Book: Writing Book Blurbs and Synopses - How to sell your manuscript to publishers and your indie book to readers (Writer's Craft 19) by Rayne Hall
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Rayne Hallabout this book: Sample Chapter
CHAPTER 8: WRITING THE BOOK DESCRIPTION BLURB
Up to now, we've looked at tools for communicating with publishing professionals. Now let's move from B2B (business-to-business) tools to B2C (business-to-consumer) and work on short summaries for book-buying readers.
The most important tool is the book description, also called the 'blurb'.
WHERE TO USE THE BLURB
Most book sales these days happen online, on sites like Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Each book has its own page, displaying a brief description of the content (the blurb) alongside the title, the genre, the book cover and the price.
The blurb also appears on the backcover of paperbacks, and on the left dustjacket flap of hardbacks.
YOUR MAGIC WAND FOR SALES
When a reader browses a website or bookshop for her next read, it's usually the cover or the title that first draw her attention to the book. Once she's interested, she'll almost certainly read the blurb. If it appeals to her, she'll take the next step – download the free sample, take a peek at a random page inside, study the reviews, or take the book to the checkout.
The magic of the blurb is that it's not only crucial for the reader's decision-making, but close to the 'point of sale', that is, the place and time where the customer buys. It takes only a minute to carry the book to the checkout, or a second to click 'buy now'. From a marketing expert's perspective, this is an ideal situation.
You have this perfect sales tool at your command (at least, if you're an indie author), so make the most of it.
SPONTANEITY AND EMOTION
In the previous chapters, we looked at B2B tools whose recipients want clear information to help them make considered choices. The publishing professionals apply rational criteria to arrive at deliberate decisions.
Readers, however, choose with their emotions. When browsing a website or bookstore, the select the book that makes them feel excited, curious, hopeful or thrilled.
Of course, some rational considerations come into play as well – such as whether the book's price fits into her budget - but emotions are the key.
While the synopsis needs to appeal to the recipient's rational sense, the blurb needs to appeal to her emotions.
If you do it right, the reader will – often spontaneously – click either 'buy now' or 'read free sample', or, if she's in the brick-and-mortar shop, take the book to the checkout.
KEEP IT SHORT
Short product descriptions inspire sales more than long ones.
With her interest aroused by the title and the cover, the reader wants to find out what the book is about. She'll spend a few seconds finding out. If the blurb hooks her in this short time, she'll take the next step – reading a sample or buying.
But if a blurb goes on and on, her interest wanes, and she'll move on to the next book. Don't let this happen.
I've seen many indie authors misunderstanding this situation because they lack the marketing know-how. They write product descriptions which go on and on, telling the reader the plot, explaining the world-building, quoting reviews, showing endorsements and more. The harsh reality: readers don't read that stuff.
Just because Amazon (and other online booksellers) allow you up to 2000 words of book description, doesn't mean you have to fill that space with words. Reading 2000 words takes far more time than the customer spends at this stage.
Keep it short. I won't make rules how long blurbs may be – you can make yours as long as you wish – but shorter is better. Depending on the genre, you may want to aim for 200-700 words.
WHAT TO INCLUDE
Focus the on the main character's goal and conflict. Leave out subplots and details.
Unlike the synopsis, the blurb doesn't reveal the plot. Don't include the middle or the ending. The blurb shows the beginning scenario, the situation the main character finds himself in. For most novels, that's roughly what happens in the first two chapters.
Tell this in a single paragraph, or perhaps two or three, but not more.
ASK A QUESTION
Then add a question to arouse the reader's curiosity about what will happen next. It's important to phrase this question so it's not an obvious yes or no.
Many blurbs get this wrong. If a romance blurb asks "Can Mary overcome her scruples and find true love with John?" the answer is obviously "yes" so the question doesn't arouse the reader's curiosity.
A simple tweak with a single word makes all the difference: "How can Mary overcome her scruples and find true love with John?" Now the romance reader wants to find out.
You can use a 'how' question for almost every fiction blurb:
How can Mary find the serial killer before he strikes again?
How can Mary convince John that she is innocent?
How will Mary escape from the mad scientist's dungeon?
Of all emotions a blurb can arouse in the reader, curiosity is the most powerful. The reader wants to find out, so she buys the book.
TWO BLURB-BUILDING FORMULAS
Here are two different recipes you can use to construct your fiction blurb.
1. [Main character] needs [goal] because [motivation], and she/he needs it before [deadline], or [terrible consequence]. But [major conflict]. How can she/he [achieve goal] despite [obstacle]?
Here are two examples:
Debutante Arabella needs a husband, and she needs him by Christmas, or her brother goes to prison. But the only man she loves is betrothed to her best friend. How can she protect her brother without betraying her friend or her own heart?
Homicide detective Mary needs to hunt down a serial killer before he slaughters another member of the girl scout troop. But the clues she discover point to the man she loves. Adam is clearly hiding a dark secret that links him to the murders. How can Mary uncover the truth without destroying their relationship?
This gets the reader's imagination going, and she'll want to read the story.
2. [Main character] needs only three things: a [first goal], a [second goal] and a [third goal]. But [obstacle to first goal], [obstacle to second goal], and [obstacle to third goal]. How can she [solve the problem] before [deadline]?
This formula works especially well for fiction with an element of humour.
Here's an example:
Society reporter Hilda Hopeful needs only three things: an invitation Lady Daphne's spectacular spring ball, a drop-dead gown to wear, and a handsome date for the event.
But Lady Daphne has vowed to let no member of the press cross her threshold, Hilda's ex-boyfriend has emptied her bank account, and the only available man is a radical socialist on a crusade against aristocrats and their frivolous lifestyles.
With only three days left, how can Hilda become a belle at this ball?
Don't follow the recipes slavishly. Use them as a starting point and adapt them to suit your novel.
Like the synopsis, the book blurb uses Present Tense, even if the novel is in Past Tense. But unlike in a synopsis, the character names are not capitalised.
You can increase the emotional impact with the 'backloading' technique. Structure the sentences so they end with the most emotionally-charged word.
Mary will die unless she finds it.
Unless Mary finds it, she will die.
BLURBS FOR NON-FICTION BOOKS
With non-fiction, readers don't just buy a book, they buy benefits. Focus your book on what the reader gains: knowledge, information, solutions?
Depending on the target readership, use statements like these:
"This book will help you to [pass your driving test/find your soulmate/get out of debt/whatever]."
"With clear step-by-step instructions..."
"You can [achieve goal]."
"Overcome your [problem] in [number] steps."
"This comprehensive work covers…."
"Meticulously researched, with extensive bibliography..."
The blurb is a promise to the reader that the book contains the solution to his problem or the knowledge he needs. The emotions this blurb arouses are trust and hope.
Before buying a non-fiction book, readers often want to know of the author is an expert who knows what he's talking about. This can be a crucial factor in book sales. Consider stating your credentials at the end of the blurb. If your book is about cancer prevention, mention your medical degree and your work as oncologist in the Bigcity Hospital. For a book about how to get teenagers to tidy up their rooms, mention that you have seven kids aged 12 to 21. If the reader feels that you're an authority, she'll trust your advice and buy the book.
CAN YOU ADAPT YOUR SYNOPSIS OR PITCH?
If you've previously created a synopsis for your novel, you may be able to take its beginning and shape it into a blurb. Perhaps you can also flesh out your pitch.
However, bear in mind that the pitch and synopsis are B2B, aimed at industry professionals, delivering clear information. The blurb is B2C, targeted at the book's reader, creating emotion. You'll probably need to rewrite the material to get the right effect.
IS YOUR BOOK PART OF A SERIES?
As long as it can be understood and enjoyed as a standalone, write the blurb like for a standalone, and simply add a sentence at the end like this one: "This book is Volume 3 in the Werewolf Song series, and can be read on its own."
However, if the reader needs to have read the preceding books, make this clear from the beginning, perhaps by starting the blurb with a sentence like this: "Six months have passed since the events in The Choir of Wolves."
CALL TO ACTION
At the end of your blurb, you can tell the reader what to do next – for example, buy the book. In marketing jargon, this is the 'call to action', and it can increase sales.
However, be subtle. A blatant call to action (Act fast! Buy this book now!!!!!!) turns most readers off and can lose sales instead of winning them.
I like to give my readers the feeling that they are in charge and have the freedom to choose. In my blurbs, I often say something like "Click 'Download Free Sample' to see if you would enjoy this book."
WHAT ELSE TO INCLUDE IN THE PRODUCT DESCRIPTION
In a separate paragraph, you may want to give some brief information about the book. This can be in note-form.
"Caution: strong language and explicit erotic scenes."
"This book contains graphic violence and is not recommended for young readers."
I always put "British English" in my blurbs, so any American readers who dislike British words, grammar and spelling can avoid my books.
If you feel that you absolutely must put review quotes and endorsements into your book description, place them at the end after the actual blurb.
CHANGING YOUR BLURB
As an indie author, you can change your book blurb any time, and the new version will appear online in a day or so.
Obviously, you can't do that with already printed paperbacks, though the print-on-demand method allows frequent changes as well.
WHO WRITES THE BLURB IN TRADITIONAL PUBLISHING?
If your book is published by a publishing house (the so-called 'traditional' or 'corporate' publishing), then the publisher's editorial and marketing teams work together to create the blurb. Hopefully, it reflects the contents of your book, although some marketing people write blurbs based on what they think will sell, instead of what's inside the book.
The publishers will normally show you the blurb and ask for your approval. If it's not right, speak up at once and request changes.
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