The Dreaded Blurb

My publisher has a policy where they won’t start the editing process until you’ve finished the art memo and a promotional worksheet for your book. The worksheet includes writing a blurb.

In the old days (sigh) my editor or someone in the marketing department wrote my blurbs. I still had to come up with the tagline, but that’s much shorter than a blurb and easier to manage. The blurb, which becomes the back cover copy for print versions and the description on ebook sites, is supposed to tell the reader the basic plot of your book and at the same time, entice them into wanting to read it.

I know authors who like to write blurbs. They consider it challenging and fun. For me, the process elicits a deep groan. My first problem is that I tend to write long. Most of my books are over 100,000 words. My second problem is that having finished this book only a few months ago. I’m still too close to it to have a good perspective. My third problem is that I’m not good at knowing what readers look for in a book. I read book reviews almost every day in my job at the library. But book reviews critically evaluate a book and summarize the plot in a cold, logical way. Not a good model for a blurb, which is sort of a love letter to your book.

So, I asked my author friends for help. I came up with several blurb versions and we went out for tea and started reworking them. They took lines here and there they liked and rearranged and combined them. They also scratched out a lot, pointing out I was giving away too much of the story. “Take that out,” they’d say. “Readers don’t need to know that.”

During the process, I realized my instinct with a blurb is to outline the plot. But that’s not the idea. The blurb is supposed to tantalize and intrigue. Raise questions and then not give the answers. That’s a basic principle of fiction. You keep reading to find out what’s going to happen.

All at once, I understood I’d been doing blurbs all wrong for years. (Fortunately, I’m much better at taglines, which are so short you can’t give much away.) It's probably obvious to most authors that the blurb is supposed to keep the reader guessing. But my background in journalism pushed me to “tell my story”.

Eventually, my friends came up with a blurb they agreed on. To me, it feels vague and almost unfinished. But that’s probably a good thing.

In this business, you’re always learning. Sometimes the most obvious things have to be pointed out to you. Without the help of my friends, I’d make even more mistakes than I already have. Maybe that’s the most important lesson of all.

How about you? Do you like to write blurbs? Hate it? Do you have any special techniques or advice for the process that might help other authors?