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:



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.


The Book Blurb for Today’s #1 Kindle Book (Paid) at Amazon: Ghost Gifts by Laura Spinella

On a whim, I decided to check what was the #1 Kindle (paid, not free) book today. Right now. 2/17/16 in the morning. It’s #1 in Kindle suspense, books/romantic suspense, and  books/ghosts.

Here’s the blurb for Ghost Gifts by Laura Spinella:

All Aubrey Ellis wants is a normal life, one that doesn’t include desperate pleas from the dead. Her remarkable gift may help others rest in peace, but it also made for an unsettling childhood and destroyed her marriage. Finally content as the real estate writer for a local newspaper, Aubrey keeps her extraordinary ability hidden—until she is unexpectedly assigned the story of a decades-old murder.

Rocked by the discovery of a young woman’s skeletal remains, the New England town of Surrey wants answers. Hard-nosed investigative reporter Levi St John is determined to get them. Aubrey has no choice but to get involved, even at the terrifying risk of stirring spirits connected to a dead woman’s demise and piquing her new reporting partner’s suspicions.

As Aubrey and Levi delve further into the mystery, secrets are revealed and passion ignites. It seems that Aubrey’s ghost gifts are poised to deliver everything but a normal life.

This is the longer sort of back cover/book description blurb. No fancy style or font or color use.

Here’s how it looks on the back cover of the paperback:

GHOST GIFTS back cover

The text is superimposed on a dark background where the long hair of the gal on the cover carries over, blown by the wind. A sprig of violet flowers adds a touch of color (and hope?) at the top. It’s a very plain and serviceable back cover. The look isn’t particularly eye-catching, but what about the blurb itself?

First sentence: All Aubrey Ellis wants is a normal life, one that doesn’t include desperate pleas from the dead.

What the main character wants, and what the character has. Her ordinary world and her goal, and the thing in her “ordinary world” that offers conflict. She can sense the “desperate pleas” of the nonliving. Ghosts. A gift. A gift that assures a lack of normality.

That’s a good opening line.

Next we find out what that gift cost her (backstory, wounds, past conflicts)–an unsettled childhood; a destroyed marriage.

Then we get what the character does (real estate writer) and how she copes (hides her ability.)

Then the inciting incident: an assignment on an old case when skeletal remains are found.

Ah, a mystery that needs solving. And we have a character with the kind of gift that can solve it. Plot points.

She is then partnered (other important character) with a reporter. Romance will ensue (as the last paragraph hints). The stakes: will her ability, her secret, be revealed along with others, causing her life to be unsettled again?

There are hints of other stakes: dangers that come with revealing secrets and engaging in a passionate relationship.

Story questions: Will the mystery of the murder be solved? Will her relationship work out? Will her life become better or worse as she involves herself in this case? Will her partner accept her Ghost Gifts? Will she ever have a normal life?

It’s not a never-been-done in fiction ability, that of hearing/seeing ghosts. It’s a trope we’ve seen before.

But it’s still a compelling plot premise. And the promise of romance is a hook for certain readers (romance /romantic suspense fans). It has a mystery for mystery fans. It  has paranormal stuff for paranormal fans. All those are hooks (genre ones) that are worth including in blurbs.

It hooked me. I chose it from all the Kindle First offerings this month.

Does this blurb work for you? How would you make it better?

You may purchase the novel here: Ghost Gifts

Next time:

Well, come back 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:


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.


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

How To Start Organizing Information For Your Book’s Blurb

Fine, you now are very clear on what a blurb is and what it’s used for.

Now, you want to write one. It could be for your book or a friend’s book.

How do you start?

Blurb for Diving foro the Damsel Blurb Babe Second post 2-1-16Get something to jot down information, electronic or old fashioned pen and paper. You need to extract the core items of the book.

Or you can download a book blurb template from some website. They are out there. Google the term, click “images,” and browse any templates that come up and format your notes accordingly.

Here’s one a friend of mine who writes YA novels found helpful: Deconstructing Back Cover Copy.

But a bare bones one to get you thinking about what the story/book really is about could be like this:

Who is the book about?  This is your main character. Protagonist.  Jot down the name, age, gender (or transgender), and what makes them “them”–their occupation or special talent (psychic or world’s best embroiderer) or status (genius, rich, poor, ex-con, homeless, divorcing) or anything that is intriguing, especially if it’s genre-specific. Do they have quirks?  Think of strong adjectives!  How would you describe them in two or three words if you had to? Hermit theologian; cowardly army sergeant; alcoholic pilot; autistic schoolboy; kickboxing nun–all of these would catch my attention in a blurb.

What do they need/want and why? This covers the protagonist’s goal and motivation.  They must have one big one (and probably lesser ones). Katniss first wanted to save her sister by substituting for her in the Hunger Games; then she wants to save herself and Peeta: survival!

Where is the story happening? Setting. This is very important for some novels and non-fiction books, so important that the title may derive or include the setting, such as with Dune or Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee or The Bridges of Madison County.

What is the story problem? If it’s a novel (I mostly discuss novels here, so expect that as my default), you must have conflict, a problem, an obstacle, trials, enemies or villains or something in the way of what the protagonist wants (be it internal or external, or, ideally, both). There may be many conflicts and issues, but what is the main one that propels your tale.  If it’s non-fiction, what is the problem the book solves: how to simplify a complicated life; how to stop overspending; how to find a mate; how to stop overeating; how to write a book when you don’t know where to start.

Who or what is obstructing or antagonizing the main character? You may have already named this in answering the previous question. It could be the serial killer taunting the homicide detective. It could be cancer killing the protagonist. It could be the hostile environment of an alien planet making survival difficult. It could be an evil cadre of powerful lawyers out to ruin the rookie lawyer-protagonist’s first big case. Name the nemisis, villain, obstacle.

What are the stakes? If the character fails, what is the consequence? It might be that the man she loves gets away or the aliens win the war against the humans or the defendant goes to prison for life or  a he loses his family’s farm or she dies in the imperial games. Stakes. Consequences.

Who are the allies or other important characters? You can’t think of Katniss without Peeta, Romeo without Juliet, Bella without Edward and Jacob, Bridget Jones without Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet without Mr. Darcy,  or Clarice Starling without Hannibal Lecter. Most novels have important secondary characters who assist the main character or who are intricately involved in the progress of that character–as they affect each other.

What is the genre and tone of the work, and its audience? Is it a YA Fantasy Romance? Is it a Dark CIA Thriller? Is it an intellectual science fiction adventure for adults? Is it a religious romance aimed at Christian women who don’t want sex scenes?  Is it a literary novel about a group of chess players in Central Park, all former vets dealing with regrets and traumas through game strategy? The tone of the blurb ideally should relate to the tone of the book–whether suspenseful, funny, youthful, or wise. And you would likely use different diction for one aimed at teens than one aimed at an older audience.

What is the story question?  We’ve all seen blurbs that end with questions–seen that a lot. Blurbs don’t have to end in questions or ever have any question within them. But this really is a natural feeling strategy. Only reading the book will answer that question. It’s bait. They are too useful to be discarded as old school. Will Katniss win the Hunger Games? Will Clarice capture Buffalo Bill? Will the kids from The Glade make it through The Maze alive? Will Romeo and Juliet be able to live happily ever after? Will the astronaut on Mars survive? (And yes, The Martian back cover copy ended with a question about survival. It didn’t hurt sales, huh?)

What you don’t need:

The ending–You aren’t going to give it away.

Secondary plots–That’s not what’s going to nab the reader. The main storyline is.

Names of characters who aren’t very important–Plot movers and shakers only.  In a romance, you have a hero and a heroine (though you might have an antagonist to name in a romantic suspense). In some blurbs, you’d only name one character: the protagonist.

Most of the middle and latter part of your story–I’ve seen recommendations from some editors to gather blurb material from the first 15% of your book: act one. I won’t say that applies all the time, but that’s the part of the book that you’ve shaped to hook a reader. It makes sense that it’s where you find most of your blurb: your  character (ordinary world), inciting incident, perhaps main ally and antagonist, the big need or goal, the story question.

There you go. You’re ready to begin scribbling down the preliminary notes for your blurb’s first draft.

I recommend you do this too: grab some books from your personal shelves or head to Amazon and bring up the pages for ebooks you’ve bought. Read the blurbs. Get a sense of the forms used, the tones,  and notice the key elements that sold you.

Now, go write one.

Coming next:

A Picture with Fewer than One Thousand Words