My first thoughts on blurbs was that they were akin to the elevator pitch – something you quickly realise is necessary to put together so you don’t mumble indistinct rubbish when all manner of folk ask “so what’s it about then?” when you tell them you’re writing a book.
My assumption was that, as time goes on, you use the responses (or lack thereof) to your pitch, put in hours of work to hone it, until you end up happy it’s both a selling tool as well a good reflection of what readers will find in your book – in other words the perfect blurb.
And that’s all folks (as they say at Looney Tunes), or rather that’s all I thought there was to it. Oh how wrong can one person be eh?
In one of the non-writing blogs I read regularly, there was a post on the topic of Blurbs. The blogger is a keen reader who’d just finished a book when, following her standard practice of marking it as ‘Read’ on Goodreads, she moved on to browse other readers reviews. There she was surprised to find the first batch complaining that the blurb had been misleading. Her reaction? She felt the blurb had stated the basic premise of the book accurately, so why had so many people found it misleading?
Being someone who cannot remember ever deciding to read a book based solely upon it’s blurb, I can only surmise it comes down to a variance in individual expectations.
For a writer, a blurb is a selling tool, it’s a window through which to glimpse what’s within, whereas it appears there are readers who also want to know exactly what they’re going to get – whether it’s going to be light or dark, flippant or serious, funny or shocking – you get the picture. But, I have to ask – would those readers read an academic essay for entertainment? After all, academic essays are famed for having the following structure …
First, you tell them what you’re going to tell them
Then you tell them
Last, you tell them what you’ve just told them
As a reader, I thank goodness fiction doesn’t work that way. Fiction is storytelling, and a key part of storytelling is not telling your reader everything before they’ve even started page one. Surely, if you give it all away in the blurb, the majority of readers would have no interest in reading the book?
And so I return to my earlier question – how wrong can one person be? The only ALL in the That’s all folks of blurb writing, is the need to get it ALL right.
So, can we drill it down to any dos and don’ts at all? The only ones I can offer are :
- DO write one
- DON’T write a clinical synopsis
- DO make it about the book and not about the author
- DON’T skimp and just use an excerpt from the book
- DO make it short and sweet
Other than that, well the usual advice of checking out the competition always applies. Who does it well? Is there a different style to blurbs in your particular genre? Analyse what aspects you’d like to emulate. And if you want to get good at writing blurbs – practice, practice a lot.
When it’s unwise to mislead, but it’s also cutting your own throat to give the game away, you can see why I believe Eric Lahti puts it better than I can …
“It has to tell enough of the story that the reader knows what they’re getting, but it has [to be] obscure enough of the details that people want to read it to find out what happens. And it had better be coherent.”
I recently spoke to a reader who only has time to read on annual holidays. She selects her prospective reads in bookshops where she browses the displays and bookshelves. While there are a few authors she knows she likes, she is genuinely one of those readers who makes most of her decisions based upon covers, titles and blurbs. Her complaint? That books look and sound so alike that, more times than she’d like to admit, she’s ended up buying a book she’d already read.
Despite having previously been relatively chilled about the idea of writing a blurb, I now want to lie down in a darkened room at the mere thought of it.
As ever, advice would be most welcome …
© Debra Carey, 2020