July 23, 2012 by James Calbraith
Today I have a guest post by Ben Galley
A good cover can make a reader swipe it off the shelf, but a bad blurb can have it thrown straight back again.
There are two sides to every book cover, and I don’t just mean the front and the back. I mean the art and the words, the blurb. The combination of the two is a bit like those infamous “Golf Sale” signs you see being held aloft in the centre of every busy shopping hub across the lands. The signs are usually painted a luminous, ungodly yellow to grab your attention. You look up, squinting at the brightness, mystified and curious, until you see the words splayed across its cardboard face – “Golf Sale!” I do not golf. I have no need for a golf sale. I walk on, sign ignored.
Book covers are like these signs. The cover attracts the browser’s eyes, whether by art or by colour or both, and leaves the blurb to handle the task of the information. It’s a symbiotic relationship, one that needs to be perfectly balanced. It’s an important one too. Getting it right can mean the difference between your books being taken home or downloaded, or being snubbed.
There are three rules to writing a blurb:
The blurb is a descriptor.
It should tell your prospective reader what your book is about, to a certain degree. It helps your reader analyse what the book is and whether it fits into the category of what they are looking for. Essentially, if a unwavering non-fiction reader should accidentally pick up a sci-fi, the blurb should essentially let them know their mistake. Conversely, those looking for sci-fi should be told that they’ve picked up the right book.
But it’s not just about genre, it’s also about plot. Without giving too much away, and yet giving the exact amount away, a blurb must give the reader a general idea of the contents of the book, its setting, and the main players. These should be briefly characterised. Nobody wants to read a huge block of factual text. Descriptions should be fast, punchy, and to the point.
Of course, there are exceptions, depending on the level of mystery you are trying to evoke. Descriptions can be an abstract approach: using hints and subtle gestures towards genre and contents, or a full-on, blow by blow breakdown of the plot, who’s involved, and how it unfolds. Both have their place and time, and that too depends on genre and style. (A good example of this is The Night Circus Vs. The Da Vinci Code.)
The blurb is a sales pitch.
It should entice the reader into wanting to buy it. A good blurb makes the browser want to sample the text. A great blurb should make the reader want to tear the cover from the book and devour its contents.
It all comes down to the language you use, and the way you use it. The blurb should be punchy, and so should the words used within it. Here is where you let your inner salesman loose, like a Mr Hyde to your Dr Jekyll. Use language that evokes emotion, imagery, and intrigue in the reader. Be bold and give them a reason to read it, whether by a quote from a review or from a fellow author, (See James Calbraith’s recent Guest Blog on the subject here), or by alluding to a mystery that needs to be uncovered, or a situation that needs to be resolved.
At all costs, the blurb should scream “buy me” to the browser. It is a competitive world out there, and your book needs to have a blurb to fight for it.
The blurb is not just a block of text.
Your blurb is much more than that. Many new authors make the mistake of thinking that a blurb should just be a section of text on the back of the book, nicely formatted, centred within the artwork, size 12, and Times New Roman. Sadly, it’s not.
The blurb, as the first point of contact for your prospective readers, has the chance to be so much more than just a block of well-written text. We can think of the blurb as part of the cover artwork, and treat it as such. Yes, a blurb should be easy to read, but that doesn’t mean it should tread the line of boring, simple text. Try experimenting with fonts and layouts. Split it into different sections and make use of bold and italic fonts. If your book is first person, have the blurb written in the voice of the character. Use excerpts, single lines, challenging claims, stylistic quirks, and different approaches that break the mould. This originality, this refreshing tack, can be a sales pitch in itself.
Lastly, I want to give an example of what I consider to be a truly captivating blurb. This is from The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak, and frankly, it almost drove me to shoplifting:
“HERE IS A SMALL FACT – YOU ARE GOING TO DIE
1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.
Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.
SOME IMPORTANT INFORMATION – THIS NOVEL IS NARRATED BY DEATH
It’s a small story, about:
some fanatical Germans
a Jewish fist fighter
and quite a lot of thievery.
ANOTHER THING YOU SHOULD KNOW – DEATH WILL VISIT THE BOOK THIEF THREE TIMES”
As far as I’m concerned, that’s pure genius. I think it’s a perfect representation of the three points. One last thing, if all else fails, just remember these last three things:
If it doesn’t sell your book with every word,
If it doesn’t sound good read aloud,
If it doesn’t look right on the cover,
…Then start again.
At 24, Ben Galley is a young author from sunny England, and a writer of fantasy and tall tales. Author of the epic and dark Emaneska Series, he has two books to his name, and there is soon to be a third. He’s passionate about sharing his knowledge and know-how with other hopeful authors, and is keen to help them turn their passion into their profession. Ben regularly tours the country signing books, pestering bookshops, and searching for dragons. He is a regular speaker, and blogger on everything fantasy and Self-Publishing, and has just launched a Self-Publishing, Writing, and Marketing site called SHELF HELP. You can also find him lurking on several social media sites. It’s wise not to encourage him.
SHELF HELP: http://www.bengalley.com/BenGalley.com/Shelf-Help.html