If you plan to publish a novel, at some point you’ll have to write a blurb, whether it’s for a query letter or for the back matter of your book (and perhaps both). It’s that fun thing where you take your novel-length work and smash it into around 250 words that will make it stand out from the rest and entice agents/publishers/readers to read more.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it?
Some query workshops say you need more detail in a query than you do for back matter. I tend to agree, though the submission instructions for some agencies say things like “include a couple paragraphs describing what the book is about, similar to what you’d see on the back cover”.
That’s a blurb.
So how do you go about writing one?
I found a post here that’s close to how I learned to construct blurbs, though there’s one difference that I’ll get to when we reach that author’s step 4.
Think of a blurb as having three parts: the situation, the problem, and the hopes/stakes. For illustration purposes, I’ll use pieces of the blurb (shown in italics) for Dan’s upcoming novel Poggibonsi. These pieces put together make up the whole blurb.
1. The situation
This is where you briefly describe life as it was for your character before the crap started hitting the fan. Focus only on the main plot (no subplots), and if you can get away with it, use only your MC’s name. The other character names aren’t important right now. We’re still trying to get the reader to buy, not to love every character just yet.
When Mike lands an assignment in Italy, he sees not only a chance to advance his career but also to rekindle the fiery passion he once shared with his wife. After ten years, she’s the only woman in Atlanta not flirting with him, and what better place than the Italian countryside to pursue romance? It’s the land of naked art, Valentino, and yoga pants, after all.
2. The Problem
This is where you describe a few of the rocks you’ve thrown at your character, and use only the rocks that are in line with your main plot.
Once there, his hopes shatter on the cobblestone streets of Venice. Mattie spends her time shopping, drinking wine, and lashing out at Mike. By the time she heads home with their daughter, Mike thinks she’d rather he choke on a fancy Italian olive than return to them in four weeks. Not exactly the romantic excursion he had in mind.
3. New hopes/stakes
This is where you describe how your character starts to address the problem and the stakes, which also functions as the hook. If the character must do something but can’t, what happens? Or in the case of Dan’s book, what are the consequences if they do something they shouldn’t?
As his business prospects and love life collapse, he sees her – the goddess on the train. He can’t help but admire her form, her grace, or how she captures the attention of every man in the car. When she leaves the train, he thinks she’ll remain a fantasy – until she introduces herself as his new assistant, one who wants to teach him all the ways of Italy. With her, he has the chance to experience Poggibonsi in all its glory – as long as he forgets what it could cost him.
The blog post I linked earlier suggests using a 4th step – set the mood. Something like this (btw – this isn’t in Dan’s blurb. I’m making it up right now): Sexy, fun, and hilarious, Poggibonsi captures the unpredictable misadventures of an average guy looking to spice up his life.
While you certainly could include that on back cover copy (not in a query – leave this piece off for that), I prefer to use a quote provided by an author friend who read an advanced copy – which is pretty much the same as the 4th step, as long as you use the right quote. This is the one I used for The Fourth Descendant.
“I rarely read a story that I can’t wait to get back to, and this was one. It’s full of drama and suspense. It’s fresh and new, something very much needed, and it’s totally unpredictable.”
– John Darryl Winston, author of IA: Initiate
I find breaking down the seemingly daunting task of blurb writing into these manageable steps makes it much easier to digest. And as in all of our writing, it helps to get a second set of eyes on it to make sure it reads exactly the way you want it to.
If you want to see the process of getting to Dan’s final blurb, check it out here.
What has been your experience with blurb writing?