Get a Blurb
Blurb always sounds to me like an onomatopoeia. This is a word that should mean something like the last sound you make as you are drowning, as the bubble of air leaves your lungs and breaks to the surface… blurb. Instead, it’s not that bad but it feels that way. I can’t count how many times I have been told by my fellow authors that creating a blurb is so much worse than writing the whole darn book (coming up with a title seems to run neck and neck with this). However, a blurb is essential to a successful book. We’ve written up blurb workshops here at the MGC before, you can find one here. There’s another one here.
A blurb for an ebook goes onto the sales page for the book (and many other places). On a print book, it either goes on the back of a paperback (whether trade or mass-market sized) or the inside flap of a hardback. Since I’m dealing with trade paperbacks in this post, we will concentrate on the back cover blurbs, but there is no real difference from the hardback book requirements. A blurb is your second chance to hook a reader. The first was with the cover art, which for my purposes includes the first text they read, the title. In fact, if we are talking about shoppers in a bookstore, sometimes the title matters more than the cover art as it’s the first thing they see. Remember, spines are important too, as we discussed last week. So once you have intrigued them with the title, attracted them with the art, now is the time to sell the book.
No pressure. You have about, oh, 50-150 words to pitch your whole idea that took you a thousand times that many words to express in full.
I’d suggest you go look at the links above, and remember: no passive voice here. Also, you can put your blurb-in-progress in the comments, and I will try to help, as will your fellow commentors (gives them the mom-eye, you will share, right? Ahem…)
Now that you are working on the blurb, let’s move on to the rest of the layout of a back cover.
As you will see on the back cover for Dragon Noir, I have a tagline, a blurb, pull-quotes from reviews, an author photo, a call to visit my blog, a graphic element, and a QR code. I know, that is a lot of stuff going on in a small amount of real estate. All that, and you will note I avoid the barcode location, which is inserted by the printer, not you.
A tagline is a short, catchy sentence or sentence fragment you can use to catch the reader’s eye and pull them into reading the rest of the blurb. Think of it as a headline for your blurb. Writing headlines is an art unto itself, but if you have ever done it, then you are all set for this. If you haven’t, take heart. Headlines need to be punchy, but also say something about the content. Look at the headlines I used for this mini-series. Get a Spine, Get a Blurb: they both play off “get a life” but they don’t say that, and when a reader sees something unexpected, they look further. You want to keep this short.
Pull-quotes from reviewers is tricky if you haven’t got any. In my case, I’m using pull-quotes from the release of Pixie Noir, the first book in the series, and making it clear next to them. I sent Pixie Noir out to a number of places and people for review, but in general you don’t do this with every book in the series and it’s acceptable to carry the quotes through the series. Don’t, for goodness sakes, use Amazon reviews on the book cover for pull-quotes. I took some photos of back covers, and as you will see, some books later in a series, or non-fiction, eschew a blurb altogether in favor of pull-quotes.
I wouldn’t recommend this approach. Hardcovers as I illustrate above, have the inner flaps, where convention places the blurb at the front, and a short author bio at the back. We’re only working with the back cover to get all that in.
If you leave the back cover blank, not only are you wasting all that lovely real-estate that could be promoting your book, you are making it look like it’s not a sale-ready copy. The black cover you see above is an uncorrected page proof that was sent to advance readers. I picked it up in a used book store along with several others like it – someone was cleaning their shelves off, and I made out! I wanted to show you the back of Pixie Noir, because I did a couple of things here. I used the graphic elements of the two guns to visually separate the blurb from the pull quotes. They also create a bit of negative space that reduces clutter and eyestrain. You do not want to pack your back cover full of stuff, the readers will go cross-eyed and put the book back down. I also put each quote in a different color to separate them, but this is not necessary, and can go very wrong if not done right.
Moving on to the final but very important elements: Author promo.
You do not have to put a photo of yourself on the book. There is no rule that says you must. However, if you do, then choose a professional headshot, well lit and with good contrasts, or a crisp photo as I have chosen above, with a little action in it. I will be changing this out on the next book, but I wanted it to be consistent through the series. Do not use a cell-phone shot, something that is blurry, dark, or full-length. Just your face is usually best (again, the one I’m using pushes that). You are talking about an image that will be a mere 1 1/2″tall. Do not use a photo of a pet, unless this is a book about your pet (or by your pet!) and then, if you do, same rules apply. If you don’t have a good photo, leave it off.
I don’t think you can read the text for my author promo, but it simply reads: “Find Cedar at her blog. Scan the code or go to http://www.cedarwrites.com” A QR code, that square futuristic-looking thing, is a very handy tool. You can generate them for free and very easily. I’ve been using QRStuff for mine recently – and make sure you check the graphic file, I was using another site and discovered it wasn’t rendering correctly. All you do is type in a URL and download the graphic file. Then your reader can scan with a smartphone app, which zooms them right to your website, Amazon Author page, or what-have-you (I use one on promotional material like bookmarks and postcards as well, and sometimes send the scanner code straight to a book for reading sample and buying).
Whew. Long post today! Ok, questions and blurbs in the comments, and I will talk to you all there.