Do you have the book blurb blues?
Are you an author who is stumped by the challenge of writing a one-paragraph summary of your several-hundred-page novel?
Do you resist compressing your beautiful novel into marketing-speak or have no idea what potential readers might want to know about your book?
If you’re a novelist, you write novels, not blurbs! Writing marketing blurbs is a completely different skill. (Blurbs are the summary descriptions on the back of the book or an online store’s sales page). I get that, I respect that. But indie authors have to write their own book blurbs. Hey, sometimes even big publishers make authors write their own book descriptions.
You might not like this part of the indie author experience, but the truth is, anyone can write an effective book blurb if you just loosen up and have fun with it.
Recently I was advising a writer who had completed five full drafts of a blurb for her first novel. She was not happy with any of them. She had a half-dozen friends on her “launch team.” They offered conflicting, vague feedback. Their messages were confusing and cluttered, and her blurb started feeling that way, too.
When she called me to talk about it, she confided that it felt like things were getting out of control. I tried to get a simple explanation of her book, but she had a hard time expressing herself. As I offered a range of suggestions that seemed to go nowhere, I started feeling frustrated, too.
“How about this?” I suggested out of desperation, “Why don’t you just fill in the blanks?”
I quickly jotted down the following notes:
_______(Main Character name) is a ____________. She lives in ________ and what she wants most in the world is _________. But that’s not possible because ________. So she did ______. Well, that didn’t work out very well because_______ and ______. Then along came _________. He/she/they did ___________ and __________ and ______. That made things even worse because _________. Now it looked like _______(Main Character name) would never get what she wanted. But then, one day, __________happened. Would _______ (Main Character name) finally find the __________ she was seeking? This _________(tone of book, i.e. suspenseful, gripping, lyrical, etc.) story of _________(type of story, i.e. intrigue, mystery, romance, etc.), captures the spirit of ___________ (setting or tone) and confirms the power of _______ (theme or message).
This fill-in-the-blanks blurb exercise was a ridiculous idea. The sentences above would make a really lame book description. But I didn’t know what else to do.
And the thing is, this procedure totally worked.
Of course — of course — this is not the final book blurb. But it shifted the author out of frustration mode and put her in marketing mode. It gave her a new, clear, simple way to think about her book. It was just goofy enough to wipe out her “marketing writer’s block” and open up her floodgates of creativity.
Is the above exercise a formula for a good book blurb? Not at all. But what it just might be a framework to force an author think about the book’s bigger themes and arcs. It simplifies the description down to two characters, a setting, and a single desire line.
Once the author completed this formulaic exercise, she was in a better position to write a new, concise, snappy blurb from scratch.
Sometimes doing a silly action like filling in blanks can get people moving in a new direction or loosen up their chains of resistance. This fill in the blank solution was a lark, but it turned out to be a valuable exercise.
So here I am, sharing it with you. If you dread writing a blurb for your next book, feel free to try the fill-in-the-blank method. Hey, it’s sort of like Mad-Libs. If you loved giggling to those silly fill-in-the-blank stories as a kid, you’ll probably enjoy this exercise. Let me know how it turns out.