Writing a blurb is a sneaky, tricksy piece of writing. It has to sell your book, but it has to tell enough story to hook people in without giving it away, and it has to give just the right amount that it tells readers something. But what’s too long, and what’s too short? Too secretive, and too ‘spoiler-y’? I personally like writing blurbs (I’m not saying mine are great by any stretch, but I think I get a good balance), but I know a lot of authors like to procrastinate with blurbs as much as possible until there needs to be one.
Let’s take a look at the breakdown of an average blurb; (There’ll be some example ones further down)
Pull ’em in
The first line of your blurb is no different from the first line of your book. It’s got to be the most powerful sentence that will grip someone by the shoulders and scream, “I’m here! Look at me, damn it!” And also same as your book, go straight into the action. Here’s some first lines I personally love.
‘The President knows it’s a perilous, high-risk assignment.’ – The Target, David Baldacci
‘Former Broadway dancer and current agoraphobic Billy Shine has not set foot outside his apartment in almost a decade.’ – Don’t Let Me Go, Catherine Ryan Hyde
‘Theo Decker, a 13-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother.’ – The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
‘What if your whole world was a lie?’ – Allegiant, Veronica Roth
One thing all these blurb lines have in common, is that they are in the Top Ten at Amazon, which is a great indicator that the blurb has at least contributed in part to their sales. But another thing they have in common is that they make you ask all the right questions. Who? What? Where? When? Your interest is already piqued by that single sentence, so you’re going to read on, in the hope that this gets developed further.
Try making a statement that goes straight into the action, like the line from The Goldfinch, or asking a question, like the line from Allegiant. What do you want your readers to ask questions about? Does your main character have a deathly secret? Make a point of it. Has there been a horrific world event that your characters have to live in? Drop a hint about it. So let’s take a look at where this sentence might lead.
You’ve hooked your reader in, but this isn’t enough. You’ve got to flesh out your initial hook a bit more, because you need to make sure the reader actually wants to find out more about this character or that world. If what follows your first sentence doesn’t carry on from it, or doesn’t make sense to the first line, readers will immediately switch off and get bored, as it doesn’t follow a valid line of events. Let’s peer at two of the blurbs from earlier again;
‘If he gives the order, he has the opportunity to take down a global menace, once and for all. If the mission fails, he would face certain impeachment, and the threats against the nation would multiply. So the president turns to the one team that can pull off the impossible: Will Robie and his partner, Jessica Reel. Together, Robie and Reel’s talents as assassins are unmatched. But there are some in power who don’t trust the pair. They doubt their willingness to follow orders. And they will do anything to see that the two assassins succeed, but that they do not survive.’ – The Target, David Baldacci
‘Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his longing for his mother, he clings to the one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.‘ – The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
These are the ‘bulk’ of your blurb, and the bit that’s really going to ensure your reader stays to find out more. You’ve hooked them with your first line, now give them a reason to stay. A major thing these two blurbs have in common is that they expand on the first line, while carefully dropping more hints that both intrigue and provide more information, while not giving away any major events. In the blurb from the Target, we’re told a little more about what the ‘high-risk assignment’ was that hooked us in the first line. It expands on the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of the blurb, but it then goes further into creating another question, while giving more information. Which option will the character choose? How? We’re then introduced to more information for the ‘how’, which in turn opens up all the questions about what events will happen in the novel.
In the blurb from The Goldfinch, it has the same structure, building on the first sentence and answering the ‘what’ and ‘why’. It then continues onto expanding more, but instead of expanding on the situation, it expands on the character. This is important, as it depends on whether your novel is character-driven, or events-driven. You could argue the first one is about the President, but any character could be substituted for him, and the blurb would still make sense. For the second blurb, it can only be about the main character. The blurb is a peephole into your book, so if you focus on characters in your book, but make the blurb heavily event-based, it won’t match up with the reader’s expectations. Tartt then also adds another question at the end of her blurb for the reader – what significance does the painting have?
Let’s Wrap It Up
Now we come to the grand finale of your blurb – the reason why a reader should buy your book. They’ve been hooked, they’re intrigued by the premise…but where is it leading? This is about how your book stands out from others, but bringing it down to a finely edited, neatly-sharpened point. This part should give them a reason to answer all the questions they’ve been asking so far. As we’ve already started a trend, let’s take a look at the final lines of the above two blurbs;
‘As they prepare for their mission, Reel faces a personal crisis that could well lead old enemies right to her doorstep, resurrecting the ghosts of her earlier life and bringing stark danger to all those close to her. And all the while, Robie and Reel are stalked by a new adversary: an unknown and unlikely assassin, a woman who has trained her entire life to kill, and who has her own list of targets–a list that includes Will Robie and Jessica Reel.’ – The Target, David Baldacci
‘As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love–and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle. The Goldfinch is a mesmerizing, stay-up-all-night and tell-all-your-friends triumph, an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.’ – The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt
For me personally, both of these would make me buy them. For The Target, we’re then told this isn’t just about the crisis from the President. It gets more personal, letting you know that the characters themselves are also in danger. This adds an extra element to the already exciting premise, a reason why this book will be different from any other book that has the President making a hard decision. It also points out that there’s going to be internal conflict for at least one character, adding another layer to the onion.
In The Goldfinch, the blurb ends differently, but uses the same structure, as it’s for a different audience. It adds another layer to the story, letting the reader know this isn’t just about how young Theo deals with the events in his childhood, but there’s another ‘something’ as he grows older. And the ‘something’ is a dangerous event that might answer some of the earlier questions that were asked. It also ends on a ‘sell’ of the kind of book it is, perhaps encouraging the reader to buy it if they already know this is the kind of book they like. Another example of this is when a blurb might end on ‘Fans of xxxx would also enjoy this book’. Readers always look for something new that will give them the same feeling as their favourite book, so this is a good plan if you have a similar book to something else. Fans of the Hunger Games might enjoy a dystopian, for example, or fans of the Black Dagger Brotherhood might like an urban fantasy about a band of gruff but sexy vampires.
Think about your reader. What is it that will make them buy your next book? Genre is the first indicator of a reader’s preferences, but it’s much more complex than that. Taking the first blurb above, from The Target, it looks at first glance as though it’s for a thriller. And on the surface, it is. But it goes deeper than that. By including the final part, Baldacci has narrowed his target audience to readers who not only like thrillers, but also like personal stories about the characters, like books with assassins in, and stories about redemption. For The Goldfinch, it’s aimed towards readers who like contemporary books, but also like stories that follow structure from traditional books, is about loss and renewal, and personalised through the eyes of a main character. Both have been fine-tuned to the point that certain readers will decide it’s not for them, and the target readers will immediately one-click.
So when writing your ‘final sell’, remember these points; Make sure it both adds more information to the questions, and opens up what these will develop into. Add fine details that make your book unique from its main genre. Is it personal to one character? Is there a lost-lost relative that comes in and stirs things up? Is there a coming event that happens behind the scenes, that the characters don’t yet know about? Don’t be afraid to narrow your target audience. A lot of authors throw a wide net, hoping to catch every reader possible, in the hopes that they might like the book. All this is going to do is end up with a lot of disappointed readers, if they buy the book, hoping it was something else! Speak to your readers directly, let them know that if they buy your book, they know exactly what they’re getting.
So what do you guys think? Do you enjoy writing blurbs, or do you find them an awkward task? And readers, what do you look for in a blurb? What captures your imagination?