How to Write a Blurb
-A short description written to promote a book, film, or other product.
The History of the Blurb
The word blurb first appeared on a dust jacket in 1907 for Gelett Burgess’ book, Are you a Bromide? The special dust jacket was only used for five hundred copies of the book at a trade association dinner. Within it was a picture of a fictitious character named, Miss Belinda Blurb.
It wasn’t until 1914 that Burgess gave a definition for his new word, describing it as a ‘flamboyant advertisement; an inspired testimonial.’ The word blurb is now widely used and is part of the Oxford English Dictionary.
What Not To Do
There are many different ways to approach blurb writing, but the main aim is always the same, get the reader interested as quickly as possible. To do this there are certain things which should be avoided:
- Lengthy Synopsis
No matter how good the plot is a reader will become disinterested if it is discussed in too much detail within a blurb. If someone is looking for more detail on the plot they will read a review instead.
- Unnecessary Description
Although emotive language and a sprinkling of superlatives will help to persuade people, too much of this will make your book sound too good to be true. Just telling them the book is amazing is not enough to make them read it, being more specific and explaining what is so good about it will have a greater effect.
- Don’t Give the Reader Nothing
Overcomplicating it will put the majority of readers off. Being enigmatic and leaving the reader intrigued is one thing but confusing them will not make them want to read anymore. Don’t ignore the selling points of the book, if there is a major event within the story that is likely to interest a reader, then mention it in the blurb. An example of this is Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now, which has blurb that fails to mention the fact that the book is set in the future, or that it is about a world war and an incestuous relationship. Instead the blurb tells us “…she’ll discover what true love is…her world will be turned upside down.” This may be true but a reader who would have been interested in a war setting would have no idea that that is what it’s about and wouldn’t have read on.
What To Do
As a form of advertising, a blurb follows the same basic principle as all advertisements; it must leave the reader wanting the product. There are many different styles and formats that can be used but there are certain aspects of blurb writing that are widely used and often work well:
- Brief Plot Summary
The reader needs to know essentially what the story is about. Using subtle hints as to what the plot is or enigmatic statements that don’t make sense will put readers off. All that is needed is short description of what the story is about, without giving anything away.
- Introduction to the Main Character
If a reader is to invest a lot of time in reading a novel, they need to be interested in the main character. Using the blurb as a way of introducing the character is a good idea, because if the character is exciting and interesting enough this alone may be enough to sell the book. Again this must not be excessive, a blurb is not the place for a detailed back-story for the character, just enough to spark an interest.
- Sell the Themes
Often, a blurb will have sentence or two that doesn’t focus on the plot or the characters but the themes or ideas within the book. For example, taken from the blurb for Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, “…is an unforgettable portrait of a wounded country and a deeply moving story of family and friendship.” Using these powerful emotive words such as ‘wounded’ and ‘unforgettable’ whilst still telling the reader what the story is about is a good way of selling the book.
- Know your Audience
A blurb for a children’s book will be very different to that of an adult romantic novel. Your blurb should to be written so that anyone who reads it will be interested, it should focus on the target audience of the book that it is selling. One example of a blurb which is perfect for its target audience is Andy Stanton’s Mr Gum and the Biscuit Billionaire:
“Good evening. Ok, this book’s a bit hard to describe. There’s this gingerbread man with electric muscles, see? And he’s as rich as a mushroom, right? And Mr Gum and Billy William are plotting to get the cash, yeah? And it’s up to Polly to save the day. And there’s a funfair and hot dogs, and Friday O’Leary shouts out some crazy stuff, and…Hey that wasn’t so hard to describe after all. See Ya!”
It still follows the basic principles of introducing the characters and gives a brief account of what the story is about but it does it in a way that will specifically appeal to the target audience of the book. So, keep this in mind, if it is for a typical ‘chick lit’ novel, don’t try and make it sound more complicated than it is, appeal to that market and sell them what they want to read.
With advances in technology the market for blurbs is growing ever more. Blurbs are used for DVD’s and games for all types of consoles. These types of blurbs often follow a similar structure to the book blurbs that I have discussed here. And so it would seem that the art of blurb writing is set to be in demand for many more years to come.
Oxford Paperback Dictionary and Thesaurus. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. PP. 93
Wilton, Dave Blurb, 2006. [Online] Available from: http://www.wordorigins.org/index.php/blurb/
Rosoff, M, How I Live Now. London: Penguin Books, 2004
Hosseini, K, A Thousand Splendid Suns. London: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 2007
Stanton, A, Mr Gum and the Biscuit Billionaire. London: Egmont UK Limited, 2007