FYI: I’m sharing my take both as a reader and an author, mostly with fiction books in mind.
As a bibliophile, I sometimes read, or merely skim, a description/blurb for a book by an author I’ve never read before. But if I’ve enjoyed an author’s work in the past, or if I already know that a book’s genre or subject appeals to me, I’ll commonly read only the book blurb’s first couple of lines, or I’ll skip reading the blurb altogether. (Granted, many times I’ll go back and read the blurb after I’ve read the book and I’m ready to review it.)
Why skip book blurbs beforehand? Well, on various occasions, I’ve found that…
1. Book blurbs can be a little misleading or inaccurate.
It can happen when the blurb writer didn’t actually read the book. Or when the blurb writer is adding commentary or taking a little license with the story’s details to sell the book. Or when someone wrote the blurb before the book’s final draft and didn’t update the blurb to match the revisions.
2. A book blurb may include story details that aren’t in the story.
Many to most times, authors know more about their stories and characters than they write into their manuscripts. Sometimes when authors are writing blurbs, they include some of that additional info without considering or remembering that those extra details don’t appear in their books. Or they mistakenly give the blurb writers those extra details to work with.
When I read a book blurb beforehand, I (like countless other readers) may naturally incorporate those blurb details into the story and start thinking the book said something it didn’t say. If any extra details I picked up in the blurb are clarifying or “helping” the story along as I read, then the story doesn’t stand on its own quite as well without the blurb’s help. That’s a problem.
3. Book blurbs tell me more than I want to know about a story before I read it.
It could be an important detail or two about events in the book. But now and then, even vague blurbs give away a key concept or the moral of the story when I’d rather discover that “aha moment” or crucial connection for myself.
This kind-of goes hand in hand with Number 2, but sometimes a blurb will even state a story’s central message with more clarity or power than the author conveyed it in the story itself. If the power of the book blurb is “helping” my reading along, I may or may not realize what the actual story is missing. And if the author doesn’t realize it, that’s a problem.
Even so, I as an author know that book blurbs are necessary, since not all readers prefer to skim or skip them. Therefore, yes, I write blurbs for my books, and I strive to write them well.
I believe, as with any kind of good writing, much of good blurb writing is more of an art than a science, and I don’t claim to have mastered it. Nevertheless, a few tips I’d give to fellow authors about book blurbs would be:
1. Remember, this is a book blurb, not a book report. A blurb is a form of sales copy, meant to grab a reader’s interest. It shouldn’t sound like an essay you’d write for school. If you find yourself using dry, technical phrasing like “This book is about… The three main characters are…”—STOP. Go read some blurbs for books in your genre from well-known publishers. Leave your book reporting hat aside and get into creative writing mode.
2. Be concise. You’ve got a few seconds to catch a reader’s interest. You don’t want to lose it by being long-winded, random, or hard to understand in a quick read-through. Be brief, be intentional about every word, and as much as possible, keep your words to three syllables or less. Break your blurb into paragraphs, and keep them short. You only need enough info to intrigue readers here, not to give them an in-depth explanation about what happens in your book.
3. Don’t be gushy. Your book blurb isn’t the place to show just how much you adore your characters (“Tall, muscular, brilliant, stealthy, fearless Luke will stop at nothing to save the nation from destruction—as he alone can!”) or to guarantee how people will feel about the read. (“If you enjoy mind-bending thrillers, then you’ll absolutely love this novel!”)
Readers can tell when you’re (too?) impressed with your book. You can’t foretell or promise how they’ll feel about it, nor can you “make” them be impressed with it too, especially when they haven’t read it yet. You don’t have to gush to be interesting.
4. Your blurb should be a description of your story, not an addendum to it. Whether or not readers choose to read or revisit the blurb for their own reasons, your story should be able to stand on its own without any help from the blurb. Double-check to make sure the blurb doesn’t have details or messages you neglected to include or fully develop in the story itself, or facts that you didn’t mention in your opening or closing Author’s Note (if your book has one.)
If your blurb makes you question whether you developed something well enough in your story, take another look at your story and see if you need to clarify or strengthen it before you publish it.
5. When in doubt, ask for constructive criticism from readers and/or writers. There’s nothing wrong with asking for private feedback about your book blurb before you make it public.
6. After feedback and revisions, make sure your blurb is proofread. That’s right—careful proofreading isn’t only for what’s inside your book. Readers may not even venture to see what’s inside if your blurb makes a sloppy impression.
So, fellow readers! Are you more of a blurb-skimmer or skipper like me, or are book blurbs a must-read for you?
Fellow authors who write your own book blurbs: do you see blurb writing as a necessary evil or a satisfying challenge?