The Dreaded Blurb
How important can a blurb be, right? After all, you’ve just poured your heart and soul into a hundred-thousand word opus, so what are a few more lines on the back of a book? Well, think about the last book you bought. Maybe it was on the advice of a friend, maybe you just picked it up at random, or maybe it was the latest release from your favourite author, but of two things I am certain. First, you checked out the cover, and then you read the blurb. Then and only then did you decide whether or not to part with your money.
A blurb isn’t just a thumbnail sketch of what a book is about, it is a reader’s first interaction with you as a writer, and it is your one and only chance to grab their attention. If they like it, they might just buy your book, and if they don’t, they won’t. In my book, that makes a blurb pretty damn important.
So how do you make the most out of those few lines that suddenly mean so much? Well, there are entire websites out there dedicated to constructing blurbs for all genres of books, so I won’t give you a complete rundown. But I will give my top five words of advice, and I’ll even let you in on a little tip that might just help.
First, the advice:
1) Above all, don’t rush it! However long you think it will take to write an effective blurb, multiply it by a factor of ten and be prepared to add another zero. After all, that blurb isn’t just your first interaction with a potential reader, it will also be your first interaction with a potential publisher and/or agent, and it will have to draw them in without the benefit of a stunning piece of artwork on the cover. A good blurb is absolutely paramount in your book being noticed above all others, so take your time! If you have it in a day, you’re rushing it. If you have it a month, you might be getting close.
2) Use character details sparingly. If your protagonist’s emotional state or occupation or background isn’t absolutely vital to the setup, leave it out. An otherwise good blurb can be ruined by lines like, “…and then Jerod, the youngest of five children and an avid tennis player, met Sonya, a brash young woman from Omaha…” It’s enough that we know Jerod and Sonya met. We don’t need to know anything else about them unless it’s vital. And be sparing, too, in how many characters you include. If Jerod is enough to set the stage, let the reader discover the rest of your remarkable cast on their own.
3) Use power words, Your main character isn’t just in love, she is desperately in love. She isn’t catching a bus to get to his apartment, she is in a mad flight to be in his arms once again. Forget whatever subtleties you used in your book. This is the time to pull out all the stops.
Having just said that….
4) The shorter your blurb, the better. Think ‘elevator pitch’, then cut out ninety percent of the pitch. You are trying to intrigue a potential reader, not lay out a complete synopsis. If you can peak someone’s interest in three or four lines, anything more than that will work against you.
5) This is my last word of advice and perhaps the most important tip anyone can give you about a blurb. It’s not easy, but try to imagine that you know nothing about your book. Forget those magnificent character arcs and the message underlying the story and that great twist ending. If you came across your book at random and knew nothing about it besides the blurb, would it be enough to make you part with your hard-earned money? If you have any doubt at all, keep at it.
And that’s it. There are many more tips online and I encourage you to do as much research as you can, but those five points are what I consider the most important.
And now for my not-so-secret tip. If you’re having difficulties, try the ‘past/present/future’ approach. Look at these two examples and tell me which one is more effective. Keep in mind that this is off the top of my head, so don’t be overly critical:
- a) Romeo and Juliet are in love, but their families are bitter rivals and they will never be allowed to marry. So they marry in secret, and bad things happen.
Pretty dull, right? So, how about this?
- b) The Montagues and Capulets have been at each others’ throats for generations; their mutual bloodlust matched only by their thirst for vengeance. But not all share in those years of hatred. The youngest son of the Montagues and the sweetheart of the Capulet clan are in love, and even while the war rages on between their families, they begin to plan a future together. But can their love survive in a world beset by strife? Only time will tell, but the odds are not on their side.
Yes, I know, but this was two minute’s work so cut me some slack. It is simply to illustrate the idea of past/present/future. A couple of lines to set the background, a few more to describe the main storyline, and then a final line or two to cast doubt on the future. It gives the reader a clear idea of what the story is about, and it might just make them want to know how it all turns out. I’m not saying that this approach will work for all blurbs or even most, but if you find yourself struggling, give it a shot. If nothing else, it might just spark your natural talents.
Remember, you’re a writer. You can create and destroy worlds on a whim. So what are a few more lines on the back of a book?
Ken Stark is a horror writer from Vancouver, Canada, who enjoys using the darkest of backdrops to highlight the human condition. And though he strongly suspects that our entire universe is merely a simulation, he’s okay with it. After all, reality is in the mind of the beholder…
Being raised on a steady diet of science fiction and disaster movies, it just seems right that his first published novel be about the zombie apocalypse. In his spare time, Ken tries to paint like Bob Ross and play poker like Doyle Brunson, but results suggest he might have got it all backwards.
You can follow Ken on Twitter @PennilessScribe
To find out more about Ken please visit his official website www.kenstark.ca/
Please visit Ken’s author page here
Something is wrong in Arcadia Falls. The first boy vanished without a trace and with just as little fanfare. Even the second disappearance amounted to little more than a few passing remarks and another name skipped over in the classroom roll call. As far as Riverside High and the rest of Arcadia Falls were concerned, it seemed, it was as if nothing had happened at all. Tyler John was no different. He had barely given the matter a second thought, but then a wrong turn sent him on a path straight into the dark heart of the mystery, and the deeper he peered into the shadows, the more he realized that something was looking back. Now, the hunter has become the hunted and time is running out. With nowhere else to turn, it’s up to Tyler and his handful of friends to stop the evil thing that’s been preying on Arcadia Falls, and if they fail, they might just be the next ones to vanish. Yes, something is desperately wrong in Arcadia Falls, and it’s like nothing anyone has ever seen before.
Blindness is just the beginning. Once the virus strips away everything remotely human, all that’s left is a mindless savage predator. Hank Mason thought he had nothing left to lose, but now that he is all that stands between a young girl and a gruesome fate, he’s sworn to protect her with his very life. But the virus isn’t done yet. A new, deadlier terror is slowly emerging, and even as Mason and Mackenzie battle their way from one horror to the next in a desperate flight through a world gone mad, they both know that their time is running out. The girl is already blind, and things are about to get a whole lot worse.
The virus swept through humanity like wildfire. Millions went blind in the first few hours, but blindness was just the beginning. It was only in Stage 2 that the real terror emerged. As the virus ate into the brain, it destroyed everything human, leaving in its wake a creature that knew only one thing; the need to feed. And the world was torn apart. In San Francisco, those few who remain amid the swarms measure their survival from one terrified heartbeat to the next. But for Sarah, there is reason to keep going. A pretty little girl with big green eyes and a tangled mop of curly red hair is counting on her, and she’s not about to let anything in Heaven or Hell stand in her way. But those wild, ravenous things aren’t the only monsters in this new world of the damned, and even as she fights her way home across a besieged city, she knows it’s only going to get worse. The virus isn’t done yet. Stage 3 is here, and it might just be the beginning of the end.