On Writing

The Book Blurb

THE BOOK BLURB

For many of us on the yellow-brick road to publication (be it our first trip down this wild path or our fourth!), we will have the opportunity to face the important and necessary stop that is The Book Blurb.

Whether we’re being asked to blurb a friend’s forthcoming book or whether we’re asking our friends/other writers to write a blurb for our forthcoming book, here are some tips on how to make the best of your Book Blurb experience.

This post answers the following questions (feel free to scroll down to the question you’d like an answer to…):

What is a book blurb?
Where does a book blurb go on a book?
What is the difference between a book blurb and a review?
What does a book blurb look like?
Who can write a book blurb?
Who and how do you ask for a book blurb?
How do you write a book blurb?
What about Kirkus Reviews?
Should you charge for writing your book blurbs? 


What is a book blurb?

A book blurb is a one-to-three sentence micro-review of a book. It’s function is to express a positive, excited and ‘wowing’ description of the book that will provoke a reader to buy and read it. Sometimes a book blurb is one word – but the word is eye-catching and powerful. The book blurb is an important part of the marketing life of a book. It is written before a book is published and intended to support the publicity and marketing cycle of the book/author.


Where does a book blurb go on a book?

Typically, book blurbs go on the cover(s) of a book. (Examples coming below.) Sometimes a short, precise blurb goes on the front cover (especially if it’s written by a ‘famous’ writer – more on this below). Blurbs typically go on the back covers of books, above or below the back cover copy (that is a short synopsis of the story/info in the book). Sometimes, blurbs fill the first few pages of the interior of the book (especially those blurbs from big-time reviewers/newspapers/writers). This depends on how many ‘advanced’ blurbs have been written before the book is published.


What is the difference between a book blurb and a review?

The main difference is length. A book blurb is short and precise, again, with its main goal communicating not only what the book is about but how well it’s written and how engaging it is. Book blurbs are not published in literary magazines/newspaper/etc.. They are ‘advanced praises’ for a forthcoming book that are used to help market the book/author.

Typically, the writer of the blurb does not get paid for her blurb writing. The writer of a book review, however, often gets paid and/or can attempt to get the review published.

When a book blurb graces a book cover, it can be said that it is ‘published’, but usually, book blurbs are not included in a writer’s publications.


Who can write a book blurb?

Anyone can write a book blurb, however, it is typically another published writer who writes in the same genre that writes the blurb. For example, a thriller writer would blurb another thriller writer’s forthcoming book. This makes sense as readers of that genre will ‘believe’ the blurb of someone who ‘knows’ that genre as they write it as well. Also, if said thriller writer is ‘well-known’ and/or sells a lot of his/her/their books, readers could be more motivated to read the blurb, believe the blurb, and purchase a book that said thriller writer says is ‘spectacularly tense!’.

You may notice that ‘debut’ (first-time) authors often have blurbs from well-known writers in that genre. This is part of the marketing power of the book blurb.

Sometimes, an expert if the field writes a blurb. There is marketing power in what ‘experts’ have to say. Yes, even if the expert isn’t a writer, said person’s opinion and expertise can help make an impact on readership and purchasing. 


What does a book blurb look like? 

Here are some examples of book blurbs, including their placement and designs.

In Jane Christmas’ most recent book (a memoir), there is a blurb located on the front cover. It is in a bright colour. It is one line in length. It includes the name of the author and her own book title.

The back cover of Jane’s book is all blurbs – or in this case, ‘advanced praise’. You can see that some of the blurbs are longer than three sentences, but they are still shorter than a book ‘review’. Each author’s name and book title is included. The description of Jane’s book is located on the left jacket flap of the book cover.


Karen Dionne’s new thriller just came out. The front cover of her book, The Wicked Sister, includes a blurb placed in a unique, bright circle. It stands out and is eye-catching. It is written by one of the genre’s best-selling writers, Megan Miranda, the author of ‘All The Missing Girls’. The blurb quote is three words in length. The words are powerful and descriptive. Because Miranda has sold many books and has a major fan base, it is likely that her fans/readers will buy Dionne’s book because Miranda ‘blurbed’ that it’s so great.


The back cover of The Wicked Sister includes advanced praise. For those who read thrillers, they will be very enticed and motivated to buy this book because of the writers who’ve blurbed. They are all major writers in the genre.


Teva Harrison’s collection of poetry, Not One of These Poems Is About You, does not have a blurb on the front cover. Typically, poetry books do not have blurbs on the front cover. But, it is possible to include one if the design/blurb supports the marketing of the book.


The back of Harrison’s poetry book includes back cover copy (synopsis) of the poetry as well as several blurbs from other poets. There is also a blurb from one of Canada’s leading CBC radio hosts, Shelagh Rogers. She hosts ‘The Next Chapter’, a Q&A show for writers. Though Rogers is not a poet, she is ‘famous’ in the literary scene in Canada, an expert in the field of writing. This is an example of a blurb that doesn’t come from a writer, but certainly an ‘expert’ in the field.


Another example of a front cover blurb is shown here on Jillian Boehme’s book ‘Stormrise’. This is another example of a short, punchy blurb to capture a potential reader/buyer’s attention. The quote is from a famous, high-selling Young Adult author. Stormrise is a YA novel.


The back cover is comprised predominantly of back cover copy or synopsis. There is another blurb – a short one-liner – at the bottom of the cover. This blurb is by another famous, high-selling YA author. It makes marketing sense, in this case though, that there is back cover copy as young readers are attracted to flashy covers with bold imagery, and they want to know what the book is about perhaps a bit more than what other writers are saying about it.


There are no blurbs or one-liners about ‘best-sellers’ on the cover of Natalie Jenner’s debut novel, The Jane Austen Society. However, it was the cover, specifically the bold, easy-to-read title and the delicate flowers that attracted my attention.


The back cover is filled with blurbs, or in this case ‘praise’, for the book. All blurbs are from ‘New York Times Best Seller or International Best-Selling’ authors. The praise is high!


There are two major marketing tools on the cover of Ami Mckay’s memoir, Daughter of Family G. At the top, musician and memoirist, Jann Arden offers a blurb. Jann Arden is one of Canada’s most famous musicians. She has a robust social media presence. Certainly her words go a long way with potential book-buyers/readers. Under Ami’s name, is a line that speaks to the previous success of her work – that her other two novels are best-sellers.

What’s unique about this back cover is that we can now read Jann Arden’s ‘full’ blurb. All of these blurbs are labelled ‘advanced praise’. These are longer blurbs than the others, but speak to the power of what the blurbs are actually saying. In this case, it seems that designers/the marketing team were willing to include more text per blurb.


Who and how do you ask for a book blurb?

As you gather friends and acquaintances over your writing career, it becomes part of the literary experience to ask each other for book blurbs. When you do readings or attend events and you connect with fellow writers, relationships begin to build as do careers, and there’ll likely come a time when you or your writer friend will need a book blurb.

So, the ‘who’ is those friends and acquaintances you’ve built relationships with over time. Sometimes, they are writers who write in the same genre as you do. This is helpful since, as mentioned above, readers/buyers will pay attention to what other writers in the genre have to say.

You may also ask ‘experts’ in the field of the subject matter you’ve written about. If, for example, you’ve written a collection of poetry about flowers, it may be a unique marketing tool to request a blurb from a horticulturalist or someone who owns a flower shop.

Or, you can request a blurb from a person in the literary world in general, as was the case for Teva Harrison and the blurb she received from Shelagh Rogers.

But wait, you say! Isn’t my publisher/publicist supposed to handle the getting of the blurbs? Well, if that is part of your contract/deal with your publisher and/or if there is a publicist/marketing team in place to work with you, then yes. The discussion of who requests the book blurb definitely needs to be had. However, you can still give the names of folks you’d like to write a blurb to your publisher/marketing team – especially if these folks are friends who you know would want to write a blurb and support your work in that way.

Can you request a blurb from a person you don’t know but whose writing you really love? The ‘blind’ blurb request is totally a possibility. If you can get that person’s contact information, there’s no reason you cannot ‘request’ a blurb.

‘Musts’ for a book blurb request: *things to include in your email/conversation

  • an ARC – Advanced Readers Copy (in pdf format) – of your manuscript (this is just the interior of your book – and doesn’t have to be a proof – with the copy (writing) as complete as possible.
  • a brief synopsis/pitch about the book so the writer has an idea of what they’ll be reading.
  • the date/deadline the book blurb needs to be written. Requests for blurbs take place well before the book’s release date, and closer to layout and design so the blurb can be used in the design/on the cover before it goes to print. Timing is very important here. 
  • contact information for who the blurb needs to be sent to.
  • a kind, honest request for the blurb – honesty is really the best policy here. Be gentle in your request especially if the turn-around time for when the blurb is needed is quick. This happens a lot so folks know that often they’ll need to read and respond quickly, but it still feels good to know that if you have say ‘no’, it’s totally fine.
  • if you are sending a ‘blind’ request, be honest and kind about why you’re requesting a blurb from the person.

Note #1 – If you’re unsure/anxious about requesting a blurb, it’s also fine to put out a general request asking a person if they actually do blurb books and if they think they’d have time to do one. Do not include the ARC in said request. If they say yes, then you can send the ARC.

Note #2 – Keep positive when you get a ‘no’ in response. Be grateful the person was honest with you about his/her/their time. It’s just as hard to say no as it is to say yes! It’s not personal. More often than not, it’s just a time/busy-ness conflict.

Note #3 – Do you need someone ‘famous’ and/or ‘best-selling’ to blurb your book? Absolutely not. However, the marketing machine certainly ‘shows’ that famous writers blurbing other writer’s books is part of the system. Do you know a best-selling/famous writer? If you do, go ahead and request the blurb if it feels right!

Note #4 – If I ask a writer for a blurb for my book, does that mean I have to write a blurb for their book? This is a good question. There are no ‘rules’ around this exchange. If said writer requests a blurb from you, you have to be honest about whether or not you can do it. If you can, you want to, it all works out, then yes, of course! It’s a go-with-the-flow exchange.

Note #5 – What if a writer asks you to blurb his/her/their book, but you don’t write in that genre, and you’re feeling anxiety about what you have to offer? Again, honesty is the best policy here. Trust your intuition, but also trust the person asking. It’s possible that there is something about you, your writing, your creative spirit that has inspired the person to request a blurb from you. Consider who is requesting and trust your creative heart and skills to respond accordingly.


How do you write a book blurb?

Okay, so you’ve got to write a book blurb. How the heck do you do it?

  1. Read the ARC/manuscript. Me, personally, I read the whole thing. Though some writers are very adept at reading a certain amount of the book and getting enough insight that it sparks a response, for me, I always feel like I don’t want to miss anything so I read the whole thing. The point is – you have to read the work! If you can read the work in 1-2 sittings, it will be fresh in your mind, heart, soul so you can more easily write a response.
  2. Take notes/make notes. I’m all about making notes when I read an ARC/new book. I write on the manuscript pages if I print it out or I write notes on a piece of paper or in a new document as I read so I can start to gather my thoughts. Usually, I make enough notes that I can get a solid start on the blurb.
  3. Be precise but over-arching. While I often make notes on individual poems and/or specific lines/paragraphs that really provoke me, it’s necessary to use these responses as well as comment on the overall collection/story. (This is why, for me, reading the whole manuscript is important. It’s easier for me to get that over-arching response when I read it through to the end.)
  4. React. Respond. Response. For me, writing a blurb is about paying attention to my initial, heart, gut reactions to what I’m reading and then folding them in a well-thought out response. The difference between a reaction and response it time. This is also why I make notes as I’m reading to capture my initial ‘reactions’ that I can then return to after I read the whole thing, let it sit in my mind and body, and then write a response. So – a blurb includes heart-felt, emotional reactions mixed with an overall, well-thought out response.
  5. Usually, my first draft of a blurb is too long. Again, it’s made up of that delicate balance of reactions that it takes time to cultivate into responses. But, much of the precision is born in the editing (as always!). This is when I do my best to write several one-liners that the publisher/writer can use for marketing purposes.
  6. Comparisons? Sometimes, you’ll read in a blurb that a book is like another book…but with some clever difference. It’s totally fine to write fun comparisons.
  7. Include the title of the book and the author’s name into each sentence if you can. Include quotes from the poetry, if you’re writing a blurb for a poetry collection (but only a short quote…part of a stanza or line).
  8. It’s totally acceptable to use ‘I’. A first-person response is part of the magic and gift of the book blurb.
  9. Include how you want your name/info to appear after the blurb. For example: Bonnie Blurbington, author of ‘Blurbity-Bing-Bong – The Bleckoning’.
  10. The blurb should be no more than eight sentences – and that’s long. A 2-3 sentence blurb, where each sentence or even parts of the sentence can be used for marketing is really what you’re goal should be.
  11. When in doubt, go to your favourite books and read the blurbs on them.
  12. Give yourself time to read the book as well as ruminate and write the blurb. For me, this is anywhere from 1-3 hours (usually not in a row!).

Here are some examples:

“Famed aviator Beryl Markham is a novelist’s dream…[A] wonderful portrait of a complex woman who lived–defiantly–on her own terms.” 

  • You can see that the ‘…’ ellipsis indicates that there was ‘more’ to this sentence, however, they only used a excerpt. This blurb shows the over-arching part of a blurb that explains a bit of the plot/story/character. It is a positive description of what the book is about.

 “An intense, vivid novel…It is tempting to say that ‘The Red Tent’ is what the Bible would be like if it had been written by women, but only Diamant could have given it such sweep and grace.” 

  • Here we have an example of a ‘comparison’ (and what a might comparison it is!) as well as the use of the title of the book and the author’s name.

“I fell in love with ‘Full’s’ honesty and its humour. Kimber writes with a passion conveying her experiences intimately. I felt her presence, her struggles, and her success as if she were sitting next to me whispering into my ear! This book is certain to be a refuge and bible for all women struggling with body image.” 

  • An example of a ‘first-person’ blurb, this one uses ‘I’ and includes herself in the response to reading the book by describing how it felt to read and experience the words first-hand.

“An epic but intimate family novel with richly imagined characters.”

  • Bam! Here is the power of one-liner – precise but overarching.

“Circling the Sun soars.”

  • One line that includes the title…and only one word! Precise. Powerful. Provocative.

What about Kirkus Reviews?

I bet we’ve all seen ‘Kirkus’ on books before – be it in a pull-quote from a blurb or as part of a full review published in an article or on the author’s social media. Kirkus Reviews have been around for decades, and are a leading go-to for blurbs/reviews for writers in all genres. Perhaps you’ve even seen a ‘starred Kirkus review’  where there are stars attached to the blurb or review. The star-system is part of the Kirkus deal, when getting a ‘star’ elevates the book to a higher status.

Indeed, status is key here. The brand of ‘Kirkus’ for the publishing world is real and powerful. Kirkus has a rich history in the literary world. You can read about it here.

But how does one get a Kirkus review? In one word: money. In more than one word, it is possible for a writer to pay for a Kirkus review and/or for the publisher to pay for a Kirkus review. It’s a simple process. The website is really great in explaining how it works. As well, you can see all the amazing things Kirkus is up to, including reading their magazine, and finding out about their awards. Click here to find out how to get your book reviewed. (If you’re bursting to get a sense of price, the cost is $425USD for 1 book and 250 words in the review.)


So, should you charge for writing your book blurbs? 

In my experience, I’ve never charged someone for writing a book blurb. I’ve also never been offered money to write one. At least in the literary circles I play in, I don’t know that any of us make money off writing blurbs. It’s a really good and important question considering we typically already do loads of ‘love’ work for free as writers. I think it’s worth it to bring this topic up during your local writers’ union meeting or writer’s group session. If you’re affiliated with/are a member with a writing group, perhaps we can start the conversation about grants and/or payment plans for writing blurbs. It certainly takes time and energy to write a blurb, and it is done in the spirit of supporting a fellow writer, so the ‘work’ comes from a good place.

Maybe you do charge to write a book blurb or book review? Do share that process with us!

I hope this blog post has been enlightening and helpful! We are all in this together – writing our hearts out and hoping for readers to read our words and be affected by them. Thank you to all those who’ve written blurbs!

2 thoughts on “The Book Blurb

  1. So helpful! everything you always wanted to know about a book blurb but were afraid to ask… Thanks Vanessa for doing all this work and spreading the word… and your choice of books and their blurbs leave me wanting to read them all.

    Like

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