What’s in a Blurb?

It’s funny the things we take for granted about books and bookbuying. If you are anything like me, you are attracted first by the title and cover, and then by the back cover blurb. At that point you’re holding the book in your hands and it’s logical to take a look at the first few sentences on page one. After all, you’ve come this far, right? According to the people who study these things, writers have something like 30 seconds to impress you once you, the potential purchaser, pick up the book. Getting you to open the covers and read the first few lines is crucial! If the book doesn’t grab you then, it’s quite likely to be consigned back to the shelf. But the major part of that battle is to capture your interest enough to get you to actually pick up the book and open the covers. Which means you’ve got to have something pretty special in the back cover blurb.

Tough, but not as hard as it is in movies,where scriptwriters put together a one line pitch or ‘logline’ in order to grab a filmmaker’s attention. In classes, I ask students to write a ‘blurb’ about their story in just a couple of sentences and that usually evokes some pretty loud groans, although once they’ve mastered the art, most writers think it’s a real benefit. Distilling your story down to its very essence in a couple of sentences clarifies it for you; it also tells you pretty quickly whether you’ve got a strong idea or not.

In this exercise you’re actually creating a ‘teaser’ as opposed to the kind of query hook you’d put together as part of a synopisis. However, using these few sentences to describe your story can make an editor-grabbing beginning to a query letter! In this stripped down story line, you need to have the names of the main characters, something about their motives, the challenge facing them, and their reactions. The Who, What, When, and Why. You can keep the How part a secret for now – it’s good to leave the reader hungry to know the ending of your story  and the fate of the protagonists.

Here’s the blurb for Marrying Money, my new release eBook from Red Rose Publishing

Diana, Lady Ashburnham, needs to find a rich husband, and fast.She’s the last of an aristocratic line stretching back 500 years, and she’s broke. The family fortunes have been eaten up by the crumbling mansion and impoverished estate. Not wanting to be known as the ‘Ashburnham Who Lost The Lot’, she refuses to sell off heirloom jewellery or let the estate be auctioned off to a dot.com millionaire or heavy metal rock star.That’s when Diana has her Great Idea – she’ll follow a new take on the way her ancestors raised money – by marrying money! So Diana corals her best friend, Sally Barnes, into joining her on a trip to Ireland to try to net a – preferably titled – millionaire.

See – an entire short novel condensed into six lines. Yet those lines tell the reader a lot about the story, the characters, motivation and setting, without giving away the whole plot.

Another way to capture a potential reader’s interest is to have a few lines from a well-known author – or at least someone better known than yourself – praising your story. That’s not so easy to get until you’re fairly well known or you have made a point of making lots of writer friends who now feel indebted to you. Some publishers will ask other authors in their stable to offer a few lines to promote another writer. There are dangers inherent in this, however. Groucho Marx is supposed to have written the following note to an author who had requested some kind words to put on the back cover of his novel: ‘From the moment I picked up your book until the moment I put it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.’  Uhmm, when you think about it, not really much of a recommendation!

Then there’s the equally obscure comment from a Victorian English Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, himself the author of several books: ‘Dear Sir, thank you for sending me a copy of your book, which I shall waste no time in reading.’  That’s a double meaning I wouldn’t want on my back cover!

The point I’m trying to make is the the back cover blurb is an important selling point for your book and it’s worth putting in some time developing and honing your blur-writing skills. Not only does this distillation of your novel into a few sentences help you to consolidate plot points, it also gives your readers a tasty bite of the feast they’ll find within the covers.

One last thing – have you ever wondered where the word ‘blurb’ came from? You must admit it’s a bit of a weird one and doesn’t seem to have any scholarly Latin or Greek roots. According to a recent article in the Toronto Globe & Mail newspaper about this very topic, we can thank a writer named Gelett Burgess for the phenomena. It seems, according to the Globe, that Burgess wanted to grab attention for his funny book, ‘Are You a Bromide?’ published in 1907. He did so by putting a picture of a pretty young woman on the cover. This fictional young lady’s name was Miss Belinda Blurb, and she assured would-be readers that Burgess’ book was ‘…a terrific read.’

So, readers and fellow authors, what back cover blurbs have grabbed you? Do you like humorous ones, or those that hint of something dark and deadly? How important is the blurb to you when deciding to buy a book? Please share some of your thoughts in the comments column!

Glenys O’Connell is hard at work on a blurb for her next book, Saving Maggie, a romantic suspense/paranormal. Meanwhile, for those who like a lot of humor with their romance, her latest release is marrying Money, a romantic comendy set in the UK and Ireland, which she claims is an absolute steal at $2.99 to download from http://redrosepublishing.com/bookstore/product_info.php?manufacturers_id=24&products_id=522


8 Responses to “What’s in a Blurb?”

  1. 28 April, 2010 at 12:34 am

    I enjoy reading blurbs, and if I saw an author whom I really like blurbing a book, it could make me pick up that book. But I don’t think of blurbs as that influential. I went to hear publisher Amy Einhorn speak a few weeks ago, and she said that blurbs are most important in terms of garnering reviews for a book–ie, the reviewers choose which books to look at based on blurbs. Anyway, interesting post, and thanks for etymology!!

  2. 2 Jacqueline Seewald
    28 April, 2010 at 11:22 am

    I did wonder where the term “blurb” came from. Thanks for explaining.
    And I agree they are very important. It’s not easy to get blurbs from
    well-known authors, but I’ve been fortunate several times now because
    they were generous enought to read my novels and actually enjoyed

    Jacqueline Seewald
    author of romantic suspense:
    THE INFERNO COLLECTION, Five Star hardcover, Wheeler large print
    coming in September: TEA LEAVES AND TAROT CARDS

  3. 28 April, 2010 at 11:55 am

    A very interesting article. Had no idea how the word ‘blurb’ came about for the book’s book cover. Thanks for all the information.

  4. 28 April, 2010 at 1:00 pm

    Just the other day, I grabbed up what I thought was another in a group of novels I love. The picture on the front was like the others so I assumed it was another in the line. What I got was 3 short stories and a whole half a book on quips and quotes, etc. I was somewhat disappointed to say the least. Had I read the blurb, I would have known it was short stories. I find blurb writing to be excruciating. You made it seem so easy. Enjoyed the post. Thanks.

  5. 28 April, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    I’m a fellow MMA’er and loved your blog on Blurbs. It was interesting and enjoyable, especially about the origin of the word, which I did not know. Thanks for sharing this type of information — it’s what makess the very best blogs. All the best of luck to a fellow writer!!
    Kind regards,
    Diane Gilbert Madsen

  6. 28 April, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    Hi Glenys,

    As a fellow RRP author I’m a blurb watcher too. I read the back covers always before I buy a book. But experience has shown that a great blurb doesn’t always mean a great blook inside. But still, we need to be great blurb writers. Then we need to make sure our story stands up to those great blurbs!

  7. 30 July, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    This is helpful! For some reason when I was struggling along trying to get my back cover copy right, I was annoyed at the task and never considered its importance. You’ve done a lot with this article – and I’ll remember your wisdom when I’m doing the same for my 2nd book. THANKS!

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