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Ask the editor 10: Writing your blurb or cover copy


Writing your blurb or cover copy

It's not a pretty word, 'blurb'; it smacks of nonsense, or slightly less than entirely honest marketing. Which is unfortunate, because a blurb is a useful and necessary thing; without it, your book is at risk of being a blank text, what you might call a closed book. In this article, I will look at what makes a good blurb and how to go about writing one; and we will consider the difficulties for authors in writing such material.

So what is a blurb? It is, properly speaking, a species of what some in the trade call 'teaser copy'; an invitation to read a book that offers a promise of excitement, drama, romance, or whatever the genre provides. It is not a summary or synopsis of the book; rather, it is a snapshot of the reading experience, an advance taster of what the reader can expect from the text.

The best blurbs intrigue the prospective reader. They position the book as a mystery waiting to be resolved. In respect of the story, or the plot line, they can offer only a sliver; but that sliver is full of potential and calls to the sleuth in the reader. Can they, from the enticing titbits on offer, work out if this is the book for them? That's the teaser question.

If it's a mystery to the reader, a blurb is often a frustrating puzzle for the author. You have worked, and worked hard, to write a book, perhaps a hundred thousand words; now you have to encapsulate it, at between 100 and 150 words, and in a way that will appeal to someone who has never read the book, knows nothing about you or your work, and needs encouraging merely to turn the page.

For some authors this is a step too far; they will employ the services of someone who has experience in writing blurbs. This is a perfectly rational thing to do and it doesn't imply that you don't know your own book. But, for those of you who want to try writing your own blurb, here are a few tips.

First, and most important, you do not need to tell the whole story. The aim here is to give a flavour of the book, a morsel that leaves the reader wanting more. A good approach is to start with the protagonist, if you have one. An outline of this character's involvement in the wider story, followed by a teaser question, will often do the trick. It narrows down the material you need to include and still points to the main thrust of the story.

Second, the blurb should speak the same language as the book. What I mean by this is that, if your book is a comic romp, the blurb should have a comic flavour too. If the story is intense and passionate, so should the blurb be. Writing a smart, sassy blurb, with flip comments and the odd joke, when the book is a tale of tragedy and hope, is not going to work.

This is an important point. Of course, the blurb can be a little lighter in tone than the book itself, but it should never stray too far from the aims and intentions of the author. By the same token, if you have written a light-hearted police procedural featuring a couple of cynical detectives with a good line in gallows humour, a blurb that clangs with portents of doom is not doing you justice. In fact, one might say that distilling the essence of the book is the proper function of the blurb.

Third, it should appeal to the reader's tastes and expectations. You are trying to persuade the casual reader, in particular, that the book will be worth reading (and thus, by implication, buying). To do this, you need to characterise the story in an enticing way. I suspect this is what makes things difficult for many authors; it feels like blowing your own trumpet rather than useful information.

Well, yes; you are promoting your product, and generally, saying good things about it makes sense. But there is plenty of room for a little creativity and invention here. Consider the style and tone you have adopted. Can you compress that style - that feel - into a few sentences? If you can, you are more than halfway home.

Fourth, you need to persuade the reader that the parts of the book you haven't told them about are worth reading too. How do you do that? One way is to ask a teaser question:

Can Rodney find the answers before the bad guys find him?

Another is to pose the 'problem' of the book:

Argenta is faced with an impossible choice. Save the kingdom, or save her family from the creeping evil that threatens to engulf the world.

At some point in the writing process, it is likely that you have posed this central problem to yourself, or asked the teaser question as you consider plot options. So the chances are you have the appropriate material to hand.

The rules of thumb, then, for a good blurb:

  • Keep it short and sweet, in character and in the tone and style of the book.
  • Take a slice of the action, perhaps based on the protagonist's role, and encapsulate it (avoid spoilers here at all costs).
  • Finish with a teaser; either a question (what will happen?) or the problem (Character X must do A or B).

If you use this template, you should end up with a blurb that tells the reader enough to get them interested and gives them a tantalising hint of what is to come. You will, I am confident, get the reader to page one; and then, dear writer, the rest is up to you.


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When he isn't editing, Noel Rooney writes a regular column for Fortean Times magazine, and wilfully obscure poetry. He lives in South London with his family and rather too many animals.

Ask the Editor 1: What genre is my book?

Ask the Editor 2: the submission letter

Ask the Editor 3: Writing a synopsis

Ask the Editor 4: Why do I need you?

Ask the Editor 5: Non-fiction submissions

Ask the Editor 6: Writing non-fiction

Ask the Editor 7: Researching for a bookAsk the Editor 8: How I assess a manuscript

Ask the Editor 8: How I assess a manuscript

Ask the Editor 9: Why do I need a report?

Ask the Editor 10: Writing your blurb or cover copy

Ask the editor 11: English language editing

Ask the Editor 12: The limittions of editing software

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