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How to Improve Your Book’s Blurb (Guest Post by Rayne Hall)
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR BOOK’S BLURB
by Rayne Hall
The blurb (book description) on the book’s back cover and online product page is the most important part of the book. Almost everyone reads or at least skims it before deciding whether or not to buy. It probably plays a bigger role in your sales than any other factor.
IS THE BLURB TOO LONG?
If the book description goes on and on, the reader gets bored—and looks at the next book in the catalogue instead.
Many authors load their book description page with a lengthy synopsis, subplots, commentary, author bio, purchased reviews and other material, in the hope that this will persuade the reader to become interested in the book. But the reader who visits your product page is already interested. Don’t bore her away!
The description needs to stir the interest into an urgent desire to read the book, so the reader either clicks to get the free sample or to buy the book at once.
Shorten your blurb. Cut all superfluous material—you may be able to use it elsewhere in your promotions. Model your blurb’s length on that of the bestsellers of your genre. 200-800 words is usually enough.
IS IT TOO COMPLEX?
In an attempt to do the book justice and reflect every nuance of content, writers often cram too much into the blurb. This leaves the reader confused.
Better to focus on one aspect of the book, and present that well. Keep it simple.
Unlike a synopsis, the blurb should not reveal the plot. Otherwise, the reader doesn’t need to read the book to find out what happens.
A good blurb is a teaser. It presents an exciting situation that the reader can’t resist.
Keep it simple and get straight to the point.
For non-fiction, show what benefits the reader will get. (Example: Writing Fight Scenes: “Learn step-by-step how to create fictional fights which leave the reader breathless with excitement.”) Add some key features of the content.
For a novel, focus on the main character’s major goal and conflict. Leave out subplots, minor characters and all the enchanting details.
Focus on the first couple of chapters of your book. Leave out anything that comes later.
Do you have a tagline, logline, elevator pitch or similar short teaser for the book? Flesh it out with a couple more sentences, and you’ll have an irresistible blurb.
DOES IT FAIL TO GRAB?
Many blurbs leave the reader unmoved. Without emotional involvement, the reader doesn’t feel compelled to read the story.
Here’s a powerful method to make the reader care. Start the blurb with the character’s goal. Whatever the character wants or needs that sets the events in motion, state it. Example: “Debutante Arabella needs a husband.”
Add the reason why, but without explanations. Simply reveal what’s at stake or what the dire consequences of failure would be: “Debutante Arabella needs a husband, or her brother goes to prison.”
If you can create a sense of urgency by mentioning a deadline, even better: “Debutante Arabella needs a husband, and she needs him by Christmas, or her brother goes to prison.”
A sentence “[Character] needs [goal] before [deadline], otherwise [drastic consequences]” is an irresistible hook for any reader who enjoys the kind of story you’ve written.
Add another sentence creating an emotional dilemma: “But the only man she loves is betrothed to her best friend.”
Finish with a question. “How can she protect her brother without betraying her friend or her own heart?”
This gets the reader’s imagination going, and she’ll want to read the story.
IS IT WORDY AND WAFFLING?
Your writing style for the blurb needs to be exciting and punchy. Many blurbs are vague, clumsy, or cluttered with phrases that add no content.
Give every sentence at least one vivid verb and specific noun, and scrap most adjectives and adverbs.
Avoid Passive Voice sentence structure (“When her son is killed by native warriors…”) and use Active Voice where possible (“When native warriors kill her son…”).
Delete phrases that carry no content (“This book is about…” “This story tells how…” “What happens next…”)
Delete sentences in which the character thinks, considers, understands and realises things. Focus on the action.
Tighten the phrasing. Avoid “he starts/begins to” and “she finds herself”. Instead of “He starts to plot revenge” write “He plots revenge.” Instead of “She finds herself journeying into the jungle” write “She journeys into the jungle.”
DOES IT LACK THRILL WORDS?
Every genre has certain words which send delicious thrills down the reader’s spine and get her imagination going. They signal that this book contains the kind of story she loves.
In Regency Romance, words like ‘ball, governess, rake, rogue, elopement, scandal’ capture the reader’s imagination, while for Westerns it may be ‘stagecoach, sheriff, outlaw, hanging, posse, saloon’ and for High Fantasy ‘sword, wizard, enchanted, magic, prophecy, quest’. They act as an open-sesame.
If your blurb lacks the magic words, the reader will move on to look at another book.
Make a list of the thrill words of your genre (or genres, if your book straddles several). Choose the ones which fit your story and insert two or more into your blurb.
MISTAKES I MADE AND LEARNT FROM
For a short while, I believed the ‘gurus’ who urged authors to make blurbs as long as possible. I wrote 2000-word blurbs and stuffed them with keywords. When book sales dropped instead of rising, I realised that readers don’t want to read long blurbs. They want to read books.
Excellent, excellent post. I’d never thought of ‘thrill words’ that way before, though I know I’ve innately endeavored to use them.
One issue I would argue with…no questions. They are meaningless. To me they break every rule you listed. Just me, maybe…because I see them sooooooooooo often