Blurb me, baby!

I’ve been told I have some facility with writing blurbs.  However, since mine tend to run long, perhaps I can only help others.  You can judge for yourself by clicking on the titles on the left-hand side of my home page.

When I’ve helped people with their blurbs and synopsis, what I’ve found that seems to work the best is for them to get angry.  Yup, get pissed.  I’ve back-and-forthed with a couple of authors, trying to help them, and they get more and more frustrated because I don’t ‘get it.’  Finally, they’ll rattle off a series of one or two sentence bullet points summarizing their story.  Guess what?  That summary is exactly what needs to be in the blurb and synopsis!

By the by, though there are huge overlaps, there is a distinct difference between a blurb and a synopsis.  The blurb is the teaser that goes on the back of the book, that’s supposed to incentivize the reader to purchase the book.  The synopsis is to tell the agent/publisher/bookseller what the story is about, so they can judge if yours is new/interesting/different enough to want to represent/carry.  Blurbs NEVER contain ending spoilers, synopses (the plural of synopsis, according to via Google) ALWAYS contain spoilers.  Snyopses tend to run longer than blurbs, but there can be a lot of variety, as it depends on the audience.  Blurbs generally should run 100-150 words and this really is a case where less is more.  Synopses are expected to run between 500-800 words.

The concepts behind writing your blurb and synopsis are the same, just blurbs get fewer words and don’t spoil the ending, while synopses get more words and spoil the ending.  You can use the exact same mental process.

You need to introduce your main character, but if you have more than one it can get tricky as too many characters will confuse readers.

You need to outline the stakes.  What’s motivating the character to accomplish great things.  Their main goal.

Finally, you need to list the obstacles keeping the character from achieving that goal.

Simple, eh?  Of course not. You’ve lovingly devoted months, if not years, to your epic story, how can you possibly trim all that beauty down to a few sentences, yet still be interesting, entertaining and unique?  This is why I now write backwards.  Here, I’m assuming you’ve already written your novel and are stuck with trying to create an engaging blurb and synopsis.

This is why I advocate the ‘get angry’ method of blurb writing.  Very quickly, as if communicating with dense old me who simply is not getting your story, list out 4-6 bullet points of why your story is unique, what sets it apart from all the others and why readers should pick yours.  Surely you had these reasons floating around in your head when you started writing.  I’m positive you didn’t sit down with the idea of writing a clone of some story you’ve already read.  You wanted yours to be different somehow.  That’s what I’m looking for.

These bullet points should be your starting point.  You still need to introduce your character.  Not their backstory!  You don’t even need to supply their last name, sex or age, but they need a handle.  Don’t clutter your blurb with other names unless they’re critical to the story, and never name a character mentioned only once.  Use function names.  For example, the wicked witch of the West doesn’t need a name unless she shows up more than once (in the blurb or synopsis, of course).

Never do an info dump in your blurb or synopsis.  Exactly like writing your novel, only supply information when it’s necessary to move the plot forward.  And not a moment sooner.  Trust your readers. Trust that they care enough to remember something is missing.

Get those stakes in there, we need to know why the character is in the story.  Then put in the obstacles.  If it’s effortless for the character to achieve their goals, then you pretty much don’t have any story.  How long does it take for someone to describe their idyllic vacation, where all the food was great, no mosquitoes, their significant others got along, etc.?  About twenty seconds, right?  But those nightmare vacations, those are the ones people want to hear about.  The worst to experience have the best stories, right?  If your character’s experiences were like the idyllic vacation, you might not have a novel anyone will want to read.

Once you have all that raw material, now comes the ‘fun’ part: condensing it to 100-150 words.  Don’t obsess with getting it under 150 words, but if you have 350+ you have too much.  Each word needs to convey excitement to the reader, there can be nothing extraneous.  If brevity is not your strong suit, then you might want to ask for help, once you’ve got all the critical information from the above exercises.  Goodreads has a place; I’m sure there are others on the ‘net.

What about the synopsis, you ask.  Well, you use the exact same raw material, but you spoil the ending.  A good synopsis will engage the reader (generally the agent and/or publisher and sometimes the bookseller if you make it that far through the process), but they understand those are difficult to write.  They’ll give you a little slack. But you get no slack for your blurb.  Sure, word of mouth is great, and if you’re lucky enough to get that, you’re off to the races. But in the beginning, you have to convince people with your blurb.  When you’re looking at books, how long to you give each one?  Ten seconds?  Five?  Your blurb has to grab the reader that fast and keep them interested enough to want to read the rest, which has to be interesting enough to make them want to take it home.  If you can write your synopsis the same way, then you’re grabbing the agent/publisher (bookseller) the same way as you would the actual reader.

Having said all that, screening out readers who won’t like your story is just as important as teasing the interested ones.  I learned that the hard way with my first.  I mistakenly thought of it as a romance (yes, it is a love story, but it violates more romance tropes than it satisfies) and wrote the blurb to attract those readers.  Boy did I have some pissed off readers!  Fortunately, these were beta readers, not paying customers, so no one star reviews reviling my story.

If you go with my ‘get angry’ process, you should have all the necessary raw material for a compelling blurb and synopsis.  Polish to perfection.  If you find you’ve got too many words, ask for some help.  Sometimes we fall so in love with our prose we can’t see how little information we’re conveying.  Blurbs and synopses are a true case where less is more.

A note on white space.  I’ve read in many places, and noted it myself reading other people’s blurbs, that long paragraphs are hard to read.  For your blurb in particular, you want your paragraphs to be no more than 2-3 sentences, 4 at the most.  And short punchy sentences!  The additional whitespace lets the reader digest smaller bits at a time and lets them read more, since they’re only committing to a couple more sentences.  The more they read, the more likely they are to buy the book.  Make it as easy as possible for them to read by having short, interesting, informative sentences.

Good luck!  Don’t despair if you struggle; I spent more time on my blurb than I did on my first draft.

Author: mitusents

Biochemist, MBA, then programmer. Now novelist, screenplay writer and hopefully director. What a strange trip it's been.

2 thoughts on “Blurb me, baby!”

Comments are closed.