When I wrote my series of blog posts about mistakes made by self-publishing authors, one key stumbling-block I mentioned was the blurb. I picked out three major problems with blurbs in that post…in this one, I’m going to try to help you learn how to write a great one.
Earlier I said, “The blurb is your chance to sell me on reading your book.” That’s true–but how do you do that? There’s a lot going on in your book, I know, so how do we boil all that excitement down to a couple of brief paragraphs?
I’m going to propose a template here for a three-point blurb, and show you a couple of ways I’ve used it myself. I’m not saying these are the best blurbs ever written, but I think they’re solid and I’ve had readers tell me in both cases that they decided to read the book based on the blurb alone.
1. Start with your character(s). Who are they at the start of the story? Give them names, professions, status–whatever it is that makes them who they are and is important to the story. Do they have a goal, a dream, or a problem at the outset? Is there something about their world or situation that’s important? Can you also give a clue about the type of book this is?
Captain Luta Paixon of the far trader Tane Ikai needs to know why she looks like a woman in her thirties–even though she’s actually eighty-four. (character, profession, problem, genre)
Kit Stablefield is a detective with a secret and a crush on a guy she knows only online, in a future where magic is a part of everyday life. (character, profession, setting, problem, genre)
2. As I like to tell students when I do presentations about writing, stories are fueled by TROUBLE. So add a sentence or two telling us what the character’s biggest challenge or challenges are going to be in this story. What’s the one (or even two) most vital problems that must be faced and solved or the story will fail? Why is there no easy solution? Does something happen that compounds existing trouble or creates a new problem?
The explanation might lie with her geneticist mother, who disappeared over sixty years ago, but even if her mother is still alive, it’s proving to be no small task to track her down in the vast, wormhole-ridden expanse of Nearspace. (possible solution, not easy)
But when millionaire Aleshu Coro walks into the offices of Darcko and Sadatake with a message from the Murder Prophet and fourteen days to live, everything changes. (new challenge, upsets “normal” life)
3. The third point can do a few things: it can pile on further problems or complications; it can expand on why solutions are not easy to find or add further threats; it can pose a question that the story promises to answer, and the reader is now interested to see answered. You can also take the opportunity in this or any other point to give further clues about the tone, mood, and genre of the story.
With the ruthless PrimeCorp bent on obtaining Luta’s DNA at any cost, her ninety-year-old husband asking for one last favor, and her estranged daughter locking horns with her at every turn, Luta’s search for answers will take her to the furthest reaches of space–and deep inside her own heart. (complications, further threats, more genre clues)*
With her eighty-six-year-old grandmother insisting on helping out, and a sentient goose who simply won’t stop pestering her to watch his “killer” video game moves, Kit has more than her hands full as she races against the clock to prevent Coro’s murder…and possibly her own. (complications, further threats, tone)**
Very often, even if the question isn’t explicitly stated in the latter section of the blurb, it’s there inherently. (Will the character succeed?) But you may want to pose a more universal or thematic question as well. While some folks don’t like questions at the end of blurbs, I’m not convinced that they’re a bad thing if they serve to get the reader wondering and invested in the story.
A few things to remember:
For each of the three points, limit yourself to one or two sentences only. This helps you really focus in on the vital points of your story.
Be honest! Write the blurb for the book you’ve written, not something else. If the book doesn’t deliver what the blurb has promised, you’re going to have a disappointed or even angry reader, and no-one wants that.
Don’t be satisfied with your first attempt. Rewrite, and rewrite again, trying out different elements or structures. Edit your blurb as carefully as you’ve edited your book. The blurb, as well as telling a potential reader what your story is about, also reveals how proficient you are as a writer. Make it sharp, clean, vivid and intriguing, and you’ll have readers wanting to know more.
*The full blurb for One’s Aspect to the Sun is here.
**The full blurb for The Murder Prophet is here.
Photo credit: pippalou