8 Tips for Writing that Killer Blurb

by Ruth Harris

You’ve written 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!

Available at Amazon USAmazon UK, Amazon CA, Nook, NookUK, Kobo, iBooks,Google Play.

"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.

Labels: , , , , ,