by Julianne Q. Johnson
Right. I must say, that is perhaps the worst blurb I’ve ever written in my life. I’ve done it in paragraphs and highlighted a common blurb faux pas in each one, so let’s take them in order.
Paragraph 1-Too much world-building.
The easiest way to lose your potential reader is to bore them to tears with far too much world-building. Yes, if your book is set in a dystopian world, or on a spaceship, or in a rabid wombat habitat, you have to let your readers know. This should not take more than a sentence or two and you get bonus points for combining that bit of world-building with something that tells the reader a little bit about your main character. Sentence after sentence of world-building has no place in a blurb. It’s boring and you will lose your readers.
Paragraph 2-Too many characters.
Oh my goodness, could I have added any more character names to that paragraph? Let’s count them up, shall we? Good golly, there’s eight of them. Even if you don’t shove them all into the same paragraph, too many characters take time away from your main character. Your top job in writing a blurb is to tell your readers why they want to read an entire book about your MC. You absolutely cannot do this if you have an entire cast of characters in your blurb. Each added name actually make’s your blurb less interesting. The meat of your blurb should be about your MC and you could add another character to that, two at most. More than that will confuse and bore your reader.
Also in this paragraph, too many details. A few details are a good thing and can make your blurb more interesting. Too many details will do the opposite. I don’t need to say it’s a tiny apartment, and that it’s in a skyscraper, and that it’s in the city. You wouldn’t expect a skyscraper to be out in the woods, nor would you think a tiny apartment was a one family dwelling. To be honest, it isn’t important where the family lives at all, that’s just useless and boring information. I also go on and on about Marj not having food when one small mention is enough. Your readers are not stupid, you don’t have to spoon-feed them every detail.
There’s also a cliché that I slipped in there.
Paragraph 3-Too many clichés.
This is my favorite paragraph. I tried to stuff as many clichés into the short paragraph as I could. Clichés give a writer a false sense of excitement where their blurb is concerned. Instead of looking for engaging language that is specific to their book, they jot down an overused cliché thinking that it makes the blurb more exciting and gives the reader more information than it actually does. Clichés do not add excitement, they are old hat for a reason. (See what I did there?) Look through your blurb and kill clichés with fire. Find your own engaging language, which is pertinent to your particular story, and leave the clichés in the trash where they belong.
Paragraph 4-Too many questions.
In a blurb, a single question can be a quite effective means of grabbing the reader’s attention. For each additional question you add, this effect is greatly diminished. Personally, I try to avoid questions in blurbs altogether. I try to keep my blurbs short, engaging, and tight. I can’t do that if I throw questions into the mix. An engaging and interesting blurb will cause the reader to ask their own questions. Once again, you don’t have to spoon-feed them. Let the meat of your story speak for itself.
In addition to having too many questions, this paragraph of the blurb revisits the arena of too much information. The last thing you want to end your blurb with is a load of world-building.
There’s also the dreaded plea for readers, complete with exclamation mark. No.
So, you seem to ask, what should I put in my blurb?
There’s a simple formula of questions a writer should ask themselves when writing a blurb. Keep in mind that the answers to these questions need to be written in a logical order while using language which engages the reader.
Who is the MC?
What does the MC want?
What stands in the MC’s way?
What will happen if the MC fails to get what they want?
These questions are a tried and true method of getting to the meat of your story without a ton of unnecessary and boring details. To illustrate this method, here is the actual blurb I wrote for Crucible Station. Is it the awesomeness blurb ever blurbed? No, I’m sure it isn’t. But it’s not bad and I have already had some readers say that this blurb makes them want to read the rest of the story. That’s the blurb’s job. The only job a blurb has is to get readers to want to read the rest of the story.
Life in New Liberty is tough, but it’s the only life Marjoram has ever known. At fourteen, she lives with her parents and wears a breathing mask to survive the polluted city streets on the way to school. Crucible Station offers a better life to any citizen smart enough to receive an invitation, but Marj won’t leave her family. When she is thrown into a detestable government home because her family can’t feed her, Crucible Station is the only way out–if she is clever enough to pass The Trials.
That’s it. Short and sweet. The only characters are Marj and her family. The blurb centers around Marj at all times. We learn a little about the world of Crucible Station by seeing how it affects my main character. Every sentence in this blurb is about Marj. It isn’t about the world, the city, the hardship, or even Crucible Station. It is from the point of view of the main character, but not in first person.
My biggest critique of my own blurb is that the stakes (what does the MC want?) Are a little wishy-washy. The primary stakes are that Marj wants a better life. Her secondary stakes are that she doesn’t want to leave her family, but she has to do so in order to improve her life. It’s difficult to manage a blurb for sci-fi dystopian story in five hundred characters or less so that it can be used for Kindle Scout. Considering that five hundred character limit, I think I did a good job.
In fact, I think this is a great way to get to the meat of your blurb and simplify it. Write your blurb and then cut it down so that it is five hundred characters or less. It is a very effective way to discover what is actually important in your blurb. Once it’s cut, you can carefully add back anything that you feel truly adds interest and clarity.
Guest post contributed by Julianne Johnson. Julianne has 3 cats, 4 ferrets, 1 goldfish, and one fiancé. She has been writing all her life and has written several books. Her blog is a place for her to share her writing and her love of taking pictures.
I am so thankful for your post. It’s really hard to find good information on blurb writing, and this has been a real stumbling point for me in moving ahead with my goal of getting published. Thanks so much for your clear, concise information!
Good breakdown – those 4 questions. Writing blurbs is my biggest challenge.
I’m just going through this process right now. Blurb writing is terrible. Thanks for the post!
I just went through this–the novel didn’t take as long to write! Thanks for this article. I shared it on my blog.
Blurb writing almost seems harder than writing the novel. It may be less work, but it has to be precise and grab the reader’s attention.
Reblogged this on Kim's Musings.
This is so helpful, thank you! I’m honestly finding this part to be harder than writing my book.
Do you have any suggestions for a novel that has a handful of main characters? My own book is based around multiple perspectives, which makes it hard to describe.
Blurbs and titles are my two worst items…this is great advice!
Good stuff as always. Thanks!!!!