Publishing Tips: Writing the Blurb

Blurb MemeSome writers love to write the blurb, and some can’t stand this step in the publishing process. No matter if you love it or hate it, the blurb is one of the key elements which helps sell your book to new readers. Therefore you want to create the best blurb you can.

Oh, and by the way, many publishing houses have the author write the blurb. At smaller publishers, your blurb is often what ends up getting used with few to zero changes. Some bigger publishers have dedicated blurb writers, but they likely will start with what you already have.

THE POINT: Blurb writing is an important skill to develop whether you are self-published or traditional.

Today we’re going to provide a list of tips to help you write your blurb. We’ll be using the blurb from Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code as an example to highlight our tips.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

While in Paris on business, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon receives an urgent late-night phone call: the elderly curator of the Louvre has been murdered inside the museum. Near the body, police have found a baffling cipher. Solving the enigmatic riddle, Langdon is stunned to discover it leads to a trail of clues hidden in the works of da Vinci…clues visible for all to see…and yet ingeniously disguised by the painter.

Langdon joins forces with a gifted French cryptologist, Sophie Neveu, and learns the late curator was involved in the Priory of Sion—an actual secret society whose members included Sir Isaac Newton, Botticelli, Victor Hugo, and da Vinci, among others. The Louvre curator has sacrificed his life to protect the Priory’s most sacred trust: the location of a vastly important religious relic, hidden for centuries.

In a breathless race through Paris, London, and beyond, Langdon and Neveu match wits with a faceless powerbroker who appears to work for Opus Dei—a clandestine, Vatican-sanctioned Catholic sect believed to have long plotted to seize the Priory’s secret. Unless Langdon and Neveu can decipher the labyrinthine puzzle in time, the Priory’s secret—and a stunning historical truth—will be lost forever.

In an exhilarating blend of relentless adventure, scholarly intrigue, and cutting wit, symbologist Robert Langdon (first introduced in Dan Brown’s bestselling Angels & Demons) is the most original character to appear in years. The Da Vinci Code heralds the arrival of a new breed of lightning-paced, intelligent thriller…surprising at every twist, absorbing at every turn, and in the end, utterly unpredictable…right up to its astonishing conclusion.

Publishing-Tips.fwLook at Genre Samples

The first thing you should do is look at successful books in your genre and read the blurbs. See if you can find similarities. Blurbs differ for various genres. For example, romance books often include a dual perspective in the blurb – both the hero and heroine get equal focus. But most other genres do not, focusing on one character’s perspective.

Keep It Short

Keep your blurb short. We’re talking 100-300 words total (and 300 is really pushing it).  If you are a new author, shorter is better so try for 150. Best-selling authors can get longer because they have an established readership and a recognizable name for new readers. Therefore, readers are more forgiving. Readers new to an author they’ve never heard of won’t have much patience with long blurbs.

BROWN EXAMPLE: The blurb above is 264 words. What do you think? Initially seems long? If you’d never heard of him, would you have read all of that? The portion that is just about the book’s plot (and not marketing hype) is only 198 words.

How Much to Reveal?

While there are some key bits of information to get across (see next tip) you still want to leave a mystery for your readers to discover. DON’T summarize the plot. The blurb is not a book report, it’s a marketing tool. DON’T give away spoilers or state the secret. Hint at it, sure. But don’t give it away. Make them buy the book to find out what happens.

BROWN EXAMPLE: References a secret about a religious relic, but doesn’t get specific about what relic or what secret.

Utilize Key Elements

There are key elements in just about every (good) blurb you read. Try to incorporate them. Just remember…this is not a book report. So don’t use the below in that way. 🙂

1. Introduce Main Character(s)/Protagonist(s)

Get the name in there. The majority of the time that’s all you need. Add personality hints, occupation, age, or other details only if it matters. We don’t need every aspect of their physical, mental, spiritual state (unless it’s key to your plot and could help sell readers).

BROWN EXAMPLE: The main character is introduced in the first sentence, “…Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon…

2. Work in Setting if Possible/Relevant

Again, this doesn’t need to be a glowing description. Give your readers an idea of where the characters will be. Is this futuristic and set in space? Is this a cowboy romance set in Texas? Is this is city life set in New York? If the setting is key, you might include more. But remember word count limitations. Include only if important.

BROWN EXAMPLE: Quick hitting, but effective. “While in Paris on business…” “In a breathless race through Paris, London, and beyond…”

3. State the Problem/Catalyst

Answer one of these questions: What starts the drama? What’s the issue? What does the main character need which they don’t have now? What opportunity or question or information is presented which changes the character’s world as they know it?

BROWN EXAMPLE: Established early… “the elderly curator of the Louvre has been murdered inside the museum. Near the body, police have found a baffling cipher.”

4. State the Journey/Mission

What journey results from the above problem/need/opportunity/catalyst? What does the character need to achieve to fix things or change things or achieve things?

BROWN EXAMPLE: Comes right after the catalyst. “Solving the enigmatic riddle, Langdon is stunned to discover it leads to a trail of clues hidden in the works of da Vinci…”

5. State the Conflict (Road Block)

What roadblock (person, external issue, internal issue, situation) is going to cause the journey to be more difficult?

BROWN EXAMPLE: Comes after establishing a bit more of the journey and a secondary character. “Langdon and Neveu match wits with a faceless powerbroker who appears to work for Opus Dei—a clandestine, Vatican-sanctioned Catholic sect believed to have long plotted to seize the Priory’s secret.”

6. What’s at Stake?

If the character fails in their journey what’s on the line? What are the consequences? (In other words, the key reason they bother to go on the journey.)

BROWN EXAMPLE: Final sentence of the blurb focused on the book (before the marketing hype). “Unless Langdon and Neveu can decipher the labyrinthine puzzle in time, the Priory’s secret—and a stunning historical truth—will be lost forever.”

First Sentence Hook

New readers rarely get past the first line of your blurb, so make it count. Include the hook (usually the catalyst–see above) in the first sentence, or very quickly afterward.

BROWN EXAMPLE: Includes the first part of the catalyst (a murder). “While in Paris on business, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon receives an urgent late-night phone call: the elderly curator of the Louvre has been murdered inside the museum.”

Final Sentence Question/Cliffhanger

Use the last sentence to leave the readers wanting to find out what happens. Make it a cliffhanger. Or a common technique is to ask a question. Often this is where you would work in the “what’s at stake” portion of your blurb (see above).

BROWN EXAMPLE: Includes what’s at stake (the secret). “Unless Langdon and Neveu can decipher the labyrinthine puzzle in time, the Priory’s secret—and a stunning historical truth—will be lost forever.”

Word Choice

Watch your word choice when writing your blurb. You have very few words to convey a ton of information, so make every single word count.  Keep in mind the following:

1. Active Verbs & Nouns

Use nouns and verbs which pack a lot of punch. DON’T use it, there, was, were (and those are the worse examples). DO use words that jump off the page. Your blurb is going to feel overly dramatic, but that’s the point. Hyperbole in a blurb is actually a good thing (if used wisely).

BROWN EXAMPLE: Here are a few verbs/nouns in the blurb above: stunned to discover, sacrificed, joins forces, secret society, protect, sacred trust, match wits…and so forth.

2. Adjectives that Add

Use adjectives in your blurb that add something important. Select ones that help you beef up the interest level, provide additional information, set the mood, or add to the genre or feel of your book.

BROWN EXAMPLE: baffling cipher, enigmatic riddle, breathless race, elderly curator, faceless powerbroker, labyrinthine puzzle, stunning historical truth…and so forth.

3. Genre Indicators

Use words which help you indicate your genre. Mysteries use words like shadowy, underground, attack, desperate. Military might use words like special ops, decisive, secure, battle. Romances might use words like dream, soul, fate, vow, beauty. Get the point?

BROWN EXAMPLE: Here are a few genre indicator words in the blurb above: murdered, trail of clues, plotted, secret society, hidden for centuries, decipher…and so forth.

 

4. Avoid Clichés

Try to avoid words and phrases that are so overused they bore readers or make them roll their eyes. Examples: “In a world,” “love of her life,” “must solve the mystery.”

BROWN EXAMPLE: Brown’s blurb never says they “must solve the mystery.” Instead phrases like “trail of clues” and “decipher the labyrinthine puzzle in time” replace those overused phrases.

Think Quotable/Tweetable

Use shorter phrases. If you can make several of the phrases “tweetable” even better. By tweetable, we mean a short phrase which will stand by itself (without the rest of the blurb), and not only make sense, but catch reader’s attention. Phrases you would tweet. (By the way…agents and editors look for these quotable phrases in your query.)

BROWN EXAMPLE: Brown’s blurb is littered with fantastic quotable/tweetable phrases including:

Near the body, police have found a baffling cipher.
The Louvre curator has sacrificed his life to protect the Priory’s most sacred trust.
The location of a vastly important religious relic, hidden for centuries.
Langdon and Neveu match wits with a faceless powerbroker.
The Priory’s secret—and a stunning historical truth—will be lost forever.

Don’t Compare or Brag

Let the big publishers add the “bragging” stuff –which you’ll often see for the best-selling authors. But if you are not a huge author, quit it. Don’t compare (“The next Dan Brown.”), because you want to be unique, and the comparison, as a relative unknown, comes off arrogant. Don’t brag (“This is the best story you’ll ever read.”), because that’s a turn off for most readers. Let your marketing department, once you’re big enough to have the attention of one, do that for you down the road.

Legitimate Extras

Yes, we just said don’t brag. However, there are some legitimate ways to entice readers that are more effective (i.e. not a turn off). These items should be included before or after the part of the blurb that describes the book itself. We recommend after, because, personally, we care about the book info, not the credentials. But that’s definitely a personal preference.

1. Author Credentials

Have you hit “best-selling” status on a major list (we are not talking about the Amazon free list for 1 day)? Have you won several awards? Adding a quick sentence like “From award-winning author Joe Smith…” can work well.

2. Author Quotes

Is a well-known author in your genre willing to read your book and provide a positive quote. By all means, include their quote in your blurb.

Write Several Versions

DON’T write one version and say, “Good enough.” Write a few versions of your blurb. Tinker with the phrasing for each and every sentence. Tinker with the combination and order of your sentences. Tinker with everything. Wait a few days, and then look at all your combinations with fresh eyes, and tinker some more.

Get Other Opinions

There are tons of ways to get other opinions. DON’T just run it by your mother/husband/best friend who may or may not read that genre and probably aren’t marketing experts. Offer up your 2-3 favorite versions for other people to vote (on your blog, on Facebook). Create a poll. Send it to author groups you belong to or author friends you trust. If you have an editor, run it by them. Even ask people for edits or suggestions.

Optional: Seek Outside Help

Authors On A Dime can help you with your blurb. Whether it’s editing the final version to make sure it’s perfect, or helping you write it from scratch. We would love to help! Check out more of our Blurb services now.

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