The Formula for a Novel Blurb


There, I said that dreaded word, anathema to the genre fiction writer. Who wants their work called formulaic? Ah, but there is one formula that can be the novelist’s best friend. The blurb formula.

A blurb is a mini-synopsis, usually 250 words or less, that tells what the novel is about without going into specifics or giving away the end. Blurbs can be used in query letters to agents or editors, in promotional material, as enticements to reviewers, and, if you are self-publishing, as back cover copy and/or a description on a website.

The best way to learn how to do it is to learn from professional copy writers. The people who write blurbs for a living. Everything you need to know is on the back cover of mass market paperback novels. Here are three examples pulled at random off my bookshelf:

“Cocktail waitress Sookie Stackhouse is on a streak of bad luck. First, her coworker is murdered and no one seems to care. Then she’s face-to-face with a beastly creature that gives her a painful and poisonous lashing. Enter the vampires, who graciously suck the poison from her veins (like they didn’t enjoy it). Point is, they saved her life. So when one of the blood-suckers asks for a favor, she complies. And soon, Sookie’s in Dallas using her telepathic skills to search for a missing vampire. She’s supposed to interview certain humans involved. There’s just one condition: The vampires must promise to behave–and let the humans go unharmed. Easier said than done. All it takes is one delicious blonde and one small mistake for things to turn deadly…” (LIVING DEAD IN DALLAS, by Charlaine Harris)

“Six-year-old Turtle Greer witnesses a freak accident at the Hoover Dam, leading to a man’s dramatic rescue. But Turtle’s moment of celebrity draws her into a crisis of historic proportions that will envelop not only her and her mother, Taylor, but everyone else who touches their lives in a complex web connecting their future with their past.” (PIGS IN HEAVEN, by Barbara Kingsolver)

“Five days after Owen Zastava Pitt pushed his insufferable boss out of a fourteenth story window, he woke up in the hospital with a scarred face, an unbelievable memory, and a job offer. It turns out monsters are real. All the things from myth, legend and B-movies are out there, waiting in the shadows. Officially secret, some of them are evil, and some are just hungry. On the other side are the people who kill monsters for a living. Monster Hunter International is the premier eradication company in the business. And now Owen is their newest recruit. Business is good…” (MONSTER HUNTER INTERNATIONAL, by Larry Correia)

Three writers, three publishers–but do you see the similarities? Dare I say it, the formula? Break it down into its parts and blurbs are easy as can be.

* Who is the main character, and what is going on in his/her life when the story starts?
* What is the Big Problem?
* What are the biggest obstacles the main character has to face?
* What is at stake?

Check your own bookshelf and I’ll bet 90% of back cover blurbs you read will follow this formula.Since they’re on your bookshelf, they enticed you to buy the book, right?

Some tips to make your blurb shine:

  • Forget weasely word intros (This is a luscious coming-of-age story…blah blah blah) Jump right into the story and tell us who to root for.
  • Be specific. Strong nouns. Punchy verbs. Chill on the adverbs and adjectives. State your case in no uncertain terms.
  • Match the tone. If your story is humorous, be funny. If it’s scary, go for menacing. If it’s romantic, set the scene.
  • Think gossip. Think movie teasers. Think those little descriptors when you hit INFO on the television. Tease, entice, excite. You know best what makes your story worth reading. Tell the world.

12 thoughts on “The Formula for a Novel Blurb

  1. Pingback: Don’t Let Aunt Edna Write Your Book Description | J W Manus

    • Marketing copy certainly does (have a formula, that is).

      I’ve been skipping around Amazon, reading book descriptions, seeing which ones work, which don’t. What I’ve noticed is that white space makes more difference than word count. Several long descriptions I read would have worked much better if the writer had just taken a breath (so to speak) and broken the description into paragraphs. A huge block of dense text made the description look like *work* to read.

  2. Heh, Marylin. We’ll dish on Thursday about Aunt Edna’s secret identity. You might be on to something there re including her in all the blog posts.

  3. Pingback: The book blurb | The Many Worlds of Char….

  4. Pingback: Who’s Your Competition, Indie Writers? | J W Manus

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