Let’s talk about the one thing almost authors hate: the blurb. It’s that pesky bit of text on the back flap of your book or what readers see when they look up your book on for instance Amazon. For many authors, writing the blurb is the worst thing ever, as some funny memes demonstrate, haha.
Still, the blurb is a necessary evil, something you must master if you want to sell books. So in this week’s Writer Wednesday post, let’s talk blurbs. This will be a series with at least two installments and maybe three, because there’s a lot to learn about blurbs and about how to write a blurb that sells, but let’s start with what the goal of a blurb is.
The Goal of a Blurb
Before I give my short and sweet answer on the question what a blurb is exactly, let’s state what a blurb is NOT. A blurb is not:
- a summary of the book
- a synopsis of the book
- a cliff’s note’s version of the book
- an overview of the book
- a short description of what the storyline is about
Oh wait, do these all mean the same? Then hopefully I’ve made my point on what a blurb is not. The goal of a blurb is not to summarize the story.
What then IS the goal of a blurb? It’s super simple, really. The goal of a blurb is to SELL the book. That’s it. It doesn’t need to do anything else than that. If the blurb sells the book, you’ve done a great job.
Why Readers Read a Book
This, of course, leads us to the ultimate challenge: how to write a blurb that sells. Before I share my thoughts, let me ask you this: what makes you decide to read/buy a book?
I always assume writers are readers, because if you don’t read the genre you write in, you’ll find it hard to succeed. So if you have to pick your next read out of the thousands of romances available, how do you choose? What makes you decide to take a chance on a book?
I’ve asked my readers this and the answers were pretty much what you would expect. An author they already love means an automatic one-click, for example. That’s an easy sell. Other things that were mentioned were recommendations from a friend, the cover, and…the blurb.
Readers may do little more but scan the blurb, though some will really study it, but they all look at it before deciding to read. Or not. And whether they always consciously realize it or not, the combination of cover and blurb (with the author name) is a crucial one. In other words: the blurb must sell the book.
But what are they looking for in the blurb? The short answer is this: tropes and familiar elements they love.
What “Old Style” Blurbs look Like
I changed the way I write my blurbs. In fact, if you look at my books on Amazon right now, they’re about evenly split between what I call blurbs “old style” and blurbs “new style”.
The old style blurb goes something along these lines: Introduce Character A. Introduce Character B. Hint to meet cute. Describe main conflict and stakes. End with a question.
To give you an example of an old style blurb:
“TV reporter John O’Donell is tired of living life on the merry-go-round. He has a successful career, an expensive apartment, and a different man every weekend. But he’s tired of it all. He wants more than quick hook-ups and one-night stands. He wants the real thing, a family.
Small town mayor Frank Dodd is still heart broken over losing his high-school sweetheart to breast cancer after a fifteen-year marriage. He had it all: a wife, a family, a town to raise his girls, until fate took it all away. He never imagined himself as a single dad, yet here he is, struggling to take care of his two daughters.
When mysterious fires break out all over town and the cops and fire marshals have no clue who’s behind it, TV crews flock to the scene, and John is one of them. When he interviews the mayor, he quickly finds himself attracted to the soft spoken, intelligent man and his spunky daughters. Here’s his chance at a family, at a real life that doesn’t feel fake.
It only takes one meeting with John for Frank to realize that the fleeting attraction he felt for boys in the past may have been more than just a phase. Even though it feels like a betrayal to his wife, Franks finds himself slowly falling for John, even though he knows John is only in town temporary.
But when his conservative citizens find out their mayor is dating a man, tensions rise and Frank’s qualifications as a parent and as a mayor are called into question. Is their fragile bond strong enough to survive this?”
I made this up on the spot and it’s not an existing book (though the story certainly has potential, haha), but a blurb like this looks familiar, no? You may find yourself drawn to some of the elements mentioned in the story and the tropes you can distill:
- a player who is ready to settle down
- a man who discovers he’s bisexual (this is sometimes referred to as coming out for you or gay for you, which is not the most bi/pan/demisexual-affirming term tbh)
- small town romance
- single dad
- outside opposition and bigotry toward a gay relationship
These are all elements and tropes we and readers are familiar with, and whether readers realize it or not, they’re also what makes them decide to read…or to skip. So is this a bad blurb? Well, I’m sure it could be stronger considering I wrote it in, like, two minutes, but aside from that, it’s not bad. But it’s not the best sales pitch for this book either.
In the next post in this series on how to write a blurb that sells, I’ll share what the “new style” blurbs look like. For now, I’d love to hear some comments on this blurb. Where do you think this one falls short? What could be improved to make it a more effective sales pitch?