I would rather write a four-hundred-page manuscript than a book blurb. Attempting to boil the complex intricacies of a book into a few choice sentences seems an impossible chore, and for a long time, I treated it as such.
I’m not sure when I came the realization that a blurb is not a synopsis, and therefore doesn’t need to contain the same information, but thankfully I did. In fact, the purpose of the book blurb is to entice interest, to lead the reader to open the book. It’s supposed to be a teaser, not a blow-by-blow of the story. It can be done in a mere few sentences.
Think movie trailer. Bam! Pow! A glimpse of a superhero; a shot of a love scene. In one to three minutes’ time, we get a boatload of hints that leave us wanting— no, needing—to know more!
I write 3 blurbs for each of my books:
1. The one-sentence elevator pitch (also called a tag-line): I often make this up before I’ve even finished writing the book, sometimes within the first few chapters. For Cat Café, I wrote: “A body was found in the cat café and all the black cats were missing.” Though the story revolves around the murder and the black cats are merely a subplot, it’s a hook to peak the reader’s imagination. It tells two key points about the book: there is a murder, and there are cats, both important factors in my cozy cat mysteries.
2. The back cover blurb: This is your a standard teaser, a few short paragraphs, often containing what I call The Magic Three and ending with The Question.
The Magic Three: three teasing statements that give information. From Joan D. Vinge’s Phoenix in the Ashes, the first book I picked up while writing this post: “A prince who became a beggar…; a feudal lord who met a high-tech lord; a cat who had lost his mind-powers…” For Cat Café: “A black cat rescue, an antique photograph, an elaborate payback.” This trio, without further explanation, promises these points in the story.
The Question: The back cover blurb often ends with a hook: the question— you know: “How will they escape the horror?” “Will she live to clean the litter box another day?” Again, the point is to intrigue, not to give full disclosure.
That said, both The Magic Three and The Question are grossly overused, so try to give them a new twist. A blurb that is ordinary, repetitive, or boring turns away the reader before they’ve even opened the book.
3. The mini-synopsis: The mini-synopsis tells a book’s story in a linier fashion and contains information about the characters, setting, and plot. Think, describing your book to a friend. (Leaving out spoilers of course.) This can be used for blogposts or interviews where I’m talking in-depth. Length can vary from 250 words and up, but it shouldn’t be longer than one page.
Funny story. I just spent an hour rewriting a three-line blurb for Cat Conundrum, the next Crazy Cat Lady Mystery. And what’s more, this is the third time I’ve done it! I hope you have better luck writing your blurbs than I do.
PS: If writing blurbs completely eludes you, you can always hire someone to do it for you!