Often the task of writing a solid blurb for your novel is more daunting than writing the entire book or even a strong first chapter. This makes sense, of course, trying to encompass months or even years of your hard work and beautiful prose into a short paragraph can seem impossible. The fears of writing a terrible blurb however, cannot outweigh the power of a strong one. Effective blurb writing captures attractive story elements and shows off your ability to write succinctly. No matter how strong your story is, a poorly written blurb will sink your novel before you even get a chance to hook your readers in.
In this post, I will walk you through what I’ve learned in how to write an effective blurb through a sample blurb that needs improvement.
Audrey Laura Michaelson (she was named after her great-grandmother) has always had an eye for vintage style. She has a collection of 1980s boots, loves her 70s flare jeans, and always wears her the locket of her great-grandmother, who grew up in the 30s and 40s. She goes to college in New York City and decides to visit a vintage clothing museum. When she finds a cute pair of forties boots strangely left in the open, she can’t help but try them on. She finds herself in New York City, but not the same one she left. Those suit dresses sure looked cute to her. After realizing she’s in 1940s wartime America, the least of her issues become a lack of polyester. She meets a handsome patriot named Jack, Anne, a working mother who’s got a secret, and mysterious plan who seems to have followed her back into time. She’s thrust into a world of spies and international intrigue, and Audrey realizes that her postmodern knowledge of fashion isn’t the only thing that came back from the future and her fashion knowledge may be the only thing that can fix history.
First see if you can spot any issues or similarities with your own blurbs. Let’s get started.
We’ll first tackle the blurb in the macro sense: the overall structure of the blurb. Many blurbs are either too long or too short. I don’t necessarily have a strict word limit, but an overly long or short blurb could be a red flag that you over or underwrite your stories. This blurb is very long and its actual content does not validate this need. Paring down your writing into clear and effective sentences will help present only the information the reader must know.
A pivotal part of the Hero’s Cycle (a simple structure for character/story arcs) is the inciting incident. Without knowing what moves the character from the normal world to the world of adventure (in this case modern day to 1940s America), the reader doesn’t know what the book is actually about. In this blurb the inciting incident is given, but it’s too far buried under three sentences of mostly useless backstory. The inciting incident doesn’t need to be the first sentence, nor is all set up completely unimportant, but it’s important to take into account where the major event that kicks off your story takes place. You might learn that your story starts much later than once you thought.
As fun and important little details may be within your actual novel, knowing that Audrey Laura Michaelson is “named after her great-grandmother” or that her locket belonged to her “her great-grandmother, who grew up in the 30s and 40s” is not actually necessary to know and doesn’t hook the reader in either. Now if her great-grandmother was a famous actress or a terrible villain, there might be a significance there, but either way should not be placed in the first sentence.
The key to solid characterization that is integral to the plot is a strong motivation. If we don’t know what your character wants, how can we empathize with their story? We can make many assumptions about Audrey: maybe she wants to learn more about 1940s fashion, maybe she decides she’d like to stay there forever, or maybe she wants to go home. This information should not be left up to the imagination and instead should be very clear from the moment of the inciting incident.
Too Many Side Characters:
We learn a single detail each about Jack, Anne, and an unnamed man, but they don’t appear to be integral to the plot in any way. Focus on your main character, their problem, and what they must do to solve it. Too many side characters in your blurb distracts from the main narrative, in addition to taking up precious wordage.
A certain amount of mystery and intrigue is important to luring a reader in, but vague statements that only serve as fluff can leave a reader feeling like they know nothing about your story. You don’t need to summarize the first third of your book and you certainly shouldn’t give away spoilers, but make sure to identify a singular reason why every sentence adds to a reader’s understanding. In this case, the blurb mentions that her “her fashion knowledge may be the only thing that can fix history” without actually specifying a problem. Is she making sure World War II happens or that the Allies win with fashion? These are not the kinds of questions you want the reader to be asking because they are of a clarifying nature, not a desire for discovery.
We learn that Audrey is “thrust into a world of spies and international intrigue” which is simultaneously vague and unfounded. Each sentence must connect to the next to build up a narrative. We need to know how she is put into this new position, otherwise it will feel incredibly out of place to the reader . Specificity of what spies and what countries could also help make these pieces of the story fit better together.
Lack of Voice:
Lastly and arguably most importantly is voice. Voice is the special sauce that turns an ordinary story into something unforgettable. The tone of this blurb is almost documentarian and doesn’t engage the reader with Audrey’s voice. Your blurb needs to capture the engaging tone of your writing. If your book is comical, make sure it’s not plainly written. If your story is serious, a jovial voice may turn off readers.
Here’s a more effective version of the blurb.
Audrey Laura Michaelson can rattle off the significance of the 1930s nylon stockings craze and the evolution of fashion during wartime. Her love of vintage fashion never seemed to be a problem, until an irresistible urge to try on a cute pair of forties boots lands her in actual 1940s New York City. After meeting a handsome patriot named Jack, she uses her knowledge of fashion history to deduce he’s an undercover spy investigating a fascist secret society. Her love of history and her country leads her to team up with Jack to infiltrate the organization. Audrey discovers she’s not the only one who’s travelled back to the 40s, and that it’s up to her to untangle this shadowy society before it unravels time.
Editing your blurb can also highlight these problems in your story itself like over/underwriting, unclear motivations, or pacing issues. Even with this edited version, you can see issues in the plot that don’t line up. Does a love of vintage fashion line up with loving history? Does Audrey want to go home? What about her secret as being from the future? From the blurb alone, you can deduce story issues from a macro-scale. Plot problems aside, this blurb effectively communicates the major tenets of story: who is the character, what do they want, and what’s stopping them from getting it? Once you’ve got those figured out, you’ll have a solid blurb that hooks your readers before the very first chapter.
Harsha Venkataraman is a high school student from Texas. Her work can be found in The Lunch Ticket, The Hearth Mag, The Paper Crane Journal, and the LASA Composer.