How to Write a Back Cover Blurb for Your Novel (or more of, it’s twin you will actually use)

You are walking down the bookstore isle for your favorite genre, just browsing for a new read. You see an interesting looking cover. You stop and pick it up. What do you do next? Read the back cover, of course, and see if the blurb (for anyone who doesn’t know, that’s the thingy on the back of a novel describing what’s inside) is as captivating as the cover. Then you open the book, probably randomly, to see if what’s inside is a captivating as both the cover and the blurb.

Back up.

As just the author, you may not have much to do with designing the cover. But you will have something to do with creating the blurb. You’re going to have to write it. But not for the reason you think.

Realistically, someone in the marketing department writes the actual blurb that will be on the back of your printed novel, but you will have to write something essentially the same for querying. For the agent or editor, the hookline is the cover – the flashy front that gets attention. But instead of flipping the novel around, they read down the page to the next item on your query. Some call it a tiny synopsis, but I don’t like that term (I’ll tell why later).  Just imagine you are writing the blurb for your novel.

Who is the protagonist?
What’s the problem and the inciting incident?
What does the protagonist want?
How are they going to achieve that goal?
What’s in the way?

Sound familiar? Kind of like what you wanted to portray in the hookline? Well, there’s a reason for that. The blurb is the expounding of the hookline. You have two to four paragraphs to do it, and these aren’t big blocks of text. How do you cut your novel down so far? The answer sounds easy, but is harder in practice: cut the unnecessary details. We don’t need to know how old the protagonist is. We don’t need to know their dog’s name. And we don’t need unnecessary plot explained; we need just enough plot to ground us in the direction of the novel. Concise is better.

One of the biggest killers of a blurb is confusion. This may be caused by lack of conciseness, or it could be something else. Are there too many characters named? Does the storyline progression make sense? Are any sentences confusing? Often something that is clear to the writer is not clear to the reader. Maybe even who the protagonist is is murky. Watch for continuity problems as well. Characters mentioned in the first paragraph must be with us in the last. A blurb also shouldn’t jump locations or time without a note.

For the actual crafting of a blurb, all that applies to regular story telling is applicable to your blurb. I mentioned I didn’t like the term “tiny summary.”  That is because a summary is flat prose. We want popping prose, sentences that live and breath and above all show, just like your novel.

My modest attempt for my novel We Will Survive>:

The year is 2234. 100 years ago, Earth launched it’s first interstellar space colony, the Alliance. Now, that colony is outgrowing it’s alloted solar system and stretching further. For Taylor Road, this means being among the recruits for the Tythese-System exploration mission. It’s dangerous, mentally strenuous work out of contact with the rest of the Alliance, but her job assures her baby brother won’t be the next victim of insufficient resources. For the Veninians, this means confrontation ahead of schedule. For now, they’ll stay hidden. They know there is no need for the Alliance to know they exist until they’re the Alliance’s masters.

Within weeks the exploration teams know something is different in the Tythese System. Unaccountable communications interference. Moons that appear to be in the process terraformation. Rumors of Heelans – the terrorists who were driven from the Alliance decades ago – ripple the fleet. Finally, a disappearance, and it’s from Taylor’s team. The resulting search falls into the same trap their teammate did.

Their captors call themselves an empire, and do not hide their designs on Alliant space. All Alliants have dreamed of once again contacting the people of Earth, their cousins. But are these what Earth has turned into? Solemn, genetically modified people who believe their sole duty is to subjugate inferiors? Taylor doesn’t have the answers, and she doesn’t care. Right now she needs to find a way – any way – to warn her people.

To see a more professional blurb, try grabbing a book off the shelf and taking a look at the blurb on back or in the front flap. I also recommend Query Shark for blurb examples and critique. You see, most of a query is just like the blurb on the back of a novel. The Query Shark is an agent who runs this blog as a service to the writing community: people send their possible query letters to them not for acceptance, but for public critique on their blog. I have to warn you: this shark bites.

Have you ever written a blurb, either just for fun, to keep you on track while writing your novel, or for an actual query? Feel free to share and offer tips.

Advertisements

About Kathrine Roid

I'm an science fiction and fantasy author living in Texas with an undead parakeet and teleporting cat. Think about that for a moment.

Posted on April 4, 2011, in On Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. It’s trickier than it sounds, isn’t it. I almost wish I could get someone else to write the blurb.

    What you have up there, though, at three paragraphs, is the sweet spot length. A 1-to-3 sentence hook is nearly impossible for me to pin down, because I tend to do concept pieces. The dreaded 1-page synopsis that some agents want is the worst, since it is supposed to include plot resolution. My last manuscript had three subplots that dovetailed at the end and were interdependent on eachother, so I had to get them all in.

    At this point, I’m more interested in getting an agent so I don’t have to write any more of these things than I am being a successful writer.

  2. Awesome! I will definitely be using this! Thanks, Kat!

  3. Your publisher should help with the BCB. If not, get a new publisher. What you provide in the book synopsis, plus what they glean from the book, should be enough for a fresh set of eyes to easily craft the marketing catch-all for the back cover. Unless you are self-publishing, don’t let your publisher make you do all the work. Just sayin’.

    • I’m not sure how much of the article you read, but I clarified what I was talking about early on: “Realistically, someone in the marketing department writes the actual blurb that will be on the back of your printed novel, but you will have to write something essentially the same for querying. For the agent or editor, the hookline is the cover – the flashy front that gets attention. But instead of flipping the novel around, they read down the page to the next item on your query. Some call it a tiny synopsis, but I don’t like that term (I’ll tell why later). Just imagine you are writing the blurb for your novel.”

      The querying “synopsis” is remarkably similar to what a reader would find on a back cover, so I used the term “blurb” to help clarify why the querying “synopsis” is like.

      Some people, like myself, write a blurb for fun or for personal use to get ourselves excited for a new project.

  4. Thiss iis a gold tiip especially tto thhose frdesh too tthe blogosphere.
    Brief bbut vedry pdecise information… Thank you ffor sharing this one.
    A must rerad article!

  1. Pingback: Writing a Back Cover Blurb « Diane Lynn Tibert McGyver

  2. Pingback: Writing a Back Cover Blurb Ain’t Easy! | Suspense Author Kim Cresswell

  3. Pingback: Plotting Toolkits « Sierra Godfrey, Writer

Join the discussion!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: