent me off to examine book blurbs on lots of books..A good idea as I have trouble with blurbs.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. October 21, 2019 at 4:53 pm

    Had to go back a re-read your classics blurbs! (Much more fun than trying to re-discover my desk)

    Liked by 1 person

    • October 21, 2019 at 11:42 pm

      Good stuff. Desks are overrated, Hilary. As is work. And getting up in the morning, for that matter…

      Liked by 1 person

  10. October 22, 2019 at 4:43 pm

    Came across your site thanks to Sally Cronin. I never thought about the blurb, but I can now see its importance and potential difficulty. thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • October 22, 2019 at 11:21 pm

      More than welcome, Jim, more to come in this series over coming weeks. Thanks so much for visiting!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. October 28, 2019 at 10:05 pm

    One thing that confuses me is that term “blurb’ – it seems to mean different things to different people. I’ve thought of it as the ‘testimonial’ element – the quote from someone famous that says how brilliant the book is etc. But I see other bloggers using the term to mean the short synopsis of the book. Sounds like its the latter definition that you’re using. Does blurb mean different things in different geographies?

    Liked by 1 person

    • October 28, 2019 at 11:00 pm

      You’re absolutely right, I think it is down to geography. In the US, blurb tends to mean the breathy testimonials emblazoned across the cover, but I don’t know what word they use for the cover description, which needs to be distinguished from a synopsis. Does anyone know what that is called, other than a blurb? Either way, it needs to be distinguished from a synopsis, because blurbs/cover descriptions and synopses are not the same.

      Like

  12. October 31, 2019 at 6:24 pm

    Reblogged this on Valerie Ormond's Thoughts On… and commented:
    Tara Sparling’s series on writing book blurbs is interesting and educational. And I love her sense of humor! Here is the first, and if you want to read others, I recommend you follow her blog at https://tarasparlingwrites.com.

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 3, 2019 at 10:05 am

      Thanks so much for sharing, Valerie, glad you liked it!

      Like

  13. November 10, 2019 at 8:23 am

    I can’t write a blurb to save my life, let alone sell my books. So I’ll read this series very carefully 😉

    Like

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