Writing Blurbs That Sizzle–And Sell! by Karen Wiesner

Make your book fly off the shelves!

Are you an author who dislikes or dreads trying to write back cover blurbs for your stories, or have you started one and want help making yours sizzle with intrigue and impact?

 

Would you like to utilize a series blurb but you’re not sure where to start in covering all the books in your series in one succinct, powerful paragraph?

 

Would you like to have a short, punchy version of your blurb that can be used in your marketing and author/series branding?

 

Are you a publisher with a stable full of books that need blurb overhauls?

 

Every author knows what a back cover blurb is, given its high-profile placement on the back cover of every book. At its crux, a back cover blurb strives to be a concise, breathtaking summary of the entire story that includes the major internal and external conflicts and the goals and motivations of the main character(s).

 

Unfortunately, crafting an effectively good back cover blurb is no easy task, and many writers outright dislike writing them or dread the process because so much is at stake if the blurb fails to engage. A sizzling back cover blurb needs to convince readers they absolutely have to read the story inside the pages…or they’ll set the book down without ever opening it. Additionally, a powerful series blurb can sell not just one book but all of them in that set! High-concept blurbs are necessary in every author’s marketing to provide intriguing “sound bites” for books and series’.

 

WRITING BLURBS THAT SIZZLE–AND SELL! will teach writers and publishers:

  • The basics of blurb crafting: When to write them, how long they should be, and the three types of blurbs including back cover, series, and high-concept blurbs.
  • Tips and tricks for crafting blurbs including worksheets and checklists to make the process foolproof.
  • Techniques in sizing blurbs for a variety of applications as well covering the timely and viable topic of branding with blurbs.
  • Step-by-step, do-it-yourself exercises using published works to help you develop blurb writing, revising, and evaluating

 

The genre-diverse, multi-award-winning author of almost 130 titles, including 19 series, provides an in-depth reference to all things blurbs that may help sell your books to publishers and readers alike. Karen Wiesner is the author of the bestselling FIRST DRAFT IN 30 DAYS, BRING YOUR FICTION TO LIFE: Crafting Three-Dimensional Stories with Depth and Complexity, and WRITING THE FICTION SERIES: The Guide for Novels and Novellas, all available now from Writer’s Digest Books. Additionally, COHESIVE STORY BUILDING is available from Writers Exchange E-Publishing.

 

Karen has crafted back cover and high-concept blurbs for all of her own books and series as well as those for the stories in several award-winning anthologies. She’s also evaluated, revised and crafted back cover, series, and high-concept blurbs for the entire backlist of nearly five hundred books in one publisher’s catalog. She runs a blurb service for authors called Karen’s Blurb Service http://www.angelfire.com/stars4/kswiesner/BlurbService.html, where you can find more details and gain access to a massive sampling of blurbs she’s written and revised in nearly every category of fiction, nonfiction, and everything in-between. You can also find more information about signing up for her blurb workshops.

 

WRITING BLURBS THAT SIZZLE–AND SELL! is the definitive guide on how to craft back cover, series, and high-concept blurbs!

  

Genre: Nonfiction: Writing Reference

ISBN: 978-1-925191-65-3

Word Count: 83, 217

INTRODUCTION

Judge A Book By Its Back Cover Blurb

 

“The blurb is the sizzle that sells the sausage.” ~KJ Charles from The Art of the Blurb: How to Write Back Cover Copy

 

In 1939 Nazi Germany, the country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier…and will become busier still.

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement. (The Book Thief by Markus Zusak)

 

There are very few people who wouldn’t be enticed to read a book with a blurb this compelling.

A blurb is the smell of cookies baking, tormenting us so we eat a half dozen as soon as they’re out of the oven and burn our hands carelessly doing so. It’s two pairs of eyes meeting across a crowded room and bonds you to one who’s no longer a stranger but destiny. It’s the flirting before the kiss. It’s the thrill of what’s to come from finding something that feels like you’ve waited your whole life for. A blurb is all this and more. Or more precisely, it should be all this and more.

But the word “blurb” can be utterly confusing because the usage has become muddled with the passage of time and different functions. For that reason, when people in the book industry talk about blurbs, it’s important to be clear on what exactly is being referred to since the evolution of this one word has come to mean many different and, in some ways, disparate things. Even the dictionary and Wikipedia seem unsure which idea to pursue. Depending on which dictionary you use, you’ll get versions like this:

 

“A brief description of something, often intended to make it seem attractive when offered for sale.”

 

“A brief advertisement or announcement, especially a laudatory one.”

 

“A promotional description, as found on the jackets of books.”

 

“A short promotional piece accompanying a creative work.”

 

So what is a blurb? Call it a summary, a synopsis, a story description, body copy or body content, cover, flap or jacket copy, a back ad, or the horrifyingly generalized product description (which are what ebooks displayed online these days amount to), a teaser or trailer, an endorsement or book review, quote, or “puff” from a fellow author or celebrity–any and all of these are blurbs in one form or another.

Where did all this confusion come from? The word “blurb” (intended as a flamboyant, mocking advertisement) was actually coined by American humorist Gelett Burgess in 1907 when his short book, Are You a Bromide?, was presented at an annual trade association dinner. The dust jacket of the work actually showed “Miss Belinda Blurb” in the act of “blurbing”. From that point on, the term “blurb” became known for any publisher’s contents on a book’s back cover. So, in essence, a blurb can be any combination of “pull quotes” directly from the work; reviews; a summary of the plot; an author’s biography; or merely claims about the importance of the work either by the publisher or the author. These days, the word “blurb” really means anything that’s slapped into a blurb–a combination of all of these willy-nilly. You never know what you’re going to get when you’re browsing books.

Reviews look good and can be included with any book advertisement, but they’re used solely for promotion. They rarely tell the reader what the book is actually about. Research firm Codex Group CEO Peter Hildick-Smith says that, even when a review is given by a reader’s favorite author, “such recommendations have only a modest influence on their buying habits”. Only about one percent were persuaded to buy a book because of the endorsement–and that percentage equals the number of readers who discovered the last book they read through a search engine. I wouldn’t call that truly effectively. Maybe endorsements have value, maybe they don’t.

Essentially, review blurbs are separate from story summaries, as is the author’s biography. Quotes directly from the work are best used inside the book, on the initial pages or on a blap–the glossy page covered in blurbs that immediately follows the front cover, or around the story summary on the back cover. As for pompous assertions written by the author or the publisher about the work, think about it this way: Saying something is fantastic doesn’t make it so. Given that most people assume the author wrote the cover copy, making superlative remarks about your own work will make it sound like you’re exaggerating, arrogant or pathetically desperate–producing a childish desire in some readers to want to prove you wrong. Yet the use of these ridiculous assertions is so prevalent, I sometimes wonder if authors think it’s necessary to include comments filled with overinflated, self-love in blurbs. I call these “review-slanted” blurbs, and I decry them as the worst form of blurb imaginable…but more on that in Chapter 3.

For the purpose of Writing Blurbs That Sizzle–And Sell!, we’re going to focus solely on the book blurb throughout this reference, meaning the very short summary of the story plot (essentially what the story is actually about), though I will mention some of the other versions of “blurb” referring to endorsements, excerpts, biographies, or inflated claims later.

Keep in mind a two-fold truth that will guide us throughout this book: a) a blurb shouldn’t tell the story; it only tells the potential buyer about the story in hopes that he or she will part with hard-earned money to read what’s inside, and b) the purpose of a blurb is to sell the book.

Consider the shocking, disheartening facts: In 2016, Bowker reported that more than 700,000 books were self-published in the United States while the number of traditionally published was over 300,000–not including thirteen million previously published books still available. Bookstore sales in 2015 were down 37% with about 2.7 billion books sold in the United States (Statista, www.statista.com). More books are competing for shelf space at physical bookstores as well as those at online distributors than ever before. With oversaturation in every genre, it’s becoming more and more difficult to make any one book stand out. Every new publication vies with more than thirteen million other titles available for sale as well as alternative media claiming people’s time and monetary resources. As if all that came before wasn’t depressing enough, authors are being forced to do more promotion on their own because publishers can only invest a few books in marketing campaigns that are certain to cover all marketing expenses and generate profits. Author promotion is a subject that could and has filled whole books and yet there is no surefire strategy for everyone.

Suffice it to say that all of this leads us to one inescapable conclusion: Our blurbs have to stand out. As KJ Charles puts it so eloquently in her article mentioned at the start of this chapter, “…the blurb should be the most polished passage of writing you do–including the manuscript. Labouring over a [manuscript] and then knocking out a quick blurb is like spending hours creating a marvellous feast of molecular gastronomy and then serving it on paper plates off which your toddler has eaten jelly.”

Additionally, remember that the last words most authors write for their books are usually the first that the audience will read. Less has to be more out of necessity. When books were only available in print, a back cover could literally only support around 450 words (and that maximum-amount-you’d-ever-want-to-have might force a small font that’s hard to read while also taking up more of the margins). These days, an author has around 75-300 words to “raise a question that can ONLY BE ANSWERED when the reader BUYS and FINISHES the book”, according to Michaelbrent Collings.

Now for a little more bad news: While some publishers have in-house blurb writers, for the most part, author themselves are called upon to write their own blurbs–either for an initial submission to get an agent or publisher interested in buying the work or for the actual publication of the book. That’s a catch-22 in and of itself. Who’s more qualified to write about the novel than the author? On the other hand, who’s less qualified to market books than most authors?

But, let’s really get down to the cold, hard truth here: Authors hate writing blurbs. Want to hear how much? I went eavesdropping around the internet to find out exactly how bad it is and overheard these comments:

 

“I hate writing blurbs… I cull, switch, tear out my hair.”

 

“I used to hate blurb writing with the heat of a thousand suns. I used to think blurbs were a challenge set by the devil to test my resolve in being a writer.”

 

“For me, writing a blurb is sheer agony. The part I find most frustrating is the word count limit. My publisher requires 150 words or less. Virtually impossible to condense an entire novel to so few words!”

 

“I dread writing blurbs and put it off for as long as possible.”

 

“I’m forever editing my blurb. You should hear me groan.”

 

“I find writing the blurb more difficult to write than the whole bloody book.”

 

“The only thing more difficult than breaking the entire 400-page book down into 2-3 paragraphs is, perhaps, reviewing the edits of said book!”

 

“How do you summarize an 80,000-word novel into a 100-word, must-read-this-book summary? It’s like squeezing yourself into a string bikini two sizes too small! How can you pull that off and make it look pretty?”

 

Apparently, Tolstoy downed a gallon or two of vodka while trying to write the blurb for War and Peace. I doubt there are many authors who could blame him (even as I wonder how he wrote anything so sloshed). There is no better way to test an author’s ability to write concisely in a way that engages and entices the reader into wanting more than with a book blurb. The back cover is such a crucial part of the reading experience I don’t think it’s possible to overemphasize its importance. How many of you have read a story without first knowing the premise? I’ve never read a book that I haven’t read the blurb for first. I’m not alone in that. Most people like to know what they’re getting into in advance.

On that note, let’s discuss specifically what readers are looking for when shopping for books.