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How to Blurb (and How Not to) #writing #writetip @smoothdraft

News Flash: I’ve added extensively to this information, including writing non-fiction blurbs, to create a complete guide to writing book descriptions that sell. Pre-order at Amazon NOW


As an editor I see a lot of blurbs come across my desk. As a reader I see even more. And as an author, I have written plenty of them myself. I don’t particularly like to write them, but I know how vital blurbs are to marketing your book.


So what is a blurb and how do you write one?

First, let’s make the distinction between a blurb and a synopsis.

In fiction writing, a blurb is targeted to readers, to encourage them to buy the book. A synopsis is written for a publisher, agent or acquisitions editor to tell your story in a concentrated format, saving busy publishing professionals from having to read a whole book in order to find out two-thirds of the way through that the whole plot falls apart. If you send a publisher a blurb when they expect a synopsis, you won’t be considered a professional, and they may just dump you into the slush pile and never even read page one of your manuscript. (I’ll do another post on writing a synopsis later.)

So the first element of a blurb is knowing your target audience: readers, not publishers

Blurbs are a marketing tool.

Repeat that after me: Blurbs are a marketing tool.

The intention is to get a reader to buy the book, plain and simple.

So how do you do that?

By making readers want to read the book. It’s really that simple.

What makes someone want to read a book?

  • Intriguing characters with strong desires, a clear obstacle to achieving the goal and weaknesses we identify with.
  • A compelling conflict between the main character(s) that keeps one or both from their goal and high stakes at risk if they don’t achieve their goal.
  • (Romance) A secondary or related conflict that keeps the main characters from becoming a couple.
  • Unanswered questions the reader is dying to learn the answers to.

Notice I did not mention the plot. You don’t need to tell the reader what happens in the blurb. If she wants to know, she will buy your book. Your goal is to make people want to know what happens.

Sell the characters and conflict, not the plot. Yet many of the blurbs I see are just a rehash of the plot. They don’t pique my curiosity to learn about the characters enough to want to buy the book. If you tell too much plot and it doesn’t engage a reader’s interest, she will never buy the book. If you tease just enough to show who and what the book is about (there is a difference), you will have a more compelling pitch.


How to intrigue the reader

The basic blurb formula includes these elements:

  • Main character 1’s goal and problem/challenge keeping him from the goal.
  • Main character 2’s goal and problem/challenge
  • Description of the conflict that arises between the two main characters and the stakes involved with failure.
  • An unanswered question to tease the reader

Write two or three sentences about the first character’s desire, what’s holding him back, and the consequences of failure.

Then write a second paragraph about the other main character.

Your third paragraph should put these two into direct conflict over the same goal, or show that their desires are not both attainable, and how that makes trouble for both of them. What dilemma do they face?  Emphasize what’s at stake if these characters don’t achieve their goals.


Then, end with a final tease about something that will be revealed or resolved, without giving the resolution. You don’t need to use an actual question; in fact it’s somewhat of a cliché to ask a question, but you can certainly tell the reader what needs to happen to get a happily ever after.

Let’s take an example.

I have two characters: Thom Turner, an FBI agent who’s about to get the boot, and Dane Monroe, a former rent boy who thinks he may have killed a client and has been hiding under a series of aliases since.  From the blurb you know what each man wants, and what’s holding him back. And you see how their needs and goals are in direct conflict.

Thom Turner is a broken man, facing the end of his career in the FBI. He’s on desk duty after a botched drug raid left the suspects and two children dead. He’s got one chance to prove himself or the only thing he’ll be investigating is the Help Wanted ads.


Dane Monroe has been on the run for ten years. Forced onto the streets when his father kicked him out, Dane earned his living in other men’s beds. Finding his john dead in a hotel room forced him under the radar. Now his relatively stable new world shatters when Thom Turner catches up with him.


When Thom’s tasked to take down a drug dealer with terrorist ties and a taste for the dark side of BDSM, his only weapon to get close is the suspect’s interest in Dane.  In return, Tom offers Dane immunity from his past. As Dane falls under the drug lord’s domination, Tom finds himself falling for Dane.


Now Thom has to choose between Dane’s safety and his own future.

Are you intrigued by how these three men will come into conflict? Do you want to know what happens to them?

If I just listed some of the plot, would you still want to know more?

I just put that together in about ten minutes. It’s what I consider a first draft, and I’d tweak the wording and use better verbs to ramp up the excitement, danger, etc. But it’s an example of what you can do to make more impact with the content of your blurbs.

Why or why not?  Got a question?

I’ll be running a Blurb Repair Workshop in the beginning of November. I’ll give more examples, talk about word choices, and critique your blurbs. Stay tuned for more information, or sign up for my Smooth Draft Writing Tips Newsletter to get full details and a special discount on the class.


If you’ve enjoyed these writing articles, I’d appreciate your support by checking out the books on my Amazon Author Page or All Romance eBooks. Thanks!

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