Writing Compelling Book Blurbs (Shayla Raquel)

What is a book blurb?

A book blurb is a short description of your novel that entices a reader to buy your book and can be found on the back cover copy, on the Amazon book page, and throughout social media for promotional purposes. Consider this the primary ad for your book.

How many words are in a blurb?

Typically, 150–200 words. However, you can easily go over this limit on Amazon with the use of endorsements, reviews, taglines, awards, etc. You’re condensing a 70,000-word novel into 150–200 words, which is why every word counts.

Step 1: Drop the Hook

Similar to what a writer would do for a query letter, a hook is meant to entice the reader to bite. It takes several tries to get the hook just right, but once you’ve got it figured out, the reader won’t be able to resist. When writing your hook, consider the following:

  • Who is the main character(s)?

  • What do they most deeply desire?

  • What stands in the way?

  • What is the setting or context for the story?

“If you can’t identify what the main character deeply desires, then ask: What challenge do they face? What sets their story in motion?” —Jane Friedman

Examples:

In the summer of 2006, Emma Price watched helplessly as her six-year-old son's red coat was fished out of the River Ouse. It was the tragic story of the year - a little boy, Aiden, wandered away from school during a terrible flood, fell into the river, and drowned.

His body was never recovered.

Ten years later, Emma has finally rediscovered the joy in life. She's married, pregnant, and in control again…

... until Aiden returns.

Silent Child, Sarah Denzil

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.

Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there.

The Martian, Andy Weir

Could you survive on your own, in the wild, with everyone out to make sure you don't live to see the morning?

The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins

“Are you happy with your life?”

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Dark Matter, Blake Crouch

Step 2: Dangle the Characters

Remember, your characters are the driving force of your story. In fact, your characters are the story. Once you’ve set the hook, it’s time to reel them in with intriguing characters. This isn’t the time to get into character arcs, which is why the word dangle is used.

Examples:

Sixteen-year-old Cinder is considered a technological mistake by most of society and a burden by her stepmother. Being cyborg does have its benefits, though: Cinder's brain interference has given her an uncanny ability to fix things (robots, hovers, her own malfunctioning parts), making her the best mechanic in New Beijing. This reputation brings Prince Kai himself to her weekly market booth, needing her to repair a broken android before the annual ball. He jokingly calls it "a matter of national security," but Cinder suspects it's more serious than he's letting on.

Although eager to impress the prince, Cinder's intentions are derailed when her younger stepsister, and only human friend, is infected with the fatal plague that's been devastating Earth for a decade. Blaming Cinder for her daughter's illness, Cinder's stepmother volunteers her body for plague research, an "honor" that no one has survived.

But it doesn't take long for the scientists to discover something unusual about their new guinea pig. Something others would kill for.

—Cinder, Marissa Meyer

An accomplished concert pianist, Richard received standing ovations from audiences all over the world in awe of his rare combination of emotional resonance and flawless technique. Every finger of his hands was a finely calibrated instrument, dancing across the keys and striking each note with exacting precision. That was eight months ago.

Richard now has ALS, and his entire right arm is paralyzed. His fingers are impotent, still, devoid of possibility. The loss of his hand feels like a death, a loss of true love, a divorce—his divorce.

He knows his left arm will go next.

Three years ago, Karina removed their framed wedding picture from the living room wall and hung a mirror there instead. But she still hasn’t moved on. Karina is paralyzed by excuses and fear, stuck in an unfulfilling life as a piano teacher, afraid to pursue the path she abandoned as a young woman, blaming Richard and their failed marriage for all of it.

When Richard becomes increasingly paralyzed and is no longer able to live on his own, Karina becomes his reluctant caretaker. As Richard’s muscles, voice, and breath fade, both he and Karina try to reconcile their past before it’s too late.

Poignant and powerful, Every Note Played is a masterful exploration of redemption and what it means to find peace inside of forgiveness.

Every Note Played, Lisa Genova

John Milton’s life is about to change. The former government assassin follows a lead to Manila that he hopes will change his life. But he never expected to wake up in an unfamiliar hotel room beside a murder victim. And, unfortunately for him, Milton doesn’t remember a thing about the night before.

—John Milton Series, Mark Dawson

Jazz Bashara is a criminal.

Well, sort of. Life on Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, is tough if you're not a rich tourist or an eccentric billionaire. So smuggling in the occasional harmless bit of contraband barely counts, right? Not when you've got debts to pay and your job as a porter barely covers the rent.

Everything changes when Jazz sees the chance to commit the perfect crime, with a reward too lucrative to turn down. But pulling off the impossible is just the start of her problems, as she learns that she's stepped square into a conspiracy for control of Artemis itself—and that now, her only chance at survival lies in a gambit even riskier than the first.

—Artemis, Andy Weir

Step 3: Dive into Conflict

Every story has conflict. Without conflict, there is no point, there is no story. Once the reader has taken a bite of the blurb, show them what this book is all about. What’s the plot? Why should the reader buy this book?

Frederick Starks has it all—a gorgeous wife who was his high school sweetheart, three beautiful children, a mansion and cars others envy, millions in the bank, respected in his community, admired by his employees, loved and respected by loyal friends. He revels in the hard-earned power and control he’s acquired.

As the saying goes, “All that glitters is not gold,” which Starks discovers when gut-wrenching betrayal by his wife sends him over the edge and into a maximum security prison.

When the Serpent Bites, Nesly Clerge

Pecola Breedlove, a young black girl, prays every day for beauty. Mocked by other children for the dark skin, curly hair, and brown eyes that set her apart, she yearns for normalcy, for the blond hair and blue eyes that she believes will allow her to finally fit in.Yet as her dream grows more fervent, her life slowly starts to disintegrate in the face of adversity and strife. A powerful examination of our obsession with beauty and conformity, Toni Morrison’s virtuosic first novel asks powerful questions about race, class, and gender with the subtlety and grace that have always characterized her writing.

—The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison

Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden.

Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his bland life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television “family.” But then he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people didn’t live in fear and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television.

When Mildred attempts suicide and Clarisse suddenly disappears, Montag begins to question everything he has ever known. He starts hiding books in his home, and when his pilfering is discovered, the fireman has to run for his life.

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

No one knows more than Beanie how hard it is to live far away from loved ones. She lives across the world from her Nonni and misses her every day. But then she figures out a way she and Nonni can send messages back and forth—through the moon!

Nonni’s Moon, Julia Inserro

An action-packed, blood-soaked, futuristic debut thriller set in a world where the murder rate is higher than the birthrate. For fans of Moira Young’s Dust Lands series, La Femme Nikita, and the movie Hanna.

Meadow Woodson, a fifteen-year-old girl who has been trained by her father to fight, to kill, and to survive in any situation, lives with her family on a houseboat in Florida. The state is controlled by The Murder Complex, an organization that tracks the population with precision.

The plot starts to thicken when Meadow meets Zephyr James, who is—although he doesn’t know it—one of the MC’s programmed assassins. Is their meeting a coincidence? Destiny? Or part of a terrifying strategy? And will Zephyr keep Meadow from discovering the haunting truth about her family?

Action-packed, blood-soaked, and chilling, this is a dark and compelling debut novel by Lindsay Cummings.

The Murder Complex, Lindsay Cummings

Step 4: Determine the Consequences

When there’s conflict, there are consequences to a character’s actions. What hangs in the balance for your characters?

Formula: Conflict (“Character must do this”) + Stakes (“Or this will happen”) = Consequences

Examples:

At eleven years old, Morgan Sheppard solved the murder of a teacher when everyone else believed it to be a suicide. The publicity surrounding the case laid the foundation for his reputation as a modern-day Sherlock Holmes. He parlayed that fame into a gig as TV’s “resident detective,” solving the more typical tawdry daytime talk show mysteries like “Who is the father?” and “Is he cheating?”

Until, that is, Sheppard wakes up handcuffed to a bed in an unfamiliar hotel room. Around him, five strangers are slowly waking up, as well. Soon they discover a corpse in the bathtub and Sheppard is challenged to put his deductive skills to the test. One of the people in the room is the killer. He has three hours to solve the murder. If he doesn’t find the killer, they all will die.

An ingenious, page-turning debut, Chris McGeorge’s Guess Who matches the high-wire plotting of classic “locked room” mysteries into the unstoppable pacing of the modern-day thriller.

Guess Who, Chris McGeorge

The story of a mentally disabled man whose experimental quest for intelligence mirrors that of Algernon, an extraordinary lab mouse. In diary entries, Charlie tells how a brain operation increases his IQ and changes his life. As the experimental procedure takes effect, Charlie's intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis. The experiment seems to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance—until Algernon begins his sudden, unexpected deterioration. Will the same happen to Charlie?

Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes

Step 5: Dine on the Big Question

End your blurb on an intriguing question or a point of tension—something that will convince the reader to take a chance on buying your book.

Examples:

Bruce the bear likes to keep to himself. That, and eat eggs. But when his hard-boiled goose eggs turn out to be real, live goslings, he starts to lose his appetite. And even worse, the goslings are convinced he's their mother. Bruce tries to get the geese to go south, but he can't seem to rid himself of his new companions. What's a bear to do?

Mother Bruce, Ryan T. Higgins

People say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is slowly losing ground to the ever-encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of teenage boys.

Being responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.

Beartown explores the hopes that bring a small community together, the secrets that tear it apart, and the courage it takes for an individual to go against the grain. In this story of a small forest town, Fredrik Backman has found the entire world.

Beartown, Fredrick Backman

Kate Harker and August Flynn are the heirs to a divided city—a city where the violence has begun to breed actual monsters. All Kate wants is to be as ruthless as her father, who lets the monsters roam free and makes the humans pay for his protection. All August wants is to be human, as good-hearted as his own father, to play a bigger role in protecting the innocent—but he’s one of the monsters. One who can steal a soul with a simple strain of music. When the chance arises to keep an eye on Kate, who’s just been kicked out of her sixth boarding school and returned home, August jumps at it. But Kate discovers August’s secret, and after a failed assassination attempt the pair must flee for their lives. In This Savage Song, Victoria Schwab creates a gritty, seething metropolis, one worthy of being compared to Gotham and to the four versions of London in her critically acclaimed fantasy for adults, A Darker Shade of Magic. Her heroes will face monsters intent on destroying them from every side—including the monsters within.

This Savage Song, Victoria Schwab

Final Tips:

Write multiple versions, test and gather feedback, and improve it until you feel it’s the best possible sales piece for your book.

To improve your own story description, read the book marketing copy for dozens (even hundreds) of books in your genre, and pay attention to length, point of view or voice, as well as how much of the story is described. For example, it’s very popular for contemporary romance novel descriptions to be written from the point-of-view of the heroine.

I met Charlie and Wyatt on the same sultry, summer day. It was unexpected, leaving a feeling in the pit of my stomach like the time I drove too fast over Beckett Hill. The moment happened out of nowhere, all fast and quick and a little strange. Or maybe that was just Wyatt’s personality.

It was Charlie that brought us together. Little Charlie with those ridiculous ears. I found the dog, waiting in a pool of his own blood. Waiting for someone. Waiting for me.

Now Wyatt, he wasn’t waiting for anyone. At least that’s what he said, except I saw something different in the broken guy all alone out in the woods. I knew he needed me before he knew it himself.

Wyatt with his hidden dimples. Wyatt with his warnings to stay away. He was a hard lump of coal, ready to burn everything around him. The more he burned, the more it pulled me into the pain I saw etched on his troubled face.

I wanted to help Wyatt. I wanted to save him like he had saved all the Charlies in the world. He told me not to fall for him, but I did anyway. I fell hard and fast and deeply in love with Wyatt Caulfield.

But that was before I knew his secret.

Waiting for Wyatt, S. D. Hendrickson

Taglines:

The rules are simple. But the game is not. —Guess Who, Chris McGeorge

For the millions who log in every day, Warcross isn’t just a game—it’s a way of life. —Warcross, Sarah Lu

This is the way the world ends...for the last time. —The Fifth Season, N. K. Jemisin

Extra Resources:

http://inkandquills.com/2016/09/25/outline-book-blurb/

https://kindlepreneur.com/back-book-cover-blurb/


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The Yukon Writers’ Society is an encouraging, supportive group for fiction writers in Yukon, Oklahoma. They meet biweekly on Thursdays to embrace accountability, to learn more about the craft of writing, and to help group members start and finish their books. The Yukon Writers’ Society was founded in 2016 and provides free meetings for its members. Their group anthology, Shivers in the Night, was published in April 2018.