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?

Mary Gillgannon
Mary Gillgannon writes romance novels set in the Dark Ages, medieval, and English Regency time periods and fantasy and historical novels with Celtic influences. Her books have been published in Russia, China, the Netherlands, and Germany. Raised in the Midwest, she now lives in Wyoming and works at a public library. She is married and has two grown children. When not working or writing, she enjoys gardening, traveling, and reading, of course! More about Mary on her website.

13 thoughts on “The Dreaded Blurb

  1. I hate writing blurbs. My first pass is to get the pertinent “facts” down. H/H GMC, main story theme and a question at the end. Then I cull, switch, tear out my hair. The last step before sending it to my critique partners is to take all those dry ‘facts’ and instill my voice. Then I fix it some more, and finally send it to my editor to see what she thinks. For me, the tag line is the hardest. I envy you that skill.

  2. I cringe when I have to write them, too, Mary. I used to apply the journalistic approach, Mary, so I know what you mean. I thought of the blurb as a mini-synopsis. I think your process–engaging writer friends to help–is a good one. Sometimes we’re just too close to it. Congrats on zeroing in on your story and getting that blurb to your publisher!

  3. I have only written two = agony. Initially, I put on my marketing hat to write them, but the blurbs came across as cliched and corny. Then, like you, I roped my friends and critique groups into the process = much better. As an aside [off-topic] I’ve recently came across a couple of blurbs that read like synopses instead. I’m hoping, for their sakes, that they sent the wrong file by mistake.

  4. The blurbs are not my favorite kind of writing. At the same time, especially being self-published, I am acutely aware that a potential reader has to be sufficiently attracted to the cover to pick it up in the first place, and find the blurb compelling, then the 100 k words between the covers don’t stand a chance.

  5. I, too, hate writing blurbs. It has to entice the reader without giving away the whole plot. I got through at least five versions before sending it off to writerly friends to critique. I learned this formula a long time ago and it totally works:

    (Protagonist’s name) is a (description of protagonist). But when (incident) happens, (protagonist name) must (name an action) in order to (state the goal).

  6. For me, writing a blurb is sheer agony. The part I find most frustrating is the word limit–my publisher requires 150 words or less. Virtually impossible to condense an entire novel to so few words! Also, doesn’t it always seem that other writers’ blurbs are longer???

  7. Dread the “dreaded” blurb-writing process. Takes me forever–and if I’m allowed (which at some point I’m not!) I’d tweak it forever !!

  8. Blurbs for me are simply another, and necessary, part of “finish the book”. I don’t love or hate them, at least not anymore, but if I had my ‘druthers’, I’d prefer not to have to write them. It does take a lot of tries (and help from my friends) before I look at it and think, “That’s it! That’s perfect.” I have the same problem with “keeping it short” (my very first blurb was a page long! Thankfully, a writer friend helped me whip it into shorter shape.) Màiri Norris

  9. I dread writing blurbs and put it off as long as possible. Meeting a 150-word limit also challenges me. Before sending off my blurb, I get an editor friend to help. That second set of eyes definitely helps. 🙂

  10. I usually start with a one-page synopsis and then start deleting words until I get to the word count the publisher wants. And then….I rewrite it about a hundred million times. Yes, blurbs are hard!

  11. Some great blurb writing tips – thank you! The dreaded blurb is for me almost as bad as the dreaded synopsis.

  12. Good idea to get the help of a crit group – I never find writing the blurb easy – actually I find the dreaded synopsis easier, at least you know you have to condense the whole plot including the ending – making the blurb a tease that’s concise and logical isn’t nearly as easy!

  13. I’m forever editing my blurb. You should hear me groan. It starts on a single sheet of computer paper–handwritten. By the time I’m finished, I’ve scrawled many various versions and shared it with family and friends for their critical eye. Thankfully, I have some breathing room before the next blurb is due. Great post, Mary!

Comments are closed.