The last weekend saw the start of one of my least favorite self publishing tasks – the horror that is attempting to write a blurb.
I am in all honesty not sure who does the blurb writing within a publishing house but I have heard that it is the editor and this work is done perhaps only months after reading the book. The source of this possibly questionable information took this to be an example of traditional publishing failures (it was a pro self-publish blog) but personally speaking I’m not convinced it is.
A blurb is a complicated little beast that needs to do several things, firstly and foremost it needs to be short. Now maybe some people will disagree with that, certainly I’ve read (or at least tried) desperately earnest blurbs that run on for line after line after line. I’m sorry but No. In my mind it needs to be short and sharp. A traditional paperback novel gave one page of space; once pictures, barcodes, price tags and wherever else were added though that would drop to less than half a page. Obviously in the case of an e-reader file on Amazon or Kobo there is no physical limit on space but we are all still used to short blurbs. So I say keep it short. Next it needs to leave the reader in no doubt what kind of a book this is; we’ve probably all picked up the ‘wrong’ book by accident at some point and it’s irritating it actually makes you feel short changed and potentially puts you off the writer. True as a writer you want new readers to come on board but that will be at a time of their choosing. After that some the broad brush strokes of the story; you don’t want to drop spoilers and you don’t want to bog down in detail (again keep it short). So you can give one exact detail like the main character’s name and keep the rest very general. Finally and by far the most important it has to sound interesting. That last one is the one that has had me most frequently bang my head against the keyboard.
In some respects the writer is probably the wrong person to write a blurb. After all we have put our blood, sweat and tears into this thing and now we have to distill it down to fifty to a hundred words!? How can we not mention that really cool bit on page forty seven or the clever twist in the last chapter? In fact when writing the blurb a suitably literate friend is a great help and perversely one who hasn’t actually read the book is even better. Simply because they don’t know the fine detail, they aren’t as emotionally invested but once you have to verbally explain your work to someone you will find the main themes pretty fast. Together you stand a better bet of pulling together something solid.
So my tips for blurb writing:
1) Dig out some formally published works that you are thoroughly familiar with which belong to the same genre as your own work. Study them. What do their blurbs mention, what do they Not mention. Try to figure out what the formula is and apply it to your own work.
2) Seriously, keep it short. Fifty to a hundred word depending on the conventions of your genre.
3) Expect to have several – probably many – attempts. You aren’t going to get it perfect in one sitting. Even if you do, you can never admit it, because if any other blurb writer hears about it, you’re likely to get beaten up.
4) Second opinions. Get lots. You already know how great your book is, this is about trying to sell it to others.
5) Make sure the spelling and grammar are sound. I know that sounds like the blindingly obvious but people do occasionally blunder.
As a finally note writing the blurb for a follow on book in a series adds another layer of complexity. Since now in one line you have to try to cover what happened in the last book.
To date I’ve been responsible for two blurbs:
My next book – The Landfall Campaign – and its blurb are due out in October 2012.