WHEN Longman Zimbabwe (now CPS Publishing) decided to publish my debut novel, The Haunted Trail, sometime in 2005, the company’s then Commissioning Editor, Lorraine Nyamapfene, asked me to write the blurb for the book.
Well, let me not speak in tongues and break this down for you so that we are on the same page.
What is a blurb? Blurb is one of the literary terms you want to familiarise yourself with as an author.
Every subject or discipline of study has its own language, or technical terms. If you spend time with those in the medical or legal field, you will notice they speak a certain language that is easily understood within their professional circles, but may be unfamiliar to outsiders.
In my early years as a journalist, I was a court reporter for several years, so I picked up a lot of court procedures and legal jargon. If you read the court scenes in my books, you can easily tell it’s quite a familiar terrain.
In the study of Linguistics, this is referred to as Language for Academic Purposes, which is a specialised vocabulary in a specific discipline. It could be in the field of medicine, law, commerce, mathematics, education or history.
Anyway, when you look at the back cover of almost every book, there is often a write up that attempts to give hints or brief insights into the book’s contents. That is a blurb.
Although I have heard some people call it a summary, in essence, it is not a summary. By definition, a summary is more the condensation — or concentrate — of ALL the details in the story, whether it’s a play, short story or poetry collection, novel or even motivational book.
But a blurb, specifically, is designed to whet a potential reader’s appetite or thirst so that they are inspired to read the book rather than break down the entire story.
Whereas a summary is a complete overview of the book, a blurb usually deliberately doesn’t tell-all, because if the story is given away like that at once, some potential readers may quickly lose interest.
So, in essence, you can classify a blurb as a teaser. It is designed to tease the reader.
There is a form of entertainment called strip tease, whereby a woman strips off pieces of her clothing, painfully slowly, and deliberately, just to sweetly agonise the usually all-male audience hoping for the moment when she would bare all — but then she often doesn’t go all the way! (Pardon my example. I just want to use a graphic picture so that you get it).
A blurb should function as a hook of sorts, designed to lure even the most reluctant of potential readers into grabbing your book and reading their way through it.
Beyond the letters, I believe every book carries a spirit, and it is that spirit — which gives life to your book — that you want to capture in the blurb. This is something that the author is often best suited to do because the story or book is conceived in their mind.
I have noticed, however, that a lot of authors do not want to bother themselves with writing a blurb, but would rather have the Editor or some other third party do it for them.
Nothing wrong with that, of course! In fact, blurb writing is one of the services that we offer at Royalty Books. Many publishers, actually, do the same.
Blurb writing is often considered an area of speciality, just like Copy Writing.
When an advertising agent requires to employ a Copy Writer, they usually go for an insanely creative writer who is able to write precisely, with a cutting edge, but in very few words, and still capture and deliver the essence of the product or service on offer.
Many of you (I guess the ‘older generation’ perhaps) remember a milk product advert that went something like: “It’s not inside; it’s on top.”
At face value, the statement looks simple and innocent, but carries what we call in Literature a “double entendre” or two interpretations: the literal and the metaphorical meaning.
Many commercial adverts carry sexual innuendo (I don’t know why… Maybe it’s because of the notion that sex sells).
So, here you have a husband looking for something, and calls out to his wife, “Honey, it’s not in the fridge” and she responds, “It’s not inside, it’s on top!”
You could also consider the following phrase designed for a desk on sale…An antique desk for a lady with good legs and large drawers.
Well, I was digressing… but this is something to think seriously about.
I often encourage authors to present a draft of the blurb, highlighting key points in the script, and then I would develop that into an effective blurb.
“The opening of your blurb has to be incredibly precise and dynamic,” says top American editor Rebecca Heyman. “For a lot of first-time authors, I think there’s an instinct to make sure readers understand everything that happened in the book’s universe before the beginning of the actual story. That’s generally a mistake.”
You see that? Don’t give away your story in the blurb! Just set the stage for anticipation!
Critically, a blurb should do Four (4) important things;
- Introduce your main character(s)
Your blurb has to be about characters. Consciously or not, readers check out the blurb to determine whether or not they want to spend time with your main characters.
- Set the stage for your primary conflict
The primary conflict is what drives your story. It’s about Terrence, a self-proclaimed atheist (unbeliever) pursuing a Christian girl in _Chasing the Wind_, or Dorothy running away from home because she doesn’t want to be part of an arranged marriage to a man old enough to be her grandfather in _The Latter Rain_. Without a real-world conflict, you don’t have a story readers can want to hear or read.
- Establish the stakes
Without consequences, a conflict lacks drama. A blurb that says “Jack Ryan has 24 hours to rescue the Russian ambassador,” isn’t as impactful unless we know what’s at stake: “…his failure will result in certain nuclear war.”
- Show the reader why this book is for them
Most readers have an idea of the book they’re looking to read next. A well-crafted blurb won’t try to sell everybody on the book — it will help people who already want a book like yours see that it’s for them. Ensure you also distinguish what makes your book unique. If you stick to this formula, you won’t go wrong.
Below are a few samples of blurbs you can use to model your own…
When FBI Agent Cole Davis, and Logan Church, a local cop and reigning Ice Princess, hook up to solve a case of Mississippi corruption at the highest judicial levels, sparks fly. Their attraction is hotter than the sultry southern sun. She wants to hate him — but she can’t. And Cole would never commit career suicide by staying in a backwater Mississippi town… not for any woman… especially not for Isabella Logan Church – A Backwater Blessing by Kris Michaels
The Latter Rain is a gripping story about two teenagers who flee their Mt. Darwin village to Harare in search of a better life. Isabel runs away from the wrath of a vindictive stepmother while her friend, Dorothy, follows her two years later in a breath-taking escape from an arranged marriage to a rich and powerful polygamous religious sect leader who helped her family with food at the height of a devastating famine. The two girls quickly discover that the streets of Harare are not paved with gold and are forced to make serious compromises to survive. They make different choices and while one of them ends up dead 10 years later, the other pursues a life of faith. But she has a herculean task to mend broken relations with a family she has deeply wounded. This is a story about how human depravity is confronted by grace and hope restored even as drought paves way for the rain – The Latter Rain by Phillip Kundeni Chidavaenzi
So, these are just limited examples to give you glimpses into the different ways you can come up with a blurb that will get a potential reader to go for your book.
In conclusion, it is important to really think through your blurb before the book cover is printed. Take your time. Be precise, nuanced. Why? Because a blurb can make or break your book.
Phillip Kundeni Chidavaenzi
Author | Editor | Literary Consultant
Co-Founder & Editor-in-Chief of Royalty Books (Pvt.) Ltd
Founder & Administrator Writers Clinic
Writers Clinic is a writer training and author empowerment arm of leading book publishers, Royalty Books.