Blurbs–they can get people reading or they can make people pass on by. Yes, many will tell you that cover alone is the be all, end all of your book hooking readers, but many of us are drawn more to titles and blurbs over covers. Even if you have the most kick-ass cover–without a blurb snaring the attention–you can still lose readers. So, how do you write a blurb that hooks your attention without giving too much away?
First off, there are many kinds of blurbs, not just the one you often read on a back cover. I classify them as High Concept, Back Cover, and the Query/Highlight blurbs. Each of these have a place within publishing both for non-published and published authors. Once you know the basic requirements to write each kind, you’ll find that it becomes second nature to you to have each type ready. Let’s look at the High Concept blurb first since it’s the shortest, and in some ways, the easiest to write.
What does High Concept mean? Simply put, high concept blurbs use already well-known items–books, movies, phrases– together in combination to showcase the essence of your story. An example is how Gene Roddenberry billed Star Trek to the Desilu executives. He called it “Horatio Hornblower among the stars.” This concept caught the executives attention and asked him to explain more about it. Another example is my story called Argent Valkyrie. I call it “Manchurian Candidate meets Star Wars with a twist.” If you’re familiar with what the stories are about–you then can see the essence of the story being spoken about.
So, how do you write a high concept blurb? Sit down with your story–finished or not, and ask yourself a few questions like: What does this story say in general terms? What movie/book/tv show does this story remind you of. (It can be more than one or two.) Is part of the story the reverse of a story that is out somewhere? By asking yourself these questions, you can now put together a one sentence high concept blurb. Play with it, refine it, watch a few movies or shows to capture the feel of your story better. By having this high concept blurb–we’re ready for the next stage: Back Cover Blurb.
I enjoy writing the Back Cover blurb as it’s often one of the first things I write while writing the story. It’s part of my plotting process and it often is the motivation to keep things on track. In fact, the back cover blurb will lead us to the final blurb– the query/highlight one as it’s a refined version with small changes. So, let’s take that high concept blurb as our guide and begin the back cover blurb.
We know the essence of the story, so the next step is what is the crisis/decision moment that forces the protagonist to act? This should be the first sentence of your blurb. In this blurb, I often have one to two paragraphs, each composed of 4-7 sentences. This limits what is included and forces you to think in what I call movie trailer mode.
Movie trailers are one of the best ways to learn how to write back cover blurbs. Listen to them on the radio and watch them on tv. Take notes on what is used as the opening, the middle, the ending hook. These are what comprise the back cover for a story. Though there are many things that make up a book or movie, these three components are always present.
Take your opening sentence. Does it make you go, “Hmm, I wonder what this is about? How did this happen?” If you aren’t finding yourself wondering more about the character– you need a different first sentence. Once you open up with the appropriate attention grabber that sets up the book, usually introducing the main character or at least one of the main characters, you move to the next part. Normally my first two sentences are what constitutes not just the crisis moment, but the main characters first reaction. This allows the readers to identify with the character–even though they don’t know much else. Then we go to what I call the interference–why can’t the character do what is necessary to fix the situation? What is stopping him/her from moving forward? Normally, I pick one certain thing faced that is a failure or I generalize a couple of incidents that show just what the character/s face and why they’re not getting anywhere fast.
Then I bring in the emotions. Why? Because we are emotional creatures and we want to feel the humanity of the protagonists. We want to see them struggle, fall in love, realize that they need something more than what they are at that moment to accomplish their goals. When writing a romance, this is where I mention about the attraction factor, the intimacy, or even being overwhelmed thus causing the next set of circumstances that happen. Once I’ve done this part–which is often a few sentences, I get to the setup of the black moment/final crisis. When I prepare this part, I often take a few minutes with the story if it’s done and reread the first few pages before that moment and through that moment. If the story isn’t written, I play my movie trailer in my head, taking down the aspects that make it so intense you need to know what happens after.
Then I fiddle with it a bit, making sure that I don’t give away the ending but leave the reader wondering– “What happens?” Depending on the genre, I often try to form the last sentence or two as questions, bringing the whole story essence into that moment– “Can they love each other when they find out their love is based on deceit?” “Can he figure out who is behind the murders before the murderer wins the final round by destroying the one person that Jake can’t live without?”
By using a strong hook at the end of the back cover blurb, you are leaving the reader wondering, thinking, considering. You’re forcing them to speculate without too much information and one thing that never fails when it comes to mankind is curiosity. Make them wonder what the ending is, they’ll go around, look at other things, then find themselves back at that book going, “Hmmm how does he resolve this? Can they get through this without losing themselves?” Starting and ending with a hook is one sure way to have your book remembered. If the hook is also catchy–it’s one they won’t forget and will talk about to other people. Once this is written, I often spend some time revising, tightening, and rewording the blurb until I’m happy with it. This usually involves me reading it out loud, like a movie trailer. If I hear it and I feel excited, then I know that I’ve got the paciing and flow nailed for the blurb.
This takes us to the final blurb– the Query/Highlight blurb. Why do I have this one last? For me, this is one of the hardest to write because it’s shorter than the back cover blurb yet is the one I use most often when I query publishers, agents, etc. For this blurb, I try to keep it to one paragraph–keeping the opening and if possible, the ending sentences. I go through the rest of the back cover things, removing detailed information and replacing it with generalized overviews. The goal with the query/highlight blurb is to get attention and make them want to hear more about the story. Often times you’ll see this blurb in a magazine, front page of an epublisher’s website, etc. It’s a short 4-6 sentence paragraph that gives you more than the High Concept but less than the Back Cover.
Normally when crafting the query blurb, I remove the emotions sentences and increase the crisis ideas, making the reader antsy and anticipating the meaning of what is going on in the story. A good example is the query blurb for Mark of the Blood, my first Marauder book. Example– Wrongly cursed by their patron goddess, Morrigu, nine Druid brothers fight the forcesof evil for eternity. Worlds collide as Kirstie Blake and Marauder Dr. Niam Maraigh hunt a rapist and succumb to the Mark of the Blood.
Notice that it not only gives you an overview of the series, but it also hints at what’s going to happen within the story without bringing up the details? The goal of the query blurb is to make the person want more. So when you open up the page where Mark of the Blood is–you then read the back cover blurb, which is a bit more indepth and makes you even more curious. See, you’re building up the tension in the blurbs. That’s the ultimate goal. How does this work?
Someone asks you about the story you’re working on. You might say, “It’s Underworld meets Merry Gentry with a twist.” This is actually the high concept I use for Treaty of Desire. There is more to the story than that, but in essence–it gets the point across. Now you’ve got someone going, “Tell me more. What do you mean? How is it like Underworld?” This is where you’d break out the query blurb.
“Taja Drevin, a Were-subqueen must learn the ways of the Seelie Fey in exchange for teaching the greatest mage among them how to access the glamour magick the Fey lost for closing the mortal world from Helia, the world all preternatural creatures live. Neither Taja, nor the mage, the heir Adrastai are prepared for the attraction that springs between them. But all is not well during this teaching–someone wants the treaty between the Weres and the Feys broken and they’re willing to kill Taja to do just that. Can Taja and Adras discover who is behind the assasination attempts or will the Treaty of Desire be broken thus destroying any hopes of their world surviving mankind rediscovering them when the Gateway opens between the two worlds?”
Notice that now you’ve given them just enough to tease their attention and whet their appetite without giving out too much detail? My back cover blurb is just a couple sentences longer, speaking about Frelin, Adrastai’s brother who is a major pain to Taja as well as the fact that both Adras and Taja are hiding secrets from the other which play factor in when they become lovers. The progression of each blurb helps to not only give snippets of info, but like movie trailers of thirty, forty-five, and sixty seconds–they let you see more aspects of the story without giving away the ending.
Even though people know romance novels will have a Happily Ever After, they still like discovering how they get to that point. It’s the journey that people enjoy the most–take that away, then a reader won’t bother with your story. But if you hint, tease, and make them wonder how it can be done–they’ll pick up your book before they do anyone else’s.
Remember– Blurbs– it’s where it’s happening. Without them we’d not get anyone interesting in reading what we write.