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How to Write a Blurb (Back Cover Copy)

by

Marilynn Byerly

 

 

A blurb is the book description you find on the back of a book or online to describe a book's contents. Most run several paragraphs, but some publishers want them shorter or in a special format so be sure to check with your publisher's guidelines before you begin work.

Blurbs are the second most important selling tool you have for your book, so you want it to grab the reader's attention.

Your novel is hundreds of pages long, but you'll need to describe it in a few short paragraphs. How can you condense all that important information?

Here's how I do it.

For romance

 

For romantic suspense

 

For mystery or suspense

 

Science fiction and fantasy

 

Other

 

ROMANCE

For short novels, I usually use two paragraphs to describe the book, longer or more complex books three to four paragraphs. If some important point fits one paragraph better than another, don't feel as if you must follow my structure. Put it where it fits. Interior and exterior conflict, especially, can be switched.

First and second paragraph: Introduce hero and heroine and give simple plot set up. What is the interior conflict of the novel? (What tears the hero and heroine apart emotionally?) Examples are from my unpublished novel, THE LORD OF THUNDER.

KATE GRAEME, a professional landscape painter, has been hurt by a man who used her love to manipulate her, but she still retains her romantic ideals about love and marriage. MORGAN DESART, however, has turned his own emotional hurts into a coldly cynical attitude.

 

Enthralled with each other, Kate Graeme and Morgan Desart want a permanent relationship but can't agree on the ground rules. Kate seeks a loving romantic marriage, but Morgan demands a marriage of convenience with a prenuptial agreement. Neither will bend emotionally.

Third and Fourth paragraphs: What is the exterior conflict of the novel? What must both must achieve or defeat and what do they have to lose? This can include plot set up, place set up, the important secondary characters, and the villain.

When they become trapped alone together on Morgan's island estate for a week, open conflict erupts as they seek to convert each other to their own viewpoint. Morgan tries to entice her into a loveless marriage with his sexual mastery, but Kate resists this ploy and tempts him with romance and samples of a life together rich with love.

 

In this war of sexual desire versus emotional need, both know one of them will have to give in before the week is out because the magic between them is impossible to withstand.

 

Here are some other examples:

TIME AFTER TIME

ALEXA WEST thinks she's found a man who loves her, but another man, JUSTIN LORD, woos her with an outlandish tale-- they have loved and married for their last twelve reincarnations, and he will allow no other man to marry her in their thirteenth. Is Justin's story lunacy, a line, or a love that spans the ages?

 

Determined to win her by making her remember, dynamic Justin romances Alexa by restaging and retelling their past lives and their loves. But he doesn't tell her she has rivals for his love, and she is all twelve.

STAR-CROSSED

Trapped on Arden, Earthman Tristan Mallory discovers that men are sex slaves forced into harems. He has no intention of belonging to anyone, not even beautiful fellow scientist Mara d'Jorel.

 

Mara despises the harem system and has refused to participate, but her heart won't allow anyone else to own Tristan, and owning him will turn his growing love into hate. To give Tristan the freedom her world denies, she must risk everything--her reputation, her home, and even her freedom and life. But her greatest risk is losing Tristan's love to another woman.

 

Tristan's friend Kellen Votrain is acquired as a bed slave by vicious Cadaran d'Hasta, head of Arden's Internal Security, who has used the lives and deaths of thousands of men to gain her power. Intelligent and amoral, she'll do anything to destroy him and Tristan and any woman weak enough to love them.

 

With the help of a local intelligent alien who resembles an Earth cat and Dorian Dalia--Tristan's longtime romantic interest, Tristan, Mara, and Kellen escape the planet. Through the vast emptiness of space and the most primitive of human colonies, they seek freedom, but Cadaran is always one step behind them.

 

How to shorten the blurb

 

Other helpful hints

 

ROMANTIC SUSPENSE

If some important point fits one paragraph better than another, don't feel as if you must follow my structure. Put it where it fits.

First paragraph: Simple plot set up, and main character's emotional involvement with it. What is the exterior conflict of the novel? (What are the hero and heroine fighting against and why?) The examples are from my THE GAME WE PLAY.

Schoolteacher Faith Cody thinks she has the perfect summer job as nanny to Nicholas Price's two visiting children, but the children are kidnapped, and she and Nick are compelled to join forces to steal the ransom -- documents incriminating vicious criminals.

Second paragraph: More simple plot set up and hero's or second lead's emotional involvement with it.

An investigative journalist trained in the ways of the professional cat burglar, Nick has the skill to steal the hidden documents, but their dangerous owner guards the documents well since they prevent his death.

Third and Fourth paragraphs: What is the interior conflict of the novel? (What tears the hero and heroine apart emotionally?) What must both must achieve or defeat and what do they have to lose? This can include plot set up, place set up, the important secondary characters, and the villain.

At the secluded estate of their intended victim, on the catwalks above a Las Vegas stage, and in a back alley at the mercy of killers, Faith and Nick face danger with a witty quip and a willingness to risk anything and anyone, even each other, for the sake of two children they both love.

 

In this game of betrayer and betrayed, the kidnappers seem determined to destroy Nick's sanity as well as his life, and Faith's life and love may be their ultimate weapon against him.

 

Here's a different blurb which focuses on my hero. It's more suspense than romantic suspense.

The prize: His two kidnapped children

The rules: Trust no one, betray anyone, win at whatever the cost

His pawns: His lover and his best friend

His opponent: The most dangerous catburglar in history

The game: A game of betrayal, THE GAME WE PLAY

 

How to shorten the blurb

 

Other helpful hints

 

SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY

If some important point fits one paragraph better than another, don't feel as if you must follow my structure. Put it where it fits.

First paragraph and second paragraph: In sf and fantasy, the setting itself usually needs to be set up even before the main character. In THE ONCE AND FUTURE QUEEN, I start with my alien threat and setting--

Immortals are a race so illusive most believe them a fairy tale of space. Many tales differ, but all declare them the most deadly race in the universe with a technology beyond imagining and physical abilities beyond belief. With powers so vast, they have paid little attention to humanity. Until now.

 

Xenda, a human colony of royalty, castles, and courtly lifestyle, was a quiet pastoral world until the arrival of two Immortal women who vied for the love of the planet's king.

Third and Fourth paragraphs: Simple plot set up, and the main character's emotional involvement with it. What is the exterior conflict of the novel? (What is the hero fighting against and why?) What must the main character achieve or defeat and what does he have to lose? This can include plot set up, place set up, the important secondary characters, and the villain.

But before they left, he was dead, and the planet and its people were ravaged by invaders. Peace came with the defeat of evil Fionna by Dia, but now Fionna is back, and Dia is dead.

 

With only the dubious help of Xendan Patrick Blood-- a charming buffoon who imagines himself a swashbuckling hero, Col. Valerian Grant and his crew of scientists must stop Fionna from destroying the human colony.

 

Remember that novels are about people so don't emphasize the science or worldbuilding over the people unless the novel is about the science or the world.

 

I would have preferred less emphasis on the worldbuilding in my THE ONCE AND FUTURE QUEEN blurb, and it would have been a stronger selling tool to concentrate on Val Grant, but the Val and his ship come into the situation as outsiders, and the real conflict is between Xenda and Fionna so I couldn't figure out a way around that problem.

 

How to shorten the blurb

 

Other helpful hints

 

MYSTERY AND SUSPENSE

I've listed the paragraphs in order, but arrange the paragraphs to best suit the information you are trying to give. Sometimes, the setting or the victim needs more emphasis.

First paragraph: Simple plot set up, and main character's emotional involvement with it. What is the exterior conflict of the novel? (What is the main character's goal and why?) The examples are from my THE GAME WE PLAY.

Schoolteacher Faith Cody thinks she has the perfect summer job as nanny to Nicholas Price's two visiting children, but the children are kidnapped, and she and Nick are compelled to join forces to steal the ransom -- documents incriminating vicious criminals.

Second paragraph: More simple plot set up and the main character's or second lead's emotional involvement with it. OR Information on the victim.

An investigative journalist trained in the ways of the professional cat burglar, Nick has the skill to steal the hidden documents, but their dangerous owner guards the documents well since they prevent his death.

Third and Fourth paragraphs: What is the interior conflict of the novel? What must the main character achieve or defeat and what does he have to lose? This can include plot set up, place set up, the important secondary characters, and the villain.

At the secluded estate of their intended victim, on the catwalks above a Las Vegas stage, and in a back alley at the mercy of killers, Faith and Nick face danger with a witty quip and a willingness to risk anything and anyone, even each other, for the sake of two children they both love.

 

In this game of betrayer and betrayed, the kidnappers seem determined to destroy Nick's sanity as well as his life, and Faith's life and love may be their ultimate weapon against him.

 

Here's a different blurb which focuses on my male lead. It's more suspense oriented since it doesn't play up the relationship between Faith and Nick.

 

The prize: His two kidnapped children

The rules: Trust no one, betray anyone, win at whatever the cost

His pawns: His lover and his best friend

His opponent: The most dangerous catburglar in history

The game: A game of betrayal, THE GAME WE PLAY

 

How to shorten the blurb

 

Other helpful hints

 

HOW TO CONDENSE THIS INTO AN EVEN SHORTER FORM

You've boiled down the essence of your story into a few paragraphs, but your publisher or a promotion website wants what you have cut down even further. How do you shorten what has already been trimmed and trimmed and trimmed?

First, you must determine the market for your story. Are you selling to a romance reader, a mystery reader, or science fiction reader? The answer to that question helps determine what is the most important information to keep in your book blurb. You don't emphasize the hero's romantic life if you are selling a thriller, and you don't ignore it if your reader wants a romance.

Your book is foremost about one person so that person must be part of the book description. If you are writing a romance, it's best to pick either the hero or heroine for emphasis, and the one you pick is the one who has the most at stake in your book description.

For my romantic suspense novel, GUARDIAN ANGEL , I wrote this long blurb:

For a large fee, ex-FBI agent Gabriel "Gard" Gardner agrees to protect defense lawyer Lauton O'Brien's daughter from an unnamed, dangerous criminal client. Desta proves to be everything Gard wants in a woman, but he can't ignore the barriers between them -- her father whom he despises, and her wealthy, high society background which he can never achieve.

 

Fleeing from violent kidnapping and murder attempts, Gard and Desta pursue their own fleeing quarry, Lauton, who holds the clues to the identity of their mysterious enemy. No one, not even Gard's former partner, can be trusted, and someone is giving away their locations to their enemy as they travel from the North Carolina coast to the mountains, then back to Gard's home on Lake Norman.

 

Along the way, they find unlikely allies in Bubba the Swedish chef, a doctor who handles a pistol with the same ease as a scalpel, and a puppy named Barkley.

When I shortened it, I wanted to let readers know it was a romance, but it was also a suspense novel. I also wanted to give them a feel for the novel. Here's what I wrote:

Marked for death, Desta finds a guardian angel in Gard Gardner, who may save her life but seems determined to break her heart as well.

 

No one can be trusted as they flee murder attempts, and someone is betraying their locations to the hired killers after them.

Notice how I included the romantic relationship as well as using buzz words like "death," "murder," "killers," and "betray" to show the suspense element.

For my science fiction adventure novel, THE ONCE AND FUTURE QUEEN, I wrote this long blurb:

Immortals are a race so illusive most believe them a fairy tale of space. Many tales differ, but all declare them the most deadly race in the universe with a technology beyond imagining and physical abilities beyond belief. With powers so vast, they have paid little attention to humanity. Until now.

 

Xenda, a human colony of royalty, castles, and courtly lifestyle, was a quiet pastoral world until the arrival of two Immortal women who vied for the love of the planet's king.

 

But before they left, he was dead, and the planet and its people were ravaged by invaders. Peace came with the defeat of evil Fionna by Dia, but now Fionna is back, and Dia is dead.

 

With only the dubious help of Xendan Patrick Blood-- a charming buffoon who imagines himself a swashbuckling hero, Col. Valerian Grant and his crew of scientists must stop Fionna from destroying the human colony.

My shorter version--

Swashbuckling Science Fiction Adventure!

 

To save a human colony of royalty, castles, and courtly lifestyle, Col. Val Grant and his Confederation crew face an alien enemy who cannot be beaten.

I cheated a bit with the first line, but it's an attention getter. The second line has such sf buzz words as "human colony," "alien," and "crew."

Other examples--

TIME AFTER TIME

Twelve Past Lives, One Love?

 

Justin Lord woos Alexa West with an outlandish tale--they have loved and married for their last twelve reincarnations. Is Justin's story lunacy, a line, or a love that spans the ages?

STAR-CROSSED

Trapped on Arden, Tristan Mallory discovers that men are sex slaves. He has no intention of belonging to anyone, not even beautiful Mara. To give Tristan freedom, Mara must risk everything-- her family, her freedom, and her life. But her most terrible risk is losing Tristan to another woman.

 

HINTS FOR ALL KINDS OF BOOKS

Know what YOUR readers want to know about your book. Go to your bookshelf and pull out books in the same genre as yours and read the back cover copy. What made you want to read this book? What clues and buzz words did the copy use to tell you what kind of book it is?

Did the language and voice used in the blurb tell you about the tone of the book? If the book is comic, was this obvious in the way the blurb was done? If the book was dark, could you tell? Could using the distinctive voice of the narrator have improved the blurb?

For an excellent example of a book's comic tone caught in the blurb, read the blurbs of Jeff Strand's novels at Fictionwise or Amazon.

Remember that your book is about people, not setting, historical location, or scientific facts. Don't emphasize any of them over your characters.

Copyright 2005 by Marilynn Byerly

 

This article may be reproduced, but only with the permission of Marilynn Byerly (marilynnbyerly@aol.com). It must contain the byline and copyright information.

 

Marilynn Byerly is teaching three online writing courses. To learn more, click on the link of each course.

 

"The Big Question: How to Create a Powerful Novel from a Few Ideas and One Big Question"

 

Keeping the Reader Reading the First Chapter How to pull the reader into your novel in the first chapter and keep her wanting to read more.

 

Magic, Monsters and Amour: Creating a Believable Paranormal World.

 

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