OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
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.
Ami Mattison says
Wow, Joanna! Pentecost sounds so tantalizing. I’m really excited. I can’t wait to buy and read it. I think you nailed it! It has all the elements that you discussed.
Do you have plans to send an advance copy to another author in the genre (who has an established fan base and who you know personally or are acquainted with) so they can offer a nice quote? I don’t think it’s necessary because the description alone is fantastic. But just a thought.
Good luck! You’re doing a great job!
Joanna Penn says
Thanks Ami. I’m glad you like it.
I am probably going to ask for blurb comments from other authors after I have some physical books to send as nice packages. I am also hoping to meet some of those authors in New York in July (Thrillerfest) and will aim to ask them in person as opposed to soliciting out of the blue.
Tim A Martin says
I’d definitely say that’s a successful blurb. I’m can’t wait to read it! Well done.
Joanna Penn says
I’m glad you like it Tim. Thank you.
Good blurb I think, entices the reader and places the thriller in the right landscape. I’ll recommend it to friends who enjoy Dan Brown and Kate Mosse.
Just one thing, though:
“When Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead, the apostles took stone from his tomb”
Is that supposed to be singular form of stone? Or is it a Biblical phrase?
Joanna Penn says
Thanks Berit. Maybe it should be stones. It’s not biblical, I just made it up!
Cheryl Schenk says
Sounds enticing and intriguing. Congratulations and as I have said before, I look forward to reading it.
Joanna Penn says
Thanks Cheryl. It’s coming together nicely 🙂
Linda Faulkner says
Great job! Really appreciate this information.
Dixie Goode says
Hi, I thought I had posted a comment earlier today. I wrote a long one anyway. Seeing if I can remember what I wrote.
First, let me say that I love your tweets and posts and blog and all the tireless effort that you put into writing. You were the first person on twitter I actually had sent on to my cell phone and bookmarked your page. I am on twitter as (pandorasecho)
Having just gone through the process of self-publishing a fantasy novel, Duffy Barkley is Not a Dog” on createspace after writing it in a previous NaNoWriMo, I wish I had seen some of your posts earlier. Your suggestions and ideas could have helped me even more earlier, but I’m so glad I found you at last.
I love the first three lines of your blurb, the Power, brotherhood, woman lines, and I love everything after “Until now'”
but, just my opinion of course, I think the two lines that start the main body of the blurb are the weakest point and could be strengthened by combining them. Like this perhaps,
” The Stones the Apostles took from the tomb of the risen Jesus as a symbol of their brotherhood were empowered in the fire of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and carried throughout the lands as they performed miracles in God’s name.” then back to your, “Forged in the fire and blood. . .
Actually yours sounds good, and this isn’t as strong as what I had typed this morning I think. Anyway, looking forward to reading it.
Dixie D. M. Goode
Joanna Penn says
Thanks Dixie, I’m following you back now as well. I appreciate your tweaks and I have 1 more week before I submit it to Joel the book designer, so I will consider all the options. The one thing I am learning is how everyone has different opinions 🙂
Dixie Goode says
I love your book cover. It looks very professional. I designed my own and painted it with watercolor and think it’s pretty amateur looking but the people who have bought it, or who come by my booth, keep telling me it’s fun. You never really can see it with fresh eyes when you’ve been living with it.
Graham Storrs says
Great analysis, Joanna. It should be very useful.
Your blurb also sounds great but there are a couple of phrases that jarred a little. They are:
1. “Forged in the fire and blood of the Christian martyrs” – I thought the stones were from Christ’s tomb, and imbued with power because of that. Were they later forged in the fire(s) of martyrs? And, of course, you don’t actually forge things in blood. It’s a nice-sounding phrase, but it didn’t work for me.
2. “before a new Pentecost is summoned” – Is a Pentecost summoned? I thought they just happened. Even the first one came unbidden, I believe. Don’t you only summon supernatural beings – like devils and angels – not things?
I’m not in the least bit religious so my theology is rather shaky, but maybe these issues are less theological than linguistic anyway.
As for Dixie’s rewrite, I think the original is actually a lot stronger.
Joanna Penn says
Graham, good points you made here.
I was going for the hyperbole over the realism in terms of the language. “Forged in fire and blood” sounded good to me 🙂
Pentecost wasn’t summoned, you’re right but the antagonist does try to do that in the book, so perhaps that is more of a mystery at this stage…. I shall assess finally next week. Thanks for your feedback.
Jami Gold says
This is great! I’ve never seen a breakdown like this before. I think you’re definitely on the right track for your blurb, as it get the genre, characters, setting, stakes, etc. all in there. It sounds good to me. 🙂
Dana Lynn Smith says
JoAnna, what a wonderful article – filled with excellent tips and helpful examples for writing effective sales copy for novels. And your book sounds terrific too – I wish you much success with it!
Dana Lynn Smith
The Savvy Book Marketer
I am in the middle of creating my blurb for my third book and I haven’t gotten it right yet. Most of my confusion comes from folks calling it a synopsis. Now, I feel better equip for the challenge after reading your article. Thank you! Wish me luck!
Joanna Penn says
Hi Rekaya, the synopsis is more like a breakdown of the book by chapter with what happened, an overview of the plot basically so the agent/publisher can see what will happen.
The back blurb is a sales pitch pure and simple!
I hope that clears up the confusion.
Just so you know, I included this post in my Saturday blog round-up! 🙂 http://www.smreine.com/2011/03/saturday-round-up_19.html
Tom Evans says
Great advice Joanna – a sprinkling of hypnotic language patterns also can be useful (especially if used ethically and subtely) with a couple of open loops to raise inquisitiveness.
Monica Rodriguez says
Bookmarked! This is a great help for that tricky writing of the back cover blurb. Not there yet myself, but eventually, I’ll get there. And from the sound of your blurb, I’m going to have to put Prophecy on my wishlist on my Nook!
I recently wrote my first picture book and need to write a blurb for the back cover. I have no idea where to start. Any advice? Please. It’s not the same as writing a blurb for a novel. :/