The blurb. That tiny bit of writing that stands guard at the gate and decides if people will buy your book or not. I’m in a small herd of writing groups and folks are always asking for help with their blurbs. It’s understandable. First, a writer has to have a good cover to get people to click on it and then they have to have an engaging blurb that convinces readers they must read this book.
It’s difficult to write an effective blurb. That’s exactly why I read so many that are not doing their job. Do yourself a favor before you write your blurb. Do some research on what makes a blurb effective and go to the top sellers in your genre and read some examples of good blurbs.
I’m going to start this rodeo by attempting to write the worst blurb ever and then I’ll pick it apart and tell you why it sucks.
It’s over a hundred years in our future and Earth doesn’t look at all like itself. The planet has become so polluted that few things will grow and those plants only grow in a few scattered domed enclosures. People either work on various food and energy farms, or they are shoved into giant metropolises the size of America’s former states. The city governors rule everything and if you break the rules you are put to death, which they call recycling.
Marj, her mom Daisy, and her dad Hawk live in a tiny apartment in a skyscraper in the city. Her mom has lost her job and there isn’t enough food to go around. Marj often has to skip meals, but her teacher, Ms. Cherry, is very kind and tries to slip Marj food during lunchtime at school. Eventually, Marj is taken from her family and shipped off to The Home. At The Home, a nasty teacher named Miss Hyacinth is the bane of her existence. If it wasn’t for her friends Crocus and Hosta, and a nice staff member named Mr. Badger, Marj wouldn’t be able to stand it.
A lucky break comes in the form of unrest amongst the wards of The Home. Marj jumps at the chance to abandon ship and sneaks outside as quietly as a mouse. But Miss Hyacinth has an ax to grind and drags Marj back to The Home just as she was about to cowboy up and accept an invitation to The Trials at Crucible Station.
No one is allowed to interfere with an invitation to The Trials. Citizens who pass The Trials get to work on The Project, which is said to be for the benefit of all mankind. Will she pass The Trials and get to work on The Project? Will she fail and be shipped off to work at a farm? Or, even worse, will The Trials end up killing her? You’ll never know unless you read Crucible Station!
Right. I must say, that is perhaps the worst blurb I’ve ever written in my life. I’ve done it in paragraphs and highlighted a common blurb faux pas in each one, so let’s take them in order.
Paragraph 1-Too much world-building.
The easiest way to lose your potential reader is to bore them to tears with far too much world-building. Yes, if your book is set in a dystopian world, or on a spaceship, or in a rabid wombat habitat, you have to let your readers know. This should not take more than a sentence or two and you get bonus points for combining that bit of world-building with something that tells the reader a little bit about your main character. Sentence after sentence of world-building has no place in a blurb. It’s boring and you will lose your readers.
Paragraph 2-Too many characters.
Oh my goodness, could I have added any more character names to that paragraph? Let’s count them up, shall we? Good golly, there’s eight of them. Even if you don’t shove them all into the same paragraph, too many characters take time away from your main character. Your top job in writing a blurb is to tell your readers why they want to read an entire book about your MC. You absolutely cannot do this if you have an entire cast of characters in your blurb. Each added name actually make’s your blurb less interesting. The meat of your blurb should be about your MC and you could add another character to that, two at most. More than that will confuse and bore your reader.
Also in this paragraph, too many details. A few details are a good thing and can make your blurb more interesting. Too many details will do the opposite. I don’t need to say it’s a tiny apartment, and that it’s in a skyscraper, and that it’s in the city. You wouldn’t expect a skyscraper to be out in the woods, nor would you think a tiny apartment was a one family dwelling. To be honest, it isn’t important where the family lives at all, that’s just useless and boring information. I also go on and on about Marj not having food when one small mention is enough. Your readers are not stupid, you don’t have to spoon-feed them every detail.
There’s also a cliché that I slipped in there.
Paragraph 3-Too many clichés.
This is my favorite paragraph. I tried to stuff as many clichés into the short paragraph as I could. Clichés give a writer a false sense of excitement where their blurb is concerned. Instead of looking for engaging language that is specific to their book, they jot down an overused cliché thinking that it makes the blurb more exciting and gives the reader more information than it actually does. Clichés do not add excitement, they are old hat for a reason. (See what I did there?) Look through your blurb and kill clichés with fire. Find your own engaging language, which is pertinent to your particular story, and leave the clichés in the trash where they belong.
Paragraph 4-Too many questions.
In a blurb, a single question can be a quite effective means of grabbing the reader’s attention. For each additional question you add, this effect is greatly diminished. Personally, I try to avoid questions in blurbs altogether. I try to keep my blurbs short, engaging, and tight. I can’t do that if I throw questions into the mix. An engaging and interesting blurb will cause the reader to ask their own questions. Once again, you don’t have to spoon-feed them. Let the meat of your story speak for itself.
In addition to having too many questions, this paragraph of the blurb revisits the arena of too much information. The last thing you want to end your blurb with is a load of world-building.
There’s also the dreaded plea for readers, complete with exclamation mark. No.
So, you seem to ask, what should I put in my blurb?
There’s a simple formula of questions a writer should ask themselves when writing a blurb. Keep in mind that the answers to these questions need to be written in a logical order while using language which engages the reader.
Who is the MC?
What does the MC want?
What stands in the MC’s way?
What will happen if the MC fails to get what they want?
These questions are a tried and true method of getting to the meat of your story without a ton of unnecessary and boring details. To illustrate this method, here is the actual blurb I wrote for Crucible Station. Is it the awesomeness blurb ever blurbbed? No, I’m sure it isn’t. But it’s not bad and I have already had some readers say that this blurb makes them want to read the rest of the story. That’s the blurb’s job. The only job a blurb has is to get readers to want to read the rest of the story.
Life in New Liberty is tough, but it’s the only life Marjoram has ever known. At fourteen, she lives with her parents and wears a breathing mask to survive the polluted city streets on the way to school. Crucible Station offers a better life to any citizen smart enough to receive an invitation, but Marj won’t leave her family. When she is thrown into a detestable government home because her family can’t feed her, Crucible Station is the only way out–if she is clever enough to pass The Trials.
That’s it. Short and sweet. The only characters are Marj and her family. The blurb centers around Marj at all times. We learn a little about the world of Crucible Station by seeing how it affects my main character. Every sentence in this blurb is about Marj. It isn’t about the world, the city, the hardship, or even Crucible Station. It is from the point of view of the main character, but not in first person.
My biggest critique of my own blurb is that the stakes (what does the MC want?) Are a little wishy-washy. The primary stakes are that Marj wants a better life. Her secondary stakes are that she doesn’t want to leave her family, but she has to do so in order to improve her life. It’s difficult to manage a blurb for sci-fi dystopian story in five hundred characters or less so that it can be used for Kindle Scout. Considering that five hundred character limit, I think I did a good job.
In fact, I think this is a great way to get to the meat of your blurb and simplify it. Write your blurb and then cut it down so that it is five hundred characters or less. It is a very effective way to discover what is actually important in your blurb. Once it’s cut, you can carefully add back anything that you feel truly adds interest and clarity.
Speaking of Kindle Scout
Crucible Station is in the middle of a Kindle Scout campaign. I could really use some nominations. All it takes to nominate is an Amazon account and sixty seconds of your time. It’s easy peasy. All nominators will get a free copy of the e-book whether it is selected by Kindle Press or not. If it is not selected, I will announce the free dates here shortly after I publish it. If it is selected, nominating it will be the only way you can get a free copy.
Hi Julianne – I am a first time writer (In the novel sense at least) from the UK and found this very helpful having seen it on K Boards! I am working on the text for the back of my book jacket at this very moment and this really helped me with the next draft. Thanks!
How wonderful! I’m so glad that I could help. I’m not an expert, but I’ve been doing it for a while now. Blurbs are tough. I can’t recommend enough how writing a super short version helps clarify what’s most important. It’s hard as heck, but so useful. Good luck with the blurb as well as the upcoming book launch!