Everyone knows the ‘blurb,’ aka the quote usually on the back cover of a book that tells readers what’s go great about this particular book and why they should read it. But not every wrier may know how important and useful blurbs are.
What is a ‘blurb’?
In short, the blurb is a short paragraph recommendation written by some authority to endorse or recommend a book (you see them for films as well). In the world of books, however, especially with self- or independent publishing, authors usually solicit blurbs themselves from people whom they know or trust. More on that in a second.
In many ways, blurbs are the primary means of promoting a book and are often the last thing a customer will read before deciding to buy a book. In fact, BookBub (a book promo website) has done some tests to see what effect blurbs have on sales. One of the most effective elements they found in a blurb is that it come from a known author.
Whom do you ask for a blurb?
Since the most effective blurbs come from a previously known and published writer, that’s where you should start. This useful post by Diana Urban on how you can secure blurbs for your book has great practical ideas for reaching out to authors, even if you don’t know them. But I list below the qualities I think are most important in having from a recommender.
Someone with a high profile and good reputation. Those two qualities are crucial to an effective blurb that will pique reader interest and lead to sales. If they know the author writing the blurb, readers will take it more seriously. Carla Harryman, who wrote a blurb for my collaboration with Cheryl Pallant, Morphs, is a well-known and widely published poet; Cheryl and I were lucky and honored to have her write a blurb for us, as we were for our other blurbs by Mark Wallace and Christian Peet.
Someone you trust to give an honest but positive review. If you know writers, and most writers do, then reach out to them and ask for reviews and/or blurbs. Blurbs are much easier than reviews, but writers you know might be willing to do both. They also are more likely to write positive, glowing reviews that highlight the strengths of your book.
It may go without saying, but honest and sincere blurbs are more effective than forced ones. Blurbs with some constructive criticism have much more weight than ones that damn with faint or fake praise. So, even if you get a blurb that you don’t interpret as 100% positive, using it may still help you sell your book.
Someone who writes in your genre. Since people tend to read by genre, having an author they know from the genre they love (yours) will make them even more effective. On my book, Poetic Obligation, I asked two writers who write in the same field as I did. Even though they are the ‘competition,’ most writers know a rising tide lifts all boats in the publishing world.
Authority of some kind. Does the efficacy of author-written blurbs mean that I shouldn’t use a blurb from an institution or publication? Not at all, blurbs from authorities of any kind (critics, bloggers, newspapers, magazines, publishers, agents, etc) can be useful. If you get your book reviewed by the New York Times or Publisher’s Weekly, by all means use it, but just make sure you have a good portion from real, live authors.
Where do I start?
Your own blurb is where to start. Every book must have a ‘pitch,’ ‘logline,’ or one-sentence summary from its own author. It usually takes the form of: “The book [title] is a [subgenre] about a character [name] who does [x, y, and x] to obtain a [goal] against obstacles [a, b, and c]. The blurb for my novel, Ivory Tower, goes like this:
Ivory Tower is a crime thriller about Margolis Santos, a charismatic film professor in her prime, who risks her career and life to uncover sexual corruption inside her university’s football program where rich boosters pay sorority girls to have sex with star recruits.
This one sentence has to be substantial and engaging yet concise and readable enough to hook a potential reader, so spend time working on it and show it to as many people as you can. Get feedback and continually revise it throughout your writing process.
Where do you put blurbs?
The great thing about blurbs, because of their short length, is that you can use them in multiple places. Most books–and perhaps the most important location for a blurb–have them on the back cover so when potential readers flip it over, they are the first things seen. Due partially to my press’s house style and partially because I waited to long to ask for blurbs, my novel, Ivory Tower, does not have them on the back cover. But I still asked for them to use in other places.
You will not only put this blurb on your book cover or inside jacket, but it will also be a part of:
- your advance info sheet,
- query letters to reviewers and publisher,
- website and
- most of your other promotional materials.
When do you ask for blurbs?
Ideally, you want to ask for blurbs as soon as you know your book is going to be published. Even before you know your release date or have a final proof copy in your hand, I recommend that you reach out to authors you know, authors you want to be like, and authors who write in your genre. The earlier the better.
That way, when you get blurbs, you can add them to your cover (before it is designed), your promotional materials, and your website and bookseller sites.
Do you have any horror or success stories about blurbs? Share them in the comments below!