In my previous posts, I looked at loglines and taglines, and when authors might need to use these. Today, we’re looking at book blurbs.
‘Blurb’ is an industry term for a short summary of the book, shorter than a synopsis, usually anywhere from one to three paragraphs. There are two reasons you might need a book blurb:
In a query letter to an editor or agent for an author going the traditional route
On the back cover copy / book description for self-published authors (some smaller publishers also expect the author to write the book blurb)
The blurb in a query letter should be only one paragraph (usually about 3 sentences) but back cover copy can be longer (around 3 paragraphs). Both instances are used as a teaser, to tempt the reader to want to read more – so you don’t want to give away the ending or any major plot twists (save those for the synopsis!)
This kind of short, punchy copy writing is a world away from novel writing. For novelists, who tend to count their words in tens of thousands, summarising your entire novel in just a few sentences – and making it ‘pop’ – can be a real challenge.
To make blurb writing a little less intimidating, I’m going to break it down to a very simple formula and show you examples.
Take the logline we discussed a couple of posts back, and expand it. If you’re writing a one paragraph blurb for a query letter, then each step listed below will be a single sentence. If you’re writing back cover copy, you can expand each step below to a short paragraph.
STEP 1: Introduce your main character and their problem/conflict.
STEP 2: Introduce the antagonist or second main character. This is essential if the book is a Romance or about two inter-twined characters. In some genres this would be the villain or antagonist. If your novel is only about one person’s journey, then this step would dig deeper into her conflict, as in the XX example below.
STEP 3: End with conflict. Show us the curve ball that is going to be the main character’s major obstacle, or alternately end on a question to intrigue the reader. Eg. “What will X do when he discovers her deception?”
Using the example of my own latest novel, Last of the Summer Vines:
Tagline: Love grows where you least expect to find it.
Logline: When an ambitious workaholic inherits a Tuscan vineyard, her determination to sell the crumbling castello is frustrated by the vineyard's gorgeous but infuriating winemaker.
Blurb: When ambitious workaholic Sarah Wells inherits her estranged father’s vineyard in Tuscany, the last thing she wants is to take time away from her busy schedule to sort out a crumbling mess of a palazzo. But when she reaches burnout, her boss decides a holiday is just what she needs. Arriving in Italy to sell the property, Sarah discovers she is not her father’s only heir, and her new business partner, the gorgeous but infuriating Tommaso Di Biasi, doesn’t want to sell. Under the warmth of the Tuscan sun, with a glass or two of the local vino rosso, and the irascible Tommaso challenging her all the way, Sarah starts to realise that that there might just be something to la dolce vita.
Another example I used in last week’s post on taglines vs loglines, Men in Black:
Tagline: Protecting the earth from the scum of the universe
Logline: When a New York cop is recruited to an agency that monitors alien activity on Earth, he and his new partner must race to save the world from an attack that would end life as we know it.
Blurb: They are the best-kept secret in the universe. Working for a highly funded yet unofficial government agency, Kay and Jay are the Men in Black, providers of immigration services and regulators of all things alien on Earth. While investigating a series of unregistered close encounters, the MIB agents uncover the deadly plot of an intergalactic terrorist who is on a mission to assassinate two ambassadors from opposing galaxies currently in residence in New York City.
And here’s that example of The Hunger Games:
Tagline: May the odds be ever in your favour
Logline: In a future North America, where the rulers maintain control through an annual contest in which young people from the twelve districts fight to death on live television, sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her younger sister’s place in the latest contest.
Back cover blurb: In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.
Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to death before, and survival, for her, is second nature. Still, if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
In my next post, I will share a few more handy tips for writing effective blurbs.