By Amy Evans
In the publishing world, descriptions found on the back of a book or on an online page are often referred to as ‘blurbs.’ Reviews and testimonials are often also included in book descriptions, and are also referred to as blurbs within the industry. For the purposes of this article, I’m using the blurb reference to mean book descriptions.
Now that I’ve cleared up semantics, I cannot stress this enough: blurbs can decisively make or break your novel. Blurbs can be the difference between sales success and stagnation, eminence or anonymity. Why is that? The answer is simple: a book’s cover, title, and blurb are the initial factors a reader considers when making the decision to purchase a book. Consideration of price and reader reviews come shortly after, as a process of rationalizing initial interest in the book.
The beautiful thing about blurbs is that they can be changed easily and conveniently online. KWL has some useful tips on crafting book blurbs that will have more readers engaged in your novel and get those title sales up:
Less is more.
Choosing the word length of your book description is a delicate dance. You want to get more potential readers interested in your book’s content while still leave them wanting more. Picture your potential reader browsing through books on Kobo.com. They are likely reading numerous book blurbs, sifting through what they are interested in, and what they aren’t at this virtual bookstore. Your description should be purposeful and poignant, concise yet informative. Let’s take a look at the blurb for Meghan March’s new romance novel Iron Princess:
He’s a mystery. An enigma.
He’s also an addiction I can’t shake. An attraction I can’t fight.
And then I found out exactly who he is—a man more dangerous than the devil himself.
His very identity is a secret buried beneath layers of deception.
Now I need him in order to save everything that matters to me.
I have to pull back. Protect myself from the danger that haunts his every step.
Which would be easy . . . if I could stop myself from falling in love with him.
Notice how this blurb does not focus on plot – rather, it captures the delicious dangerousness of the main character’s romance and paints a picture of her cryptic love interest. The description ventures into the internal reflections of the main character, establishing that she is powerless against her intense feelings. The blurb for Iron Princess ends with an unspoken ‘what’s next?’ which creates the hook that brings readers in.
The Critical First Paragraph.
Certain novels, such as those with complex content or multiple timelines, require several paragraphs to be conveyed effectively in a blurb. The first paragraph of your book description provides the scope of your novel – it can reference key themes, main characters, or notable events that drive the plot. After you’ve provided an overview in your first paragraph, you can go into more depth in subsequent lines. You are not necessarily conveying your novel in chronological order; keep in mind that it is a book description, rather than a book summary. If your novel is featured as part of a Kobo promotion such as our Daily Deal, we include only the beginning of your book description (approximately 50 words).
Proper Use of Bold and Italics.
Use of bold and italicized fonts can enhance the effect of a statement in your blurb. Overuse can be distracting and make your book description too loud in the mind voice of the reader. Here is a perfect balance of bold, italics, and regular font used for Douglas Lindsay’s murder mystery novel Boy in the Well:
No ordinary detective.
No ordinary investigations.
A twisting new crime series set in the Scottish Highlands. For fans of Stephen King, Christopher Brookmyre and John Connolly.
**’A dark and satisfying mystery . . . This one comes thoroughly recommended’ James Oswald
The body of a young boy is discovered at the bottom of a well that has been sealed for two hundred years. Yet the corpse is only days old . . .
No one comes forward to identify #Boy9, and DI Ben Westphall’s only suspects are the farmers on whose land the well sits. They certainly seem as though they have something to hide. But it might not be what he thinks.
Soon, similarities from an old crime emerge and Westphall must look to the past to piece together the dark and twisted events taking place in the present.
The bold text is useful in three ways: it makes the ‘no ordinary’ detective stand out, sets the tone for the novel, and emphasizes that readers who are fans of America’s great mystery/horror authors will also enjoy Lindsay’s book. The italics call attention to the testimonial provided by James Oswald, a Scottish mystery writer well suited to comment on Lindsay’s novel.
What to Include in Your Book Blurb.
Think beyond a traditional summary of your novel. How does it make readers feel? What makes your story a ‘mind-bending’ thriller or a truly heart-wrenching romance? Is your book a commentary on society, and if so, why should people care? Introduce your main character and the conflict centered around him/her in a captivating way. What makes this character’s story original? Pose important questions to yourself and answer them in your book description. The blurb for The Handmaid’s Tale, by bestselling Canadian author Margaret Atwood, draws readers’ fascination and pulls them right in:
In this multi-award-winning, bestselling novel, Margaret Atwood has created a stunning Orwellian vision of the near future. This is the story of Offred, one of the unfortunate “Handmaids” under the new social order who have only one purpose: to breed. In Gilead, where women are prohibited from holding jobs, reading, and forming friendships, Offred’s persistent memories of life in the “time before” and her will to survive are acts of rebellion. Provocative, startling, prophetic, and with Margaret Atwood’s devastating irony, wit, and acute perceptive powers in full force, The Handmaid’s Tale is at once a mordant satire and a dire warning.
The description is packed with information on Atwood’s revolutionary dystopian novel, using a limited number of powerful words. Orwellian. Provocative, startling, prophetic. It ends with a hook anticipating the chilling cruelties of Gilead, warning of the parallels between Offred’s life and modern society guaranteed to make readers fear, or at least consider, the future women are possibly heading toward.
What to avoid in your book description.
- Excessive exaggeration. It would be quite presumptuous of you to claim your fantasy series ‘is the next Harry Potter.’ Rather, it would be more honest to claim that your series is for Harry Potter lovers — now there is a selling point!
- Testimonial overkill. Some testimonies can be so overinflated as to produce suspicion, rather than admiration. If your book is prominent enough to acquire testimonies, choose to feature ones that read as genuine and insightful.
- Common clichés. Including phrases like ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ and ‘love is blind’ can do more harm than good. If you include clichés in your book description, what is to stop your potential reader from concluding that your novel itself is a cliché? Basically nothing.
Most Importantly, Have Fun Creating Your Blurb!
Take the words of Adam Croft, one of the biggest selling authors of the past year, to heart:
“We’re writers. Playing with words is what we do.”
Think of creating your book blurb as an extension of the writing experience. While it can seem challenging to condense your magnum opus into a few hundred words, this too is part of being a novelist. Get to work revamping your book description, and you’ll see how much blurbs factor into sales. Happy writing, authors!
KWL loves to hear how our authors are doing. Did you find this article helpful? Do you have a story to share about book blurbs? We want to hear from you! Comment below to engage with us at KWL and fellow writers.
Amy works on Author Engagement for Kobo Writing Life. She helps answer author questions and comes up with creative blog content. Amy studied Social Sciences at the University of Ottawa and Publishing at Ryerson University. She has worked as a content author of literature study guides and as an online literature educator.