How to write a book blurb

Photo: My latest novel, A Cowboy for Christmas, showing a blurb I wrote

I used to pay a bestselling author forty five bucks per book to write my blurbs, that dreaded copy that goes in your Amazon description or the back of your print book. She would ask me to summarize the synopsis of my novel on two pages, double-spaced, and then I would wait for her to give me back a working blurb. After some back and forth, I would approve a final blurb.

In June, I decided to try something different, and not just to save money. I not only started writing my own blurbs, but I did so before I started my story.

It’s hard to quantify the effect of those blurbs on my sales, but the shortest blurb I came up with for my clean billionaire romance series generated me four figures the first full month out the gate without advertising. There are so many factors that went into that, I’m sure, including the popularity of the genre, but if I had a lame-ish blurb, it very well could have dragged down my sales.

I have been thinking of what has changed for me since those days when I used to hire out my blurbs to now, where I actually enjoy writing them. There are many ways to skin a cat; I certainly don’t claim to have dibs on the right way, but this is how I’ve approached it:

1.Write out the blurb before I start the story. If I couldn’t distill my story in four or five lines, I knew I had a plotting issue. It meant that the thrust of the story was too scattered. When I wrote out the blurb ahead of time, I not only had a high-concept blueprint for my story, I also already had a blurb right after I completed the story. Two birds with one stone! I have tweaked my blurb after I write a story, once I identify a theme.

2.I recognized that only I have a unique insight into my story. When I hired out my blurbs, I was pleased with them because they sounded like a movie description you would see in an ad. Packed with punch with blockbuster potential. But something seemed missing, which wasn’t the fault of my blurbist. It was missing the heart of the story. The uniqueness and the essence of why I even wanted to write the story in the first place.

3.Writing a blurb isn’t as simple as filling in the blanks. You know those fun madlib games—you put a noun here, an adjective there, and voila, you have a story. But that is a cookie-cutter approach that I believe prevents the author from tailoring their blurb to their story. Listen to your story. Listen to your heart.

4.The blurb must capture emotion and style more than fact. Recently, I weighed in on a four-paragraph blurb on Facebook. It mentioned the location names, details about the characters’ pasts, inner thoughts, fears, goals…it was simply too much. A blurb needs to get down to the essence of the story.

If it’s a romance, you need to give one or two solid one-liners on the male and female characters. Usually it has to do with the inciting incident that attracted them to or repelled them from the other person, what would be the main obstacle to their relationship, and a story question you need answered.

5.The shorter the better. We are all busy. Our readers are all busy. As I have been sending out newsletters and swapping with other authors, I’ve had to analyze a lot of blurbs so I can cut due to space. My goal is to shorten them for my busy subscribers. In doing so, I discovered something interesting.

One book had too long of a blurb so I cut it out completely and used only the tagline. The next time I studied my stats, I was surprised to see it got the most clicks. Again, that could be the cover and the genre (royal romance), but despite the lack of details, readers were intrigued enough by it to click. Now, when I write a blurb, I try to keep it to about four sentences max for the characters and two lines at most for the story problem. I then look at the blurb again and strip it of any unnecessary words.

6.Don’t bury the lead. This was one of the most valuable things I learned working for two decades as a journalist, and it is sound advice for blurbs. Some blurbs warm up before getting to the meat of the story, meandering with backstory and interesting but random details. Jump right in to the heart of your story. Cut to the essentials right off. When I used to write news pieces, I put everything I wanted in the story first thing in case the reader doesn’t finish it, or the editor cuts it for space. Same with a blurb.

7.A blurb is meant to entice, not to summarize everything. Entice the reader to open the book to find out more about your characters. Why should they read the book when they can just read your blurb? Keep some mystery.

8.The blurb must match the style and feel of the book. Is your book funny? Emotional? Scary? Suspenseful. Then your blurb should reflect that.

9.Avoid trigger words and TMI that make a reader uncomfortable. I have seen blurbs that make me feel uncomfortable. If you ever come across one, listen to your gut and note why so that you avoid it in your own. This is one of those hard-to-quantify characteristics, but it reminds me of advice my college writing professor gave me. She said, choose your words with care. Some words just sound too…depressing. For a light and breezy romance, this is like the kiss of death. It’s like going to a party and sitting beside someone who tells you about his problems from the get-go. You smile politely but move on in a hurry.

10.Pay attention to blurbs of bestselling books. Study how they’re constructed. You will see that there isn’t a cookie-cutter answer to a great blurb. The best blurb is the one that works for your book.

11. Writing your blurb comes down to having confidence. It means going with your gut as a storyteller. What stays, what goes. It’s great to be humble and ask people for feedback on your blurb. I still do that occasionally. I ask people to weigh in on my blurbs on Facebook. Ultimately though, only you will know what your blurb should say.

12.Practice makes perfect. The more you write your blurbs, the better you will get at it. Hire someone if you must, learn from their technique, then experiment on your own.

I have always wondered why people hate writing blurbs. To me, blurb writing has become exciting. It is like dating your spouse someplace new. You recognize the good things that gave you that zing when you first met. Writing a blurb is like that, rediscovering and falling in love with your story all over again.

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