Writer's Craft Article by Karen S.
Based on Writing Blurbs that Sizzle--And Sell! by Karen S. Wiesner
Blurbs Series, Part 3:
Crafting Blurb Basics
In Part 3, we talked about writing series blurbs. Let's continue.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single author in possession of a good book must be in want of a blurb. But writing blurbs is hard and it's something a lot of authors put off until the last possible minute. Two of the most basic blurb questions that might be circling right now are: How long should a blurb be? What's the best time to write a blurb?
First, we should establish that writing blurbs requires an entirely different mindset than writing stories. That might be a good reason for not writing one as soon as you've finished writing the book. Give yourself time away, just enough so you've still got the story firmly in mind, but you've gained sufficient distance to allow yourself to go at blurbing like a fitness coach to make it lean and mean.
Second, yeah, I'm going there: Facts are facts, and the fact is some authors are just not good at writing blurbs…for whatever reason. Too many think that just because a blurb is generally short, it's inconsequential, as evidenced by this quote from Ben Cameron in his 10 Top Tips on How to Write the Best Book Blurb article: "You've just put your feet up when you get a reminder from the designer that they still need text for the back cover. Another small decision at the end of a long line of decisions, you knock something together in a few minutes and send it off. You may have just doomed your 75,000-word masterpiece…" Did he learn to regret his former blasé attitude about blurbs? Probably.
Others are simply too deeply involved with their own work--therefore, everything is important and must be mentioned. Those authors need to look at the story from a reader's perspective and have a disciplined method for getting down to the heart of the story. Some authors can learn to be better or even good at blurb writing with a solid process and practice behind them.
Finally, there are authors who are given literally no say in what makes it on or into their back cover blurbs. The publishing house does that work, and sometimes that's a relief and actually carries rewards. Other times, especially when blurbs are misleading or just downright wrong, that may lead to a lot of embarrassment or even loss of sales. The best case scenario would be for the one who knows the book best (the author) to write the first draft of his own blurb then send it over to a professional blurbologist (that's a real thing!) to revise into something sizzling, and lastly, the blurb goes to a marketing expert to finish it off with whatever a blurb needs promotion-wise. But, let's face it, that situation doesn’t happen too often these days. Learning how to do it yourself is probably the way to go for the vast majority.
There are techniques (discussed in-depth in my book and workshops titled Writing Blurbs That Sizzle--And Sell! as well as touched on in my many articles on the topic of blurbs) that can help and may even infuse you with the same enthusiasm I have for writing blurbs. I am wildly, wonderfully in love with writing, revising and evaluating book blurbs--for my own books and for the books of other authors, regardless of the genre. Even the most shockingly underwhelming blurbs I've been asked to write or revise have thrilled me with their challenge. For most authors, that's inconceivable.
over the two most basic questions authors have when it comes to writing blurbs:
How long they can and should be and when to write them.
How Long Should a Blurb Be?
Ultimately, it doesn't matter a whit if a blurb is long or short or somewhere in-between. We have a misconception these days that being short by definition makes a blurb good and effective while a long blurb is by default in opposition of that, but both flavor-of the-day trends are illusions that you can't afford to rest on. You can have a thousand word blurb that's so amazing readers devour it and immediately want to read the book just as you might see a short, punchy blurb that's incredibly well-written but doesn't make someone want to read the book. Hence, effectively good means it's both well-written and makes a person want to read the story inside the pages, not just the back--want to enough to actually pay money to do it. If a blurb isn't good enough to make someone want to open the book and read, it's not effectively good. An effectively good blurb either is effectively good in making a reader open the book or it's not. That's the bottom line, and all that matters. A blurb can be good and not effective, or effective and not good, but either it's both or it won't work. End of story.
As we alluded to previously, there's a huge trend going on these days about short blurbs. I personally believe distributors and a certain high-profile publishing company associated with one of the major book distributors in the world is behind this trend. Many publishers, printers, books packagers, distributors and book promote websites actually do have a limit on how many words can be included as a description. You might have noticed at Amazon, if you want to read any more than the first, say, five sentences, you have to click "read more"--twice, if you can believe that!--to get the full amount that was allowed to be put in by the publisher or author. At Lulu, a printer, you're given a very small amount of space for your blurb and you can't go over that maximum no matter how much you might want to (and you will want to!).
I don't deny that if your blurb is short and punchy, it’s practically guaranteed to be intriguingly memorable. But it's a fact that short is not always best. A too-short blurb may be less than dazzling. Instead of being memorable, it can lack details to capture true interest in readers. Once, I was revising blurbs for two different authors. One gave me about five total sentences. The other gave me five long paragraphs. Guess which one I enjoyed the most? Yes, I've admitted I prefer long blurbs, but with the short blurb, I couldn't find anything to connect to. Not enough information was given for me to feel any intrigue and desire to read more. The five long paragraphs weren't enough to satisfy me for the other book. I loved everything I read and I was just eating it up! But, as a blurbologist, I knew it was far too long for the average reader, so I did suggest cuts. My point is, an effectively good blurb isn't going to fit into any word count minimums or maximums because the point isn't about whether it's long or short. All that really matters when it comes to blurb size is whether it's effectively good.
Genre will play a part in the size of your back cover blurb. Science fiction, fantasy, and historical books (especially if part of a series) may have longer back cover and series blurbs: up to four paragraphs instead of the standard one or two. That's because the blurb may have to make sense of whole worlds, cultures and philosophies, which, in many cases may seem vastly different from what a modern reader is used to. Less weighty genres set in time periods and worlds modern people are accustomed to--such as romance, suspense, general fiction, maybe even speculative stories--rarely have more than two paragraphs that make up the back cover blurb. So, here's a go-to list of our size figures for each blurb type:
A high-concept blurb is rarely more than a single sentence long but can be up to two sentences in length. Actual word count is certainly not a factor in this unless your sentences are long enough to be shocking. Most are rarely more than 20 words long.
A back cover blurb can be anywhere from one to four paragraphs long. Back in the day when there were only print copies of books, they used to have to fit blurbs solely on the back cover of that physical book (whether it was a mass market paperback, trade or another size). Depending on the size of the paperback, 200-450 words was about the maximum comfortable fit on a back cover. Anything longer and the font would have to be made smaller, or less "blank" space would be available for margins. It is possible to fit about 425 words on a trade size paperback and still have it look attractive and be fairly readable. I've done it with my own. But, as we said, this can be at the expense of a largely readable font size and open space.
A series blurb can also be anywhere from one to four paragraphs in length--but preferably one unless it's for a genre that requires a bit more room, as we've already covered.
Between the high-concept, story and series blurbs, you generally have an absolute maximum of 450 total words to use, but 250 or less for all three combined is recommended.
Promotional considerations are the major and the main reason for having short blurbs. I don't believe a blurb that includes only high-concept blurb will ever be effective in making the reader jump right to buying the book. With that kind of thinking, authors have skipped an absolutely vital step. This is very definitely a progression. The reason for a high-concept blurb is to lure the readers in with a punch of intrigue so they'll want to read the rest of the blurb (which will hopefully make them want to read the book). So the high-concept blurb tempts the reader to read the back cover blurb and the back cover blurb incites the reader to make the commitment to read the story. When I see a book promotion that has a high-concept blurb that really speaks to me, makes me want to know more, I'll go looking for the back cover blurb. I rarely skip right to buying the book because I need to know more in order to make the commitment to buy. Think of it as an equation (the arrow stands for "leads to"):
High-concept blurb PUNCH --> Back cover blurb to find out more information --> Commitment to buy and read the book
Authors need to be aware of this progression to be effective in distributing and marketing their books. If you don't have any limitations, go with the most effectively good combination of all three blurbs for the proper application, whether it be distribution or marketing.
In Part 4, we'll talk about when to write your blurbs.
Karen S. Wiesner is the author of Writing Blurbs That Sizzle--And Sell!
Volume 7 of the 3D Fiction Fundamentals
Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series. Visit her here: