After the cover and title, the most powerful decision maker for whether or not someone buys a book is the blurb. The description that fits on the back of the book and is often posted as the description on retail websites has to grab the reader’s attention in three ways—an emotional connection to the character, a problem to solve, and a feel for the theme and pacing they can expect.
A blurb is an art form
A good way to think about blurbs is to watch teasers or trailers for your favorite shows. You’ll notice it plays on your emotions. Go read the description on your favorite streaming site and study how they introduce you to the main character, show you how you can relate to them (shared experience), and give you a problem you must know the answer to.
Getting all that in less than 200 words is the hardest part of writing a book. Before you write a word, you need to think hard about what you want the reader to feel.
What is the genre? What is the pacing?
If you are writing a romantic suspense you want your reader to feel not only the tension of the suspense but the depth of the romance. If the couple falls in love during a fast-paced, life and death situation, the blurb needs to make the readers’ heart race. Go read a dozen bestseller’s descriptions in your genre and study what makes them work.
Next, find the words that capture your theme, setting, or a major imagery running through your book. Going with our romantic suspense, let’s say the two people who will fall in love are on a hijacked plane. You don’t want to just say—when Mary and Joe board a plane, they don’t realize hijackers are sitting in the seat in front of them. There is no tension in telling your reader what happens. You want to create an emotion.
In a blurb every word counts.
Is it a CESNA with just a few people onboard or a JUMBO JET filled with people? How can you word play off the power words like FLIGHT and HIJACK? Take ten minutes to write down words you can sprinkle in like WINGS, CREW, CAPTAIN, DEPARTURE, ARRIVAL, TAKE OFF, INTERCEPT, HOSTAGE, and find the ones you can use in unexpected ways.
Describe your main characters with actions not adjectives.
What character actions capture their motivations? In our example, maybe the heroine got on the plane because she was trying to SPREAD HER WINGS. Maybe the hero is an army sergeant on a connecting flight trying to get home after a long tour of duty where the only things that FLY are bullets and rescue choppers. She wants to get away, and he wants to get home, creating the juxtaposition of an unlikely romance.
Juxtaposition in a blurb creates tension.
Using opposites of your themes/imagery can be a powerful antagonist. Perhaps when describing the hijackers think of words that are ground oriented. Maybe they are STONE FACED or GRAVELLY VOICED over the intercom. Even stronger is describing their actions with similar words.
Give your reader a unique problem with no easy solution.
Even if your hero will take down those hijackers with his military knowledge and skills, don’t say that. Give the readers a reason to believe this is an impossible situation. Focus on the deficits. Maybe your hero is coming home with an injury. Maybe he has had to kill someone before and has PTSD from it.
Don’t fall into the pit hole of giving a summary. You don’t want to get into the details. Remember it is about the feel, it is just a hook. So you don’t need to say they are seated next to each other when the hijacker pulls a makeshift weapon on the flight attendant and threaten to kill her if the pilots don’t obey their orders. In fact you really don’t want to say anything specific that happens in the story otherwise you spoil it.
Instead you want to give us one or two lines that create powerful imagery. How do the hijackers cause conflict between your hero and heroine? Play up the stakes. Maybe the two hijackers threaten to kill someone every minute that the pilots don’t divert the flight to where they want to go.
Leave your reader with a question.
It doesn’t have to be a literal question, but definitely something they have to know. They’ve invested in the characters and the problem, so now they need a reason to take the book to the checkout. In our example, it could be something like will the heroine ever find courage to stand on her own two feet or will the hero be able to move past his PTSD?
Know what your genre readers want.
If you write humor the blurb better be funny. If you write sci-fi make sure your reader feels like they are plopped into uncharted territory where they will encounter something new. As you read through your blurb make sure that as a reader you know what you are getting. Don’t fall into the trap of a generic blurb. Make sure the words are powerful and descriptively unique to your book. Make every word count!
What’s the hardest part about writing a blurb for you?
Jessica White writes stories that shape the soul. The third book in her historical series, Dispelling the Darkness, will be out this summer. Her first contemporary romance will be published March 2020 with Mantle Rock. You can learn more about her and her books at her website. Sign up for her quarterly newsletter to receive a free 30 day devotional and come along with her as she journeys with God on her Facebook page.