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Ad Copy Is Not Rocket Science (Blurb Workshop IV*)

I should know; I flunked out of rocket science as a major, but I manage to do okay at writing blurbs!

Consider the following a basic primer in blurb writing; I am no master or guru, but while all my author friends are putting out their 5th or 15th story, I am putting out my 35th blurb attached to it. And with enough practice, you can get skilled at something.

Now, I want to build a primer you can use to write your own blurbs. Not because I refuse to write more, but so you know how and can do them on your own, and don’t ever have to wait on me. Because waiting on me is usually a 3-month lag time, between health issues and everything else I have going on. (My husband and J L Curtis** cheat; they give me looks over the dinner table to guilt me into trying harder and making it a higher priority, even as they feed me tasty food.)

So, to start, what is a blurb? Blurb used to be synonymous with “pull quote”, as in “This book is the best thing since sliced bread! -Famous Author In Same Genre”, that would get slapped on the cover, and used in ads. Now they’re universally used to mean Ad Copy, or the one to three paragraphs that hook readers whose wandering attention was arrested by your cover image (or title), and they stopped long enough to pick up your book and flip it over / click on the amazon page and read the ad copy.
The blurb is the answer you give when someone asks “You wrote a book? What’s it about?” It is not the same as the elevator pitch, which is a creature specifically designed to attract the attention of a mind evaluating intellectual property for market potential. Elevator pitches, and loglines, function like the cover; they’re only designed to get the attention long enough to ask for the blurb.
But the blurb isn’t what the book’s about. It is not a synopsis or a book report. It’s an advertising function designed to get the reader to go “What happens next?” and to pick up the book and open it to find out.

1.) Blurbs shouldn’t go past the first 3 chapters, or for a short story, the first 30% of the book.
This is not a hard and fast rule, and if you have an ice monster prologue or an epic fantasy, the rules are different. However, you want the reader hooked into to find out what happens next; you don’t want them to slog for 16 chapters to find out what happens after the big reveal / dramatic plot point / character death that was in the blurb.

2. Blurbs will generally contain the following structure:
a.) A Character
b.) wants something
c.) But something opposes them.
d.) The stakes if they fail are: —-
e.) The first plot twist

If the first plot twist happens in the first chapter, you may hit the first pinch point or possibly the second try-fail cycle, because if the “What happens next?” is answered in the first 5 pages, it’s harder to keep the reader engaged. Not impossible, but the author does have to work harder.

3.) The first name mentioned in the blurb will be the protagonist. “In the house of Rlyeh, Cthulu lies dreaming until Captain Carter disturbs him while searching for lost treasure!” If the readers don’t know Cthulu, that makes Cthulu sound like the protagonist, and possibly hero. “After finding lost civilizations on six continents, Captain Carter is close to solving his biggest mystery yet: the location of the lost temple of R’lyeh! But dread Cthulu lies inside, dreaming…” Makes Captain Carter the protagonist.

4.) Therefore, the protagonist should be introduced right away, or right after the catchy intro. No matter how interesting your world, people won’t care until you give them a person to care about. This is one of the essential paradoxes of science fiction and fantasy: people are attracted to the genre for the setting and the ability to work out scenarios of “if this goes on”, but they stay and come back for the characters.
“After two hundred years at war, the Empire of Man has come to a stalemate with the Scourge. Each side is deadlocked, seeking some advantage, and sending teams to scour dead worlds in search of lost tech left behind by the forerunners. Blah blah setup setup infodump….” is not how to start a blurb.

instead, try “Captain James Carter of the Go Lightly is scouring the ruins of dead races in search of any lost technology that could turn the tide of interstellar war. When he contracts the virus that killed an entire race, Command orders him to become a suicide bio-bomber! Will one man’s search for survival put all humanity’s star systems at risk?”

5.) You must display agency on the protagonists’ part. Have the characters go places and do things, they don’t just have life happen while they’re there. Blurbs must reflect this agency – they must show your character going and doing and plotting. The shorthand for this is “Don’t use passive voice”, because nothing kills agency faster (and adds length) than putting the action verb on something other than the character. But it’s not solely grammar. “Bob had survived the war, and was hiding on the sidelines as conspiracies rose in the court to entangle him” is very passive. “After surviving the war, Bob is hiding out as a mere florist in the court’s staff. But when he uncovers a new conspiracy…” that has agency.

6.) If it’s mentioned in the blurb, the reader will assume it’s an Important Plot Point. Which is why we want to go light on specifics, and cliches become powerful if double-edged swords. “ancient relic” “evil empire” “plucky young hero” – you don’t want to flat-out state the trope name, because then people start groaning and rolling their eyes, but if you can use the resonance right, readers will bring a lot more to the blurb than you wrote on the page

7.) What are the 3-5 most important unique names involved? Use 3 of them. Because people’s attention wanders after 3-5 unfamiliar terms, depending on the reader (and frankly, the mood they’re in.) So, if you start with “Xaarath Fthagn of Marakis Prime is a gleeple of the Tuurathi”… you’ve already lost a chunk of readers.

Often it’s not that obvious, though. “Eric Friedman of the pirate ship Fortune has lived in the Reach between the Protectorate and the Confederacy his whole life until…” Is still an extremely steep learning curve for a casual browser looking for entertainment.

8.) Length – 300 characters is optimal. Why? Because you’re fighting for eyeballs, and shorter is better. Most ad companies want something short and punchy – indeed, banner ads descend to logline/elevator pitch territory. But email ads like BookBub, EBookSoda, etc. Usually ask for a 300-character blurb so they can stick it in their email to subscribers, and why do the work twice?
Also, Amazon will let you write a longer blurb, but if you notice, after so many characters, they stick a “read more” tag. You can reliably depend on losing 25% of your traffic with every click you make them do (the main reason Amazon poured millions into creating the one-click-buy button.) So shorter is better.

9.) Revision tip: when you think you have a good piece of ad copy, try reading it out loud, and then saying it like you’re answering the question “What’s it about?” from a favourably inclined stranger at a con.
You’ll probably find yourself hesitating before words, dropping them, changing phrases, possibly even skipping and combining entire sentences. This is normal and good. Write down the spoken version, and it’ll be smoother on the reading as well as the delivery.

Now, on to examples. Riffing on Sarah’s post on blurbs last year, these are all Cinderella variants. I warn you, they’re going to be rather rough, because composing a blurb usually takes me two to three days, and I needed to get this done by Saturday night for the post to go up. (Like newspapers, sometimes you don’t have to have it done perfectly, you have to have it done Saturday.)

Fantasy:

Ella’s sheltered world died with her father, leaving her a refugee on her step-mother’s estates. Now exiled to kitchen servitude to hide the reminder of the unpopular and doomed marriage alliance, she must dodge her increasingly paranoid sisters and parlay old ties with the Fae to win back her rightful place in the palace. Unfortunately, every gift from the Fae comes with a cost, and midnight is coming all too soon…

Science Fiction:

It’s just a temp job, right?

Stranded on Chimera5 among the indentured servants, Ella and her shipmates must cater to the increasingly bizarre demands of the galactic upper class, while seeking a new captain, contracts, and alien allies to find a way back to the stars!

Romance – Science Fiction

Stranded on Chimera5 among the indentured servants, Ella must move among the galactic upper class while avoiding being fined . Getting back to the stars never seemed so far away, until a favor given freely to the local aliens is repaid in the oddest way. In the middle of a ball, Ella’s won not just the prince’s assistance, but his heart.

With freedom in her grasp, she must choose between the stars, or love…

Thriller:

Time is ticking away…

Caught between a malevolent murderer and an enigmatic conspiracy, Ella must find out who killed her father. All signs point toward something happening at the palace ball, and the prince may be the author of the conspiracies – or it’s next victim!

A few notes – if you’re going to have more than four lines of test, break it up into multiple paragraphs. When viewed on a small screen (kindle fire, iPad, phone…), even a normal-looking paragraph becomes a wall-o-text.

Taglines- sure, knock yourself out.

I’m at work today, but I’ll be checking in. What are your blurbs?

 

*(Link to the last blurb clinic, for examples, here: https://madgeniusclub.com/2017/10/15/blurb-clinic/ )

**The featured image is one of the books Jim threw at me for a blurb a few years ago – a modern day western with cowboys vs. drug smugglers, where all the shooting and the cow wrangling is correct! It was supposed to be a trilogy, not unlike hitchhiker’s guide was supposed to be a trilogy…

35 Comments
  1. While replying to an MGC post, Mark had nothing worth to contribute, so he just skidoo’d it. Will the MGC regulars respond to this feeble gambit and create an interesting thread? Only time can tell.

    January 27, 2019
    • Dorothy Grant #

      …I haven’t even finished my first cuppa yet, so I have nothing interesting to contribute in reply. Will someone else? Who can say?

      January 27, 2019
    • BobtheRegisterredFool #

      One possibility for interest is additional Cinderella blurbs, in other genres. I will have to see what time I have for that later, after breakfast and other tasks.

      January 27, 2019
    • The Skidman shoots…….. He SCORES.

      January 27, 2019
  2. Draven #

    yes but, who is writing the book the blurb above is for? 😛

    January 27, 2019
    • Dorothy Grant #

      If you mean the last bit of this from when it was personally addressed to an author that I failed to edit out? (And have now done so; thanks for pointing that out.) Since it’s not released yet, I’ll let you know when it’s out. 🙂

      January 27, 2019
    • Mary #

      We look forward to reading yours. 0:)

      January 27, 2019
  3. George Phillies #

    Let’s try a contribution

    Against Three Lands

    Clan MacDonald is surrounded by enemies. Clan Gunn wants its lands. Mysterious pirates assail its shores. Foreign trade is interrupted by barbarian invasions. Angus Valentine Macdonald travels to remote Mercia, where he must defeat Lunarian Imperial treachery, corrupt Langwadooran invaders, and the rapacious greed of the alien Trell to protect his homeland and win the hand of his lady-love.

    Minutegirls

    Massive space battles! Hand-to-hand combat! Politics! Hot babes with guns!

    Minutegirls… Nice young women who just want some good clean fun with power armor, plenty of high explosives, and a few cute Minuteboys.

    It’s 2174. From the hills of American Manchuria to the depths of Outer Space, America’s Girl Militia battles Franco-German treachery to shield the American Stellar Republic.

    Mistress of the Waves

    Goddard is a world trapped in its non-technological present by brilliant social engineering. Orphaned Amanda Kirasdotr rescues a space traveler, flies on his starship, and wants a starship of her own. That’s challenging when the hottest ship on Goddard boasts three masts and a full set of sails. But Amanda has a plan. First she faces storms, pirates, and assassins of the Order of the Bell.

    Eclipse

    The Girl Who Saved the World

    Meet Eclipse.

    She’s twelve. She’s hardworking, bright, self-reliant, vigorously physically fit, tough as nails, still young enough to disguise herself as a boy.

    She’s also a persona: She flies, reads minds, and is not afraid of necessary violence.

    Now she’s procured the Holy Namestone, the Key to Paradise. And everyone in the world will be happy to kill her to get their hands on it

    January 27, 2019
    • Dorothy Grant #

      Tackling the first one – Against Three Lands
      Is this book about Clan Macdonald vs. Clan Gunn? Is it about repelling pirates? Is it about Angus MacDonald’s journey? I recommend picking one, and expanding on it – because when you throw everything into a short space like a blurb, you end up shortchanging every hook instead of making one that really catches the reader’s eyes.

      If it is about Angus, I also recommend finding a way to pair down the number of proper nouns that you’ve thrown in there – Because even if you expand on “Angus Valentine Macdonald travels to remote Mercia, where he must defeat Lunarian Imperial treachery, corrupt Langwadooran invaders, and the rapacious greed of the alien Trell to protect his homeland and win the hand of his lady-love.” that has

      Angus Valentine MacDonald
      Mercia
      Lunarian Imperial
      Langwadooran, and
      Trell

      which makes for a really, really steep curve of “unfamiliar terms thrown at the reader.”

      January 27, 2019
  4. *dusts off keyboard*
    Lets see here if I can get something together for the WIP that’s just about ready to be pushed out the nest.

    Nick has been happily managing the family convenience store. Even though he’s now the elder and a family of one. The announcement of a civilization ending asteroid makes him adjust his plans. Struggling to pull together enough resources, he plans to keep his little corner of civilization intact and supplied with. And perhaps more. The world though has more plans for him then he knows.

    January 27, 2019
    • Dorothy Grant #

      Ok, couple questions: I don’t understand what you mean by “Even though he’s now the elder and a family of one.” Is Nick an old man with no kids? Is Nick a young orphan? Is Nick freshly divorced?

      “… he plans to keep his little corner of civilization intact and supplied with. And perhaps more.”
      Supplied with what? And what more?

      Is the entire story about nick’s struggle to keep the store stocked? Or is that the setup, and most of the store involving those “more plans”? If so, we need to know what they are, and what the stakes are.

      January 27, 2019
      • Guess I need to dust off the keyboard more. Thanks for the pointers of what I am missing on. Will try again when the brain is less swiss cheese.

        January 28, 2019
  5. Oh brother . . . I should check my blurbs more often. Typos don’t help sell books!

    Scrambled

    Directorate Agent Ebsa Clostuone is off to investigate a cross-dimensional world that split off from his own fifty years ago.

    A World so familiar . . . and so different. Where his best friend, Ra’d ibn Nicholas, is a wanted criminal, and a defeated enemy is the President.

    With earthquakes whenever they attempt to open a dimensional gate, something strange is going on. Quite apart from the parallel Earth that is about to invade.

    January 27, 2019
    • Dorothy Grant #

      Why is the Directorate agent investigating this world? What does he want there? And which world is the parallel earth about to invade – the one he’s exploring or his home? Do the earthquakes when attempting to open a dimensional gate mean he’s trapped there?

      January 27, 2019
    • mrsizer #

      Just so you know, after Cook Off, I expected Scrambled to be about eggs. I was happily surprised.

      I rarely read the blurbs of a series I’m reading all of. It doesn’t really matter because I’m going to read it, anyway.

      January 28, 2019
  6. Nobleman Scout

    All Joseph Kenwer wanted was to protect the Kingdom of Franklin, clear his grandfather’s debts, and advance his family. Instead, thanks to a chance meeting with a princess, he must alternate between fighting noblemen’s conspiracies concerning the succession, a man named John Goodman who may not even exist, and the rapacity of the surrounding kingdoms.
    In the end, the question may not be whether he wins, but whether anything he cares about survives.

    January 27, 2019
    • Dorothy Grant #

      This is a really good start. Question though – What does Joseph Kenver really want? I mean, protecting a kingdom, advancing his family – these are high-minded goals, but very abstract, hard to really grab someone by the gut and make them care.

      Focus on something immediate, and urgent, and right there that Joseph wants… what would that be? Luke Skywalker’s plan to escape from the moisture farm chores to go shoot womp rats came to a screeching halt when he ran across a droid with a mission… It could be as small as a glass of water, but if he’s in a shuttle crash in the dessert, then it’s a visceral, urgent want that the reader can identify with and will start reading the book to see if he gets it.

      January 27, 2019
      • How about this:

        All Joseph Kenwer wanted was to become an officer in the King’s Scouts, like his father before him, and clear his grandfather’s debts. Instead, thanks to a chance meeting with a princess, he must alternate between fighting noblemen’s conspiracies concerning the succession, a man named John Goodman who may not even exist, and the rapacity of the surrounding kingdoms.
        In the end, the question may not be whether he wins, but whether anything he cares about survives.

        January 27, 2019
        • Dorothy Grant #

          Much better! I’m going to do an example on how to make it a little less passive by swapping the words a bit.

          No plan survives first contact with royalty! Joseph Kenwer’s ambitious plan to clear his grandfather’s debts by becoming an officer in the King’s Scouts is derailed by the princess herself. Now he’s up to his neck in courtier’s conspiracies, and fighting a man who might not even exist! And that’s not even mentioning the greedy plans of the would-be conquering kingdom next door…

          It’ll take everything Joseph has to keep the kingdom together at all, but never count a King’s Scout out!

          January 27, 2019
  7. BobtheRegisterredFool #

    What is Rocket Science? What are the topics that make up the subject of Rocket Science?

    I can tell that what aerospace engineering calls propulsion is included, and so is Controls. What else?

    January 27, 2019
    • Dorothy Grant #

      Calculus-based physics for engineers I & II, Statics and Dynamics and Differential Equations are also involved. Which were not exactly the highlight of my academic career, I assure you.

      January 27, 2019
      • BobtheRegisterredFool #

        Thanks.

        Quick web search suggests that Rocket Science is basically the same thing as I’m used to calling Aerospace Engineering.

        January 27, 2019
        • Dorothy Grant #

          I’m sorry, I thought you were being facetious. Aerospace engineers that get employed by NASA, Space X, Blue Origin, etc are rocket scientists. Aerospace engineers that get employed by Ford & Subaru to reduce aerodynamic drag on car models for increased fuel efficiency… get teased now and then by the lucky few. On the other hand, they’re still rocket scientists, just employed in a different industry.

          January 27, 2019
  8. Unfair Advantage

    George McIntyre is a simple soul. He just wants to go camping with his friends.

    George isn’t getting what he wants lately.

    He got injected with alien technology on his camping trip, he’s been attacked by an alien zombie that used to be a human, then arrested. Now the tech changed him to a huge armored troll, and he’s in jail.

    George needs to figure out what’s going on before the aliens turn the whole of Humanity into zombies. But first he needs to find some pants!

    January 27, 2019
    • If George is a huge armored troll, he won’t be in that jail for long. Indeed, he’s now broken out, with zits and thru the walls.

      January 27, 2019
  9. Mary #

    Rocket science is easy. High school physics covers it.

    It’s rocket engineering that’s rough.

    January 27, 2019
  10. Mary #

    When a voracious wolf and a cruel hag wreak havoc in Goldwood, Kenric, though heir to the land, must go to the king’s hall, to survive, and to learn to protect the lands from fell magic.

    Difficulty and danger lie ahead. The resentment of nobles and the peril of monsters as he grows may keep him from ever returning.

    January 27, 2019
  11. Realized I’ve mucked up this blurb, well and proper.

    “The civil war rages as Russian Federal Republics forces continue fighting the Visegrád Baltic Alliance. The war carries on during the coldest winter to grip the country in more than a century.

    In the midst of the confusion, a new threat emerges. An enemy cybertank that attacks without fear.

    Now, Lieutenant Morozova must rise to the challenge and lead her platoon into battle. Seventh Rota’s third platoon must be the eyes for the newly formed battalion tactical group, and seek out the enemy.

    Break Out is the next episode in ongoing The World of Drei series, continuing on from Terror Tree, Mission One, and Regroup.
”

    Going to have to fix it.

    January 28, 2019
    • Mary #

      During the coldest winter in more than a century, in the clash of Russian and Baltic forces, a new threat emerges. An enemy cybertank that attacks without fear.

      Now, Lieutenant Morozova must rise to the challenge and lead her platoon into battle. Seventh Rota’s third platoon must be the eyes for the newly formed battalion tactical group, and seek out the enemy.

      January 28, 2019
      • Cheers for that. I shall play around with it a bit more as I think the character’s name should be first, because people relate to characters; unless a Russian winter can be considered a character in its own right?

        January 29, 2019
  12. Zsuzsa #

    Late to the party, but as someone who desperately needs help on writing a blurb, figure I’ll leave this here:

    Red Lights on Silver Mountain Road

    Emma is skeptical when her best friend Shane tells her that his brother Harris was murdered. Harris’s fatal car crash happened on a particularly dangerous stretch of Silver Mountain Road; he was only the latest of many to suffer an accident there. None the less, as a favor to Shane, Emma looks into it and finds that Harris wasn’t the only victim of Silver Mountain Road that someone had a motive to want dead. However, there doesn’t seem to be any way it would have been humanly possible to arrange the accidents. But would it have been inhumanly possible? Emma’s search for answers leads her to the wilderness on Silver Mountain where creatures from another world battle for supremacy and an ancient evil has discovered a new way of committing murder.

    January 28, 2019
  13. …Sorry folks, I’m dragging – woken up twice last night by asthma attacks. (I’m just grateful i woke up still breathing.) So I’m going to take at least a day to recover before trying to tackle these 🙂

    January 28, 2019
    • Oh gosh, look after yourself first. No pressure from me.

      January 29, 2019
  14. mrsizer #

    Hiding in Plain Sight

    All her life Kate thought she was alone. She finds out she’s wrong when confronted by a telepath working for the Russian mob – and wins! Kate and her brother Tom start investigating and find telepaths all over the world, often working clandestinely for their government. Kate begins training. Tom begins planning a sanctuary. Will Kate be capable of withstanding not only attacks from other telepaths, but the public furor? Will their plans for a sanctuary come to fruition or be blocked by an angry government – or an angry mob?

    There’s so much going on with the rest of society discovering this and I really don’t want to write it all. It’s a book not a series. I also don’t want to spend the whole book talking about politics. I’m thinking quotes from a fake newspaper as chapter starts to give snippets of not-character goings on.

    January 28, 2019
  15. Einarr Stigandersen and the Jotunhall

    One bad storm changes everything…

    Once upon a time, Stigander Raenson had been heir to a thanedom. Then a curse drove him and his family and crew out of their home. Dispossessed, the crew of the Vidofnir wanders the cold seas in search of treasure, glory, and a way to end the curse.

    Einarr, son of Stigander, lives a vagabond’s life on the Vidofnir, never giving much thought to the home he barely remembers. That is, until an unexpected squall and the attack of a demon-headed ship send them to winter at the Hall of his father’s childhood friend.

    Now Einarr has just a single season to convince the Jarl that he would be a worthy match for the Lady Runa, the Jarl’s only child. Will he return in one piece, or will the Jarl’s impossible quest be Einarr’s undoing?

    Einarr and the Oracle of Attilsund (the direct sequel, which I feel like is too short)

    Einarr has retrieved the Isinntog for Jarl Hroaldr, but it seems he is no closer to winning the princess’ hand in marriage. As they’re setting sail once more, the Lay of Raen inspires Jorir the svartdvergr. Might this new ally be just the impetus they need?

    January 28, 2019

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