There was a time when those talented, skilled and lucky enough (it takes all three) to get a book deal with a traditional publisher (back when they were just called ‘publishers’) didn’t have to worry about much besides writing a damn good book. The writer didn’t have to do much in relation to selling the book. Stuff like publicity, marketing and cover-design were taken care of by the publishing house. But in more recent times, with cost-margins getting tighter and time margins between signing date and on-the-shelf date getting shorter, more responsibility relating to non-writing elements is falling to the author or the author/agent team.
And with the growing strength and popularity of self-publishing, more and more new writers have to engage in every aspect of getting their book into the hands of readers. The writer is becoming an artist, an entrepreneur and an advertising executive.
One element of the practice of book-selling falling back on the shoulders of the writer is the book blurb or jacket-copy. This is the brief and compelling introduction to the book that sits neatly and beautifully on the back-cover. It’s those few succinct paragraphs that your potential reader will peruse in the book-shop and, if done right, it’ll convince them to escalate from perusing to buying. For that reason, the blurb might be the most important thing we write – apart from the actual book itself, of course.
Who better to tell us what makes a good blurb than those whose business is selling books, i.e. the publishers. On the official blog of Penguin Books UK, copywriters Colin Brush, Sarah Kettle, Madeleine Collinge, Louise Willder and Helen Williams tell us how they go about writing jacket-copy for the multitude of books they publish. They explain that it usually falls to the editor and the writer to write the blurb, as they are the ones who know the book most intimately – they know its strengths better than anyone. This is how Irish crime novelist Louise Phillips created the brilliant blurb for her debut thriller Red Ribbons – she collaborated with her publisher, Hachette. Louise designed the concept of the blurb and wrote it, then it was polished and made pitch-perfect by Hachette.
Speaking of writers, it is definitely worth talking to fellow writers to find out their approach to writing blurb – how they go about it, what problems they might have. Novelist Marilynn Byerly gives us a run-down of how to write a blurb for some of the main genres of fiction. She includes great detail as to overall length and number of paragraphs, language and style and lists what element of the book should to be included. She also recognises that we might be asked to do a short version of the blurb (for press releases, book-shop catalogues etc.) and shows how to create that short blurb. And, like any good how-to, Marilynn includes some examples of what a good blurb looks like.
PRArts.com, a website dedicated to publicising arts projects and organisations, includes a section on creating, as they call it, ‘the dreaded blurb’. Their most important piece of advice – although they didn’t actually coin the phrase – is ‘Sell The Sizzle, Not the Steak’. This suggests that a blurb, any advertisement in fact, should cater to the senses and emotions of the audience. If your book is a crime thriller, then the potential reader should be left feeling a bit on edge and excited just by reading the blurb.
It might be the laziness in me, but I’m a sucker for any ‘Top-5-ways-to…’ list. And the Savvy Writers’ Blog’s list (thanks Doris) of ‘5 Tips of How To Write a Blurb For Your Book’ is no exception. This might be due to the fact that these succinct tips are both logical and insightful – a must-read for anyone wanting to write that kick-ass jacket-copy. And Harlequin Publishing’s Amy Wilkinson gives us another, somewhat different, list of tips for writing the blurb. She tells how we should be trying to engage with our potential readers, how our aim should be to hook the reader on to our story, character or world.
Lastly, keep in mind that the blurb isn’t the synopsis. I’ll be talking about the synopsis in more detail later, but the main difference is that the blurb is selling to your reader, the synopsis is selling to your publisher.
By the way, thanks to writer, writing.ie reader and tweeter Clare O’Dea (@ClareODeaZ) for suggesting I talk about blurbs this week.
Blurb Or Perish.
Copywriters from Publisher Penguin Books (UK) tell us how they write the blurb that sells.
“Different writers will produce widely divergent blurbs while trying to achieve the same overall effect – i.e. convincing a bookshop customer to buy the book in their hands.”
Ask Another Writer.
Novelist Marilynn Byerly gives us a run-down of writing a blurb for the main genres of fiction.
“Blurbs are the second most important selling tool you have for your book, so you want it to grab the reader’s attention.”
The Blurb Shouldn’t Be So Dreaded.
PRArts.com tells us how to write a blurb for any artistic product, venture or organisation.
“Without an attractive blurb or teaser, there’s little reason for anyone to cast a glance at an unknown quantity.”
I Do Love A Top-5 List…
The Savvy Writer’s top 5 tips for writing a blurb.
“A great cover or a book title catches your eye. What do you do next? Most likely you will turn to the books’ backside and read the blurb to learn more about the book’s content.”
…So Much So, Here’s Another One.
5 more tips on blurb-writing from Harlequin Publishing’s Amy Wilkinson.
“Being able to write a good blurb for your book is an important skill to have, whether it’s for your website, a query to an editor or agent, or for your self-publishing book.”