7 Key Elements to Writing a Captivating Blurb
Many authors dread blurbs, but they're critical to making sales. Learn how to make your stand out.
For some, if not all authors, writing the blurb for your book is one of the most dreaded tasks. You’ve written over fifty thousand words, now you’re expected to synthesize your complex, compelling story into little more than two hundred and fifty words. Yeah, right.
But don’t fail your book at this stage. You’ve put valuable time into writing your story and wouldn’t want to miss the last and arguably most important step in getting your novel out into the world. A blurb may be the key ingredient that makes your story stand out and convince potential readers to click add to cart. Whether you’re an indie author self-publishing for the first time, or a New York Times bestselling author, the stronger the blurb, the better your book sales will be.
The best blurbs are catchy, give insight into the core themes of a book, tease set ups and consequences, and help readers decide if this is the story for them. After an eye-catching front cover, the next step in a book’s sales pitch to potential readers is a captivating blurb.
Before we start: Blurb vs Synopsis
Blurbs and Synopsis are almost opposites:
- A blurb is short and teases the reader. A synopsis is long and summarizes the story.
- Blurbs hide spoilers. Synopses expose twists and turns.
- Blurbs entice readers into the story. Synopses reveal the whole story.
- However, BOTH should make clear the book’s target audience.
A blurb is a brief, descriptive account of the story that accompanies the book, usually on the back cover, or beside the cover when viewed online. It is often referred to as marketing copy. The purpose of a blurb is to represent the book and intrigue readers with a hook, engaging them and encouraging them to make a purchase. Typically, a blurb is between 200 and 300 words.
A synopsis is a condensed, intense overview of the story that includes key plot points, main character arcs, and the conclusion of the story. It is factual, informational copy. The primary goal of a synopsis is to pitch the story to agents, publishers, and the media by presenting a clear book description. A synopsis might be anywhere from one to four pages in length.
Think of your blurb as a movie trailer. It’s a critical piece of book marketing that should give your potential readers enough information to hook them, tease at what might be, and not give away any spoilers.
A Blurb Example
No matter your thoughts on the book’s contents, Stephenie Meyer’s blurb for Twilight is a charismatic forty-four word blurb that sells, and packs a lot of engagement and intrigue.
“About three things I was absolutely positive.
First, Edward was a vampire.
Second, there was a part of him – and I didn't know how dominant that part might be – that thirsted for my blood.
Third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him.”
Let’s break down this blurb into 7 writing tips you can apply to write a great blurb of your own.
Blurb Formula for Success
1. Create intrigue
Ask yourself what is the inciting event, the key incident that changes your character’s world and starts your story. This is the hook which captures the reader’s attention and persuades them to continue reading. Kick off your blurb the way you initiate your story.
Don’t swamp potential readers with details. They will discover most of these as they read. Instead, pick essential facts that define the plot or the book overall. Focus on what makes your book different.
Stephenie Meyers clears this hurtle in the second sentence.
“First, Edward was a vampire.”
The way this sentence is written, it’s clear to the reader the lead in this story has discovered Edward is a vampire, something it’s easy to assume they are not. There’s your inciting event, folks. The lead character’s world shifted in that moment.
2. Establish the stakes
Every book has a conflict or purpose. Readers want drama, so spell out the consequences and choices your characters deal with in your story. Make sure you go beyond simply stating the external conflict and make the results clear. If you’re writing self-help or non-fiction books, the conflict is the problem your book helps the reader solve.
Be careful not to confuse readers with vague concepts, hints, or complicated scenarios. If potential readers don’t understand your blurb, they will move on.
In the Twilight blurb, this sentence sets up the conflict:
“Second, there was a part of him – and I didn't know how dominant that part might be – that thirsted for my blood.”
So much drama in this one sentence. The reader has barely recovered from the first fact and now we are hit with the main conflict. This vampire thirsts for her, and on top of that, he may or may not be able to control himself around her. Does she run for the hills, or stay? That’s Conflict 101.
3. Pay attention to setting
Orientate your readers by providing the where and when of your story. Your book cover design will help set expectations here, which you want to reinforce from the first sentence of your blurb. Create a map for them with a few distinct details that define your story or set the scene for the world or rules your story exists in. A general rule is to move from specific to more generic.
You may be saying, where’s the setting in our Twilight blurb? It’s more subtle, but it’s there. The reader is aware this is a world where vampires exist, these vampires thirst for blood but aren’t bloodthirsty, and they’re capable of falling in love.
4. Give character details
Seduce readers with a few fascinating character traits. Why do they want to read about your lead? How will they connect to your character? What is it about your character that is different? Can potential readers find common ground with your character?
You’re probably thinking since our Twilight blurb is mostly about Edward, those are the character details. But look closer. We learn a lot about our as-yet-unnamed lead character. They are determined (or stubborn), confident, they are a romantic who believes in love, and the fact Edward is a vampire doesn’t seem to bother them.
5. Hype up the language
You are selling your story, so don’t shy away from expressive language. Amp up your words and load your blurb with terms that evoke emotion. Your goal is to grab a potential reader's attention, hold it and capture their interest to want to read the book. Without emotive words, your blurb might fall flat.
The Twilight blurb is packed with purposeful emotive words.
Fun Fact: Three is a very specific choice here. The rule of three is a well known writing principle, but it is also of almost unique significance. From the bible to the fact authors write in trilogies, three is everywhere.
6. Set the tense
Traditionally, blurbs were always written in third-person present tense. But more and more, they are a reflection of a story’s style and tone. If your book is written in first-person or if there is a dual point of view, you might consider writing your blurb from your character’s perspective.
Pro Tip: Check out books in your genre to help decide which tense to use. This may help you attract readers as they may be looking at your blurb alongside similar stories or like ones they have previously read.
Like the book itself, Twilight's blurb is in a first-person point of view.
7. Don’t forget your tropes
Readers identify with and enjoy reading stories with similar themes. You want to ensure these elements are easily recognizable and stand out in your book’s blurb. Indicate similarities between your story and comparable novels, along with establishing what distinguishes your book.
No one could question from the Twilight blurb that this is a vampire romance story.
3 Bonus Tips on Structure
1. Short sentences rule. Construct your blurb so it’s scannable. This will help the reader easily pick up on your emotional words and key facts to make that snap decision to buy.
Again, back to Twilight; short works.
2. Blurbs cater to two audiences. First and foremost, your audience is your reader. However, in today’s online world, you should take into consideration search algorithms. How your readers search for books has changed.
Take Amazon for example. Once a reader clicks on a book cover or title, they see a portion of your blurb. Typically, only the first paragraph, maybe a little more. The rest has to be revealed by clicking on “Read More.” Therefore, it’s a good idea to contain highly targeted keywords that readers of your genre will recognize. Pair that with kick starting your blurb with an engaging first line. Just like your book.
Twilight hits the major tropes in the opening lines. Add the combination of short sentences and most of this blurb lands above the read more line.
3. There is no one formula. There are many different approaches to writing a blurb and unfortunately, at the time of writing this article, an exact quotient or magical arrangement of words to apply to create the perfect blurb doesn’t exist. Stephenie Meyer’s blurb works for Twilight, but the structure might not work for your teen vampire romance.
However, taking into consideration the do’s and don’t above, here’s one potential formula to start with.
Three sentence structure
- Statement about the kind of story (Edward was a vampire.)
- Set up the situation or challenges to overcome (There was a part of him – and I didn't know how dominant that part might be – that thirsted for my blood.)
- Finish with the twist or a question (I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him.)
Technically, Twilight’s blurb takes four sentences but hits all these major points.
Don’t want to write your blurb?
Book blurb writing is serious business. There are companies and individuals out there who specialize in this one major component. They’ll either write the blurb for you or offer a course in how to write one. But be careful. The former doesn’t know your story the way you do, and you will still have to do most of the heavy lifting yourself, providing detail and color so they can get a feel for your book. The latter might prove useful and be worth the cost, or completely miss what you’re going for. Be sure to read reviews first.
Ready, Set, Go
Give yourself time to write your blurb. Read other book blurb examples from bestselling books in your genre, but also the books on your own bookshelf. Ask yourself what made you buy them. Did they have catchy taglines? A blurb that ended in a cliffhanger leaving you dying to know more? A good blurb will highlight to readers the reasons why they should be reading your book right now.