Blurbs: The most important words you’ll write
You know a strong blurb is key to selling your book, but writing a compelling sales pitch for something you’re so close to can be easier said than done.
Or maybe you treat the blurb as an afterthought — and your sales are suffering for it.
No matter what your blurb problem may be, though, the experts are here to help you.
Beth Bacon is an author, a marketing consultant, and a contributor at DigitalBookWorld.com.
Longtime readers may remember her formula, originally published on DBW and reprinted in a 2014 Fussy newsletter, but it bears repeating.
1. Situation. Who are the main characters, and what circumstances are they in?
2. Problem. Every story has some sort of hitch that makes change inevitable. This part often starts with “but,” “however,” or “until.”
3. Hopeful possibility. Here’s the potential to overcome the crisis. This “cool thing” or “longshot opportunity” makes your audience want to read your story.
4. Mood, tone, or spirit of the story. Is it a dark, dystopian tragedy, or humorous chick lit?
Within these elements, you must use words that customers would put into a search engine when looking for a book like yours. Write the blurb first, then sprinkle these keywords into it.
How do you know what those words are? The short answer is: Look at what customers are actually saying about your book in reviews on social media.
(The long answer will come in another post, so stay tuned.)
Mary Rosenblum is also a published writer who now works with aspiring authors to provide complete editing, publishing, and promotional support.
She suggests identifying a few key elements within your story first — what initially engages your main character in the plot, what’s the climax, and what leads to said climax — then writing a blurb that:
1. Reveals the type of story (mystery, romantic comedy, etc.).
2. Introduces the main character.
3. Reveals the central conflict. Is the heroine going to solve a murder or pursue the handsome attorney?
4. Hooks the reader’s curiosity. Will the bad guys win? Will the old girlfriend break up the romance?
5. Shares a positive review.
But this is an ad for your novel, not another novel in and of itself. Fortunately, getting the length right is more of a science than an art.
For Bacon, the magical number is fifty — that’s how many words appear before the “read more” link on an Amazon listing. So if you’re going longer, make sure the first fifty are the best fifty.
Rosenblum’s guideline is thirty, which is the length in seconds if you’re reading the blurb out loud at a normal pace. This works both for listings like Amazon’s, where you have the “above the fold/below the fold” display options, or and for ones like Fussy’s, where what you see is what you get.
Your thirty-second blurb can either stand alone or serve as the meat after “read more”; a more general teaser, no more than thirty-five words, will be the appetizer that whets the reader’s appetite to click “read more” on Amazon.
To see all of this advice in action, Bacon recommends looking at blurbs for Twilight or Sound Retirement Planning.
If you learn best by being told what not to do, Rosenblum and Bacon have some suggestions in that department.
Make sure your grammar and punctuation are perfect, of course, but Bacon also says to keep your sentences short. People are reading fast. (See a trend here?)
Excessive length is one of the most common issues they see; here are some specific pitfalls.
Rosenblum urges you to limit the back story as much as you can — readers don’t actually want to (or need to) know everything about the characters and their world right away: “Curiosity works for you, not against you.”
Nor do readers want or need to know how these characters wriggle out of their crises. Says Bacon: “Set up the problem, give a hint that there’s hope for a solution, but don’t actually state the solution. Keep them wanting more.”
You can save words and space by not listing multiple examples of action, violence, or romantic encounters — Rosenblum says to just use one strong example that’s representative of all the others.
If you have two main characters, combine their elements within one paragraph, she says. Don’t give them each their own paragraph; that jolts readers and also lengthens the blurb too much.
We’ll give the last words on what not to do to Bacon: Don’t include another author’s book as a comparison, and don’t use a different tone in your description than the tone of your book (e.g., a humorous work shouldn’t have a plain, academic blurb).
Note: This piece was originally published in August 2017; since then, we're saddened to say, Mary Rosenblum has passed away. Beth Bacon is alive and well and ready to help you, however. You can email her for information about her course on writing book descriptions