An Effective Blurb: The Challenge of Writing Just a Few Words

Authors love to write. If you love to jog, running a marathon is easy. If you love to sew, knitting a blanket is fun. If you love to write, completing a novel is a breeze.

Typing tens of thousands of words comes very naturally to writers.

Writing very many words is easy. Writing just a few words is the real challenge.

That is, if you want a small number of words to be effective.

The greatest condensation challenge comes when the self-published author completes the book and must prepare the blurb. Most writers incorrectly view this as having to summarize tens of thousands of words with just a hundred words or so.

But the blurb shouldn’t be a synopsis. The function of the blurb is to entice readers to read the book.

The blurb has the best chance of persuading readers to look inside when it accomplishes the following:

  • Immediately captures the interest of the reader; it has to have a great start.
  • Engages the interest of the reader throughout; every sentence – phrase even – must intrigue the reader.
  • Sends the same message about the genre and content as the title and cover. Buyers want to know exactly what they’re getting; when they see mixed messages, they search for a different book. A target audience mismatch is a related problem: If the title and cover sound like adult romance, but the blurb sounds like teen romance, for example, the readers who are attracted to the book probably won’t buy it.
  • Arouses the reader’s curiosity. Don’t give too much information away; leave questions (implied or explicit) that require the reader to buy the book in order to find the answers.
  • Is well-written. If a hundred words or so have spelling, punctuation, grammar, and other writing mistakes, it doesn’t bode well for tens of thousands of words being well-written. Any mistakes in this short writing sample are deal-breakers.
  • Presents the information concisely. Longer blurbs are less likely to hold the reader’s interest. Bored readers don’t buy books. The longer the reader has to decide about the book, the more likely the reader will find a reason not to look inside. This is especially true in fiction. In nonfiction, there may be some books that have valuable content or features where a longer blurb may help sell the book. However, even in nonfiction, the general rule is that a shorter blurb is better.
  • Provides a clear description. Confused shoppers don’t buy books. Too many characters appearing out of the blue, information that seems ambiguous, words or phrases that don’t make sense to the readers, or anything that isn’t crystal clear to the vast majority of the target audience – these things are likely to blow the sale.
  • Creates an accurate expectation. Readers who are successfully enticed to make the purchase will return the book or provide a bad review if the book fails to live up to unrealistic expectations.
  • Looks appealing. Use block style with linespaces between paragraphs. Nonfiction blurbs that have multiple points to make can use bullets. Such formatting can be done through AuthorCentral.

That’s a tall order! A blurb, which must be short to be effective, has so much to accomplish. It’s quite a challenge to make a small number of words achieve so much.

Yet writing an effective blurb is very important. It can make the difference between very few or very many prospective customers looking inside.

There are three more challenges that fiction authors face when writing the blurb:

  • They tend to write summaries instead of blurbs.
  • They know the story, but often have trouble reading their description from the perspective of a reader who hasn’t read the book.
  • They are often partial to some information in the book which really doesn’t belong in the blurb (for a similar reason, there is often an extra out-of-place object on the cover).

Authors should place their focus elsewhere:

  • What are the main aspects of the book that make it very interesting? Stuff that doesn’t make it sound interesting shouldn’t be in the blurb.
  • What do members of the target audience who haven’t read the book think of the blurb? Feedback is very important. The most effective blurbs often undergo several major revisions.

Look back at the top of this blog article and you’ll see that it started with a few short paragraphs with space between them. When you first see the article, you only see the beginning of it, which – like a blurb – must catch and hold your attention. Evidently, it worked for you, since you reached the end. 🙂

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (Volume 2 coming in mid-April)