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Writing Book Blurbs


Fiction book blurbs—more properly described as “book descriptions”—are hard to write. Whether they're on the back of the paperback or the first part of the ebook listing, they're the first taste of what's in the book, and they will make or break the sale. They have to confirm the genre (the cover should be the start for that), set the tone, create a mystery the reader wants to solve, introduce memorable characters and/or setting. All that, and in 250 words or less. And these days, less than 200 words.

After a good cover, a good blurb will make me buy the book right then and there, if I know the author. If I don't know the author, a good blurb at least inspires met to read the reviews and check out the preview excerpt*.

Cover art for Assassins SalvationCover art for Into the Void
Give me good blurbs to go with these covers, and I'm sold!
As an aside, I'll often click the lower-star reviews to see what others didn't like, and I've more than once bought a book because of something those reviewers complained about. But that's a subject for another post.
I could have used my books as an example, but I'm not convinced that mine are the best… Like I said, they're hard to write.

Blurbs have conventions and sort-of formulas to them in given genres.* Read a bunch of them and you'll see what I mean. For cross-genre books like mine, the blurb has to set reader expectations for that, too.
Blurbs are almost always written in the third person, though I've read the occasional first-person, present-tense blurb that works. It's possible to break the rules, e.g., use bulleted lists, make it sound like a classified ad, or even write poetry, but I bet those writers lose sales. I think it's odd when blurbs for romance books completely omit one of the main characters—they make me suspect I won't like anyone in the book. Sometimes I've bought a book because a few kind reviewers provided the blurb the author should have written, but if the author's blurb is really incomprehensible, I'm likely not to bother finding the reviews.
I am annoyed when the blurb misleads me, such as implies the book is a genre that it's not, or omits important elements, or doesn't mention that the book is actually #3 of a series and that I'll be lost without having read the first two books (again, thank you, kind reviewers wherever you are, for pointing these things out when the author/publisher doesn't). My novel, Overload Flux, is the first of a series, and I've tried to make it clear wherever you buy it; the challenge will come when I write the blurb for the second book.
I have occasionally been fooled when the blurb compelling enough to make me buy the book, but the actual execution of the story doesn't live up to what I thought the blurb was promising, but it's pretty rare. More often, I've read novels where the blurb is fair but the book was better, and deserved a better blurb.
Authors, give me a good blurb to go along with a great cover, and I'm halfway to being your loyal customer. The other half is the writing, of course, but you knew that.
*If I'm on the fence about a blurb, I'll use the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon to help me decide. I've heard of, but never run across myself, independently published novels where the author paid someone to edit only the first part of the book that's visible in the “Look Inside” section. I hope I don't run into it, because I consider it [thisclose] to a con job.
*Resources for guidance on writing book blurbs: