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How to write a book blurb

Think about what goes on the back of most books and how important it is in attracting attention to the title inside. A book blurb should be a fair representation of the style of the book; it should tempt the reader to want to know more – now – and should not give away the ending. Writing a book blurb is harder than you think, and is an excellent way of getting yourself noticed.

How to write a book blurb

Stand back and hover above; try to create mood, feeling and value for what you have written, rather than describing it in endless detail.

Case Study: the perfect blurb

I was about halfway through the writing of my book when I was asked to write a blurb for the back cover. The opportunity struck me as a highly significant one – here was my chance to sum up the value of the book, in a permanent format. This was all the more welcome because the book had been agreed upon so quickly. It had grown out of a chance meeting with the publisher, and as I am part of the market, and know exactly who I am writing for, it had taken me less than two days to draft a contents list and knock out an introduction and first chapter. And on this basis the book had been commissioned.

Since then I had been busy researching and writing the title, and uncovered a real need for the book I was writing. I felt passionately that the advice I was about to give would be well received, and very strongly that the group I was writing for were underrepresented and badly served by existing information sources.

I viewed the chance to write the book blurb as an opportunity to elevate the professionalism of the group I was writing for. I drafted a full page of closely argued text which I felt proud to have written and which other writers were complimentary about. We all felt better about ourselves as a result. Two days later I realised that what I had written was a manifesto for a possible professional association of author-marketers, not a book blurb, and of course I would have to start again.

What a good book blurb should contain

A book blurb is there to entice a purchase, not to justify a lifelong career or calling. Bear in mind that such blurbs are often read in crowded places particularly beloved of pickpockets, with shoppers jostling round you whilst your other purchases dangle from your other hand, and that books are often heavy and thus difficult to hold for a long time. It follows that there isn’t time to take in lengthy copy.

A non-fiction book blurb should give a quick indication of whom it is for and why they need it. A fiction blurb should both convey atmosphere and indicate what kind of book it is (mass-market or literary fiction). Quotes are extremely valuable to both fiction and non-fiction as they can pinpoint accurately what kind of expectations the reader should have.
I also think it’s very important to match the words to the product. Do not make a romantic novel sound like an entry for a literary prize: you will put off both potential markets.

Here is the opening of the first paragraph of one of my favourite fiction book blurbs, for Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson. The specific details and unexpected combinations (I love ‘conceived grudgingly’) are intriguing, and the copy made me buy the book:

Ruby Lennox was conceived grudgingly by Bunty and born while her father, George, was in the Dog and Hare in Doncaster telling a woman in an emerald dress and a D-cup that he wasn’t married. Bunty had never wanted to marry George, but he was all that was left.

 Extract from Marketing Your Book: An Author's Guide


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