The word “blurb” is used in more than one publishing context.
Both uses are characterized by brevity.
One use refers to those recommendations that grace book covers or are included in front matter or promo materials. These are shout-outs by fellow authors or well-known persons (a celebrity, authority, etc). The point is to say, “This book does not suck, so buy it.” The authors, experts, or celebrities add a sense of authority: their recommendations matter to a segment of the reading population.
If my favorite author drops a praise-bomb for a novel, it’s guaranteed that I will go check it out on Amazon.
A bestselling author of cozy mysteries who is also a homicide cop–two points of authority for the audience– might blurb for a debut author in this way:
“Romance, suspense, and adorable kittens made this book unputdownable for this cat-loving detective.”
A famous sweet romance author might blurb this for a fellow sweet romance writer:
“Fans of my bestseller, MARY KISSED JUAN, will swoon for this touching reunion story set in a charming seaside town. WATCH THE WHALES WITH ME is the kind of romance that warms your heart and eases your soul.”
A successful real estate entrepreneur might offer this:
“Follow Rupert’s advice in WHY WORK AFTER THIRTY? and you’ll retire a millionaire without wrinkles. I know. I used this system to earn enough to buy my own island while in high school.”
So, that’s one kind of publishing biz blurb.
The kind I like to focus on is not a quote/recommendation. Although, sure, it may include character quotes if they hit the right note and intrigue. You’ve probably noticed that descriptive/synoptic blurbs may be preceded by the recommendations or followed by them on cover copy or retailer pages or ads.
Here’s a really short–and funny–example of the second kind of blurb that you may have come across on social media:
This micro-blurb contains several key points of story description: where (surreal land), what genre (fantasy), who/main character (a young girl), what problem/inciting incident (kills someone), who/allies (teams up) and why/goal (kill again).
That’s actually enough to make you think it’s an intriguing story, even it doesn’t convey the actual tone or genre of the real thing. This reads like a suspenseful or thriller type of fantasy with an evil m/c. We know it’s a magic-drenched musical with some humor, and the protagonist never intends to kill at all.
The “book description” kind of blurb is more effective when it’s longer than this television guide type of example. You want to hit as many key points as will hook the target readers. But you don’t want to spoil the tale (in fiction) or bore them silly with too much info (in non-fiction and fiction).
Blurbing poetry is a whole ‘nother thing. We’ll skip that for now.
So that’s my kind of blurb: a brief description of a book which is used for informational and promotional purposes.
The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary phrases it this way:
a short description of a book, a new product, etc., written by the people who have produced it, that is intended to attract your attention and make you want to buy it
The only quibble I have with that definition is that in this brave new century, with the explosion of self-publishing, the person who actually writes the blurb may not be the one producing it (ie, the author or editor or publishing house marketing assistant or copywriter). It might be a friend, a critique partner, a writing support group team effort, or a freelancer hired to do so.
Anyone who has the chops can craft a blurb for an indie author’s book.