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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, March 30, 2014

8 Tips for Writing that Killer Blurb

by Ruth Harris

You’ve written a book!

  • You’ve started the first draft. 
  • You’ve finished the first draft.
  • You’re waiting for your editor’s comments. 
  • You’re thinking about writing a book.
  • You’ve got a great idea for a book.
  • You’re making notes for a book.
  • You’re outlining a book.

No matter what stage you’re in, the fact is it’s never too soon to start thinking about your blurb. 

(Also known as the sales pitch, the back cover copy, and on Amazon, the "product description".)

Writing or drafting your blurb at an early stage or even before you start writing can serve as a brief outline and help you stay focused as you write. 

Coming up with the perfect headline for your blurb will also give you a head start on honing that all-important elevator pitch.

The cover is the first thing that grabs the reader’s attention and tells him/her what kind of book s/he is looking at: romance (sweet or steamy), women’s fiction, mystery, thriller, horror, sci-fi.

But once you have the reader’s attention, then what?

Then you have to make the sale.

We’re talking blurb here, and don’t think you can get away without a killer one. Every book—no exceptions—needs blurbing. These days, even the Bible has one. Don’t believe me? You can look it up.

The blurb is crucial, it’s essential. It's the message that seals the deal and tells the reader why s/he absolutely, positively, MUST buy the book.

Blurbs are a little bit art, a little bit craft, a little bit commercial poetry. They are (or should be) quick and easy to read but they are time-consuming and challenging to write—certainly for me and, I suspect, for most writers.

In another life, I wrote paperback blurbs, probably thousands of them over several decades. Back in TradPub days, blurbs had to be short (paperbacks only have so much space on those covers) but comparing the reader who’s browsing in a bookstore to the person who’s surfing the net is the difference between a leisurely stroll and NASA rocket flight. As a consequence, my definition of short has radically changed: Now it’s just about as short as humanly possible.

Here are some ideas about getting from here to there: 

1) Research. 

Read (and study) the blurbs for the bestselling books in your genre so you will start with a solid idea of what you’re aiming for in your own blurb. Make note of the exact words that pique your interest. Pay attention to the headlines, body copy and formatting of blurbs that particularly appeal to you so you can be inspired by them.

2) Keep your reader in mind. 

Speak directly to him or her. You wouldn’t speak to a rowdy sports fan in a raucous bar the same way you’d speak to your child’s Sunday school teacher, would you? (At least I hope not.) Blurbs work the same way and keeping a clear picture of your reader in mind will help you find just the right tone for your blurb.

3) Refine, rethink, rewrite. 

You are looking for the most potent way to compel your reader’s attention, not a winning time in a track meet. Look at your blurb on your computer, your phone, your tablet. Print it out in a large font size and post it on the fridge or the bathroom mirror. See if viewing your blurb in different way exposes any weaknesses or triggers any ideas for improvement.

4) Every word counts. 

As you work on your blurb, cut flabby, wishy-washy words (you know me and my love of the delete button!). Ditch meaningless hype like: the most exciting thriller ever written or the best romance you’ll ever read. Instead use power words such as: beautiful, shocking, exciting, scandalous, terrifying, sexy, hilarious—words that evoke an emotional reaction.

5) Use short sentences and lots of white space. 

Don’t confront the reader with a dense block of text. Remember that s/he is probably skimming so make it easy for him or her. I also try to make sure my blurb on Amazon is short enough to be seen in its entirely without the reader having to click read more. Apple is stingy about space for the blurb so be prepared to do even more cutting if you are uploading to iBooks.

6) Use italics and bolding sparingly. 

Too much or too many and they just cancel each other out.

7) Don’t marry your blurb. 

Especially if you’re e-pubbing. I view my blurbs as WiPs and constantly change, tweak, refresh and revise them. Just remember that if you change your blurb on Kindle via Author Central, you won’t be able to make changes through your KDP bookshelf but will have to go back to Author Central if you want to do further tinkering.

8) Stay true to your genre and your voice. 

Contemporary romance, historical romance, and Victorian-era mystery with a female version of Sherlock Holmes each set up different expectations. So do humor, horror, sci-fi, pulpy noir, steamy romance, sizzling coming-of-age stories, and action-adventure. 

Make sure your blurb meets your prospective reader’s expectations and write your blurb in the same voice as your book.

More professional advice on blurbing

Bestselling author of romances set in New Zealand and former copywriter, Rosalind James, talks about how she had to re-learn the art and craft of copywriting because all copy is not the same. She has a great piece about her approach to the kickass romance blurb on her blog.

Ace blurb-writer, Amy Wilkins, Assistant Manager of Digital Content and Social Media at Harlequin, is a member of the acquisition team for Carina Press. Amy discusses how much plot to reveal, the importance of conflict, and describes different ways to hook a reader. She offers details about her method of writing romance blurbs at Romance University.

YA author Sarah Juckes breaks down the daunting task of blurb-writing into clear step-by-step directions.

Mark Edwards, a friend of the blog and a superstar #1 Amazon UK author, thinks the power of the blurb can sometimes be under-rated. Mark tells how he doubled the sales of his co-written book, Killing Cupid, by rewriting the blurb in a guest post on our blog, 5 Steps to a Great Product Description.

Joanna Penn, author and book marketer, was voted one of The Guardian UK Top 100 Creative Professionals 2013, and voted one of the Top 10 Blogs for Writers 3 years running. Joanna offers tips about writing an effective blurb (aka sales pitch)in her blogpost, How to Write an Effective Back Blurb.

Marilynn Byerly, who teaches on-line writing courses, breaks down blurb-writing by genre: romance, romantic suspense, sci-fi and fantasy, mystery and suspense. Marilynn also explains how to do the precise cutting required to make a short blurb even shorter.

Sarah Webb author of chick lit and children’s books, shares her recipe for the brilliant blurb here. Sarah also explains the power and importance of the shout line or tag line.

Other resources

Want advice from other writers? Post your blurb on Writers’ Cafe, ask for help, and get input from peers.

Fed up with the whole thing and want to pay someone to do the heavy lifting? If you’re looking for experienced help with your blurb, Ella Blythe, who has a background in corporate copywriting, offers a range of services from a touch-up to an entire blurb. Ella usually charges $25 for a blurb, is willing to negotiate depending on the job, and guarantees satisfaction.


Scriveners, are you as blown away as I am by all these great links? How do you approach blurb writing? Would you think of using a blurb service (At $25 it looks like a good deal to me.) I think it's fabulous that Writers Cafe has a blurb critique forum. Any other advice to add?...Anne 

Next Sunday, we'll have a guest post from friend of the blog, freelance writer Sarah Allen (no relation.) She'll be talking about what things a pre-published author can be working on NOW to jumpstart your career. 

Meanwhile, on April 6th, Anne will be signing books and giving short talk at the Coalesce Bookstore on Main Street in Morro Bay, along with her fellow members of our local Sisters in Crime chapter. If you're in the area, come by on April 6th from 1 PM to 3 PM, for wine and goodies and lots of fun book talk. 

Ruth Harris's New York Times bestseller Love and Money is Marked down from $4.99 to 99c this month!

"Richly plotted and racing to a shocking climax, this glittering novel is first-class entertainment." --New York Times 

"Fast-paced, superior fiction. With a crisply precise and descriptive narrative style and an unerring ear for dialogue, Harris has written a terrifically satisfying 'good read.'" --Fort Lauderdale News Sun-Sentinel

"Ruth Harris has done a miraculous job of entwining the lives of two women in a believable and fascinating way. You won't have to hide if someone asks what you're reading." --West Coast Review of Books

"Sophisticated and entertaining. I couldn't stop reading." --Rona Jaffe, author of The Best Of Everything


The Golden Quill AwardsEntry fee $15. Two categories: Short fiction/memoir (1000 words) and Poetry (40 lines max) $750 1st prize, $400 2nd prize in each category. Sponsored by the SLO Nightwriters and the Central Coast Writers Conference. Entries accepted from April 1-June 30th.

The Saturday Evening Post "Celebrate America" fiction contest. $10 ENTRY FEE. The winning story will be published in the Jan/Feb 2015 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, and the author will receive a $500 payment. Five runners-up will each receive a $100 cash payment and will also have their stories published online. Stories must be between 1,500 and 5,000 words in. All stories must be previously unpublished (excluding personal websites and blogs). Deadline July 1.

Fantasy Scroll Magazine is a new paying-market, upscale SciFi online literary magazine. Now taking submissions for flash, micro-flash and stories up to 5000 words. They are also launching a kickstarter campaign to obtain funding to maintain this as a paying market. They're looking for highly original work in SciFi, Horror, and Fantasy.

Writers' Village International Short Fiction Award. Entry fee £15. This is a biggie. Stories in English up to 3000 words in any genre from anywhere in the world. £3000 First Prize. Judges include iconic mystery author Lawrence Block and Whitbread & Orange short-lister Jill Dawson. £4500 ($7200) in total prizes. The top 50 contestants also get a free critique of their stories. Deadline June 30th.

Flash Prose Contest $15 ENTRY FEE. WriterAdvice seeks flash fiction, memoir, and creative non-fiction running 750 words or less. Enlighten, dazzle, and delight us. Finalists receive responses from all judges. First Place earns $200; Second Place earns $100; Third Place earns $50; Honorable Mentions will also be published. Deadline April 18th.

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OpenID paulfahey said...

Ruth, this is sooooo concise and informative. I'm always blown away by how you condense everything to the essentials. And Yikes this is the first comment, or at least it says so above, so I better do it justice. PERFECT POST IN EVERY WAY. I'm sharing with my reader and writer friends right now. Everything they need to know about writing blurbs but were too afraid to ask, is right here. BRAVA!

March 30, 2014 at 10:35 AM  
Blogger CS Perryess said...

I'll join Paul (& I can't think of a nicer guy to be in accordance with), The elusive blurb de-mystified! Thanks.

March 30, 2014 at 10:46 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Paul—You are way too nice! Blurbs should be easy to read which means, of course, that they're (usually) hard/difficult/challenging to write. Not to mention the fact, that each one presents a different problem. All of which goes to prove that a writer's work is never done. ;-)

March 30, 2014 at 11:12 AM  
Blogger The Happy Amateur said...

I was very curious and a bit nervous to find out what the blurb for the Bible would be like. I was glad to see the blurb focusing on the work of the translators, it's assumed that the reader would have an idea of what the Bible is about. Certainly interesting times we live in.
Thank you for demystifying blurb writing, Ruth.

March 30, 2014 at 11:14 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

CS—thanks. Blurbs remind me of the famous writer (it's been attributed to various authors) who wanted to be forgiven for writing such a long letter. "I don't have time to write a short one."

Dept of truer words...

March 30, 2014 at 11:14 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Happy Amateur—You're right: one would assume Bible readers would have some idea of what the book is about. Still, it's interesting that, these days, even the Bible requires a blurb—this time, to hype one translation over another.

March 30, 2014 at 11:17 AM  
Blogger Kimber Leigh Wheaton said...

Thanks for the great links! Blurb writing is definitely one of the harder things I do. If I wasn't such a control freak I would definitely spend $25 for a blurb, It sounds like a great deal to me -- especially considering the amount of time it takes to create one.

March 30, 2014 at 12:16 PM  
Blogger Sarah Brentyn said...

Sorry, haven't clicked the links yet but I'm sure they're useful and insightful, as always. Love the post, though. Especially #4. One point I must argue (okay, I just want to argue) is that writing blurbs isn't a little bit art, it IS art. And the other things you said, too. :-)

March 30, 2014 at 12:45 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Sarah—Thanks! The point of the blurb is to seduce…flabby, wishy-washy words just won't get the job done. The point is to get just the right words in just the right order: not an easy task but practice helps as does a critical eye and a willingness to persist.

March 30, 2014 at 1:12 PM  
Blogger Greg Strandberg said...

Don't forget about your blurbs document. Mine is about 90 pages and has my 32 books' blurbs, links, ASINs, ISBNs, and all that other miscellaneous stuff that's good to have in one spot. I use that document everyday.

March 30, 2014 at 1:12 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

KLW—Sorry, don't know why my first reply to you didn't post. Thank you for the kind words. Hope the post—and the links—help. As you say, writing a blurb is time-consuming. Shorter is harder, no two ways about it!

March 30, 2014 at 1:15 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Greg—Great point! Thanks so much! :-)

Do you have your blurbs doc in a word processing doc? Or in something like Evernote? I keep mine in Scriv so stuff is easy to lay my hands on.

March 30, 2014 at 1:18 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

This is such a great post, Ruth. Great insight and so many great links.

I need to let everybody know that the Blogger elves seem to have tied one on last night or something. Half the comments that come to me as "published" are not appearing on the blog--even my own responses. Some appear and disappear. A new wrinklet's creepy and weird. I remember a few years ago when that happened with the "Follower" widget. It disappeared and came back at random for about a month. Let's hope they don't take that long to fix the problem.

March 30, 2014 at 2:08 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...


I think those elves are still at it. My reply to Kimber Leigh didn't post so I re-replied (is that a word?) and now it seems to be there. Tell those little devils to get off the booze! And the weed, too, in case that's also part of the problem. ;-)

March 30, 2014 at 2:45 PM  
OpenID tracikrites said...

Truly an informative guide.

March 30, 2014 at 2:45 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

tracikrites—Thank you! Hope it helped.

March 30, 2014 at 2:47 PM  
Blogger Wm. L. Hahn said...

Time and again, Ruth, you and Anne hit the ball on the nose. I've written blurbs, of course, and feel very much hit-or-miss with them (even after vetting with co-authors). But all this time, I never thought anyone would come along and blog about it. Nodding like a bobble-head in an aftershock reading this- yep, yep, all that. Thanks! I'm going back to the drawing board with the blurb for my upcoming novel. Maybe just a couple word-changes...

March 30, 2014 at 3:35 PM  
Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I won't tell you how many times I have rewritten my back cover blurbs. And then my publisher has me write them again a few more times...

March 30, 2014 at 3:56 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Wm---Thank you for the flattering words. Sometimes changing just a few words can make a huge difference. The blurb is a small canvas so every word (syllable) has to count.

March 30, 2014 at 4:29 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Alex--You don't have to tell me! I know. Been there. Still doing that. ;-)

March 30, 2014 at 4:33 PM  
Blogger Natalie M said...

Every week when I read this fun and informative blog I learn about something new I hadn't realized I'd need to know before. A writer's work is never done! Thank you for sharing your expertise and demystifying the blurb process.

Can/should writers use the blurb as part of their query letter, or should blurbs and queries remain entirely different?

Thanks! --Natalie Munroe

March 30, 2014 at 5:45 PM  
Blogger Greg Strandberg said...

I use Word with lots of bookmarks. Here are screenshots if anyone's interested in doing the same. Trust me, it helps!


March 30, 2014 at 7:53 PM  
Blogger Claude Nougat said...

Thanks Ruth, this is SO useful and full of great links, shall spend the rest of the week on it! I never knew Writer's café had a forum to test your blurbs in, that's absolutely great.

March 31, 2014 at 1:51 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Natalie—Glad you find us fun and informative. Anne and I try! As to whether or not to use your blurb in a query, I would say that if your blurb kills, then why not use or or at least part of it? If it's meh, then don't use it. Period. Blurbs take time so don't rush it. Wait until the blurb rocks. Then decide.

March 31, 2014 at 3:58 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Claude—Hi and thanks! :-)

I want to clarify that WC doesn't have a separate forum for blurbs. Instead, you'll find blurb threads throughout. They're usually called something like: Need help with blurb. Nuke this blurb.

These threads are very helpful. Sometimes people will just make a suggestion or two to pinpoint a problem. Others will just re-write the d*mn thing.

March 31, 2014 at 4:04 AM  
Blogger Lexa Cain said...

These are great tips and links. Regarding #4, I'm horrified when I see tradpubs include a line about how thrilling and wonderful the book is - that's a dead giveaway that it isn't. Thanks for all the info! :)

March 31, 2014 at 6:28 AM  
Blogger Crowhill said...

This is good advice.

I finished a first draft of a book and then realized that while the main character was pursuing something, there was no threat or danger if he failed to achieve it. Even something as simple as Kathy Carmichael's "pitch-o-matic" (http://www.kathycarmichael.com/generator.html) can help you focus the elements of your story.

March 31, 2014 at 6:30 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Lexa—Thanks for the kind words. You're so right: With blurbs, as with fiction, generic is terrible. Specific is what works. :-)

March 31, 2014 at 6:47 AM  
Blogger sue mcginty said...

Thanks, Ruth, a just-in-time post for me. Helping poet Jerry Douglas (Rattlesnake) Smith with blurbs for his e-chapbooks. One thing I was unclear about: best to make changes to existing blurbs from KDP bookshelf rather than Author Central?

New subject: Thanks to our SinC Sister Anne for giving our next Sunday event at Coalesce Bookstore a shout-out! These soirees (and I use the term lightly) are always fun, and totally unpredictable.

March 31, 2014 at 6:49 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Crowhill—Thanks. Hope the post helped and, yes, whether it's pitch-o-matic or a powerful blurb, the point is to help focus the book—and the writer. That's why I suggest starting to work on the blurb very early in the process.

March 31, 2014 at 6:56 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Sue—I find that changes made via Author Central post quickly. Also you can use basic html for some control over how the blurb looks. The one caveat is that when you make subsequent, additional changes, you must do it through AuCe rather than your KDP bookshelf.

March 31, 2014 at 6:58 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Crowhill—my reply is below. Blogger is still acting up. :-(

March 31, 2014 at 6:59 AM  
Blogger Christine Ahern said...

Thank you, Ruth and Anne. Again, you give us advice we can really use. I am going immediately to my most recent blurbs and hash them out. I do believe those concise stories about your stories are some of the most important stories you will ever write. If you ever want to get published, that is.

March 31, 2014 at 9:20 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Christine—Thank *you*

Have fun tweaking your blurbs! Writing a blurb requires a much different skill set than writing a book. Approaching the blurb as a puzzle to be solved can help.

March 31, 2014 at 10:07 AM  
Blogger Julie Musil said...

Oh, what excellent links! Writing blurbs and pitches does NOT come easily for me. I need all the help I can get.

I once entered a "Twitter pitch" contest, where the pitch had to be 140 characters of less. It was a good exercise to choose the best words in the smallest space. I still try to do that with each pitch. It's tough!

March 31, 2014 at 2:56 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Julie—Thanks! I suspect that writing a good blurb is partly learned (via practice) and partly a developed skill (persistence). Studying good blurbs also helps (imitation). ;-)

March 31, 2014 at 3:06 PM  
Blogger Debby Gies said...

Excellent and informative post, thank you!

March 31, 2014 at 9:22 PM  
Blogger Dr John Yeoman said...

That's wonderful advice, Ruth. I've just finished a blockbuster and hastily penned a blurb: 'Thrill to this coming-of-age romance between a vampire's kick-ass daughter and her pet dog as they fight CIA assassins at the White House to save the world from terrorists, bad coffee and Starbucks.' Do you think it would sell?

April 1, 2014 at 4:11 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Debbie—Thanks for the kind words. I'm happy to hear the post helped. :-)

April 1, 2014 at 5:31 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

John—Who knows what will—or won't —sell? Pas moi!

I will say that IMO your blurb is too long and needs to be recast into shorter sentences. Also is the romance between the vampire's daughter and her dog or between her and someone else? Cute ending about terrorists, bad coffee and Starbucks.

April 1, 2014 at 5:39 AM  
Blogger Dr John Yeoman said...

True, Ruth. But when you're cutting bait for a WalMart book buyer, is syntax - or logic - really advisable?

April 1, 2014 at 3:31 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

John, Personally, I'd go for clarity + sizzle. YMMV.

April 2, 2014 at 3:50 AM  
Blogger Jan Ryder said...

Thank you, Ruth. Another useful and informative post. I've bookmarked all the excellent links for bedtime reading.

April 2, 2014 at 10:34 AM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Jan—Thanks! Bedtime reading? Oy. ;-)

April 3, 2014 at 4:37 AM  

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