book_blurbsWriting a Short Book Blurb

by Marg McAlister


Writing a short book blurb is not only fun, but great practice for writing promotional copy of any kind. Here are some of the reasons you might need to write a book blurb:

  • an editor asks you to have a shot at writing the back cover blurb for your book
  • you need to summarise the content of your book in a blurb for the person introducing you at an author talk or writers' panel
  • a journalist asks you to provide a blurb for an article on you
  • you need it as part of a proposal for a publisher
  • it's content for a website page
  • part of your submission for a competition entry

Here are a few tips on writing your blurb - and then we'll look at some real-life examples.

1. Make it short.

Next time you're at the library or in a book store, take a look at the back cover blurbs. They'll range from a few lines to a few paragraphs; but they'll have one thing in common - they won't be very long! The job of a book blurb is to whet the reader's appetite to buy/read the entire book. The book blurb should arouse curiosity, rather than provide answers. It should, if possible, press the reader's buttons. You want them to think "That's what I need to know!" or "That sounds just like me..."

  • If your blurb is for a novel, it should promise a 'good read'.
  • If your blurb is for non-fiction or self-help, it should appeal to the reader's self-interest.

In other words - whether it's fiction or non-fiction - it should answer the question: "What's in it for me?"... and it should do it very economically!

2. Make it punchy.

You'll notice that book blurbs tend to use emotive words. You'll read that a character's experience is 'spine-chilling' or 'devastating' or 'heart-wrenching'; or the blurb talks about a riddle to be solved. Non-fiction books tend to promise answers and strategies: you'll see terms like 'packed with information'; 'provides strategies'; 'a treasure chest of xxx' or 'a blueprint for xxx.' Work out what your reader wants, and write a blurb that shows that reader how you'll deliver.

3. End with a reason for the reader to buy/read the book.

This can be in the form of a statement or a provocative question. Some examples extracted from the full-length blurbs below: "Don't be a victim - be wise to their tricks!"; "Who is the spy in Sunrise Avenue? Will the kids find out in time?"; "You will learn... How to outsource your life and do whatever you want"; "Tap into THE FIRE IN FICTION, and supercharge your story with originality and spark!"

4. Don't confuse a short book blurb with a short synopsis!

This is very important. The big difference is this: A synopsis is a summary of the whole story - beginning, middle and end. It tells the reader (usually an editor) what happens throughout the story - including what happens at the end and how everything is resolved. A back cover blurb does NOT give the game away! It stimulates interest and curiosity and therefore entices the reader to buy the book. (I wish I had a dollar for every time I've read a so-called story synopsis and then written on the manuscript something like this: "This is more like a back cover blurb than a synopsis... I have no idea who did it or how the detective solved the crime!")

More Advice on Back Cover Blurbs:

If you're interested in learning more about writing book blurbs, here are a few useful websites:

Marianne Byerley:

This author has some great examples on her website. She says: "You've boiled down the essence of your story into a few paragraphs, but your publisher or a promotion website wants what you have cut down even further. How do you shorten what has already been trimmed and trimmed and trimmed? First, you must determine the market for your story...." she goes on not only to discuss what you need in a short book blurb, but also to show you how she progressed from a longer blurb to one that consisted of only a few short paragrahs. Go here to check it out:

The Penguin Blog:

Penguin employs copywriters to write all their blurbs, rather than asking writers to do it. However, they are happy to share with you how they do it!

Marcia Yudkin:

Marcia Yudkin offers some advice on getting testimonials for your back cover blurb - some great tips here.

Examples of Back Cover Blurbs - FICTION

THE BURNT HOUSE by Faye Kellerman [Adult Fiction]

At 8.15 am, a commuter plane carrying forty-seven passengers crashes into a building in Los Angeles. The LAPD's first priority is to allay fears that this is another terrorist outrage. Their second is to explain the bizarre mystery they discover in the debris.

An extra, unidentified, body has been found in the wreckage - but there's not trace of another woman who was supposedly on the flight.

To answer the riddle, Lieutenant Peter Decker and his team will have to dig back through three decades of tragic history to uncover the evil behind these crimes.. and what they find challenges their most basic assumptions of truth, guilt and justice.

Spy in Sunrise Avenue by Marg McAlister [Children's fiction]

Leon is suspicious when a strange white car parks outside his house. Why is it there? Who does it belong to? No one ever gets in - and no one ever gets out! So Leon gets the rest of the Sunrise Avenue kids on the case. Who is the spy in Sunrise Avenue? Will the kids find out in time?

Examples of Back Cover Blurbs - NON-FICTION

Why Can't I Look the Way I Want? by Melinda Hutchings

When you have an eating issue it can feel like the loneliest, hardest place in the world to be, but it doesn't have to be this way. No one knows this better than author Melinda Hutchings, who battled anorexia for three years. Drawing on her own experience, as well as other people's, Melinda openly discusses what this feels like on the inside, how to cope with the complexity of emotions, what to do about where you are with your eating issue, and what you can look forward to when you get to the other side.

'Why Can't I Look the Way I Want?' is packed full of information and personal stories which cover everything from anxieties around food to physical and emotional wellness, reconnecting with those you care about, and healing yourself and moving forward.

In among the helpful checklists, expert advice and practical tips, Why Can't I Look the Way I Want? profiles those who have battled anorexia, bulimia and exercise bulimia, as well as the increasing male eating disorder bigorexia, and provides strategies to triumph over these illnesses and realise the amazing life that's waiting for you beyond eating issues.

The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss


Forget the old concept of retirement and saving for the future - there is no need to wait and every reason not to. Whether your dream is escaping the rat race, experiencing first-class world travel, earning a monthly five-figure income with no management, or just living more and working less, this book is the blueprint.

In this step-by-step guide to living the life of your dreams you will learn:

  • How author Tim Ferriss went from $40.000 per year and 80 hours per week to $40,000 per MONTH and 4 hours per week
  • How to eliminate 50% of your career for life for short work bursts and frequent 'mini-retirements'
  • How to outsource your life and do whatever you want.

Working With Monsters by John Clarke


  • They work alongside you in many of Australia's businesses and corporations
  • They intimidate fellow workers
  • They exhibit impulsive behaviour
  • They demonstrate a lack of remorse
  • They are glib and superficially charming

Who are they?

White-collar psychopaths exist in a variety of workplaces. They are individuals who manipulate their way through life and leave an indelible mark on both their victims and society. They are destructive men and women - cunning, self-centred, ruthless and terrifying. They make working life a living hell for many of us. What motivates these individuals? How can you protect yourself from these "monsters" who hide behind a veneer of respectability?

WORKING WITH MONSTERS provides a fascinating insight into the mind of the workplace psychopath. Drawing on his studies and research in forensic pathology, and experience in criminal profiling for law enforcement agencies as well as corporations experiencing difficulties with an employee, John Clarke shows you how to recognise and manage a workplace psychopath within your midst.

Don't be a victim - be wise to their tricks!


'Discover the difference between a so-so manuscript and A NOVEL READERS CAN'T FORGET'

We've all read them: novels by our favourite authors that disappoint. Uninspired and lifeless, we wonder what happened. Was the author in a hurry? Did she have a bad year? Has he lost interest altogether?

Something similar is true of a great many unpublished manuscripts. They are okay stories that never take flight. They don't grip the imagination, let alone the heart. They merit only a shrug and a polite dismissal by agents and editors.

It doesn't have to be that way. In THE FIRE IN FICTION, successful literary agent and author Donald Maass shows you not only how to infuse your story with deep conviction and fiery passion, but how to do it over and over again. The book features:

  • Techniques for capturing a special time and place, creating characters whose lives matter, nailing multiple-impact plot turns, making the supernatural real, infusing issues into fiction, and more.
  • Story-enriching exercises at the end of every chapter to show you how to apply the practical tools just covered to your own work.
  • Rich examples drawn from contemporary novels as diverse as THE LAKE HOUSE, WATER FOR ELEPHANTS, and JENNIFER GOVERNMENT to illustrate how various techniques work in actual stories.

Plus, Maass introduces an original technique that any novelist can use any time, in any scene, in any novel, even on the most uninspired day... to take the most powerful experiences from your personal life and turn those experiences directly into powerful fiction.

Tap into THE FIRE IN FICTION, and supercharge your story with originality and spark!

These examples, plus the websites given as further resources, should help you create a short book blurb that will help to sell your books.

copyright Marg McAlister


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