Blurbed Lines

By Kerry Wilkinson

 

Here’s one of the things about writing books that nobody ever tells you: The actual book itself, to a degree, doesn’t matter.

Those 90,000 words or so are the bit that will engulf your life - and yet, as someone who’s written a lot of these things, I can tell you that those 90,000 words are almost the least important thing.

The truth is, nobody buys a book because of the book itself. Most readers will buy your work for one of three reasons:

  • Price

  • The cover

  • The blurb

There is a fourth thing - the author’s name recognition - except, if you’re a first-time author, that doesn’t matter, either.

The cover might well be somewhat out of your control. The price might be something you can change if you’re self-publishing but your 99p book is the same as every other 99p book. The thing you can do differently as an author is write a blurb that blows everyone else away. 

This should seem obvious, except so many authors see blurbs as a necessary evil. Something that’s secondary to the writing of the actual book. Almost an afterthought. But it’s more important! You can write the greatest book ever - but if there’s a bad cover and a terrible blurb, nobody will care.

So, on that...

Assume nobody cares

Unless you’re a book or three into a series, readers don’t know your character. Dropping vague hints like, ‘...with a troubled past’ means nothing. Who cares? Do you care about someone you’ve never met, never heard of, and their apparent ‘troubled past’? Perhaps you do - but there are only so many hours in a day.

Give a potential reader a reason to be invested in a character. You can do this by being specific and making it personal. Dave’s mum just died. Alice’s sister was in a car crash. Susan’s fallen down a hole. Terry’s got an ingrowing toenail. Whatever. Use something from your plot with which anyone can identify.

Set the tone

Genres are broad and wonderful things. Honestly, publishers care about them way more than readers do - but this is where your blurb can make a difference. A crime book can be gory and dark, but it can also be filled with throwaway jokes and a bit of slapstick. There is no such thing as a ‘typical’ crime book, just like there’s no such thing as a ‘typical’ romance novel, or ‘typical’ young-adult story.

If your book is filled with subtle gags, get one into the blurb. If a reader finds it amusing, they will probably find your book funny. You’re selling yourself to the type of reader who will not only buy and enjoy your book - but someone who will come back for more. If your book is grim and gloomy, well, your blurb probably should be, too.

Cliches

“…and things will never be the same again…”

Is that the best you can do? You’ve written 90,000 words of sparkling, perfect, prose - and then your blurb is some shit that thousands of other people have used before you? Your blurb is a chance to sell yourself; to show how great your writing is. If you can’t even knock out 150 words for a blurb without copying what someone else has done, then why would anyone want to read the other 90,000 words?

Go big

There’s no point in getting the killer detail into the fourth or fifth paragraph, because a potential reader has probably stopped reading before then. What is the ONE thing in your book that you think will hook readers? (A brutal truth: If you can’t think of one, your book is not good enough to be published). That one detail should probably be the top line of your blurb.

Think of it like a dating profile. Is your best feature that you were born 40 years ago in some hospital nobody’s ever heard of, or is it that you’re a FREAKING MARINE BIOLOGIST AND YOU SPEND YOUR LIFE RESCUING TURTLES?!

A blurb, like a book, doesn’t have to be linear. The first line doesn’t have to describe the first page. Perhaps a pull quote is the biggest draw? Or something that happens a few chapters in. THAT’S your selling point. Don’t bury it.

Less is more

You know that bloke on the train or in the pub that never shuts up? That one who, no matter what you’ve done with your life, has always equaled it and then done that little bit more? Man, I hate that bloke (it’s always a bloke). You know who I do like? That guy who doesn’t say much but, when he says something, it’s an absolute belter.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. Stop drivelling on about insignificant nonsense in your blurbs. Readers don’t need life stories, they don’t need to know every detail from the first 100 pages. All they need is the most interesting plot thread or two, and that’ll do. In-out-shake it all about.

Read other people’s blurbs

Don’t read mine: Some of my early ones break every rule I’ve written here. OK, you can read the blurb for The Girl Who Came Back - that was a good 'un. Anyway, look at other people’s blurbs. If there’s something that makes you want to read a book, then what is it? If something has you rolling your eyes, then point, laugh, send the link to a fellow writer saying, ‘Have you seen this?!’ and vow not to do the same thing.

Take your time

Writing a blurb isn’t something to be thrown together in five minutes. Perhaps put together a blurb at the very beginning of your writing process and then tinker with it as and when your plot takes shape? If you want to save it all for after you’ve finished your first draft, that’s fine. You do you. But your book is not finished until you’ve written the best blurb you can. Put that champagne away, stop looking to see whatever idiocy Piers Morgan has put on Twitter, and get that damn thing written. If it takes two days, then it takes two days.

Don’t lie

Your blurb must be an accurate representation of what’s inside. Sure, you can write an amazing few paragraphs that has nothing to do with your book but then, when people buy and read it, they’re going to be annoyed. And rightly so. Those 1* reviews will deservedly flood in. Contrary to what I said at the beginning, those 90,000 words do matter. Your blurb is what sells those 90,000 words and it should be representative.

That’s it!

As with writing itself, blurbs take time to figure out. It takes practice and the more you do, the better you get. Here’s the key: If you really want, you can practice. Remember that TV show you watched last night? Give me 150 words right now about why I should watch it. What’s the top line? What’s the tone? Why should I care?

I’ve said it above but it’s worth repeating: You can write the greatest literary tome the world has ever seen - but, if your cover is rubbish and your blurb is boring, nobody except your lying friends and poor old mum will care.


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