Yes, there are professional Blurb writers –blurbists?–and here’s a video with one

I’d been writing blurbs for a while. I didn’t even know that’s what I was doing when I helped author pals years ago to condense their stories. I still help author pals now.

Editors who offer services for blurb writing can charge anywhere from a pittance to hundreds of dollars. It seems to hover around $100 in most places I’ve seen.

Bryan Cohen–author, copywriter– is one whose fee is on the higher end (pretty sure last time I checked it was more than $200.)  But he also has hundreds of author blurbs under his belt–experience!

Here is a a show with him talking about blurbs. The pertinent part starts at around 38:21 in this videocast. Lindsey Buroker (host, author) asks him for his “formula” and he offers his four steps, which I’ll list as follows, and I’ll quote something pertinent for each. Listen to the videocast to get the details of what he’d put in each section, including examples:

 

  1. Tagline –“short, sweet hook that gets people in the door.”
  2. Synopsis– “bare bones plot,” “raise those stakes,” and “establish an emotional connection between character and the reader”
  3. Selling Paragraph–“why people will like your book”
  4. Call to Action– “command form,” “extra instruction”

I agree with him (and have naturally tended to) stick to the first part of the book in writing blurbs (no more than first half), so you don’t spoil the book–especially if it has a big surprise or twist. And not too many names or locations. It’s easy to get bogged down in details. Stick to the most “relatable character.”

For more information on his way of doing up blurbs,  go have a look at Bryan’s book, How To Write A Sizzling Synopsis.

Hope either the video or the book help any of you struggling with your own blurbs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poetic License in a Book Blurb: MILK & HONEY by Rupi Kaur

NOTE: The Giveaway is still ongoing. Click here for information on how to get a chance to have a blurb created by me (or an edit by me or a bunch of other cool editing prizes).

This one is especially fun. I have loved poetry since childhood, have many volumes of it, have written some, won a few contests, published a couple. So, let’s take a look at a crazy mad bestselling poetry volume by Rupi Kaur: Milk & Honey.

Poetry books are not expected to be runaway bestsellers. How many book covers or blurbs do you remember (if you’ve ever been inclined to browse or purchase some). I still have vivid images in my head of some faves of mine.

Milk & Honey has a very simple cover design: black background, white bees and text. It stands out for its low-key design in high-contrast B&W. But let’s take a look at the back cover blurb:

milkandhoneyback

 

That’s right. A poetry book with a poetry blurb. How absolutely perfect is that?

Analysis: The back cover description is a short poem. It’s in the poet’s own voice telling you, the book browser, the tone and subject matter–very personal–of the poetry found inside.

It’s also utterly accessible. The audience knows they won’t have to tackle the sometimes indeciperable, complex, modern poems that put many off poetry.  The voice reads as honest, genuine.

The text is accented by a bee illustration. No deviation exists in the black and white cover design with black and white text and drawings from front to back: it’s consistent.  Tone matches art: an individual voice with a single bee (echoing how personal this is, one person’s singular voice in verse, and referring to the title, as bees make honey.)

Even the bar code cooperates beautifully–lines of code, lines of poetry.

It’s harmonious.

Inside, you find this same simplicity but reversed:  illustrations in black on white, black text on light pages.

Key words: Strong, emotional key words draw in the sensitive reader or one whose life has had pain and required healing. That’s kinda universal, yes?  They are these: journey, surviving, poetry, blood, sweat, tears, heart, hurting, loving, breaking, healing.

Conclusion: The genius of the back cover blurb is that it offers you the book information (genre, theme) with a taste of the contents (style, voice, look) in exactly the form  you’ll find inside: stanzas, not prose paragraphs, with drawings, in B&W.

I think they did an amazing job presenting this. A totally successful poem-blurb.

Blurb Exercise: Can you echo in your blurb what’s in the book? I think you probably can. Ask yourself this: How can I present on the back cover or Amazon page or promo copy what’s inside in such a way that the browser actually experiences the content style and voice in the format of the work itself?

Take your recently completed manuscript–or WIP or already published book–and see what you can do. This should be fun if your book is not the usual novel or novella or straight prose work: a poetry book, a play, a picture storybook, an illustrated travel diary, an email-format memoir, a how-to with photos, a coloring book. Harmonize the outer with the inner.

If you wish, please share in the comments. I’d love to see what you came up with.

 

How Numbers Work In the Blurb for the Bestselling Mystery Novel of All Time

For our third and final example on using numbers in book blurbs, let’s take a look at the #1 mystery novel ever: Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. While you  may think there isn’t a number in the title, there is: none. None is equivalent to zero.

But an interesting fact is that this is not the original title. The original title contained a vulgar word we don’t like to use anymore in modern society (a good thing), one beginning with n and ending in r. You can Google it up. In the US, it was changed to Ten Little Indians. Still not PC, but more acceptable than the original.

As you see, the number that is key to the novel is 10.

Here’s a back cover:

 

And then There Were None Christie back cover

There are several things to recommend this exceedingly well constructed back cover–both in blurb and design.

First, notice the top right exclamation. If you ever studied journalism or just are aware of how those front pages are constructed for print papers, you know that top right is where you place the thing you consider priority–the lead story. The eye automatically goes to the top of a page first. Put something important at the top. If it’s a key recommendation or statement or story question, that’s a good place.

Top right on this back cover has a clear, all-caps, exlamation-point statement that will nab the attention of any mystery novel lover (or any reader who enjoys fiction, period). THE WORLD’S BESTSELLING MYSTERY!

That’s a pretty emphatic statement that has to make any browsing reader curious.

Now we get into the countdown. Starting from the key number 10.

In the novel, there are serial killings, countdown killings, in an isolated location. (See image on top left that gives a sense of an isolated island residence.)

Notice that the countdown doesn’t go on to the end. Just enough to get a count going, leaving it hanging–which is also effective, isn’t it?

Each countdown in the blurb gives a story element. Key terms that ignite interest when it comes to mysteries: strangers, isolated, guilty secrets, haunted, violent storm, begin to die, dead.

And the question finale, the story question itself: Who among them is the killer and will any of them survive?

Being in an isolated location, taunted by a nursery rhyme, dying one by one, and the killer in their midst–that’s a fabulous, “hook-ish” set-up.

The countdown always adds suspense and dread. (Just as in the previous novel, where you know if they got the number ahead of you, you’re next.)

The final recommendation blurb by TIME–an established and well-known journalistic entity–gives the final “read me” nab to the browser, assuring them this mystery is an “ingenious thriller.”

Even if you don’t have TIME or famous writers giving you rec-blurbs, you can use key imagery on your back cover and, if applicable, a clever countdown or numerical motif for all your types of blurb uses.

Next Time:

Well, wait and see.

When Numbers Add Up In A Book Blurb

Wondering what numbers have to do with something so focused on words as a blurb?

A blurb can have a special form, as we saw with Divergent‘s. That means it can be balanced or assymetrical. Lines can be counted. Words in a line.

Balance often depends on counting–inches left or right, number of stripes of dark vs light, three vases on the left and three on the right of the mantel’s center. Balance.

If a story has numerical significance, numbers may take on another function: a reflection of the story. (We saw some of that even with Divergent.)

Here’s another YA novel, this one sci-fi:

I AM NUMBER FOUR back cover

 

Story Questions raised: Who are these mysterious, anonymous ones called “we” in the blurb? Who is this “last stand” against? Who is the “you?”

The stakes: everything. “If we  lose, all is lost.” “You” can only be saved if the “We” win.

The tone: suspenseful, cautionary.

This blurb, like Divergent‘s, gives no names of characters. Only the sense of huge stakes and a group that can make a difference for life or death. The “we.”

Count up the “we’s.”  Nine.

This is the blurb for I Am Number Four.

The series of which I Am Number Four is the first novel is full of numbers. The main character is one of nine gardes who have travelled to Earth. They are aliens living as if human among humans. Three are killed, and the book tells the story of the fourth one, Number Four, as he struggles to stay alive.

And numbers matter, too, because of the order in which the gardes are killed: they must be sequential. The assassins must start with one and work up or there are consequences.

“You” = humans on earth.

Reviews were not unanimously positive, but one thing they seemed to agree on: the storytelling was fast-paced, “propulsive.”  So, again, we have back cover that reads along quickly, not a lot of filler text. Pace of blurb reflecting pace of story.

The numbers add up on this one, don’t you think?

They add up again on this sequel:

POWER OF SIX sequel to I AM NUMBER FOUR back copy desc

 

This is the blurb for The Power of Six. Let’s count again:

The Balance: THEY used four times to start sentences. WE used four times.

In between, like some protective barrier between killers and prey, one all white, all caps line (of two sentences) starting with I, who self-identifies as number SEVEN, one of SIX left alive, since THREE are dead.

Now squint at that blurb.

Do the lines of white text form a roughly angular six-like shape to you?

They do to me.

The blurb fills us in on the plot’s progress. THEY, those killing the nine, have learned some things (the charm, the legacies) and succeeded in killing three. One side of that balanced equation.

The other side, WE, the same we from the first novel,  is growing stronger, coming together, and ready to fight.

We still don’t have names, and we don’t know the particular powers they are talking about, but we know it’s heating up and getting more dangerous for the protagonists (the numbered ones).

Of course, this book has a special connection to numbers. But maybe yours does, too.

I recall some titles that had numerical associations:  THE LIST OF 7; A TALE OF TWO CITIES; and THE FIVE.

If yours has something numerically significant–triplets, a poet who always writes in four-line stanzas, an OCD character who has to count to five before making a decision, a kingdom divided in civil war with two kings and two queens, a detective agency called the Six Solvers, etc–maybe you can make that work in your blurb.

Think about it.

One more example of the numerical blurb to come with the next blog post–for mystery fans.

Get today’s book here: I Am Number Four (Lorien Legacies)

Next Time:

How Numbers Work In the Book Blurb for The Bestselling Mystery of All Time

Diverging from the Standard Form

If someone asked you to explain what a standard back cover descriptive blurb is, you’d probably say this: “Two or more paragraphs in normal prose style with the book’s hook and main points. Maybe a question or tantalizing phrase to close it up.”

That’s standard.

But you may…diverge.

Let’s take a look at one such cover.

DIVERGENT back copy

Twenty-seven words.

Take a look at the first line of two words, larger and eye-catching: ONE CHOICE.

There it is, the story’s inciting incident and the core of the main character’s conflict.

Next you scan a string of couplets of two words in the first line and three words in the second. This gives us the plot.

The shadowing behind the  words give an ominous feeling.

This is a YA dystopian novel that became a bestselling phenomenon, plus a film series. Note that first detail: Young Adult.

I think one can be choppier, punchier, and more playful with blurbs aimed at younger audiences. If your book is action or aimed at a young audience, playing with forms is a good idea. Since the main character is “different,” she should have a divergent blurb. 🙂

It’s particularly smart to use that style for another reason.

Here are a few sentences from the opening of DIVERGENT:

DIVERGENT OPENING

Notice the short sentences.

This continues as you read. It’s part of the novel’s style.

So, the blurb echoes something about this character’s POV voice. It emphasizes the importance of a person’s choice (it can change everything as the sequence shows). It implies  a heroic character (one who chooses, sacrifices, and battles).

Plot is a cause and effect string of character decisions and actions in a story. This blurb emphasizes that sequence by its verticality and brevity. Because of the shape, you get a sense that things will happen quickly–hinting at a fast pace. YA readers, say authors and editors I know, like a fast pace. Visually, this blurb style is saying: this is your kind of read.

The stakes: possible destruction. The biggest stakes you can have.

You don’t spend a lot of time skimming through 27 words in a narrow column. But you get what you need to decide to look at the first pages or not.

Millions chose to look. Were you one of them?

Another winner of a blurb.

Is your book aimed at a younger audience? Think what different blurb form might suit your target readership, a shape that echoes elements of the character or the story.

I’d love it if you left a comment telling me what cool new form you tried, especially if you blog about it. Link me up.

Get the book: Divergent (Divergent Series)

Next Time:

When Numbers Add Up In A Book Blurb

A Picture With Fewer Than One Thousand Words

Your blurb paints a picture in the reader’s mind.

To play off a famous phrase: fewer than a thousand words to paint a picture.

Or: a picture from two-hundred words.

This is why advice on blurbing will generally advise you to use strong nouns and vivid verbs and put some passion into it. Paint the picture of the book with those words.

Here’s the back cover copy with both kinds of blurbing– the description blurb and the recommendation blurb–for a novel that ranked #5 overall in fiction bestsellers of 2015 according to PW.

Does it put a picture in your mind?

THE MARTIAN back cover copy

 

Did you notice it actually has TWO description blurbs?

Yes, it has the abbreviated one made up of three sentence fragments in eye-catching Mars red text larger than the type that follows.  That is actually a very brief blurb. The sort you can use in promo materials that don’t use much text.

A MISSION TO MARS. A FREAK ACCIDENT. ONE MAN’S STRUGGLE TO SURVIVE.

The micro blurb. 😀

It tells you the who, the where, the what happened, and the stakes. It tells you the genre. It even hints at the emphasis on the single character. A reader who enjoys science fiction, alien world, survival tales will definitely read further.

The second blurb, the longer one, gives us details of who “one man” is and how he found himself in that life/death struggle. But that first one is the hook. It takes maybe two seconds to read and tell a browser what they need to know to flip to chapter one or go to the register and buy. Or to move on to the next book.

A whole lot of folks bought THE MARTIAN.

The sentence fragment format also feels more like “action.” It implies a story with “breathless” tension. Do you speak in complete, long sentences when you’re running out of air, sprinting to shelter, or scared out of your wits?

The longer blurb is enticing. We see how complicated the situation is–the gripping problem is compounded, the odds “impossible.” And we learn what makes him special–his profession (astronaut/engineer), his particular skill (resourcefulness) and personality trait (gallows humor).

The review blurbs from well-known periodicals carry authority and emphasize both that there’s lots of humor and that it’s super suspenseful.

Did that hook you?

Did you get a picture from those words?

I saw a space-suited man on red soil–dust storm in the distance– all alone but with dark sky above and determined eyes staring out of that helmet.

What did you see?

This is very well-crafted back cover copy with two descriptive blurbs–micro, standard–for multiple uses and two recommendation blurbs.

A winner we can learn from.
Want the book? Get it here: The Martian

Next time:

Diverging from the Standard Form