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is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date.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.
Aleshia Robinson says
I know I’m late in reading this but I’m struggling to write my blurb for book 3 which is only a novella! LOLOl. I think because there is less story and it’s hard to intice without telling all. But this post really blessed me. Thank you so much Joanna.
Lisabet Sarai says
Fantastic post, Joanna, full of concrete suggestions. Thanks so much!
And I agree, your blurb really does the job!
Sheri McInnis says
I’m so glad I found your website!
The blurb is wonderful btw! Makes the book sound so tantalizing. I’m definitely going to pick it up – and probably get hooked on the whole series from the sounds of it.
I know this chain is a bit old so I’m not sure people will get this info, but it’s interesting to note that whether you self-publish or get published by a big New York house, most authors have to write their own blurbs anyway. I published two traditional novels with NYC houses and was surprised to learn it was my job to write the back blurbs. I thought big houses would have whole departments for that – but they don’t. So brushing up on your enticing blurb skills is a MUST.
I’m in the middle of finishing two more books – a self-help and a horror. Whether or not I self-publish, all your tips will be helpful. Looking forward to buying the “Marketing” book too. You’re so right – marketing’s an enormous part of a writer’s job nowadays.
Thanks so much for all your hard work! I’m a big fan already!
All the best,
Neil Pavitt says
I got here through your link in the Author 2.0 Blueprint which is great and really useful.
I think some of the comments here are a bit picky. You forge something in fire then cool it of in water, so for me using fire and blood is fine.
Anyway now it’s , turn to be picky:
‘Keepers who kept their power and locations secret.’ I found having ‘Keepers’ and ‘kept’ so close to each other jarred with me, the way it sounded. I must admit I can’t think of a good replacement for ‘kept’, but it might be worth thinking about if you’ve still got time.
‘The Keepers are being murdered, the stones stolen by those who would use them for evil’ Maybe it’s just me but ‘stones stolen’ both sounding so similar, just stopped me when I was reading it. I think just changing it to ‘the stones being stolen’ would help it.
Jake D. Parent says
Some great stuff here.
Not sure how close you monitor these older posts, but curious if you’d say the info here is still relevant to 2014.
Antara Man says
I liked your blurb Joanna. I even downloaded your novel but Morgan’s thoughts slowed down the pace of the narration (my opinion and experience) and the Jewish element didn’t appeal to me too. I don’t mind Jewish people, rather the war theme in Israel and Morgan’s story didn’t attract me. Currently I read the Book Thief which also features Jewish theme in its core. Maybe I should give your book a second chance.
Joanna Penn says
Hi Antara, I don’t expect people to like my fiction – I recognize that my audience here is completely different! We all like the books we like – and we’re all different. Read the books you enjoy and don’t bother with the rest!
Jim Liston says
Most authors find it much easier to write a story than a description. I think that it’s a matter of “not seeing the forest for the trees.” Being able to look at a story from a reader’s perspective is important.
The description shouldn’t have too many details. The perspective buyer doesn’t need to know all of the character’s names and how they are related to the story. It’s just confusing and they will probably move on. You should give them a brief, enticing blurb that demands their attention and leaves them begging for more.
I’ve been helping authors by reading their books and writing descriptions for them. Please visit my website for more information.
Thanks for your insights Joanna. I’m new to your site and to self-publishing and appreciate the expert tips. Would you have suggestions about how to write a book blurb for a memoir? Or are there any other resources you might recommend for genres outside of fiction?
Thanks again and I look forward to learning more from your great resources here.
Joanna Penn says
I’m not an expert on memoir – but check out Marion’s info – details in this interview http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2013/08/26/writing-memoir/
Gabrielle Yetter says
Thanks for all the excellent tips and ideas along the way, Joanna. Do you have suggestions for a blurb for a non-fiction book, please?
Victor Moreau says
Thank you for the tips, I will improve my blurb thanks to you, Joanna