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.
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.
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.
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 2 want?
· What’s the main conflict? (Without spoilers!)
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 , and .