Condensing a full story into a few paragraphs takes concise wording, understanding the purpose of the story, and developing a great hook. This blog series will dive into defining and book summary/blurb and the techniques of effective book blurb writing.
What is a blurb?
A book summary, or blurb, is a short description of a book used for promotional purposes, including the book description listed on retailer websites and the book’s back cover. The term blurb is often used in place of book summary, and I’ll use it throughout this series because it’s a common term and easier to type.
Blurbs give the reader a brief idea of the book’s content. They are NOT a full synopsis of the book and should not contain any spoilers of major plot points, including the resolution. Blurbs are NOT a summary of the first chapter, which is an all too common trap authors fall into when writing blurbs. Focus on the bigger picture.
A blurb highlights the genre/subgenre, purpose, situation, conflict, and characters of the story. It should give the reader a clear idea of what kind of book they are looking at and set expectations for what the book will deliver.
A blurbs style and formatting varies slightly depending on genre, and can change over time depending on industry trends. It’s important to occasionally review and adjust blurbs to fit current reader interests and expectations.
Blurb Writing Challenges
It’s always a challenge to boil down an entire story into a few hundred words. You’ve put endless hours into writing and editing a story, only to be asked to summarize it in a few sentences. The task often seems impossible, but there are ways to survive such torture.
Most writers hate this part of publishing. After developing so many details and intricacies to craft a well-written story, it’s a incredibly difficult to take all of those nuances and wonderful subplots back out of the story and convince readers to buy a book on only the highlights.
Boiling a full story down to a few paragraphs requires concise word choice, pinpointing the purpose of the story, and developing a great hook.
How to Write a Blurb
Traditionally, blurbs are written in third person present tense. This may feel odd at first, since few books are written this way, but it is one of those longstanding industry standards that remains despite so many other changes in publishing.
One of the few exceptions to this is contemporary, modern romance. For reasons that I’m not sure anyone really knows fully, contemporary romance blurbs are commonly (though not always) written in first person present tense. The most likely reason for this shift has to do with the recent popularity of writing in first person in popular fiction and the fact that many contemporary romance writers are independently published and have control over how their books are listed and portrayed on retailer sites.
Do you have to write your blurb in a particular tense or style? Not really. Consider what style matches the novel’s style and what format, tense, or styles will prepare readers for that point of view. It’s a good idea to study the top 100 blurbs in a genre or subgenre to decide which is best for a particular novel.
The Purpose of a Blurb
When considering how to craft your blurb, think about the book’s purpose. Readers want to know the main point or purpose of the book when reading a blurb. They want to know if a particular book is what they’re looking for and if it will fulfill their expectations.
When writing the blurb, focus on the main point or purpose of the story, first and foremost, the consider what need the book will fulfill for the reader. Readers often search for new books with search terms that describe what they are in the mood to read right in that moment. A blurb should tell a prospective reader if a book truly fits that need, such as escapism, sweet romance, excitement, suspense, etc.
Make the purpose of the book clear early in the blurb. This should be contained in the first one to two sentences. It should also be accurate and not misleading. Readers get very upset when they spend money on a book only to realize it was inaccurately portrayed.
An example of a clear and accurate blurb opener, consider White Rose, Black Forest by Eoin Dempsey: “In the shadows of World War II, trust becomes the greatest risk of all for two strangers.” The riskiness of trust during war times is the clear purpose of this story and is pointed out in the first line of this blurb.