What makes a good blurb?
When you pick up a book at a bookstore or library, or read a blurb somewhere online, what engages you? What convinces you to open the book and scan the first page, or to take the book home with you?
The blurb is the equivalent of a movie trailer. Seen a fantastic trailer, only to find that the movie itself sucked? This is an important lesson: a good blurb or trailer can sell anything, and the whole product – whether it’s good, bad, or downright horrible – will always have enough ingredients from which to craft a compelling snapshot to hook your consumer.
The foundation of any good blurb – whether it’s for a novel or a nonfiction book – is that it’ll have a narrative thread that underpins it all and ties it all together. This is what we ride through it. However, a good blurb doesn’t let you realise you’re taking this ride. You simply become immersed in it, then want more.
Writing a good blurb is an artform. Obviously, there’s lots of different ways to write a blurb. If you’re somebody who struggles with blurbs, though, here’s a bit of a formula you can follow to get you underway …
|The vehicle which is going to take our reader on their blurb-ride is usually the protagonist of our story. Let’s use the example of The Hobbit. Bilbo Baggins is a Hobbit, a halfling who lives in the Shire, content with smoking his pipe, eating meals (and lots of them), and peace and quiet. But when the Wizard Gandalf arrives and starts talking about adventures, Bilbo’s idyllic little world is shattered. Here, we’ve introduced the protagonist, Bilbo, and his circumstances. This is important. We need to develop a visual of the character, and try to bond them with our reader. With that done, let’s get stuck into the plot. Gandalf introduces Bilbo to Thorin Oakenshield, the King of Dwarves, and his party of twelve Dwarves, who tell a tale of their kingdom, the Lonely Mountain, and their treasure, being stolen by the mighty dragon Smaug. Now the Dwarves are mounting a quest to reclaim what’s rightfully theirs, and they want Bilbo to join them. The plot itself doesn’t need to be oversold. Some plots won’t be packed with action and excitement. They might be slow boilers. Or simple family dramas. What’s important to capture here is the context: Bilbo, a contented homebody, is pitched into a quest where he seems impossibly out of his depth. That’s interesting, and this is what’s important: showing the drama that your protagonist will face. Next, let’s sum up Bilbo’s adventures, without – hopefully – giving up any specific, story-defining spoilers. Before Bilbo can pack a single thing, he’s swept out the door and faces many dangers with the Dwarves – hungry Trolls, bloodthirsty Goblins, angry, giant spiders, and other perils of the undertaking. There are enemies everywhere, and allies in unexpected places, but still waiting, at the end, is the seemingly unconquerable dragon, Smaug the Magnificent. Bilbo must find courage deep within himself that he never knew existed, but can he truly help the Dwarves reclaim their home and their treasure? Here, we’ve given up the gist of the quest, as well as the names of some of the creatures they face. But there’s no specifics – we don’t know how they escape the Trolls, Goblins, or spiders, whether anybody perishes, who does what, etc. But we see the conflict. We see some of the character growth. We see what our protagonist will face. The final paragraph usually sums up the book as a product: The Hobbit is a tale of adventure, courage and camaraderie which is sure to delight readers of all ages.||Usually, nonfiction (e.g. autobiographies, biographies, books on particular topics) can be treated like fiction. The same principle applies – just treat the subject as your protagonist who takes the reader for a ride through through the blurb. Where the blurb might differ is for something like a self-help book. You now not only have to immerse your reader, but empathise with them. Let’s say we’ve got a book about dieting. We need to establish a rapport with the reader immediately. Overweight? Open by questioning the reader. That might take the form of a single word (as it has here), a single sentence, or a paragraph full of questions. The point is to engage the reader and open a dialogue with them. They now have to answer the question(s) put forth to them. If it’s relevant to them, they will most likely read on. Then it’s time for the empathising. Do you struggle to resist sugary snacks or fatty foods? Or perhaps you stack on the kilos, despite what you eat. You’ve tried diets before, but without success. Here, hopefully, we’re getting on side with the reader. Yes, they might struggle to resist sugary snacks and fatty foods. Yes, they might stack on weight regardless of what they eat, and diets have been unsuccessful. If we’ve articulated legitimate concerns of somebody who might pick up a book like this, hopefully they’ll now be nodding their heads and thinking this book knows about their situation, is specifically talking to them, and might offer them hints that they haven’t encountered before. This is now where we sell ourselves and what the book’s about. Careful, though! We don’t want to give away the book’s secrets. Joe Blow has been a dietician for over twenty-five years, worked with thousands of patients, and has a PhD in Clinical Nutrition. Now, he’s come up with an easy 12-Step Program that’s guaranteed to see that you lose weight in three months. We’re not only selling ourselves here, but we’re also selling why we’re qualified to write about this subject. The reader has to feel they can have a reason – or reasons – to put their trust in us and, more importantly, in the book they’re now holding. The only actual allusion to the book’s content is the ’12-Step Program’. If your book has a particular formula (in this case the ’12-Step Program’), then sell it. Make no specific grandiose promises, though, e.g. You’re guaranteed to lose 25 kilograms! There’s no way you can guarantee that. The wording we’ve used here – ‘guaranteed to … lose weight in three months’ – is non-specific. Finally, as with the fiction blurb, we sum up the book: Lose Weight Quick is just what you need if you’ve tried all those other diets and failed, an easy step-by-step guide that will talk you through the process of how to lose weight and ensure you keep it off.|
Now neither of these blurbs are complete. They’re still early drafts. But they offer a framework that you can now flesh out. We can fine-tune details, as well as smooth out linkages.
Just remember, blurbs are meant to be short and concise. They’re not a report of your book. Nor should they give the content away so that it becomes redundant to read the book. Don’t waste words. A blurb sells your book. The goal is to get readers intrigued.
With practice, you should be able to blurbarize any book. The key is to find your way in. Once you do, the rest should come easily.