How to Write an Irresistible Book Cover Blurb
The main feature of your back cover should be your story. As the author, it is your job to find a short, impactful way to communicate your book’s concept to convince readers to choose your story. For most books, this means a blurb enticing people to read the book. Unfortunately, some authors think of this valuable real estate as a summary of their story.
Summaries are often boring, telly, and spoilers. They read like a list of facts instead of a portion of a thrilling story. Regardless of whether your book is fiction or nonfiction, your blurb needs to persuade potential readers your book will be entertaining and inspire a feeling of suspense or curiosity. It should make them want to crack open your book and start reading right there in the book store or online, so don’t think of your blurb as a summary. Think of it as an introduction to your story’s elements.
What Makes a Compelling Book Blurb
Character, Stakes, and Setting
When crafting your blurb, focus on the main character, stakes, and setting. You want to give your readers a taste of what is to come, not the whole dish, so don’t try to squeeze every major character or plotline onto your back cover. I recommend picking 1-3 characters and using their names and a brief characterization. This is one of the few times when adverbs are needed. Then introduce what they want or their motivation and what’s at stake. Patricia Briggs does this well for her novel Blood Bound; she says:
Mechanic Mercy Thompson has friends in low places – and in dark ones. And now she owes one of them a favor. Since she can shapeshift at will, she agrees to act as some extra muscle when her vampire friend Stefan goes to deliver a message to another of his kind.
But this new vampire is hardly ordinary – and neither is the demon inside of him . . .
From the back blurb readers know the main character’s name, profession, and magical abilities, which suggest a certain skillset and go-getter personality. They also know Mercy is motivated by a promise to a friend and faces a deadly foe – a possessed vampire.
The nonfiction version of character, stakes, and setting twists these concepts onto the reader. The stakes are your reader’s pain point or burning desire. It’s the concepts in your book that will help them overcome their obstacles or achieve their goals. The character can be you, the author, if it’s a memoir or another person featured in your book if it’s not.
Other Elements of Intriguing Blurbs
Briggs hits many other keys to a successful description of a book in this example. Her blurb is under 200 words and two paragraphs. Ideally, your back cover blurb should be 100-200 words and contain line breaks. That way you don’t overwhelm your readers with a wall of text or too much information.
Briggs also uses urban fantasy genre buss words “shapeshifter,” “vampire,” and “demon.” Slipping words into your description you know readers of your genre respond to reinforces that your book is for them.
One note Briggs didn’t quite hit is the setting, but Blood Bound is book two in a series. Usually, authors want to suggest the location and time period in their blurb or somewhere else on their back cover. J.v.L. Bell does this at the top of her blurb with the line “Territory of Colorado, 1863,” so her readers know this is an 1800’s historical fiction novel. This helps ground your reader and story.
Scenes and Excerpts as Blurbs
Another approach to a book blurb is to use an excerpt from your book that represents the character, stakes, and setting of your story in place of a more traditional blurb. These scenes need to be tight, impactful, and emotional. They also shouldn’t spoil anything for your reader.
The inciting incident is a good place to begin looking if you’re going to use an excerpt as your blurb because it is exciting by nature and should center around your main character. However, don’t try to fit the entire scene on your back cover. Remember, you only get 200 words, so pick a moment from your inciting incident’s scene instead of the whole thing.
A Poetic Approach
Rupi Kaur uses a poem in place of a blurb on the back cover of Milk and Honey. She says:
this is the journey of
surviving through poetry
this is the blood sweat tears
of twenty-one years
this is my heart
in your hands
Kaur manages to convey the essence of her collection in a poem by letting the reader know they will experience her personal journey. At the end, she even introduces the four parts of her collection.
Poets are experts at conveying an intense emotion and moment in as few words as possible. Even if your blurb doesn’t remain a poem, writing it as one might help you be more concise and zero in on the emotion you want your readers to feel.
Whether you choose a poem or excerpt, you don’t have to only use that technique. Your blurb can be part excerpt/poem and part traditional blurb style. The back cover of Gabriel F.W. Koch’s Emma and the Dragon Tooth Sword begins with: “Emma must disarm an evil pirate’s spells by using his own dragon tooth sword” before diving into the scene that changes Emma forever. When writing your own blurb, think about your character, setting, and stakes and ask yourself what form of blurb will best represent that.
Advice on Writing Blurbs frOm a Professional Editor
While writing your blurb, remember it is not for you and your book, it’s for your reader. There’s a school of marketing known as story marketing, where the customer is thought of as the protagonist, the business is the mentor, and the conflict is the obstacle preventing the client from getting what they want. Think of your blurb in that way. If your reader wants to be entertained, learn, or escape, use your blurb to show them how your book will help them achieve that goal. Focus on hooking your reader and conveying a specific emotion in your back cover blurb to Ignite Your Ink.
What is your back cover blurb? Share it in the comments below. To discover when to start writing your blurb and designing your cover, subscribe to Ignite Your Ink.
Ignite Your Ink is written by editor and author Caitlin Berve. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics, actively participates in multiple writers’ organizations, and is dedicated to helping writers produce content that leaves an impression on readers.