Hello, all! I’m Jill Archer, a former lawyer turned librarian who writes fantasy from rural Maryland. As a lifelong reader and frequent peruser of book stacks and shelves, I’ve read a gazillion book blurbs. Some are better than others.
Book blurbs are one of those things (along with synopses and query letters) that writers don’t like to write. If you’re traditionally published, your publisher will likely write it for you, but even then, you should be able to write a good one yourself. Like an outline, a book blurb can be a valuable tool that helps you maintain focus during the drafting stage. Many book blurbs are written after the manuscript is completed, but you don’t have to wait. I always write mine before the book is finished.
(A quick aside: book blurbs are sometimes referred to as “back cover copy” and a “blurb” can also mean a quote from another author who has something nice to say about your book. Confusing? Yeah, I hear you. Lots of things in publishing are.)
Here are some tips to help get you started on writing the book description type of blurb:
Keep it short. Shoot for no more than 250 words. A longer blurb won’t make a reader want to read your book. A succinct hook and an enticing, brief description will.
Keep it simple. Some writers are tempted to over explain or cram their entire story onto the back of their book. Don’t. Take some time to figure out what your core story is. Don’t include subplots. Try to use words that don’t require explanation.
No spoilers! Don’t give away any plot points that occur after the first third of your book.
Don’t include too many character names. The blurb is where you paint the broad brushstrokes of your story. Identifying more than three characters by name is off-putting, even to readers who like stories with myriad character viewpoints.
Anchor the reader in space and time. Readers like to know where and when the story will take place. Don’t make them guess.
Follow genre conventions. Romance blurbs usually reference both the hero and the heroine. Urban fantasy blurbs talk about the main character’s magic or special power. Mysteries usually involve a murder or a crime. Epic fantasies often center on wars or quests. Readers should be able to tell what type of story the book is by reading its blurb.
Hint at something significant. A big risk. Something dangerous. A monumental love affair. A transformative journey. Make sure the reader knows that they, through the characters, will experience something meaningful by reading the book.
Let’s take a look at a few book blurbs.
Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning
“When her sister is murdered, leaving a single clue to her death—a cryptic message on MacKayla Lane’s cell phone–Mac journeys to Ireland in search of answers. The quest to find her sister’s killer draws her into a shadowy realm where nothing is as it seems, where good and evil wear the same treacherously seductive mask. She is soon faced with an even greater challenge: staying alive long enough to learn how to handle a power she had no idea she possessed—a gift that allows her to see beyond the world of man, into the dangerous realm of the Fae.”
Word count – 102. Bravo! Anchors readers in space and time by referencing a cell phone and Ireland. And the last sentence, which hints at a mysterious power and mentions the otherworldly Fae, tells readers that this book has paranormal elements.
Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton
“Augustine, a brilliant, aging astronomer, is consumed by the stars. For years he has lived in remote outposts, studying the sky for evidence of how the universe began. At his latest posting, in a research center in the Arctic, news of a catastrophic event arrives. The scientists are forced to evacuate, but Augustine stubbornly refuses to abandon his work. Shortly after the others have gone, Augustine discovers a mysterious child, Iris, and realizes the airwaves have gone silent. They are alone.
At the same time, Mission Specialist Sullivan is aboard the Aether on its return flight from Jupiter. The astronauts are the first human beings to delve this deep into space, and Sully has made peace with the sacrifices required of her: a daughter left behind, a marriage ended. So far the journey has been a success, but when Mission Control falls inexplicably silent, Sully and her crew mates are forced to wonder if they will ever get home.
As Augustine and Sully each face an uncertain future against forbidding yet beautiful landscapes, their stories gradually intertwine in a profound and unexpected conclusion. In crystalline prose, Good Morning, Midnight poses the most important questions: What endures at the end of the world? How do we make sense of our lives?”
Word count – 210. I like that this blurb gives each of its main characters their own paragraph. We know that Augustine’s story is set in the Arctic and Sully’s story takes place aboard the Aether. Since she and her crew are returning from Jupiter, we also know that this story takes place at some point in the future. The third paragraph makes us wonder how their stories connect and the ending questions refer to things that are about as significant as you can get — the end of the world and the meaning of life. Wow. A final hint about genre (or lack thereof) is the reference to the story’s “crystalline prose.” Blurbs that talk up the author’s voice or style tend to be general fiction.
Bird Box by Josh Mallerman
“Something is out there, something terrifying that must not be seen. One glimpse of it, and a person is driven to deadly violence. No one knows what it is or where it came from.
Five years after it began, a handful of scattered survivors remains, including Malorie and her two young children. Living in an abandoned house near the river, she has dreamed of fleeing to a place where they might be safe. Now that the boy and girl are four, it’s time to go, but the journey ahead will be terrifying: twenty miles downriver in a rowboat–blindfolded–with nothing to rely on but her wits and the children’s trained ears. One wrong choice and they will die. Something is following them all the while, but is it man, animal, or monster?
Interweaving past and present, Bird Box is a snapshot of a world unraveled that will have you racing to the final page.”
Word count — 155. In this blurb the time and place of the story are left intentionally vague. I know I said don’t do that, but it works here because the story itself is vague and unsettling. What is the “it” that began five years ago that is driving everyone to commit unspeakable acts of violence? Still, the blurb contains the barest sketch of place — an abandoned house, a river, a rowboat… which the main character will experience blindfolded. Words like “terrifying,” “monster,” “deadly,” “fleeing,” and “unraveled” make an implicit promise to the reader — this book will scare you. It’s a great blurb for someone who loves a good horror story.
Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
“Summers span decades. Winter can last a lifetime. And the struggle for the Iron Throne has begun.
As Warden of the north, Lord Eddard Stark counts it a curse when King Robert bestows on him the office of the Hand. His honour weighs him down at court where a true man does what he will, not what he must … and a dead enemy is a thing of beauty.
The old gods have no power in the south, Stark’s family is split and there is treachery at court. Worse, the vengeance-mad heir of the deposed Dragon King has grown to maturity in exile in the Free Cities. He claims the Iron Throne.”
Word count — 112. Proof that big books can have short blurbs. And only two characters are mentioned by name, Ned and Robert. These books are infamous for their large cast of characters and extremely detailed worldbuilding and plot lines. But none of that is present here in the blurb, which is great. If your book was a TV show, what would the description of episode 1 be?
Pocket Full of Tinder by Jill Archer
“Noon Onyx is back! In this long-awaited fourth installment, Jill Archer returns readers to the dangerous world of Halja, where demons, angels, and humans coexist in an uneasy state of détente.
Maegester-in-Training Noon Onyx feels like she’s done it all – mastered fiery magic, become an adept fighter, learned the law, killed countless demons, and survived having her heart broken by both love and an arrow, but now she’ll face her greatest challenge yet…
Far to the north lies an outpost famous for its unrest – Rockthorn Gorge. The town’s patron has specifically requested Noon’s help. Her assignment? Help the neophyte demon lord build his fiefdom and keep what’s his. The problem? Lord Aristos – Noon’s new employer – is her erstwhile lover, Ari Carmine, the aforementioned heart breaker. And the number one thing he wants is her.
When Rockthorn Gorge’s viaduct is destroyed by Displodo, an enigmatic bomber, killing a dozen settlers and wounding scores more, Noon sets off early to aid in the search and rescue. Ari is listed among the missing and the suspects are legion. But Noon’s search is just the beginning. Her journey forces Noon to confront not only those she loves, but also enemies hell-bent on destroying them.”
Word count — 200. The first paragraph describes the world of the story and mentions that this is the fourth book in an ongoing series. The second paragraph describes the main character. The third, the setting and potential conflicts. The fourth describes the initial set up or Noon’s call to action. And it ends with a hint that something BIG might happen.
The best way to learn how to write a good blurb is to study them. Gather at least a dozen books in your genre and take a look at how they’re written. Then get started on your own.
Author Bio:
Jill Archer is the author of the Noon Onyx series, genre-bending fantasy novels about a postgrad magic user and her off-campus adventures. The series includes DARK LIGHT OF DAY, FIERY EDGE OF STEEL, WHITE HEART OF JUSTICE, and POCKET FULL OF TINDER.