Building Better Blurbs

I’d finally got progress on The Chapter of Stuckage (it went a lot faster once I sat down, and said “who is with whom this chapter? Ah, and what issues are there that they’d need to resolve between them, while they’re out of the way of Main Plot Movement?”)

Before I could finish it, though, a friend I love dearly tagged me with a cry for help. She had gotten the latest book up, but after a night’s sleep she could see the blurb was not being all it could be. She’d sent her book out into the world to go earn a living, and it was standing on the street corner in a mumu instead of a miniskirt.

First thing I did was tell her I would get on that, so she wouldn’t fret. But the second thing? The second thing was I finished The Chapter of Stuckage, and went to bed.

The next morning, I got up and looked at the alpha reader comments on the chapter of no-longer-stuckage, and edited better. Then, I sat down, and went over the list of things needed to write a better blurb.

What does the main character want?
What is in their way?
What will happen if they don’t get it?

Being me, and it being a few years since I read anything by her, I had to pull up the series and look at the blurbs for each book to refresh my memory. The project morphed into two blurbs at that point, although unusually enough, I’d read both books. (Look, you get to know an author really well, to the point that you’re both bemoaning the hairball count from the cat today, and it’s really, really hard to do suspension of disbelief when reading anything in their author voice. I don’t read most of my friends, because they are my friends; hazard of the profession.)

Once I’d done that, I read the book sample. (I own it, but the function of the blurb is to hook you in to start reading the book, not to be a plot synopsis. Usually the blurb will only cover things you learn in the sample… with pages left over. So I downloaded the ebook sample to refresh my memory and give me the sample size to work with.)

Then, I set to work – first with the hook.

The hook has gone in and out of style since Ad copy was first written. Back when you had a single line on the mail order form in the back of the paperback, it was supreme. Later, it was passed up for diving into the meat of the blurb. These days, some people use it, some don’t – but if you can come up with a catchy hook, it makes the reader attention stickier, and more likely to continue below the fold to read the rest.

Second paragraph time! Show the world. If the inciting incident changes the character’s world, well, we need a glimpse of that world in order to know what impact this change is. In Hallmark movie terms, this is showing us she’s the high-powered city girl with the corner office before she’s forced to go home for Christmas. It makes the change matter.

But here’s the kicker. If it was pure worldbuilding the audience wanted, it’d be easy…. but even in SF/F, where fans want the strange new worlds? They really want the characters. So how do you make the world and the change matter? By showing how the character feels about it. Establish emotion.

This, by the way, is a great place for tropes. Because tropes are shorthand notations that carry a lot of connotations in the reader’s mind, and you’re space- and attention-limited. Space cowboy! Plucky starship crew scraping by! Cozy hometowns! Opening a bakery! (That’s a major trope in sweet romance, I have learned.)

Once we’ve set up the world, why it matters, now we’re turning everything upside down with the inciting incident. Not the climax. Not the larger plot arc. No, the inciting incident. Why? Because we’re not doing a book report, we’re trying to hook the reader into downloading the sample, where the story itself will entice them into buying the whole thing. (Ideally, to hook them so strongly they just buy it unread, and then enjoy, but I’ll settle for the reader giving me the first 10% of the story to convince them.)

You want the highest stakes here. Why? Because you want to hook them hard, and they’re not going to do that for a poker game or another magical sword unless the stakes involves death, love, drastic social rise or fall, chance of a lifetime, end of career… something that matters.

Stakes alone won’t sucked in a reader, though. Emotions will. How does the main character react to the inciting incident? Show how they’re struggling or grappling with it, not just what actions they take.

Third Paragraph time! Now for the next plot point – what is the Yes, but… / No, and… that’s keeping them from their obstacle? What are the stakes if they fail that?

This is another great place for tropes and keywords or categories you didn’t chose in your metadata. (Blurbs are also indexed by the Amazon algorithm.)

Don’t forget emotions! High stakes! No, higher than that! Drama! Strut your book’s stuff! Throw in a vague mention of the stakes in the third act without giving away how it turns out!

Now is not the time to be all embarrassed about “I wrote this, but it’s not what I wanted, and it’s got this flaw, and…”, now is the time to act like you’re a publisher who’s out to make your author’s work make lots of money, so you’re perfectly willing to say it ranks right up there, and if you liked this you’ll like that, and this should be the next one to go viral.

Hold up.

Now, read it out loud. Do you hear yourself skipping words, running things together, saying it differently because that sounds awkward? Turn to a new sheet of paper, and write it down how you want to say it, not how you wrote it the first time. This is your second draft. Try again, like you’re trying to talk a friend who you know will like this into going to see it as a movie with you tonight. Did you just pitch it differently? Grab a clean sheet of paper, write down your third draft.

Shorten it up; it’s got to be shorter than one bored attention span long.

There, that’s a good start. Now, try again, from scratch, with a second attempt. You might do this 3-5 times in order to get a workable blurb.

(And this is why it takes me 6 hours to write two blurbs. Because I don’t do it regularly, so I’m always out of practice when I start. As well, I like to take brain-recharging breaks and do things like… laundry, cooking, cleaning. The stuff that has to get done whether I have a chapter or a blurb to write.)

Final Caveat – nothing in here is set in stone or an inflexible rule. The second blurb I wrote that day, because of the way the book was written, I actually had to read about 10 chapters in and structure the blurb to focus on later events… because it’s almost a secondary world sort of book, and with those you have to talk about what happens after he crashes through the portal to hook the reader into the book.

Want an example? Here’s the blurb for John Van Stry’s new hard-scifi book that’s coming out tomorrow, Summer’s End:


Fresh out of college with his Ship Engineer 3rd-Class certificate, Dave Walker’s only thought is to try to find a berth on a corporate ship plying the trade routes between the many habs, orbitals, and moons in the Solar System. The problem for Dave, however, isn’t his straight C average; it’s that his stepfather, a powerful Earth Senator he’s never met, now wants him dead.

Forced to take the first berth he can find, Dave ends up on the Iowa Hill, an old tramp freighter running with a minimal crew and nearing the end of its useful life, plying the routes that the corporations ignore and visiting the kinds of places that the folks on Earth pretend don’t exist.

Between the assassins, the criminals, and the pirates he needs to deal with, Dave is discovering that there are a lot of things out there that he still needs to learn!

(You can see how it’s done slightly differently than I just told you, but all the bones are there. (Also, I have a soft spot for this book; it’s one of the few that is by a good friend that I actually have read, much less prior to release. On the other hand, John wrote me and another MGC member in there, so curiosity worked on this cat just as well as an unattended open box… (For the record, I not only giggled, I am waiting impatiently for my husband to read it, so I can say “I would never do that!” just to get the delightful expression on his face as he assures me with full dry British understatement that he and John both know I would always do that, every time.)))

What’s your latest blurb?

16 thoughts on “Building Better Blurbs

  1. I’ve started using Saves the Cat’s blurb-writing approach, so here’s the blurb for my latest release, His Terrible Stall. Pretend the first paragraph and the teaser lines are in bold.

    On a lost and stranded colony world, with his brother’s family at risk, Peter Dawe will do what he must to protect them.

    A lost starship’s settlers turn one valley on an alien planet into a terraformed replica of Earth. The rest of the planet offers only hardship and madness. Despite the oasis First Landing provides, the ship’s crew fled decades earlier with their fabricators, spacecraft, and knowledge when those controlling the valley threatened their freedoms.

    The ship’s crew founded a separate colony on the southern plains. From there they spied on their former passengers, always fearful that the richer valley would come to take what they had. Even after a generation, the loathing persists.

    A man in exile—

    Peter Dawe faces an arid existence in a brother’s secret northern outpost. His work there has meaning and purpose, but when asked to journey to the southern settlement to help recover stolen weapons his brother needs, Peter has to defeat his own belief he shouldn’t expect too much from life.

    A brother’s quest—

    Determined to find the missing rifles, Peter works his way through supposed friends and allies to catch the real thieves. But can he overcome the prior generation’s ruthless plans to stop him when his own life hangs in the balance?

    His Terrible Stall is the fifth book in the gripping science fiction colonization series Martha’s Sons. If you like driven heroes and strange worlds, you’ll want to throw yourself into this one.

    Pick it up now to join the hunt!

  2. Book 1 of new-unreleased series:


    Young Rush has bent the rules and managed to become an apprentice in wizardry to his uncle, but neither of them is qualified to revive the Torch & Scroll guild, and there is no one else left. Neglected for generations, the mother house is in ruins, soon to be sold off by the Star Watch, the wizards’ council, as the only guild ever to have expired for lack of heirs.

    But this clever and deep-thinking young man may have puzzled out some of the fundamental principles underlying all magical practice, and this discovery will change everything, if only Rush can stay alive long enough for his plans to work.


    Book 2 of new-unreleased series:


    Five years ago, the teenaged Rushalentar converted the resources of his dying Torch & Scroll wizard guild into a group of businesses which trained wizards outside the guilds and sold the results of his arcana discoveries to anyone who could profit from them. Things have gotten complicated since then, and Rush is scrambling to keep any of his spinning plates from crashing down, now that he has the attention of no less than the Emperor of Bariskaria.

    But the quiet research in his labs turns unexpectedly dangerous and sparks a conflagration that tears apart the traditional wizard guilds. In the midst of personal disasters, Rush is faced with the dissolution of the uneasy peace between the guilds and his strange new enterprises which are seemingly determined to disrupt them all.

  3. I need to redo _so_ many blurbs . . . now, rereading this, is there a single mention of transdimensional portals? Nope. *sigh*

    The last sentence finally gets around to mentioning magic. *double sigh*

    Lord Feodor Kenzo Nix thought he’d left his hacker teen years, adventurous first job, and very not-good second job behind. Eighteen nice boring years . . . well there was that invasion but his part had been minor . . . at a nice, quiet boring office job. A reasonably well paid middle manager’s position.

    But now he was not just fired, the whole Bureau was being dismantled. And when he went back home for his fiftieth birthday party all his relatives teamed up to make him look like a hot marriage prospect by giving him four servants. Somewhat sub-par servants . . .

    And . . . why the call from the Inquisition?

    Feo Nix is no longer bored . . . and he’s going to have to find a job quickly in an Alliance in a state of transition (closely resembling a total collapse) where the most magically powerful are scrambling to stay on top.

  4. Though you might want to look at the series and decide if it’s “Fall of the Alliance” or “THE Fall of the Alliance” (e.g., Bk 2 cover). 🙂

  5. It was a crater, and a woman with long purple hair stood in the middle. She didn’t know who she was. She couldn’t remember where she came from, or how she got there. The police didn’t know what to make of her, and when they tried to arrest her she flew off with breathtaking speed, leaving only a kiss. All Daniel Evans knew was that the world would never be the same again.

    FanFiction-dot-net limits you to 384 characters, so you don’t want to waste any. This one comes in a few under the limit.

  6. This time, they invited the last fairy to the christening.

    Elise, uncursed at her christening, received strange gifts about castles and roses. With such good fortune, what more does she need? She grows up forever in the shadow of her lovely, cursed, tragic cousin.

    Even when the curse falls, and Princess Isabelle lies in enchanted sleep, life must go on for Princess Elise. Despite the curse, the kingdom can not sleep itself, and neither can she.

  7. I had a blurb for the upcoming release, but I’m scrapping it, because I’m having to take a different look at the protagonist and his motivations for some things. That makes the older blurb . . . well, “inaccurate” is mild.

  8. Still in progress, so any suggestions would be appreciated:

    The Wedding of Light and Shadow

    Emma Greer is a Champion of the Mortal Realm against the forces of the Fae–and her life is now a mess. She sees things that no one else sees, hears voices coming from the shadows, and senses danger in things everyone else considers ordinary. She feels like she’s going insane as she tries to go about her every day life with the forces of Faerie swirling around her.

    In the midst of all this, Emma receives an offer to run security for a wedding in Estes Park. The pay is good, and it includes a free week at the Stanley Hotel. It seems like a no-brainer to Emma. Then she finds out that the wedding is between two fairies of different courts–and if it doesn’t go off without a hitch, it could start a cascade of destruction that will shatter the Fae realm and send ripples into the mortal world that will bring everything into chaos.

  9. And then there’s my book… which does have fantastic characters… ; ) but whose blurb isn’t quite …

    Let’s Get Out of Hell: Loving the Divine Comedy by (my pen name) Frances DeChantal…

    Looking for adventure? Try this easy-to-read version of the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. Extensive quotes from every canto, synopses of important points, annotations and light-hearted commentary keep the action going. Don’t get stuck a third of the way through this masterpiece, reading only about Hell. Travel all the way through Purgatory and Heaven with an amazing poet and his companions.

    This book is meant to be a first pass through the entire Divine Comedy. It tries to remain faithful to Dante’s own idea, that the first step in reading a great work is to see the literal meaning of the words on the page. And the literal meaning here is a fantastic journey begun in darkness and fear but ending in love, beauty, and joy. Many people never get past the Inferno, but Dante himself said that he only wrote about the terrible things there so that he could tell about the wonderful things that happened afterward.

  10. Really! Doing this to unsuspecting reader . . . 3 books later and Ms. Grant . . . the next book please? I have a family heavy Christmas holiday to be distracted from. Also, Ms. Myers, I’m sorta patiently waiting for the new series . . .

    1. I am writing as fast as able. Which is actually a lot faster than most weeks, because I’m home sick with a low-level crud of the “It’s not strep A, so have a shot in the butt and a Z-pack, and come back if you get worse” variety. Since my darling husband is leaning heavily on me to do this whole “rest and recover” thing instead of cleaning the house, I’m writing!

      I hope your holidays get better, or you get enough recharge time afterward!

  11. The blurb I’m currently working on is a bit in a different vein since it’s a poetry book. And the problems are less how to convey the adventure and more ‘how to let people know the kind and style of poetry’. Since my stuff seems to be calling back to older styles vs. the more modern blank verse. I may have gotten too cute with it but here it goes:

    When the storm rages onward
    And the world comes tumbling down
    A there seems no future forward,
    An you’re deep enough to drown.

    Some times a simple song uplifted
    Can ease the burdened soul.
    So here a book has drifted
    With rhymes to ease the toll.

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