Writing blurbs

It’s a fact of life, especially for indie authors: You don’t just write the book. You also have to write up supporting material for your book. This includes (but is not limited to) synopses, press releases, query letters, cover copy tag lines and burbs.

When it comes to tag lines and blurbs, the important thing to remember is that they’re not the same thing. A tag line is a hook, a one-liner that’s intended to do exactly that: hook your attention. It doesn’t sum up the story, it’s there to grab attention. And a good one does. Look at Alien. The tag line was: In space, no one can hear you scream. That’s a genius tag line. It chills you and grabs the imagination. What’s making somebody scream? Inherently, you want to know more.

A blurb is defined as a short description of a book or movie. For example, a blurb for Alien could read: A murderous alien gets aboard a space ship and hunts the terrified crew, one by one.
Or…
Ellen Ripley and the rest of the crew are trapped aboard their ship, the Nostromo, being hunted by a terrifying alien unlike anything mankind has seen before.

You get the idea.

These are not to be confused with a synopsis, press release, or query letter. Each of those things is different. A synopsis is a longer, more detailed description of the story. A synopsis tells the whole story, with perhaps a paragraph dedicated to every major part of the story. It doesn’t tell the story line for line, but it does cover all the bases. Unlike a blurb or a tag line, the synopsis doesn’t leave the reader wondering. A synopsis of Alien tells whether or not Ripley lives.

We’ll talk more about synopses and their purpose later. We’ll talk more about tag lines, too. Each serves its own purpose, but what I want to talk about today is blurbs. They might be the hardest part of the early marketing process for your book. A tag line can be cute without telling the story, and a synopsis just tells the story.

With a blurb, you have three sentences, max, to describe what your book’s about. How the hell are you supposed to do that? Well, you HAVE to be able to do that. Otherwise, you need to rethink your book. If you can’t sum it up in just a few lines, something’s wrong.

Jaws: The summer town of Amityville must deal with a monster shark that’s killed several people.
This tells you that there’s a shark eating people and it’s got to be dealt with, but doesn’t go into detail about the men that get on that boat and put out to see in search of it. Doesn’t say what happens to the shark or the men, or any of the other details. All it does is tell you the most basic information that you need to know about this story. There’s a big shark eating people.

The Wizard of Oz: Dorothy Gale travels the yellow brick road through the magical land of Oz to find her way home to Kansas.
This is the story in a nutshell. We all know that there’s a little dog, a wicked witch, some munchkins, a tin man, a scarecrow, a cowardly lion and a wizard. But even if we hadn’t seen the movie or read the book, this blurb tells the bare bones of the story. The blurb isn’t about the details, remember. It’s the barest essentials of the story. Every author must be able to break it down. If your story is too confusing for you, as the author, to understand in one or two lines, then it’s probably not going to make sense to your reader, either, no matter how many pages you tell it in.

And trust me, if the best initial blurb you can come up with for your story is: Naughty housewife (witch, vampire, werewolf, whatever) has sex (with whomever, in whatever tawdry way) – You’re doing it wrong. There’s a limited market for spank, but it’s not literature. If that’s all you’ve got, I beg you to consider writing an actual story. Otherwise, keep moving. There’s nothing for you to see here. I’m only interested in helping authors that take the craft seriously.

With the bare bones of the story covered, you can add another sentence to a blurb. Two, if you’re brave.

A murderous alien gets aboard a space ship and hunts the terrified crew, one by one. Will any of them survive?

Ellen Ripley and the rest of the crew are trapped aboard their ship, the Nostromo, being hunted by a terrifying alien unlike anything mankind has seen before. Will Ripley beat the odds and survive?

The summer town of Amityville must deal with a monster shark that’s killed several people. The hunter becomes the hunted as three brave men take to the seas to protect their citizens and their livelihoods. But will they succeed or fall prey to the giant eating machine themselves?

Dorothy Gale travels the yellow brick road through the magical land of Oz to find her way home to Kansas. Accompanied by her beloved dog Toto and a rag-tag band of new friends, she bravely battles the Wicked Witch of the West. But to get home, she must unlock the greatest secret of all: the truth inside herself.

I’m making these up on the fly, just to give you an idea of how it works.

To write a blurb, you must first be able to tell your story in the most basic of terms. Then you can add a little bit of detail to pique interest, but only a little. Like I said before, three sentences, max.

Go ahead. You try it.

Let me know how it goes.

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