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A great book blurb is one of the most important factors in the success of your book, and yet, it is something that most authors neglect altogether. Many authors leave it up to the publisher to write the book blurb, or simply don’t even think about it. But the book blurb is one of the first things potential readers will see — and if they don’t like what they see, they won’t buy your book. That’s why it’s so important to write a great book blurb.
Know your genre
Book blurbs, like book covers, can be difficult to describe rigorously because what appeals to you — the author — might not appeal to a potential reader. Like other marketing materials, knowing your potential audience is critical, and a book blurb should be able to reach multiple people within a particular genre. Make a note of your book’s genre when it comes to marketing, and also think about who the likely audience members will be. Make sure you read the blurbs and descriptions for books in the same or a very similar genre before you start writing your own. Writing your own book blurb will require you to consider the same questions that reviewers will, so it helps to already have some answers for them before they see the book.
First you will need to think about how to describe your genres. Often, genres borrow from each other. For example, a medieval time-travel story might also borrow specific tropes from fantasy and historically from the medieval era. You can identify these by looking at the titles of books people would generally consider to be similar to yours. Next, consider how these similar books are described. How much detail is given? Does the book evoke emotions in the person reading — a quick note of something that happens in the genre — and leave the rest of the description to the imagination? What kinds of details are they using? In fantasy, do you see words like ‘epic’ and ‘war’? Oftentimes, taking a look at both adjectives and adverbs that are used to describe the story — and the kinds of books they’re used for — can provide you with clues about what details should be included in your description.
Stick with simple language
Good book blurbs keep it simple. The simpler and more direct you can be with emphasizing what is unique and notable in your novel, the better. You want people to hear about your book to be sure they will know enough to pick it up off the shelf. Keep the language clean, simple, and powerful, and people will want to read more about your book. You probably don’t need to use superlatives either, or even swear words. Don’t lose your authenticity, but be sure to pick your words carefully.
Monosyllables, precise word choices, contractions – all of these are powerful tools in your toolbox. Almost everyone does something to delightfully defy the rules to suit the situation. That’s good writing. But when you’re dealing with the space you have to convey the importance of your book, and the reader definitely has to know something interesting, interesting, specific, and true, you’d better – to channel Dr. Seuss, in a greater sense than we have yet, or dare you become entangled in the hooks of the logographs?
Solidify your idea in 3 sentences
Just as you would sit down and write a character bio before writing a book, or write a narrative hook before writing a plot, you also need a solid concept for your book before writing a blurb. A great way to do this is to come up with a short and catchy three-sentence summary of your story. Use those three sentences to focus your writing. Get creative with your book blurb, and know that you have the freedom to change it up as you go. A blurb is not a small part of the overall marketing process — it’s a part of the overall whole. If later marketing efforts reveal flaws in the blurb, it doesn’t hurt to change it.
Once you have your three-sentence summary, you can turn it into a short paragraph that will form the spine of your book blurb. Start by placing your three sentences in a row so that they roughly make up a three-part paragraph. Don’t worry if they don’t fall into perfectly managed, neat, and tidy sentences. Also — a short paragraph is very different from a teaser, and I’ll explain their different uses in the next sections. Remember though, that as much as possible, you want to include your concept, then refer to the target audience of your book. That’ll ensure that your blurb isn’t too vague, or that it doesn’t latch onto peripheral themes in the hope of catching a broad audience.
Make a promise
One of the most important principles of a great blurb is the promise, which is exactly what it sounds like — a promise of the value the product will deliver. When potential readers encounter your book’s book blurb, they won’t know every detail about your book, but they’ll only have a split second to decide whether it’s right for them or not. To do that you need to make a compelling promise. The promise should be bigger than the product itself, and it should be believable. Imagine the character types, tone, and plot points from a particular genre. A general rule for those rules is that it should exceed whatever they’d find attractive in a book, and should be immediately attractive enough to keep the audience reading. It should be plausible but that means you’ll have to be even more concise.
The length of the book blurb doesn’t have to be as long as the book, but should encapsulate the key elements in a compelling manner, pulling the information together to tell a compelling story that emphasizes the promise with the right amount of detail. If you get the details right, readers will be able to picture the climax and conclusion even if they can’t picture the exact details. The great book blurb will follow a 3-act plot structure — revealing an inciting incident, leading to rising action, and then revealing the climax of the story. Rewrite it as options and slot them in anywhere in your blurb to see what they sound like. Don’t just summarize the story — make it interesting! Make a promise that is bigger than the product itself.
Guarantee you can deliver
An accurate, believable hook is essential to pique a reader’s interest. After you know that your blurb accurately reflects your book, the next step is to figure out how to make it even more convincing and exciting! Many authors are tempted to exaggerate or stretch the truth when advertising their book. Be careful! Don’t oversell, and come across as dishonest or liars you’ll scare away potential readers. Another reason to be wary of stretching too far is that if you meet the bar of deceit set by your own blurb, you can’t really ask readers to suspend disbelief when you inevitably exceed your blurb’s claims in the actual novel.
Knocking claims out of the park on your book cover or teaser is a great start, but it also makes your book blurb the most important advertisement on the page. Therefore, you’ll need to write the blurb with extreme care and attention. What will entice readers to read on? How can you ensure that the content of your blurb accurately reflects how good your book is? How can you challenge the reader to wonder how good the book actually is? Get these queries into your head, and then brainstorm some different story summary headlines, including ones that may have less to do with the narrative of the book.
Pick a “hook” for your tag line
Your blurb needs a tagline — a one-line summary of your plot. On the other hand, your tagline cannot sacrifice depth for brevity. If you get bombarded with questions about a particular part of your book, all you have to do is point people to your tag line, and it should answer most recurring questions in a matter of seconds. For example, if a lot of people keep asking you about the mysterious duke/lover everyone believes the MC is married to, and how that will affect their reception of her supposed husband — you now know that how the MC’s reunion with her husband will affect the rest of her life is a focus of readers. Paste this summary into your sample blurb, and work it into your synopsis in such a way that the description and events of all three books are mentioned. If you had multiple tag lines available, consider choosing the one that best applies to the first book in your series.
Now that you know the deep details of your plot, it’s time to translate them into actual sentences. Looking at your story summary, pick three elements of your plot that will pique reader interest. If you can work in the dramatic irony from the episode above, do so — but don’t worry if it doesn’t fit right in. Keep in mind that readers also need to be drawn into your plot before they start worrying about details. An important thing to remember with book blurbs is that you need to include a lot of information in a small amount of space. Since the back of a book is limited and highly sought-after real estate, never think that your book blurb says absolutely everything about your story. Readers who are interested in your book and who want more depth can hop over to the flap, to your description of the book’s plot, or to your table of contents.
Don’t force in irrelevant or superlative statements
Don’t think of your book blurb as a first impression, think of it as a second date. Nothing is as cringe-worthy on a date as someone trying too hard to get in your pants — or, if you’re the writer, you don’t want your reader thinking you’re just bragging about yourself and your work. But try to channel your inner Don Draper and choose words that describe both you and your book as objectively as possible. Ultimately, the blurb should summarize what makes your book and your approach an outlier from the mainstream, without making you look totally weird in the process.
A good book blurb uses superlatives strategically, and only when used with a certain subtlety that reflects a popular opinion. For example, if many of your readers are declaring that your novel is “A great summer read!” you could say it is “a perfect vacation novel,” letting someone make the judgment on your behalf. Or if your book is particularly plot-driven, a flashy superlative like “an action-packed thrill ride” is a good gamble, because it’s factual and usually not seen as manipulative. Similarly, if your writing is particularly well-crafted, it can be nice to let just one reader break ranks, as in “the most stunning debut novel in years” or your “one of the best debuts of the last decade.”
Write for your audience
As much as you want to write a great book blurb, the odds are that you are actually writing it for someone else – your publisher, your agent, or your marketing team. After all, as soon as your blurb ends up on the internet for sale, it’s pretty much guaranteed that it will be out there forever. Start by making sure your blurb echoes what your cover already provides – if your book has an exciting, enticing cover, then your blurb should incorporate those same qualities.
Pit yourself against your own cohorts. It’s important to look not only at books that are similar to the one you’re writing, but also at ones that you wish did a few things better. This is to help modify your process of writing about your book so that it incorporates what you love best about the competition. Although it will help pinpoint elements to incorporate the blurb about your book so that it stands out, a critically-acclaimed author can make her book stand apart from the others in the market. Hone your focus on the kernels of why your audience should read your book, maybe because it fills a need that their current reader base is missing.
Get your reader involved
Book blurbs can come from anyone — potential readers, fans you’re emailing for advance promotion, and best of all, your target audience. The best book blurbs will speak directly to your genre’s fans and will have an authentic voice. The reader of a thriller will not appreciate a moralizing book blurb promoting a simple virtuous lifestyle. A young adult reader won’t relate to the emotional reaction of an adult who writes a romance. In other words, the book blurb should mirror the kind of content that the book will present. The greatest purchase of such a campaign is the organic response of the audience, from your fans who truly enjoy your content and are moved to do something about it. If you feel stuck coming up with a book blurb, try asking 20 people to read your work and give you honest feedback. 20 people may not be enough for a focus group, but it should be more than enough to give you enough material for your book blurb.
But creation of a blurb from outside sources also requires skill and finesse. If you’re taking a quote from a reader, your wording must convey the excitement of the person in their own words, and yet sound professional. If you’re quoting a review, make sure you read the entire review, and edit out any parts that don’t lead up to the praise. Ideally, you want a review quote not only to be a succinct, exciting summary of your entire book but also one that has a tone similar to what you’re aiming for in your own book blurb.
Don’t advertise yourself
Remember, when you write a book blurb, you’re not trying to sell yourself. That’s because potential readers are turned off to overly promotional copy. Book blurbs that sound like exercises in author self-promotion usually don’t attract readers, but book blurbs that focus on the content do. How can you do this? Focus on the book, not the author. Readers want to know what the book is about and why they should buy it. This is why effective book blurbs almost always contain some kind of “hook” that captures the readers’ interest. Show, don’t tell — while we all learn the basics of fiction writing in school, the best way to hook readers is to give the full story, using specific details and truly compelling examples.
Make your hook a simple one-liner that spells out the main idea of your book. Create a list that outlines the main goals the book will accomplish — and try to include to-the-point, interactive goals, if possible. For example, rather than say, “This book helps childless women plan their futures,” you might write, “This book will help childless women build a joyful and meaningful life.” This makes your story more personally relevant to both parents and childless adults, and gives potential readers the information they’re looking for immediately.
Give no spoilers
Spoilers are one of the worst things you can give a potential reader, so you need to be careful never to give anything away. After all, book sales in the modern age are almost entirely word of mouth. Readers need to be able to tell their friends why your book is so great without ruining the plot. No matter how tempting it is to write a killer one-line pitch or play up the best parts of your book, try to resist spoilers. Whether you choose to undersell by creating vague but intriguing statements that get people wanting more, or whether you opt instead to create engaging sentences that do the job of teasing your plot, there are many different ways to do it. Don’t say your book is “the best thriller you will read this year!” if it is not. Instead, try saying that it’s the thriller “you need right now” in order to point out a specific quality of the plot or characters.
Another way to fight temptation is to take a look at blurb templates from books that sell well in your genre. Having successful book models to emulate will give you a jumping off point from which to explore your own temptations. By getting more experienced blurb writers to talk shop with you, you can develop your own style from their trailblazing and figure out how to refine your own material to perfection. After all, as you write blurb after blurb, you will develop your own style in time.
You obviously have a relationship to your book. You wrote it, so you probably feel very attached to it. While this is a good thing — a strong relationship to your work means that you take it seriously — your personal stake in your book also means there’s a chance you’ll slip into cheese-speak or cliche. This kind of adspeak is the death of book blurbs. It tells the reader next to nothing except that you’re trying really hard. If you find yourself describing your own book as “the most…in its category!” consider rolling back your prose to the good old days, when blurbs were informative, interesting, and fun to read.
Say you’re promoting your book on its own merits, but the blurb still flounders. It could be that it’s too long. Too much information about the plot and characters initially can scare off potential readers. They know there’s good material in that book, but they don’t know if they want to part with their money for it, and you just gave them too much to think about too soon. You need to hook them in, and you can do that by giving them the basics about what the book is about. You can start by telling readers the genre, or what kinds of themes the book explores. Then mention what’s most unique or compelling about the book, or what the author’s style is like. Don’t worry about listing every minor detail, and don’t waste more than two sentences on the meat of the book — you want to bait the hook while leaving room to breathe.
Make it engaging
Just for fun, walk into a book store today and look at some books with blurbs. Put aside the plot description of the blurb, and look at the emotions it evokes. Can you tell if the story will be heartwarming, funny, inspirational, or terrifying by just looking at the blurb? You can, and you should be able to do the same for the books you write — whether it’s a one-line summary of a character or an entire short story.
A great blurb can make a reader feel, but the emotion will be completely ineffective if the audience can’t see it coming. When you write a blurb, always come at it with a target emotion — and then follow these three steps to be sure it makes it to the page. Choose the most essential aspect of a memorable story. Then, double it. If you’re writing a romance, make it a case of star-crossed lovers. If you’re writing a comedy novel, make it a split between a divorced couple who must be chained together to fulfill their tax obligations. Whether you’re writing a thriller or a biography, make it the only story that could possibly contain whatever event you’re highlighting. Don’t settle for punchlines when you’re writing a blurb, try for gut-punches that will leave your readers reeling.
Writing a blurb for your book can be challenging, especially if you’re crunched for time. Still, taking the time to do it right can be worth it in the long run — a good book blurb can help your book stand out. While you may not be able to control everything about your book, you may find that having a great blurb for your book has a direct impact on its sales. A well-placed, concise, and memorable sentence or two about your book on the back cover could make all the difference in getting a reader to pick it up, knowing what they’re in for, and therefore helping to sell your book.
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