The Paramount Importance of the Blurb

So I do a lot of book shopping, as you know. Hell, this afternoon I dropped $75 at the used bookstore down the street! (Don’t tell my husband…) And while I love browsing – and overspending as a result of far too many tempting paperbacks out there – I do, naturally, also indulge in a good bit of Amazon.com perusal. When I go to the bookstore, different elements might catch my eye. Maybe an evocative title, an artistic cover, an attractive table laid out with books like a literary buffet, or a friend’s recommendation. (In the aforementioned case of the $75, I can blame it all on my friend! I only went with the list she gave me… the list of 8 books I just MUST read!) When shopping online, however, there is really only one deciding factor in whether or not I’ll buy a book. And that is the blurb.

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, and that’s true. However, you can absolutely judge a book by its blurb!

I can’t really say how many god-awful blurbs I have come across. And, sad as I am to say it, the majority of those are from self-published authors. I think many of us ignore the blurb and just kind of throw it together. This is a huge mistake, because it is the one element – yes, even more important than a snazzy cover – that will convince someone to buy your book. It is a chance to highlight your writing style, present the plot and characters, and give just enough information to make them yearn for more. And, you know, purchase the book. šŸ™‚

So what makes a good blurb? Now I am hardly a blurb-master myself. (In fact, no doubt my work would be well served if I were to go back and rewrite some of my earlier ones…) However, there are some general rules to follow. Plus some major what-not-to-do’s. Here is my humble two cents on the subject:

  • The blurb should give a fair interpretation of your writing style. If the blurb has lovely, long, flowing sentences, that’s what I expect in the book! If it’s Hemingway-esque, you’d better deliver the clipped, raw goods. And if the writing in the blurb sucks, well, I’m pretty sure the book’s writing is equally bad! (As we all know, life is too short to read bad writing…)
  • The blurb should introduce the characters, the setting, and the problem (also known as the story!), without giving everything away. Even if your book is not a mystery, the blurb should be. After all, you don’t want toĀ reveal your fabulous twists and wrinkles – of sheets or plotlines!
    • On that note, lots of people fillĀ their blurbs with questions. This isn’t a bad thing, per se. But when I’m picking a book, I don’t want to play 20 questions. I want to know some major themes, the people involved, and where it’s happening. Limit questions to one or two really juicy ones.
    • If your blurb is a full summary of the book, that’s bad news. Just an introduction, please! Think of it as a preview to a film. You give glimpses, but don’t haul out all of the best bits for the teaser. (In other words, don’t model yourself on the overly-detailed modern previews. I didn’t even watch Revenant and already I know everything that happens. Go for an old-school, classy, suggestive kind of preview…)
  • If your book has any accolades – prizes won, bestseller lists, and such – they should go at the top, but discreetly. One line is enough to get all that info out there, and then let your reader get on with the blurb!
  • I was recently critiqued on this one: it’s best to keep blurbs concrete. Mention specific details – maybe a hot scene, a building tension, something unique about the setting. Generalities will not give a reader enough to sink their teeth into. I have reread my old blurbs and made many improvements with this in mind.

A good blurb is a tempting peekĀ into the book. Kind of checking out its ass in those nice jeans, without really knowing all the goodies hidden underneath… It’s a flirty meet-and-drink at a bar, just getting to know the guy, trying to decide whether to take him home. Think about it. What would convince you to take that man(/book) to bed? For me it would be an interesting question, characters I want to meet, a place I want to go… and some slick writing. When you are able to seduce in just one paragraph, you are the blurb-master!

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3 thoughts on “The Paramount Importance of the Blurb

  1. I recently heard Ira Glass say that all of narrative is asking questions that absolutely need answers. It seems to be a kind of force that compels the psyche. It is what drives all story. The most basic of questions: what happens next? But I can think of more compelling ones: will this destroy her? Does he break her heart? Why can’t she see that this guy is perfect for her? Does her mother die? Is her man cheating on her? Is she cheating on him? Will she give in to temptation with the king even though it may cost her her life?

    I mean, WILL SHE??? šŸ˜‰

    A great post, as usual.

    Liked by 1 person

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