Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Awesomeness that is Writing Blurbs

Whether you're building the perfect query letter, getting your story straight in your head, or self-publishing your novel, eventually you're going to have to write a blurb. Nope, no avoiding it. Has to be done. And if you read a lot of advice for writers, you've probably heard these things:

1. Read a lot of jacket flaps.
2. Start with the protagonist. Tell us what he wants and then tell us why he can't have it.
3. Send it to your critique partners.

And that's all good advice, but you know, not quite enough. Here's the problem: step 2. It works for a plot-driven book, but it might not work for your character-driven novel. And then you get to step 3, and your critique partners are like "No. Just no." And then you're back at step one, pulling random books off your shelves and wondering if you can steal their blurbs. Or is that just me?

I'm an editor for Entangled Publishing, a romance house, and I write a lot of blurbs. And they're all hard to write. Here are some of the questions I ask myself:
--What makes this novel unique? Am I conveying that?
--Am I giving away too much of the plot? Will people read this blurb and assume they know how the book is going to end?

That last one is big. I do this all the time with blurbs and movie trailers. Show me a typical action movie trailer and I assume the entire plot of the movie. I don't need to see it now, thanks, I just imagined Bruce Willis blowing things up based on his previous movies.

So let's say your writing a novel about a boy in a quirky neighborhood with complicated relationships with his family and his neighbors. Every summer, the street holds a home run derby. So you follow step 2 and write:

Marco wants to win the annual neighborhood home run derby, but his neighbor Jake is a star on the school baseball team.

"It's a baseball book," people are thinking. And if they don't like baseball, you have a problem. The story is really about the neighborhood, and that's a little more complicated. "Marco wants to figure out if his father is a good person" doesn't really have a "but" conflict to follow. How do you hook people into your book? Here, I'd probably start with the setting, not the plot.

Marco lives around the corner from his godfather, who thinks he's a pirate, his cousins, who throw beer cans at him, and Jake Salvo, the Golden Boy who won't let Marco stand on his porch.

Well, this isn't a real novel, so it's still not exciting, but the point is, you may have to play around. Start with the character, if that's what works. Start with the setting. Start with the plot. Write three different versions of your blurb and see which you like best. (Oh yeah, Kate, write three blurbs, thanks. Well, just tell yourself you only have to revise one of them.)

Here's a great article from an editor who writes a lot of blurbs, Amy Wilkins. She addresses the problem of revealing too much of the plot: "I don’t go overboard on plot details, I pick a spot in the book, usually a quarter or a third of the way in, and don’t include anything that happens after that point."

Expect to revise your blurb several times. It's very difficult to do on your own, and it helps to bounce it back and forth with someone else. End the blurb with some suspense. Will you ever get this right? Does it ever get easier?

-- Kate


  1. Sounds a lot like query writing. I clung to that first-third rule while querying, and I'll do it again while blurbing. Speaking of which...I always thought that the author/critic quotes on the cover were the blurbs. The ones that say that this was a "rip-roaring read" or a "tear-jerking romance." Is there a difference between these blurbs?

    1. Melody, the acclaims from other authors are also called blurbs. Because publishing is totally not confusing. I think the jacket copy started getting called the blurb when ebooks made it big. But the blurb is also the part in your query letter that discusses your novel.

  2. Great info, Kate! It's so useful to know what to include because it can be overwhelming when you try to write one of these things.

    1. It is overwhelming! I also see people use them to send to their agents if they're trying to decide between projects.

  3. Ugh. I hate doing blurbs. When I'm talking to people, I often end up just giving the barest minimum. For instance, it's about girl who takes up taekwondo or "the astronaut" book. Thanks for the tips though. Glad to hear blurbs are hard for everyone.


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