It seems like every writer hates writing blurbs. In fact it seems the smaller the number of words you have available to talk about your story the harder it is to write.
Whether it’s for your publisher, or a self-published book or just for your NaNoWriMo profile page you’ll probably have to write a blurb at some point – so here are my tips on studying and writing blurbs.
1) Study the blurbs of books you haven’t read yet. Which would make you interested in those books? Why and why not? Don’t try to be fancy and all “literary critic”, just write what attracts you in the blurb. Be honest. If the reason is “it sounds like there’s loads of sex in it”, note that down.
2) Read blurbs of books you know well. What do they include and what do they leave out? Why do you think the person writing the blurb made those choices?
3) Write a blurb for someone else’s book you know well. What do you choose to emphasise? Is that different from the official blurb? Would someone you know who hasn’t read the book want to read it from that blurb?
4) Introduce characters with things like their jobs or relationship to another character – “ambitious young journalist”, “jaded PI”, “her best friend” etc. There’s much more to those characters of course, but for the blurb these shorthand phrases pack in a lot of information about that character’s role in the story.
5) Don’t waste words on empty rhetorical questions the reader already knows the answer to. In Romance the happy ending is the defining concept of the genre, so it’s pointless to ask a question to the effect of “will they overcome their problems and be together in the end?” Of course they will. Ask questions about how they’ll do it and what it will cost them.
6) Remember that a blurb is not merely a summary of the story. It’s sales copy inducing you to read the story. It’s like writing an advertisement. So don’t simply attempt to recap the plot. Give an idea of the type of content in the story, the tone of it, the conflict and emotion, what the stakes are and who’s involved.
7) Final tip and the one I consider most useful. Write a blurb before you write the book. (Okay, this only works if you at least have an idea of the story before you write even if you don’t have an outline.) I like to do NaNoWriMo and would write a blurb for my profile. Later I’ve gone on to edit and adapt that first blurb for the submission of that story and then the final version of the blurb.
Why does it work? Because it’s like describing a sketch on the back of an envelope, rather than a giant oil painting. You don’t suffer the pain of feeling you’re selling your story short, having to leave out all its many layers and themes and motifs. It can also help you figure out the essential core of the story, so you can keep focused on that as you write.
Of course this blurb is temporary. Later you will either substantially rewrite it, or scrap it and start over. But that’s okay, it’s served its purpose by then.
Now, blurb on!