Writing a Killer Book Blurb
Writing a killer book blurb that hooks potential reader and convinces them they absolutely MUST read this book is not only an art form, it's an essential book marketing tool. And if you're anything like me, this part of being a novelist makes me grind my teeth in frustration. Condensing a 400-page novel into 150 words feels like trying to shove an elephant through the eye of a needle. So, when you find somebody who does this well, they are worth their weight in gold.
I was lucky enough to find Kat Sheridan, a woman who makes her living doing the thing that I hate most--writing killer book blurbs. I asked Kat if she'd be willing to share some of her tips and tricks for other authors (like me) who struggle to do this very thing. Here's what she said...
How did you discover that you had a talent for writing book descriptions?
Lots of indie authors take a stab at writing their own book description, a.k.a. blurbs, then crowdsource it, passing it around among a group or friends or on a chat loop, looking for feedback and advice. Folks in a couple of small writing groups I belong to did the same thing. Often, I’d rewrite the entire thing for them. Folks would tell me I had a real knack for this kind of writing. Then an author friend, Judi Fennell, started her own business, Formatting4U, doing book formatting for indie authors. She called me up one day and said she had a client with a great book but a lousy blurb, and the author was willing to pay me to write a new one. Judi then convinced me other authors needed the same service. My entire business grew by word-of-mouth from satisfied clients.
When I pursue books at a bookstore, one of the first things I always do is read the book description. How important is a good book description in the age of digital books?
Whether it’s print or digital, your book description is your second-best marketing tool (your cover is number one.) The same way you flip over a book to read the cover in the bookstore, or read the jacket copy, is the same way readers rely on the book description at online retail stores. In a digital world, we have the luxury of being able to scale a description up or down to meet various needs. At someplace like Amazon, you can go as high as 4,000 characters for a book description, far more than could ever fit on a print book cover. You can also scale it down as small as 280 characters to fit in a tweet or in marketing copy. No matter what size it is, a good book description must be able to hook the reader and convince them to buy the book.
What makes a good book description? What should you include? What should you leave out?
I always tell folks a good blurb is like an advertisement for a striptease joint: enough is revealed that the customer is enticed, but enough remains hidden that the customer has to pay the admission fee to see more. At its most basic, a good blurb has most of the following: the goals, motivations, and conflicts of the primary character(s), an idea of the setting and/or time period of the novel, and the inciting incident that sets the story in motion. You never want to include the ending, too many characters, or too much detail.
What are the most common problems you see with book descriptions?
I absolutely love it when an author has made an attempt to write their own blurb, because it gives me a good starting point, but I do tend to see a lot of the same missteps. Too much detail is included, or the most important features of a character aren’t showcased well enough. A novel may be jam packed with all kinds of cool plot twists and action, but they shouldn’t all be crammed into the blurb. And too often they’ve failed to “stick the landing” with a strong ending hook that compels the reader to hit the buy button.
Breaking a full-length novel down into a compelling (and short) description is tough! It’s one of my least favorite jobs. What additional tips might you give a writer who is struggling to do this?
Look at books in your genre that are selling well and study the blurbs. What keywords are they using that made you sit up and take notice? Asking for feedback isn’t a bad idea, but too much, or the wrong kind of advice can just make things worse. If you’re going this route, find a small circle of folks you can trust to be totally honest with you, who will tell you when something stinks or sings. There are books available now that offer advice. I’ll plug my own, . You can also hire a professional like me. Having a professional book description written just for you is one of the most inexpensive things an author can have done, and get the biggest bang for their marketing buck. Like I said earlier, a great blurb can be scaled up or down and is used in every single bit of your marketing, so it’s worth the investment.
What information would your dream client be able to give you that would help you craft the perfect book description?
When an author commissions a book description with me, they fill out a form on my web site, BlurbWriter.com. The more completely they fill in information, the better the blurb. The one I need the most information on is the character’s goals, motivations, and conflicts. Too often an author will describe a character’s coloring, height, and personal quirks, but forget to tell why story is about character and what the character will confront as the story progresses. My dream client (and I’m so lucky that so many of my clients fall in that category!) tells me the character’s hopes and dreams (their goal) and their fears (the conflict or stakes or risks). And although it’s an option when commissioning a blurb, I adore it when a client includes a synopsis. More than once I’ve read the “fill in the blank” questions from an author, but discovered a whole other story or blurb direction from reading the full synopsis. I get really excited and happy when I can create a blurb that surprises a client by showcasing something they might have overlooked.
I imagine that your list of clients runs the gamut from romance to thriller to paranormal, etc. Are there any differences for writing book descriptions in different genres; either things you must do or things to stay away from?
I do write blurbs for all genres. And all of them have the same basic elements, of goals, motivations, conflicts, setting, and inciting incident. The difference in the genres is in where, or how much, emphasis is placed on one element over others. For a romance I might concentrate more on motivations and conflicts between the two main characters. In paranormal or sci-fi, I’ll spend a few more words than usual on setting, since the world-building is an important part of those books, and a few more words on character description if a character has special powers, skills, or a creature-type. For a thriller or suspense, the “conflict” emphasis will shift more heavily to the stakes, risks, or consequences of failure. And it’s tricky with this last genre on whether or not you give away an event or a villain in the blurb. For some, you want to reveal those things, for others, they need to be artfully concealed to entice the reader to buy the book!
Have you ever seen a book description that has made you want to reach out to an author because it was either really good or really needed help?
Oh my, yes. When I spot a really good book description, I study it to see what makes it work so well. I’ve never reached out to an author specifically because of a good book description, but I’ve bought their book, which means the blurb totally works and did its job. And of course there are the bad blurbs, the ones that just make me want to cringe, and scream “amateur” the same way a really crappy cover does. A bad book description can do a lot of damage. I’ve never reached out to an author with a bad blurb, because hey, maybe their mom wrote it for them, or they think it’s the best thing since delivery pizza! But I also don’t buy their book. Fair or not, people assume that if your blurb is bad, or filled with misspellings and typos, that your book will be just as bad. I always feel sorry for folks with bad blurbs. If I see an author passing around a blurb for feedback or critique, I may or may not jump in with some free advice. Sometimes they’re just getting bad advice from friends, and I’ll try to offset that with some gentle ideas or directions. Sometimes they’re stubbornly rejecting good advice, in which case there’s not much I can do to help. But I do try to help if I can.
How long (on average) does it take you to create a book description? Have you sped up over time?
A book description can take me anywhere from fifteen minutes to a couple of days. I’m faster if I’ve worked with an author before and know their taste and style and what they like, or if they give me really good information on the initial request. I do provide an option for a 24-hour rush delivery. Writing a book description is a lot like writing an entire novel: sometimes I spend a lot of time staring into space, jotting down concepts or ideas, struggling for just the right turn of phrase, and other times it’s like magic and the words just gush out like Niagara Falls. It’s awesome when that happens!
Do you write other things besides book descriptions? Where can we find your work?
As part of my business, I also write taglines, log lines, tweets, and spiff up author bios. I’ve also written static web site content for a few authors. I’ve written a self-help book for authors called Blurb Your Novel. I also have one published novel, a dark, sexy Victorian Gothic romance called Echoes in Stone, available at most online retail stores. I’m always tinkering with other novels, and have at least a half dozen manuscripts in various stages of progress. I’m easily distracted by new ideas, which is probably why writing book descriptions suits me so well. With every day it’s a new, exciting challenge and the satisfaction of completing something and making someone happy. I love helping an author make all their hard work shine!
If you’re still struggling to write that blurb, or you’re in the mood for a Victorian Romance, You can find links to Kat’s work here…