Monthly Theme: What Makes a Compelling Blurb?

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What is a blurb?

A blurb is a brief description of your story, a text-based advertisement to attract a future reader. It either appears on the back cover or inside the front cover on a printed book, or is the second piece of information you will find on a website (after the cover and the title).

Why is it important?

Because, after the potential reader has admired your cover and clever title, they want to know what the book is about. If your blurb does not entice them, then they’re going to put it back on the shelf, or move on to the next option.

How can I write a compelling blurb?

  • Keep it short, generally between 100-150 characters.
  • Write in third person, present tense (generally, however, exceptions may apply).
  • Be true to your genre and use words that cater to your audience. ie: If you are writing a romance, your blurb shouldn’t make it sound like a thriller.
  • Your first sentence has to hook the reader, most easily done by getting them interested in the character or intrigued by the setting.
  • Once the attention has been gained, it must be maintained. One easy way to do this is by following the basic formula below:

Basic Formula

Introduce:

A. the main character (generally including one defining feature).

Here are some examples randomly selected from my book case.

  • Nine-year old Bruno has a lot of things on his mind.
  • When the 5,000-year-old djinni Bartimaeus is summoned by Nathaniel, a young magician’s apprentice…
  • Pi Patel, a God-loving boy and the son of a zookeeper has a fervent love of stories…

OR: the setting

  • London is on the move again.
  • Angelfield House stands abandoned and forgotten.
  • In a ruined and hostile landscape, in a future few have been unlucky enough to survive…

With the character, you are seeking a way to connect with the reader, establishing the main protagonist as someone they wish to learn more about, and with the setting you are establishing a mystery: ie: is London literally moving? (yes, yes it is). You are endeavouring to engage with the reader and hook them in.

Tip: When trying to decide whether to focus on character or setting, ask yourself: which is more interesting? If unsure, write both and ask your friends/writing buddies/random strangers which they prefer.

Follow up with:

B. The problem

What goes wrong?

Tip: This is likely to be connected to the inciting incident of your story: it is the situation that takes your character from their previously predictable and reliable life and plunges them into the plot.

  • Alas, the ship sinks – and Pi finds himself in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra and a 450-pound Bengal tiger.

And connect this with your protagonist and the actions he (or she) will have to take:

  • Soon the tiger has dispatched all but Pi. Can Pi and the tiger find their way to land?

You must end with mystery – don’t spoil the end!

Tip: Although many blurbs do end with a question, if the answer is simply “yes” then your blurb may have more power if, instead, the reader is made aware of the cost to the protagonist should they fail, or the price they will have to pay to succeed.

C. The Mood

Finally, many blurbs choose to conclude with a final paragraph conveying the Mood and indicating the intended genre or audience. Here, if you have not previously, the setting can be mentioned.

  • Set in a modern-day London controlled by magicians, this hilarious, electrifying thriller will enthral readers of all ages.

Tip: Whilst it may seem logical (and is perfectly permissible) to start with the mood, you do run the risk of the reader going “oh, it’s a thriller, I don’t read thrillers” and proceed no further. Also, some readers may read the first sentence and the final paragraph before determining whether to read the middle.

What about Non-fiction?

Non-fiction blurbs are very diverse, depending on the genre.

  • Memoirs and biographies can be written in much the same way as fiction blurbs.
  • Manuals or guides for specialised topics can begin with:
    • the author and their credentials (third person, present tense).
    • with a series of questions (second person).
    • by informing you (the reader) why you might like this book (second person).

Important things to note about writing non-fiction blurbs:

  • Reach out to your intended audience and make your premise clear.
  • Demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about (list credentials/give an example).
  • Include testimonials if you have them. Of not, it won’t hurt to get some!

Tip: If you can make an outrageous, but substantiated claim, then that is a great way to attract the reader’s attention. However, never lie or mislead your reader!

I intend to publish traditionally;  do I still need a blurb?

Whilst it is true that, if traditionally published through a reputable publishing house, it is unlikely you will be writing your own blurb, first you have to get that publishing contract! Therefore, you still need a brief and enticing advertisement for your book.

Tip: Read a lot of blurbs before writing your own! Pick some randomly from your bookshelf or the library (or browse Amazon) and look at the structure. Try to determine what makes you pick them up or put them back. Specifically target books written in the same genre as yours: what do they have in common with each other, what are the differences? Are some more compelling than others?

Also, TEST your blurb, write several attempts, share them on a writers’ forum or with your friends, get feedback and make alterations accordingly.

Favourite first (or last) sentence in a blurb?
Share them with us on Twitter: @chchwriters or comment here!
We are also happy to take suggestions for our Monthly themes!

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