Posted On November 23, 2011 by Print This Post

5 Tips for Writing a Compelling Book Blurb by Amy Wilkins

I met Amy Wilkins, Assistant Manager of Digital Content and Social Media at Harlequin,  at RWA Nationals in NYC at the Harlequin Pajama party wearing my cool “Nick & Nora” Elephant PJ’s and right before we glimpsed the naked Lion King Guy (that is a story for another day).  Amy was full of energy, fun to talk to, and clearly loved her job.  She was also incredibly knowledgeable about publishing and the new frontier for authors in regard to social media. Before we said goodbye, I took her card and asked her to blog here with us at RU. I am so glad I did!

5 tips to write a book blurb

Thanks to Robin and Romance University for inviting me to guest-blog today!

I’m not an author, but part of my job at Harlequin does involve writing copy—back cover copy, that is! I write on average eight BCBs per month for Harlequin’s ebook exclusives (including Spice Briefs and Harlequin Historical Undone) and Carina Press.

Being able to write a good blurb for your book is an important skill to have, whether it’s for your website, a query to an editor or agent, or for your self-publishing book. But it can also be challenging—it’s completely different than writing a book or synopsis. So here are my five tips for writing compelling copy to grab any reader’s attention:

1) Hook the reader with your protagonist or world.

I usually start a blurb by asking myself what the reader has to know right away that will hook them. For me, that’s usually presenting an interesting protagonist and/or their quest that they will want to know more about. E.g.:

- “When Delia Forrest talks to statues, they talk back.” – Stone Kissed
- “There is nothing Aleron Pitre can’t steal, nobody he can’t con and no situation he can’t slip out of—until he’s sent to the prison planet Tantoret, where every sentence is death.” – Outcast Mine

Other times it’s more important to set the scene by establishing the world of your story, especially if it’s set somewhere unusual. For example, for the steampunk novella Steam Heat, I started with an opening paragraph about the world so readers would know right away they aren’t in Kansas anymore:

“In a world of speed steamers, poisoned air and soulless paranormal beings, two people hold the fate of millions in their hands—and their bodies….”

2) Shoutlines: yes or no?

Shoutlines are that bit of bolded text at the start of a blurb or between paragraphs that grab the reader’s attention and entice them to read on. Good shoutlines are unique, short, and convey at least one hook to the story; unsuccessful shoutlines are tired clichés, too long or don’t add anything of value. Some shoutlines I like are:

- “It wasn’t that she wanted to live forever. She just didn’t want to die.” – Stealing Time (hook—heroine is dying, how will that be resolved?)
- “’Which sexual fantasy is your ultimate turn-on?’” – Her Fantasy (tells right away it’s a hot book!)
- “Their First Christmas, Bound Together…” — Believe (conveys the popular holiday theme, but also hints that this is a BDSM romance)

Some things to ask yourself about adding a shoutline: Do I really need this? What does this shoutline add that the reader won’t get in the rest of the blurb? Is it a cliché (e.g. “Second Chance at Love”)?

 

3) Perform plot triage.

One question when it comes to writing book blurbs is how much plot to include. When you really a love a book, it’s tempting to mention every plot point and character, and it can be difficult to determine what the reader really needs to know. But including too many plot details can bore your reader or confuse them about what the book is about. I recently read a blurb that had too much about the heroine’s horrible boss…and it made me think he was the hero! It was a turn off until the actual hero was mentioned in paragraph three, but I could have already stopped reading and moved on….

Some questions to ask yourself to avoid putting in too much plot: Does your reader really need to know that (and be harsh)? Could it be considered a spoiler? Are you telling the whole plot, including how the conflict will resolved?

So I don’t go overboard on plot details, I pick a spot in the book, usually a quarter or a third of the way in, and don’t include anything that happens after that point. That’s usually enough to set up the overall story, without giving everything away. I consider anything within the first quarter a spoiler-safe zone.

For a romance specifically, the focus should always be on the hero and heroine, and their relationship. If a plot detail doesn’t directly contribute to the progress of their relationship, consider cutting it from the blurb.

4) Use the manuscript.

Sometimes authors’ own words are the best tool to sell a book. Using lines from the manuscript gives readers a sense of what the book is like by showcasing the author’s voice. For this reason, I always read at least the first 15 pages of a book and highlight passages of the manuscript that I might use.

For example, here’s the opening paragraph for The Hollow House by Janis Patterson:

“I decided to use the name Geraldine Brunton. It’s not the name I was born with, nor the name I married, but it will hide who I really am…and what I have done.”

That is almost straight from the book, with some tightening. It’s perfect for copy because it sets up so much: the protagonist’s name, the fact that she’s under disguise, and she’s done something in her past she has to run from. It also conveys the voice and the fact that the book is written first person.

If you’re not writing your own book blurb, one thing you can do to help the copywriter is to provide a well-written, accurate synopsis—it’s invaluable for the copywriter and you may just see your own words in the finished copy.

5) End with conflict.

Always leave the reader—or agent, or acquiring editor—wanting more. The last line should leave them dying to read the book to learn how the story ends, and the best way to do this is by beefing up the conflict in your final line. When we read a great blurb out at Carina Press meetings, they often end with the team saying “dun dun duuuunnnnn!” because it closes on conflict and drama. Your reader should wonder “How on earth are they going to solve that?”

There are few different ways to hook your readers:

- End with a question (“What will Adam do when he discovers Florentina’s deception?” – A Scandalous Proposition)
- Hint at future danger (“When their investigation leads them to a city hall conspiracy, both their lives and their newly reignited flame could be permanently extinguished…” – Risking Trust)
- Remind them what’s keeping the h/h apart (“But amidst rival reporters, eager fanboys and overzealous role-players, it’s Emma’s secret that may put the brakes on their sizzling attraction for good…” –Defying Convention)

Resist the urge to hint at how things will work out—editors and agents will find that out in the synopses and readers will find out by reading the book!

***

So, do you have any questions for Amy about writing the book blurb or other types of copy?  Questions about her job at Harlequin? Maybe a little curious about the social media aspect of her job? Let ‘em rip!

On Friday, Theresa Stevens talks about understanding heroes.

***

Bio:

Amy Wilkins is Assistant Manager, Digital Content and Social Media, in Harlequin’s Digital & Internet department, where she’s worked since 2008. She manages Harlequin’s ebook program as well as a number of social media properties, and is a member of the acquisition team for Carina Press, Harlequin’s digital-only imprint. You can follow Amy on Twitter @amywilkins or on Tumblr at http://amy-wilkins.tumblr.com.

Similar Posts:

Share Button

Craft of Writing

Discussion

37 Responses to “5 Tips for Writing a Compelling Book Blurb by Amy Wilkins”

  1. Amy – Thanks for being with us today. The tips are right on the money.

    What do you think is the biggest mistake people make with a book blurb? What is your process for figuring out the best way to showcase a book blurb. Does it take several drafts?

    Robin

    Posted by Robin Covington | November 23, 2011, 5:31 am
  2. Thank you for the tips. I’m still new when it comes to writing a blurb and reading your post was a big help.

    Posted by Mercy | November 23, 2011, 6:11 am
  3. Hi Amy,

    Love, love, love this post!! Recently, I had to develop a blurb for a contracted book that I have yet to write. I’m still weeding my way through the publishing process, but I think my publisher was going to use it for the Fall 2012 schedule launch meeting.

    Will it be a problem if the book changes from the original blurb I sent in? I assume there’s some wiggle room??? :)

    Thanks!
    Tracey

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | November 23, 2011, 6:24 am
  4. Welcome, Amy! So exciting to have you hanging out with us today.

    For me, seeing the cover blurb for one of my books is almost as exciting as seeing the cover. I’m always amazed at how the blurb writers are able weave in all those important details in such limited space.

    I just put a blurb on my website for book 4 in my series, so I’ll have to print this post and have another go at it.

    Thanks for mentioning Risking Trust. I do love that line!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | November 23, 2011, 7:09 am
  5. Morning Amy!

    Thanks for being here with us today – great points, all of them!

    Do you read the books that you blurb? Or is a portion of a book enough to help you find the direction you want to go?

    =)

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | November 23, 2011, 8:13 am
  6. Hi Amy – Thanks so much for joining us today. While I rarely buy a book for the cover (never say never…), I frequently buy books and ebooks because I was hooked by the blurb.

    I’m thrilled to see STONE KISSED mentioned here! Keri Stevens is one of my fabulous critique partners, and I was privileged to read that book in its early form. I’ve loved it ever since! I’m eagerly awaiting her next book.

    Thanks for the great suggestions. Your tips apply equally well to query letters!

    Robin – I love those Nick & Nora fabrics! (Love the Nick & Nora Charles “Thin Man” movies, too…)

    Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | November 23, 2011, 8:29 am
  7. Hi Amy,

    I went with dialogue for my book blurb. Movie trailers are a good source for book blurbs. The last Harry Potter movie had great scenes and gave away nothing.

    Happy Turkey Day Eve,

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | November 23, 2011, 9:01 am
  8. Thanks for the warm welcome, everyone!

    @Robin – Probably the biggest mistake is making a blurb meant to be seen by readers sound too much like a synopsis: “This happened. And then this happened. And then this happened.” That often happens when you try to cram too many plot points into a short blurb — and when we review copy for Carina Press as a team, stuff often get cut. Balancing plot and emotional points, and leaving enough mystery about plot twists or how things are resolved will help.

    @Tracey – The blurb is just for internal use, correct? Then your editor probably expects things to change, that happens with synopses for contracted but unwritten books all the time :)

    @Carrie – It depends on the book. For Carina Press, we usually write copy for the books we already read during the acquisition process. The Harlequin ebook exclusives are all short (around 15k words) so I read at least half and skim the rest just in case something majorly important happens that I need to allude to in some way (for example, some Spice Briefs don’t have an HEA, so I have to be careful not to make it sound too much like a traditional romance and mislead the reader). On the rare occasions I write copy for a long book I *haven’t* read, I read the first 15 pages or so, then read the synopsis to get the overall plot (and if anything isn’t quite right in the blurb, the rest of the Carina team, editor or author will flag when they review the copy).

    Posted by Amy Wilkins | November 23, 2011, 9:09 am
  9. Missed a question!

    @Robin – Usually a couple different drafts. Sometimes there’s a magical blurb that comes right away, others may take 3 or 4 drafts to get it right. One time I showed the Carina Press three blurbs for 1 book and let them choose which one they liked best because I was stuck badly.

    Posted by Amy Wilkins | November 23, 2011, 9:27 am
  10. Wow, Amy –really great examples. You made me add several new books to my teetering TBR pile :)

    Thanks!

    Posted by Rashda/Mina | November 23, 2011, 9:27 am
  11. This is great. I hate, hate, hate writing blurbs but this really helped take the intimidation factor down a few notches. Gracias!

    Posted by Avery Flynn | November 23, 2011, 9:30 am
  12. Hi Amy! Such helpful tips. Back cover copy can make or break a book/manuscript but they’re hard to write. Thanks for breaking it down like this. I hear you’re the go-to person there!

    ~Laurie

    Posted by Laurie London | November 23, 2011, 11:13 am
  13. Hi Amy!

    I have to ask, given your job, do you find yourself reading book blurbs and thinking of ways to improve them?

    Thanks for being with us! Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | November 23, 2011, 2:56 pm
  14. Hi Jennifer,
    Yes, yes I do :)
    ~Amy

    Posted by Amy Wilkins | November 23, 2011, 4:09 pm
  15. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

    Posted by Becke Martin/Davis | November 23, 2011, 5:32 pm
  16. Amy – Thanks so much for being with us here at RU!

    I hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving!

    Posted by Robin Covington | November 23, 2011, 6:13 pm
  17. Hi Amy

    Thanks for the tips on writing blurbs. They are very helpful and I’ve learnt a lot.

    I have just finished writing my first book, a biography, which is at the publishers right now. Work on the back cover will be being started before too long, so I found your tips at just the right time.

    Thanks again,

    Moragh

    Posted by Moragh Carter | August 10, 2012, 10:47 am
  18. Hi Amy,
    We are collage students from Turkey. We are about to write a blurb for a book as a project. this page helped us very much. Thank you very much.

    Posted by bahtiyar güzel | December 4, 2012, 3:17 pm
  19. Thank you so much, Amy. This was so helpful. I always struggle writing the back cover blurb or even a query letter. I will be bookmarking this post.
    Thank you.

    Posted by J.P. Grider | January 27, 2013, 5:06 pm
  20. Thank you for that information. I’m writing two for books I have coming out. That was very helpful. One is book II in a fantasy and one a contemporary. I never know when to stop so this was very helpful.
    Thank you, Cora Blu.

    Posted by Cora Blu | January 27, 2013, 5:36 pm
  21. Hello all,

    Anyone out there know how to get back cover reviews for nonfiction?
    I’ve written a book about teaching English, so an example of where I would submit the book for back cover reviews would be great!

    Thanks in advance.

    Posted by Dave Endrued | April 22, 2013, 1:02 am
  22. Hello Amy,
    I wanted to ask a question. You see, I’m trying to write a book that I’ve been working with for years now. I’m trying to figure out plot events and things, but I can’t find a way for the story to end. I want it to end on some sort of cliff hanger so people will be interested if I write a series. And, due to that, I can’t make up a blurb for it. Do you have any advice?

    Posted by Selena Aviles | July 17, 2013, 9:57 am
  23. This is an excellent post, thank you. Even though I only found it two years later :)

    Posted by Lily Byrne | July 28, 2013, 6:44 am
  24. I wrote an article on book blurbs with a very alternative view on the subject. You may find it interesting and, in a sense, complementing your own article:

    http://ideasforarevolutioneng.wordpress.com/2013/11/12/how-to-promote-your-self-published-book-unorthodox-advice-part-three/

    Posted by Pedro Barrento | November 19, 2013, 6:31 am
  25. Thank you for the great article. I just finished my debut thriller novel and have been fretting over writing the blurb to use when I e-publish. It’s so hard to condense a 400 page novel into a couple paragraphs. Thanks again.

    Posted by Michael | January 29, 2014, 1:51 pm
  26. Hi Amy,

    Do you think the blurb for a book written in first person should be written in the same?

    Posted by L. Brannon | February 22, 2014, 9:03 am

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] the blurbs by genres. Very interesting. Tips On Writing An Engaging Blurb: A three paragraph format 5 Tips For Writing A Compelling Book Blurb: at Romance University How To Write A Blurb: at Penguin [...]

  2. [...] 5 Tips For Writing a Compelling Book Blurb by Amy Wilkins [...]

  3. [...] http://romanceuniversity.org/2011/11/23/5-top-tips-for-writing-a-compelling-book-blurb-by-amy-wilkin… [...]

  4. […] 5 Tips for Writing a Compelling Book Blurb by Amy Wilkins | Romance University I usually start a blurb by asking myself what the reader has to know right away that will hook them. For me, that’s usually presenting an interesting protagonist and/or their quest that they will want to know more about. E.g.: – “When Delia Forrest talks to statues, they talk back.” – Stone Kissed – “There is nothing Aleron Pitre can’t steal, nobody he can’t con and no situation he can’t slip out of—until he’s sent to the prison planet Tantoret, where every sentence is death.”…. more […]

  5. […]  7. People do judge books by their blurbs and covers. Not only must a blurb be concise and absolutely error free, it must also make the reader NEED to read the book! Blurb writing is an art form must be taken seeriously. Amy Wilkins from Harlequin has wonderful advice for writing a top-notch blurb. […]

  6. […] http://romanceuniversity.org/2011/11/23/5-top-tips-for-writing-a-compelling-book-blurb-by-amy-wilkin… […]

  7. […] 5 Tips for Writing a Compelling Book Blurb by Amy Wilkins → Use shoutlines; use an excerpt from the manuscript; end with conflict. […]

  8. […] http://romanceuniversity.org/2011/11/23/5-top-tips-for-writing-a-compelling-book-blurb-by-amy-wilkin… […]

    Blurbs | Nina Kaytel - February 6, 2014
  9. […] 5 top tips for writing a compelling book blurb by amy wilkins […]

  10. […] 7. People do judge books by their blurbs and covers. Not only must a blurb be concise and absolutely error free, it must also make the reader NEED to read the book! Blurb writing is an art form must be taken seriously. Amy Wilkins from Harlequin has wonderful advice for writing a top-notch blurb. […]

  11. […] 5 Top Tips for Writing a Compelling Book Blurb, from Romance University (a Writer’s Digest top 101 website for writers) http://romanceuniversity.org/2011/11/23/5-top-tips-for-writing-a-compelling-book-blurb-by-amy-wilkin… […]

Post a comment

Upcoming Posts

  • Sep 4, 2014 Mistakes Made, Lessons Learned on the Path to Publication with Renita D'Silva
  • Sep 5, 2014 EMOTIONAL WRITING - Two Simple Words That Wield Great Power by Cindy Nord
  • Sep 6, 2014 Heart for Teacher - Reader Roundup with Amy Alessio

Subscribe

Writer's Digest: 2013 Best Writing Websites (2013) 100-BEST-WEBSITES-2014 Top 10 badge 2012

Follow Us