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Dos and Don'ts of Writing Your Book Blurb

Found on the back of a book cover or on your book’s retail page, a blurb is a short description of what your work is about. It’s your book’s sales pitch and one of the best tools for convincing potential readers to give your book a chance. 

There are many elements that go into writing a book blurb that effectively sells your book, which can make it a frustrating experience; it requires you to stand back and describe your book with much less detail and much more objectivity than you probably want. So here are ten Dos and Don’ts to help you write yours.

DO...

Keep it short

The back of a book cover only has so much room and online retailers don’t provide space for a long summary, so maximize the space that you do have. Keep your blurb between 150 and 200 words. Additionally, avoid giving people a wall of text to read: that’s more likely to push them away than draw them in.

The two-sentence blurb for Lois Lowry’s The Giver is a great example of concise writing: 

“The haunting story centers on twelve-year-old Jonas, who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Not until he is given his Life Assignment as the Receiver of Memory does he begin to understand the dark, complex secrets behind his fragile community.”

Research your genre 

Every reader has expectations of books from a specific genre, and your blurb needs to match them. Research other books and blurbs on your same category and see what they all have in common. For nonfiction, do they outline a problem and pose a solution? For fiction, do they create a creepy atmosphere if it’s a horror? How do romance blurbs suck readers in?

Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People’s blurb begins with three simple sentences, and they are enough to tell any reader what they are going to find when they crack open the book:

"Go after the job you want–and get it!

Take the job you have–and improve it!

Take any situation–and make it work for you!"

Set the stage

Where does the story take place? Who is the main character? These questions are particularly important if your story takes place in a world unfamiliar to the reader.

The blurb for Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret answers both questions in the first sentence – in a way that can’t help but hook a reader in. 

“Orphan, clock keeper, and thief, Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity.”

Create intrigue

Show readers why your book is interesting without giving away spoilers! Leave them wanting more.

The blurb for the illustrated version of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere is a quote taken from the novel and nails the trick of making readers want to find out what is going on:

“Have you seen this girl? Answers to the name of Doreen. Bites and Kicks. Run away. Tell us if you saw her. Want her back. Reward payed.”

The blurb for Rick Riordan’s Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard ends on a similarly provocative note:

… But he doesn’t have time to consider it all before a fire giant attacks the city, forcing him to choose between his own safety and the lives of hundreds of innocents… Sometimes, the only way to start a new life is to die.”

Stay true to your voice

The first contact readers will have with your writing is likely through the blurb. Don’t try to sound serious if your book is a comedy — and vice versa. If your blurb’s tone is miles away from how your book is written, you will alienate readers instead of gaining them.

The blurb for Tina Fey’s Bossypants does a good job of capturing the comedic tone of her memoir.

Before Liz Lemon, before "Weekend Update," before "Sarah Palin," Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV. She has seen both these dreams come true.

Now that you’ve read what you should do when writing a blurb, here are 5 things you should not do

DON’T...

Summarize the whole book

Resist this urge to give your readers a full summary of what your book is about. Keep the details to a minimum to make potential readers want to read your book in its entirety.  Think of your blurb as a movie trailer: they tend to be short and give the overall idea of the film, but you won’t find a 10-minute trailer that summarizes the whole plot because then nobody would pay to go see it. 

Give away any spoilers

This might seem obvious, but sometimes it can be difficult to avoid spoilers while hooking in readers. To avoid this pitfall, don’t give readers all the answers straight away. You can say that there will be “unexpected encounters” or that “something big is coming,” but don’t mention what those things are.

The blurb for Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses does this expertly by mentioning that something big is going to happen but not giving anything away. It reads:

...But an ancient, wicked shadow over the faerie lands is growing, and Feyre must find a way to stop it…” 

Make it a testimonial blurb

A testimonial blurb is not a back cover blurb or a book description. They both have their strengths, but if you want to tease your audience about the actual contents of your book, then you need to write an actual blurb and not rely on testimonials. You can always add some quotes before or after your blurb, but they should not replace it completely. The same can be said about any awards that your book might have won: add them, but don’t make them the focal point.

Compare yourself, or your work, to others

Regardless of whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, don’t position your book as the next big work in your particular genre. Neither should you call yourself the next Arthur Conan Doyle or J.K. Rowling. Let your readers decide that for themselves. The last thing you want to do is sound pretentious.

Be too hasty

Even if it’s frustrating, don’t leave writing your blurb for the last minute. It might be short or seem simple, but, as your sales pitch, it requires attention and careful wording for it to make the right first impression on your readers.

A solidly written blurb can be the best tool to convey your voice, your story, and convince potential readers to read your work. You won’t get it right on your first try — and that’s fine! If you chip away at it and keep your audience in mind, you’ll eventually end up with a stellar book blurb.

Karol Owens  is a writer for Reedsy, the world's largest marketplace of professional editors, book designers and ghostwriters. He also curates a series of free webinars and online courses designed to teach writers how to create and publish better books.