Think of your back cover blurb like a movie trailer. There is a good reason movie trailers are not made by the writer.
It’s so hard as writer to think of your book as a product. It feel like an oversell and a bit awkward to hype it so much right?
Not true. This tight piece of writing needs to be SO crafted and SO clever. It also needs to make your book seem dramatic and desperately exciting (far more than it really is). Look, no book – or movie – can sustain that level of excitement for the entire length and readers get that.
But, unlike the movies, nobody is going to write this but you. Think of it as a technical exercise in copywriting.
I recommend you write this at any point – even before you start – because a good blurb means you have a tight story idea. Write a few and get friends to give you feedback.
Here are your 6 essential steps and some examples of how to pull it all together, by writing coach Sarah Bullen.
1. Introduce your main character
We want to meet your lead (the hero) here. Here I like to see a razor-sharp three-word-descriptor. Totally nail your character’s essence down using a clear, tightly crafted label. You can even the actual character’s name out, which also works
Hollywood homicide detective Petra Connor (Johnathan Kellerman, Twisted)
Beautiful and brilliant Polish agent Liliana Pilecki (Tom Clancy)
Disgraced financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the tattooed, truculent computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Stieg Larsson)
Once-promising detective Renée Ballard (Michael Connelly)
Donovan Gray is ruthless and fearless. Just the kind of lawyer you need, deep in small-town Appalachia. (John Grisham)
Harvard symbolist Robert Langdon (Dan Brown)
2. What starts the adventure?
All books start with the first plot move… like a good chess game…. something happens. This inciting incident needs to set up your entire story and it is the critical kick-start to your book. Reveal the inciting incident here in an incredibly exciting way that weaves in the character journey.
When he receives a worrying phone call from his ex-wife (James Patterson)
A body is discovered in an empty Atlanta warehouse. (Karin Slaughter)
But with the growing threat from Moscow Centre, the office has one more job for him. (John le Carre)
De Jersey’s luck runs out when his trusted advisor invests his fortune in a fledgling Internet company that crashes, leaving him with mounting debts (Lynda la Plante)
Chloe is just about the loneliest girl in the world. But then she meets Mr Stink, the local tramp. … When Mr Stink needs a place to stay Chloe decides to hide him in the garden shed (David Williams)
3. Hint at the plot of the book
We need to know what is going to happen. This is a balance between revealing too much and not revealing enough. In a way the entire blurb is hinting at the plot (whereas your synopsis is totally revealing the entire plot). But this line needs to literally spell out the action of the journey.
Rory's only choice is to find the killer himself. He risks his job, his pride and his reputation to pursue the truth. (James Patterson)
An ancient enemy lies in wait (Jeanine Frost)
They begin to unravel a dark and appalling family history. (Stieg Larsson)
Bloody footprints leading away from the scene reveal that another victim - a woman - has left the scene and vanished into thin air. (Karin Slaughter)
…but is their love strong enough to stand the ultimate test of time? (Nora Roberts)
Blomkvist and Salander are about to find out just how far they are prepared to go to protect themselves (Stieg Larsson)
In a nameless city, two rival criminal gangs are competing for control. But they hadn’t counted on Jack Reacher arriving on their patch. (Lee Child)
4. Tag only the other most important character (and keep the others nameless)
We want the reader to meet the biggest other player – but max 2. Keep to the three-word rule here with a tight description. Anyone else gets a common noun - see the Kate Furnivall example below that leaves out the names of her husband but includes the name of the dealer… hmmmm and why is that? Again you can do away with the actual name.
Many action novels with multiple plot lines may bring in a few characters here each getting their own lines - see the Terry Hayes example below for this. In a romance it will be the romantic interest you introduce here.
When Langdon’s mentor Peter Solomon – prominent mason and philanthropist – is kidnapped … (Dan Brown)
(Connie) sails with her husband and son, three friends and the enigmatic boat dealer Fitz Payne, who is the only one who can navigate the South China Sea. (Kate Furnivall)
Bosch is partnered with rookie detective Lucia Soto (Michael Connelly)
A notorious Washington power broker (John Grisham)
5. Locate the reader in the story world and setting
This is where you drop some hard-working facts into your book. Make sure your readers know in which what era or location your book is set. This may be as specific as listing a city or year, or more general.
Malaya 1941 (Kate Furnival)
The Capitol Buidling, Washington DC. Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon thinks he is where for a lecture. (Dan Brown)
Secretive clan (Stieg Larsson)
Samantha Kofer is a world away from her former life at New York's biggest law firm. If she is going to survive in coal country, she needs to start learning fast. (John Grisham)
dark state facility (Steven King)
Derry is just an ordinary town: familiar, well ordered for the most part, a good place to live (Steven King)
It works to throw in some genre-specific words
Cold case murder investigation (Ian Rankin)
A powerful spell (Jeanine Frost)
As the body count rises (David Baldacci)
A high-stakes high seas mission (Clive Cussler)
Torn between professional rivalry and a powerful attraction (Nora Roberts
Sweeping family drama (Penny Vincenzi)
An ancient world of hidden wisdom…. shadowy mythic world (Dan Brown)
6. Crank up the drama
Well this is the theme of this entire blog. But here are some examples of really, really making this seem like the biggest deal in the world. This is what makes you buy a book guys. Nobody wants to read an average story. Yawn.
Ballard knows it is always darkest before dawn. But what she doesn't know - yet - is how deep her investigation will take her into the dark heart of her city, the police department and her own past... (Michael Connelly)
And standing up for the truth means putting your life on the line . . .(John Grisham)
Gripping story (Penny Vincenzi)
But she is hiding devastating secrets … (Kate Furnivall)
Leading him to a single, impossible and inconceivable truth (Dan Brown)
Let’s put it all together. Here are three good, tight examples.
Texas Ranger by James Patterson (Action Crime)
Officer Rory Yates is called home to settle deadly scores.
His skill and commitment to the badge have seen him rise through the ranks in the Texas Ranger division, but it came at a cost – his marriage.
When he receives a worrying phone call from his ex-wife, Anne, Rory speeds to what used to be their marital home. He arrives to a horrifying crime scene and a scathing accusation: he is named a suspect in Anne's murder.
Rory's only choice is to find the killer himself. He risks his job, his pride and his reputation to pursue the truth.
Rory follows the Ranger creed – never to surrender. That code just might bring him out alive.
The Winning Hand, Nora Roberts (Romance)
Darcy Wallace is running from her old life - and running out of luck. After years of being pushed around she's set off on a liberating road trip adventure... only to have her purse stolen and her hopes dashed. Now she's alone and desperate in Las Vegas with just a few dollars left in her pocket.
Taking the biggest gamble of her life, she slips those precious three dollars into a slot machine - and hits the jackpot. Her win brings her to the attention of smart, cool-headed casino manager Robert MacGregor Blade. And they're both about to discover there's something far more valuable in life than money...
The Kept Woman, Karen Slaughter (Forensic Crime Novel)
A body is discovered in an empty Atlanta warehouse. It's the body of an ex-cop, and from the moment Special Agent Will Trent walks in he knows this could be the most devastating case of his career. Bloody footprints leading away from the scene reveal that another victim - a woman - has left the scene and vanished into thin air. And, worst of all, the warehouse belongs to the city's biggest, most politically-connected, most high-profile athlete - a local hero protected by the world's most expensive lawyers. A local hero Will has spent the last six months investigating on a brutal rape charge.
But for Will - and also for Dr Sara Linton, the GBI's newest medical examiner - the case is about to get even worse. Because an unexpected discovery at the scene reveals a personal link to Will's troubled past. The consequences will wreak havoc on his life and the lives of those he loves, those he works with, and those he pursues.
But Sara's scene-of-the-crime diagnosis is that they only have a few hours to find the missing woman before she bleeds out . . .
Sarah Bullen is a writing coach, literary agent and book editor. She coaches writers on how to become authors and how to write to get published.