Fit Your Genre:Generally, a blurb will be between 100-200 words, the right size to fit on the back cover of a printed book, usually two or three paragraphs. Different genres will expand on the blurb in different ways. Last week I used the opening paragraph I might create for Hunger Games:
In order to protect her little sister, 16-year-old Katniss Everdeen must survive a brutal game in a land once known as North America, but in order to do so she’ll have to kill all other opponents, including a childhood friend.If this were a romance, my second/third paragraphs might focus on possible love interests, her emotional conflict between choosing between them, and the impossible necessity of killing one to achieve her goal.
To steer it more toward dystopian Young Adult, the second/third paragraphs might instead focus on the larger concept of the games, or the subtext of revolting against the government. To steer it more toward sci-fi, I might emphasize the nightmare of fighting the faceless, inhuman technology. Thriller? I’d emphasize the need for escape, or avoiding death from a team of antagonists.
Size and Priorities:Once you have that basic blurb, you’ll need to create shorter and longer versions of it. If you publish via Smashwords, you’ll need a 400 character description. That’s characters, not words. (The example above is about 187 characters). Amazon, on the other hand, gives you a generous 4,000 words. This is plenty of room to include extra info, such as if this is part of a series, what other books in the series are, awards won, etc. But be careful to put the blurb first. Both Amazon and Barnes and Noble show about the first paragraph, with “read more” buttons for the reader to click on. Your goal is to get them to do that. If your blurb starts with editorial praise, an author bio, etc., they may not be motivated to click that button. Start with your strongest part of the blurb first.
Target your audience:
Readers are looking for keywords to help them decide to buy your book. The flavor of your blurb should match the tone of your book and your writing style. The blurb for Star Wars would be very different than the blurb for Mel Brooke’s Spaceballs, which excellently spoofs Star Wars. If your book is humorous, your blurb should reflect that. If your romance is “sweet,” with only hand-holding and maybe one kiss, then don’t use words like “sensuous” or “passionate” in the blurb. You’ll lose your target audience. Do you use short words and snappy sentences? Longer, sentences and lots of languorous description? Make the blurb echo your style.
Don’t be afraid of hyperbole (obvious and intentional exaggeration). Use juicy, vivid words. Notice in the example above I called it a “brutal” game? I could also have used lethal, deadly, murderous, etc. Adjectives are your friend in blurbs. Instead of saying she had to “kill,” I might have said murder, slaughter, destroy, or annihilate. Create tension and get colorful.
The Don’t List:
At the tip top of my “Don’t List,” in big, bold, letters, is “Don’t be sloppy!” Check, check, and check again that your spelling and punctuation are correct. That no words are missing. That the blurb isn’t boring, meandering, or overloaded with too much detail. But especially, check the spelling and punctuation. I say that twice because it’s that important. If I read a sloppy, misspelled, meandering, boring, poorly punctuated blurb (and trust me, there are lots of them out there), then I’m going to assume (fair or not) that the book is written the same way and I’m going to skip right on past it.
High on my “Don’t List” is self-aggrandizing or telling the reader how to feel. I tend to dislike blurbs that say “This action packed thriller will leave you breathless!”, or “You’ll laugh until you pee!” Leave that to the editorial reviews or book reviewers. Your blurb should focus on the story and the characters. Pull the reader in and let them decide. If you’ve chosen the right words and used hyperbole correctly, they’ll already have some idea of what they can expect.
A quick word about non-fiction, since I said in Part One I’d mention it. Your table of contents is your best friend: List three of four of the most compelling chapter titles and a line about what they’re about. List specific ways buying your book will benefit or educate the reader, again using those juicy words, and numbers if applicable (“will help you boost sales by 40%, “will shave six weeks off your job search”, “will reveal the secret history”). The author bio is also critical to selling non-fiction, so do include it in the blurb. Your personal bona fides will help sell your book.
Go for it!
Your blurb is your first, best, and strongest piece of marketing material. You’ll use it everywhere: book retailers, your website, guest blog posts, social media, etc. Get a friend to help you check what you’ve written. Get feedback. Or hire a pro to help you. You can have the most beautiful cover, the most incredible, well-edited story ever, but if you have a blurb that doesn’t support all that work, you’ve crippled yourself at the start. I hope I’ve shown you that even without hiring a pro, you can take big steps to create your own enticing, compelling cover copy, target your audience, and boost your sales!
Your turn! Show us a sample of your blurb!
Target image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Coffee image courtesy of Feelart at FreeDigitalPhotos.net