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You pick up a book because the cover or title looks interesting. The next thing you do is read the back blurb, or if you are online, you read the first excerpt which is usually the same thing.
At basics, the back blurb is a sales pitch. It has to be almost an exaggeration of your story that entices the reader to buy, or at least download a sample to their Kindle or iPad.
How do you write good back blurb?
This is a list of what featured most often from a number of bestselling thrillers reviewed as research from my bookshelf. The principles hold true for any genre although the details change for each.
- A hint of the plot. “Secret experiment. Tiny island. Big mistake.” (Scott Sigler, Ancestor); “must fight their way past traps, labyrinths and a host of deadly enemies” (Matthew Reilly. Six Sacred Stones);
- Use of words that evoke images and resonate with readers of the genre. Examples, “ancient monastery” (Raymond Khoury, The Sign), “hidden esoteric wisdom, Masonic secrets” (Dan Brown, The Lost Symbol), “the secret behind Noah's Ark” (Boyd Morrison, The Ark), “Druidic pagan cross” (James Rollins, The Doomsday Key); “A buried Egyptian temple. A secret kept for 6000 years. A race for life worth killing for.” (Andy McDermott, The Pyramid of Doom)
- Main characters are named and characterized. “TV news reporter Gracie Logan. Matt Sherwood, reformed car thief” (The Sign); “Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon: (Lost Symbol); “Trapped inside a paralyzed body, Rhyme's brilliant mind is channeled through his partner, policewoman Amelia Sachs” (Jeffrey Deaver, The Twelfth Card); “Commander Gray Pierce and Sigma Force” (James Rollins, Doomsday Key)
- Idea of setting. Washington DC, Rotunda (Dan Brown, Lost Symbol); “from the Roman Coliseum to the icy peaks of Norway, from the ruins of medieval abbeys to the lost tombs of Celtic kings” (James Rollins, Doomsday Key)
- A question or a hint of mystery that draws the reader in to be solved or answered. “Is the sign real? Is God talking to us? Or is something more sinister going on…” (Raymond Khoury, The Sign)
- Hyperbole. “stunning controversy that's spinning out of control” (Raymond Khoury, The Sign); “..never before seen revelations seem to be leading him to a single impossible and inconceivable truth” (Dan Brown, The Lost Symbol); “The mission is incredible. The consequences of failure are unimaginable. The ending is unthinkable.” (Matthew Reilly. Six Sacred Stones)
- Quotes about the book or previous books by the author. “Part Stephen King, part Chuck Palahniuk…a pulpy masterpiece of action, terror and suspense” (James Rollins on Scott Sigler's Infected)
- How long. Most seem to be 100-150 words long as the blurb text itself, not including about the author if included. That is also a nicely spaced blurb, not a squashed one.
- About the author. This isn't done often for the blockbuster novels, but James Rollins does it well with a rugged photo and a description that includes “An avid spelunker and certified scuba enthusiast, he can often be found underground or underwater.” Now that's a thriller writer!
Here is my proposed blurb for Pentecost (re-published in 2015 as Stone of Fire)
A power kept secret for 2000 years.
A brotherhood broken by murder.
A woman who stands to lose everything.
When Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead, the apostles took stone from his tomb as a symbol of their brotherhood. At Pentecost, the fire of the Holy Spirit empowered the stones and the Apostles performed miracles in God’s name throughout the Empire. Forged in the fire and blood of the Christian martyrs, the Pentecost stones were handed down through generations of Keepers who kept their power and locations secret.
The Keepers are being murdered, the stones stolen by those who would use them for evil in a world transformed by religious fundamentalism. Oxford University psychologist Morgan Stone is forced into the search when her sister and niece are held hostage. She is helped by Jake Timber from the mysterious ARKANE, a British government agency specializing in paranormal and religious experience.
From ancient Christian sites in Spain, Italy and Israel to the far reaches of Iran and Tunisia, Morgan and Jake must track down the stones through the myths of the early church in a race against time before a new Pentecost is summoned, this time powered by the fire of evil.