One of the most important services I offer to writers is a Blurb Workshop.
Blurbs are amongst the most misunderstood parts of marketing for many writers. A blurb is a ‘back of the book’ pitch – a couple of hundred words that really crystallises what the book is about. But it is NOT a condensed version of the story within, as many people seem to think. You can read much more about blurbs and how they work in my Marketing Handbook, from which much of this blog article is taken.
A blurb is usually something which you place in front of a group of ‘warm prospects’. What does that mean? It means that people who have no interest in reading your type of book will probably never reach the point where they pick up a copy and look at the blurb: the only people who will do that will be those whom you have attracted to the book with other tools, like the book’s cover. You know how this works, because it has happened dozens, if not hundreds of times, to you: you are browsing in a bookshop — which makes you ‘warm’ as a prospect to some degree already — and your eye is caught by a cover which is signalling you ‘Here’s a book a lot like books that you love but a little different’. Covers best capture your attention by associating themselves with other covers with which their target readers are already comfortable, and then opening up the difference or uniqueness that sucks in attention. That’s why you need to have a really good sense of your book’s genre. Where will your book sit on the shelves? Is it science fiction? Young Adult? Fantasy? Romance? Literary? Who are some authors with whom you would compare yourself?
Anyway, you are pulled over by the ‘uniqueness factor’ in the cover, usually, and you pick it up and read the blurb.
The blurb needs to do the same thing as the cover, but with words: it needs to establish a background ‘completeness’, a set of known parameters that make up a recognisable genre for a warm prospect — and then it needs to show a ‘hole’ in that sameness which suggests difference, uniqueness, excitement.
A blurb is an ‘elevator pitch’, a concise attention-grabbing passage that you can place in front of a prospect. But you only have a few seconds when your warm prospect glances at your blurb. You know this, because that’s what you do, isn’t it? You glance at the blurb, skim-reading it. In those few seconds, if it wants you to go further, it has to hit you with maximum ‘vacuum power’, maximum 'concentrated incompleteness', against a familiar genre background.
Similarity and difference; fulfilment and vacuums; completeness and incompleteness. All in about two hundred words.
That means that the writer must know the market. Writers must read a lot of contemporary fiction in their genre and sub-genre to be able to construct a blurb well. If they don’t do that, they won’t know the market, which means they will almost certainly misunderstand what their warm prospects are looking for, what they feel comfortable with, what they feel excited by.
Look in bookstores, look online – and look especially for recent successful debuts in your genre.
Your novel has to sell itself on its unique idea, its unique central concept. But its central concept, just to be clear, has to be an incompleteness. It’s that ‘hole’ which produces what the business calls the ‘hook’. Without a strong hook you’ll never get reader attention.
We’ll look at some examples taken from real blurbs next time, and you will see what I mean. My Blurb Workshop covers all this and much more. Contact me if you're interested.