How to write a book blurb

(including bestseller examples and 12 top tips)

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Lee Dickinson, chief editor

By Lee Dickinson

Bookediting.co.uk chief editor

Your book blurb, title and cover are the most vital factors in its sales success.

I’d love to pound the keyboard with conviction about book editing being your priority but, truthfully, if selling is your focus, it’s not as important as learning how to write a book blurb. Sure, a skilled book editor will help make your hard work sparkle, but even superb book editing is unlikely to entice readers beyond a mediocre cover or lifeless blurb.

Unfortunately, most authors don’t know how to write a book blurb, demoting it to an afterthought then labouring over words that should tease without summarising or revealing the ending. Their writing ‘yips’ aren’t helped if their authorly imaginations conjure pictures of bookshop-browsing, net-surfing potential readers. No pressure …

That might be why I regularly write blurbs for authors, who are happy for a book editor’s informed, experienced, more objective take. Killing your darlings is seldom more painful than when facing such a brutal, pivotal word count, so helping with this can be even more appreciated than the book editing.

But if you’re confident about writing your own, here are my tips on how to write a book blurb that will give you an edge in a fierce self-publishing arena.

First, what is a blurb?

It’s a short outline of the story or content that triggers the reader’s imagination, capturing their attention and piquing their interest. Online, it’s often used as the description when selling e-books on the likes of Amazon and promoting on sites such as Goodreads.

A book blurb can also be used for background information, such as when giving descriptions on writing blogs and forums, interviews with local papers, and when sending copies to reviewers. A blurb typically appears on the back cover of paperbacks or the inner flap of hardbacks, giving details of the author, plot or content.

It’s also vital to know what a book blurb is not, because it shouldn’t be confused with a synopsis, which is a more comprehensive summary with a focus on the plot, characters and story arc.

Writing fiction too? The videos below will help with characterisation, dialogue, plotting and writing inspiration. The control on the right sets them to your full screen size.

How many words should a blurb have?

Most book blurbs are from 100 to 200 words, with an average between 150 and 200 for mainstream authors. They’re often divided into three or four paragraphs, making them easy for readers to skim while gleaning enough information to rouse their interest.

How to write a fiction blurb:

Entice readers without revealing details of who, what, how, when and why. It sounds difficult, but here’s some ‘HELP’:

Hook: start with a gripping sentence that leaves readers wanting more.

Enlighten: create a fascinating summary of the story.

Language: use a tone and style that suits your audience, with potent words that captivate and intrigue.

Parting shot: end with a cliffhanger, question or create enough intrigue that readers want to know the whole story.

A fiction blurb should create emotional investment in the journey and your characters, compelling readers to join their adventure.

How to write a non-fiction blurb:

Focus on the questions your book answers and how you’ll motivate and teach. Stress the benefits of reading your book and succinctly illustrate its main messages.

How to write a memoir or autobiography blurb:

‘HATS’ off to you if you nail the blurb in this popular, growing genre:

Humility: be humble about yourself.

Avoid: don’t make it an author bio, which is for the front of your book or author profile web pages.

Third person: use this, rather than first person (she, her, he, him – not I).

Supply: give necessary, relevant information only.

How should I structure my blurb?

There are four main points to include:

1. Introduce the main character.

2. Outline the primary conflict.

3. Describe what’s at stake.

4. Use dynamic words that elicit emotion and stimulate visual imagery. These can also form the basis for keywords when classifying your book on self-publishing platforms.

Bestseller blurb examples:

The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene

People are wary of Scobie, disturbed by his scrupulous honesty. A police officer serving in a war-torn West African state, he is immune to bribery [1]. But when he falls in love, Scobie is forced into a betrayal [2] of everything that he has ever believed in,[3] with shattering [4] results.

The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell

Run away, one drowsy summer’s afternoon, with Holly Sykes: wayward teenager, broken-hearted rebel [1] and unwitting pawn in a titanic, hidden conflict.[2]

Over six decades, the consequences of a moment’s impulse unfold, drawing an ordinary woman into a world far beyond her imagining. And as life in the near future turns perilous,[4] the pledge she made to a stranger may become the key to her family’s survival [3]…

Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel

‘Lock Cromwell in a deep dungeon in the morning,’ says Thomas More, ‘and when you come back that night he’ll be sitting on a plush cushion eating larks’ tongues, and all the gaolers will owe him money.’[1]

England, the 1520s. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is his chief advisor, charged with securing the divorce [3] the pope refuses to grant.[2] Into this atmosphere of distrust and need comes Thomas Cromwell, first as Wolsey’s clerk, and later his successor.

Cromwell is a wholly original man: the son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a briber, a charmer, a bully, a man with a delicate and deadly expertise in manipulating people and events. Ruthless [4] in pursuit of his own interests, he is as ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages.

Blue Moon, Lee Child

It’s a random universe, but once in a blue moon things turn out just right. In a nameless city, two rival criminal gangs are competing for control. But they hadn’t counted on Jack Reacher arriving on their patch.[2] Reacher is trained to notice things.[1]

He’s on a Greyhound bus, watching an elderly man sleeping in his seat, with a fat envelope of cash hanging out of his pocket. Another passenger is watching too … hoping to get rich quick.

As the mugger makes his move, Reacher steps in.

The old man is grateful, yet he turns down Reacher’s offer to help him home. He’s vulnerable, scared, and clearly in big, big trouble.[3] What hold could the gangs have on the old guy? Will Reacher be in time to stop bad things happening? The odds are better with Reacher involved. That’s for damn sure.

 

Notice the numbers aren’t always sequential in the examples above, and in the case of Lee Child, all four aren’t included, although you could argue “damn” has a dynamic, action-alerting effect. Still, the blurb ticks most of the boxes and, like the rest here, helped the authors toward bestseller status. Doing a similarly great job on your book blurb will give you the best chance of joining them. 

Outline: 12 top blurb tips that will help you sell:

1. Remember that a book blurb is not a summary of your manuscript; it’s meant to intrigue and attract potential readers.

2. Aim for 150 words, staying between 100 and 200, in three to four paragraphs.

3. Invest time in your first sentence – if readers aren’t hooked by it, it won’t matter how good the rest of the blurb is.

4. Use short sentences and separate paragraphs.

5. Know your target audience, using language that resonates with them.

6. Treat your book like a product and think about how to promote it to potential buyers. Use taglines, hooks and calls to action to make the blurb more compelling.

7. Include as many five-star reviews as possible.

8. Don’t give away the ending or any plot twists.

9. Make sure the blurb is true to your genre.

10. Write in the third person.

11. Avoid clichés (especially in your blurb, but this is good advice for all writing).

12. Make it so impactful and engaging that potential readers must buy your book.

© Lee Dickinson, Bookediting.co.uk, 2023

This article’s writer, Lee Dickinson, is an advanced professional member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading and chief editor at Bookediting.co.uk. You can read his blog here.

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