Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Beating the Blurb Blues - Part Two

Last week in Part One we talked about using the GMC (Goal,Motivation, Conflict/Obstacle) to start developing your blurb. This week we'll talk about expanding your blurb, making it work for you, and a few things to avoid.

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!

Kat Sheridan helps fellow authors create compelling product descriptions for their books. Read more about it or contact her at

Target image courtesy of Stuart Miles at
Coffee image courtesy of Feelart at



Liza said...

Lost of helpful information here to digest. Thanks for the post.

Kat Sheridan said...

Hi, Liza. I find a cup of coffee and a banana muffin help me digest lots of info first thing in the morning. LOL! Hope you find something useful here. My usual caveat applies: Use the information you find helpful and true, and disregard the rest.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Kat, this is some wonderful information. I'm like you, if the cover copy has mistakes in it, I don't buy it for same reasons. I'll spend my hard earned money on something professional.

I really like how you took one blurb for the Hunger Games demonstrated how you would slant it toward romance, Sci-fi and other genres.

I've seen a lot of indie pubbed books that try to tell too much of the story. Like you point out, the blurb is something short, hits the GMC, reflects your writing style, and is to entice the reader to pick it up.

Kat Sheridan said...

Good morning, Sia! I totally agree on not telling the reader too much. It's especially hard when there are lots of characters and lots of things going on (imagine how epic and confusing cover copy could get for Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones!) That's why it often helps to get a pro or a friend to lend a hand. They can help an author see the "forest" instead of all those cool and interesting "trees".

Author R. Mac Wheeler said...

Insightful summary. Kudos

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

And it's so important to get it right. I'll go back and forth with my publisher many times when polishing mine.

Crystal Collier said...

Great advice, and I'm totally with you on poorly edited blurbs. I've passed on quite a few books because the blurb made it sound like the story would be poorly written. Typically they go hand in hand.

Kat Sheridan said...

Thank you, R. Mac Wheeler!

Alex, so glad your editor is open to your input. So often, especially with bigger editors, the author gets little if any input. That said, sometimes authors (not you!) aren't really the best at seeing the marketing "hook". My general advice to authors would be that if you hire a pro, be open to what they're trying to do. And again, Alex, you have great cover copy!

Crystal, it always makes me sad to see a poorly edited blurb. And a little angry, too, because it tells me the author is disrespecting a reader by not putting forward the very, very best work they can do.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

So glad you said to allow the blurb to echo your style. It only makes good sense, but it's not something I thought was kosher. Like I was cheating and not sticking to some sort of classic format.

Kat Sheridan said...

Elizabeth, there's not really sucha thing as a "classic" format. Different copywriters have their own styles, and comfortable formats, but within that, the primary thing is to respect the author's voice. If she normally writes light-hearted romance, it would be almost deceptive to the reader for the cover copy to be dark, or extra racy or something, just as it would be out of synch to write a funny blurb for a dark, post-apocolyptic thriller. The copy should definitely act like a taste of what the reader can expect if they buy the book. So do your own thing, in your own way!

Dianne K. Salerni said...

This is all great advice! I like the part about not telling the reader what to feel (that always bugs me). I'd also suggest avoiding phrases that could apply to any book. I particularly despise, "A roller coaster of a ride" which seems to be the standard phrase any famous author uses to blurb a less famous author's book. :P

Kat Sheridan said...

Dianne, I completely agree. There's a place for the praises and kudos, but for me, they should come from a third party like a reviewer, not as part of the cover copy. When I'm choosing a book, what I want most for the copy to do is to tell me enough about the story and characters to help me decide if I'm interested in spending time with them.

LD Masterson said...

Yup, this post is getting saved right along side part one. Good information at the perfect time for me. Thanks.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Thanks for all the helpful info and insights!

klahanie said...

Hi Sia,

My kind friend, a lot of good, thoughtful, practical information here.

I also finally realised what a "blurb" is. Silly me used to think it was some form of indigestion.

Sorry about my sporadic commenting nature. I'm really struggling with my ancient computer.

Thanks for this.

Gary :)

~Sia McKye~ said...

LD--I love how simply Kat broke this down and focused the eye on what really is needed. Made it simple--I especially like the using the goal, motivation, and conflict to set up the back cover copy. I've saved it too. :-)

Tyrean--good to see you and yes, it's always good to gain new insights into something like this.

~Sia McKye~ said...

GARY, it's good to see you! No worries on the sporatic commenting. I'm always happy to see you when I can. I don't even have an ancient computer to blame. All I can do is comment as I can. :-)

I'm glad you enjoyed the info. Kat is really amazing with her clear sight to the heart of the matter whether it's for critquing or providing a simple explanation for something that gives many of us fits.

Hugs to you and the pup!

Kat Sheridan said...

Hi LD and Tyrean! Thank you, and I'm glad you found the info useful! And Gary, "blurb" is such a funny word. I usually try to say "cover copy", but most folks say blurb. Glad to see you here!

Yolanda Renee said...

I'm working on blurbs right now so this information is wonderful, thank you!

Carol Kilgore said...

I tried to get over here earlier in the week, but it just didn't happen. Thanks for the extra details here. I'm printing this post out, too, to keep with the first one.

Happy Weekend!

Kat Sheridan said...

Yolanda, glad you found the info useful! You, too, Carol! I'm glad I could help!