Celebrating Peace

07/24/2021 – Eleri Grace

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Setting The Hook: Book Blurbing for the Reluctant Author

By Carolan Ivey, “The Blurb Wizard”

My book blurbing career started one summer night over Hurricane cocktails in the French Quarter of New Orleans. But that’s a story for another day. Er, what I remember of it, anyway…

I’ve written a little bit of everything: hard news, short stories, technical documentation, how-to software guides, and advertising/marketing copy. What do all these disparate jobs have in common? The ability to distill complex ideas into appealing, accessible chunks of information.

 Are authors good at writing blurbs for their books? In general, the answer is a resounding “no”. They hate doing them even more than they hate writing a synopsis, and trust me, they hate synopses with the hatred of a thousand spitting camels.

Authors are too close to the work to see the forest for the trees, so to speak. An objective eye is needed to tease out the essential diamonds that make it sparkle – and sell that book to a potential reader.

That’s what I do, essentially. I sell books. It’s my job to make readers smash the “Buy” button in 150 words or less. Or at the very least, read the free sample. I figure if I get readers that far, it’s a win and the rest is up to you, the author, to make that reader want more.


Having written blurbs for over a decade, I’ve seen a few changes in the way books are blurbed. The No. 1 question I get about my job, though, has remained essentially the same.

Do you need to read the whole book to write a blurb?

Fortunately, no. With a decently detailed synopsis or outline, and the first few chapters, I’m good to go. As my freelance workload has increased, I do require some kind of outline along with manuscript submissions. And with the increasing number of books selling on proposal, I sometimes work from a synopsis alone.

 Should authors use their back-cover blurb for other situations?

Blurbs definitely have to multi-task. It’s a good idea to have several versions ready to shoot out at a moment’s notice when a marketing opportunity arises. Different web sites have different requirements in terms of word count or even character count limits. And you never know when you’re going to need a one-sentence plug for the classic “elevator speech”. When I write a blurb, I always include four versions: the main, 150-175-word version, and shorter versions of 100, 50, and 25 words.

 Has the length changed?

Most definitely. When I first started writing blurbs for Samhain Publishing over a decade ago, the word count was 200-250 words. Over time that word count has shrunk to 150-175 words. Readers’ attention spans are short, and getting shorter. It’s critical to hook their attention right away, or they literally wander off – and they may not even be aware of why they’ve lost interest.

Also, a “tagline” used to mean about 25-30 words. Now, it’s 10-12. My “ruler” is my document page – the tagline has to fit on one line on a standard page, one-inch margins, 12pt TNR font.

How do you decide how to focus the blurb?

I write blurbs mainly for the romance genre, so I’ll use romance as the example. A blurb boils down to answering three questions:

 ·        What does Main Character 1 want?

·        What does Main Character 2 want?

·        What’s the main conflict? (Without spoilers!)

 That’s it. Everything else – the setting, the time period, secondary characters – is decoration. The seasoning that whets the reader’s appetite. I don’t include secondary characters unless they’re essential to the main conflict – like the heroine’s sister or best friend is missing or plays matchmaker. At any rate, secondary characters are rarely called by name – more names just muddy up the blurb and confuse readers. The only time I break this pattern is for books involving polyamory, reverse harem, or books written entirely from one character’s POV.

Is it better to start out with the heroine or hero in a romance blurb?

In general, I follow the book. If MC1 leads off, they lead off in the blurb. (I write for the LGBTQ+ market, as well, so a book may involve same-sex or queer couples.) However, if the book is part of a series that centers on, say, a group of male friends, I’ll lead off each of those blurbs with those characters regardless who shows up first in the book.

First-person or third-person?

Again, it depends. Some authors want their blurbs in third-person, even if their book is written in first-person. My preference is to follow the book – if it’s written in first-person, the blurb is first-person. The reason for this is some readers dislike first-person books, and they’re likely to leave a bad review if they feel like they’ve been misled.

What is another trend you're seeing in book blurbs for 2021?

The main trend continues toward shorter and ever shorter blurbs. Also, I’m seeing a change in style. The majority are still in short paragraph form, but I’m seeing a growing trend for “lists”, or a series of short, punchy sentences and half-sentences. I think this works best for dark, gritty stories. For more romantic, emotional stories, I still like the short-paragraph style for its descriptive qualities.

I hope you found this little tour inside a blurb wizard’s brain helpful! Many thanks to Sarah and Judith for having me, and to everyone who sent in questions.


Carolan Ivey, “The Blurb Wizard”, is an award-winning author of paranormal and fantasy romance, has written more than 5,000 book blurbs since 2007. She can be found on Facebook, at www.carolanivey.com, and https://theblurbwizard.wordpress.com/.





Paty Jager said...

Thank you for the info on blurbs. I tend to write my own then get other authors opinions and work from there. But I know several people who write blurbs for others. And I agree, there has to be several lengths to use for different situations. The short ones I use in my advertising. Thanks for being here!

Judith Ashley said...

I'm in the "oh no! I need a blurb?!" brain freeze camp. Finding a concise way to entice readers is something I struggle with. Your informative post has helped lessen the "oh no" brain freeze.

Carolan Ivey said...

Happy to help! When I worked with Samhain Publishing, every author was required to provide a synopsis and a first draft of SOME KIND of blurb. Some (like K.J. Charles) were very good at it and needed only a tweak here and there, and a proofread. Most, though, were word salad. :)

Still, I think it takes an objective eye and someone with experience writing catchy marketing copy to make a blurb "pop". Nine times out of ten, I draw that "pop" right out of the author's own manuscript. All I do it knit the bits together in a way that flows and draws the reader in.

Judith Ashley said...

And that, Carolan, is your gift! If you could bottle and sell that gift, you'd make a fortune!

Lynn Lovegreen said...

I'm one of those authors who has trouble with blurbs. Thanks for your informative post!

Renee Wildes said...

You've done all my blurbs LOL NOT my strong suit Love your work! :)

Carolan Ivey said...

Aw, thanks! ♥️

Carolan Ivey said...

You’re welcome!

Carolan Ivey said...

Thanks, darlin’. You’re a pleasure to work with!

Carolan Ivey said...

Having fresh eyes look at it always helps! When I was new at it and feeling my way, I would do 2 or 3 versions and have readers vote on which version “sold” that book for them.

Judith Ashley said...

Carolan, that's a great idea if one has a Street Team or Super Fan group. Of course they already like your books but I still think their input would be helpful, especially for those of us who can't separate the forest from the trees or vice versa.

Jody W. and Meankitty said...

Great interview and tips! I also recently took a class on SEO for authors that has had me looking over my blurbs and thinking about keywords and phrases....

Genene Valleau, writing as Genie Gabriel said...

As Paty Jager said, great information in this post. On my list of things to do is analyzing and rewriting the blurbs for all my books. I've been stalling because I've built it up to be an onerous task and just wasn't sure how to do it. Your tips have given me guidelines of how to get this done. Thank you so much!

Sarah Raplee said...

Thank you for Guesting with us, Carolan! I learned so much from your post. You have a special talent as The Blurb Wizard. I enjoyed learning more about blurbs and about your business.

Maggie Lynch said...

It's been a long time since I've seen a good post on blurbs. This was excellent. It's also been a long time since I've seen a blurb writer still in business.

One of the things I've struggle with is the difference in tone depending on genre. For example, I think a blurb for contemporary romance is written different from a blurb for women's fiction--even if the women's fiction book has a romance as a critical part of the plot.

The problem is, I haven't quite been able to analyze those differences very well. I think the "romance" blurb focuses on the romance whereas the WF blurb focuses on the character arc. But there is a lot of cross-over as well. For now, I'm polling readers as to which blurb would get them to buy. :)

Carolan Ivey said...

Maggie Lynch: I definitely have to have a different touch for different genres and sub-genres. I take my cues from the manuscript itself - is it lushly romantic? Is it snarky? Is it period-specific drama? Is there a lot of techno-speak or jargon? Is it intensely erotic? That last one I have to be careful with, because if the wrong keywords are used, Amazon will flag the book and send it to algorithm limbo, which means it won't come up in commonly used searches.

Sarah Raplee: I've been called on to do many blurb "refreshes". SEO keywording has become a big part of what I do, as well. Punching up a blurb can be easier once you've stepped away from the book for a while and come back to it with fresh eyes.