Blurb or Babble?

Text Balloons

Image via IndieReader Publishing Service

Like most readers, I have a never-ending appetite but not a purse to match, so I must take care to spend my money wisely. Lately, I’ve become more aware of book blurbs. I subscribe to a couple of lists that tell me what e-book bargains are available and every day I get a new batch of recommendations. In grid form, they show the book cover and next to it, the blurb.

A blurb, the way I see it, is an open-ended summary of your story’s characters, conflicts, and goals delivered in a compelling, short form that will inform the potential reader and entice her to buy, or at least look at, your book. When seen in grid form, where comparing blurbs is easily done, lazy blurbs stand out.

Want one? All you have to do is follow this formula:

When Suddenly + Chosen One = Question

When Suddenly

The protagonist is living a happy-go-lucky life as a normal person when suddenly mysterious people start picking on him/her. Alternate: protagonist is a former military person with issues or a woman with an unhappy past.

Chosen One

The protagonist becomes aware that s/he is the person foretold by the prophecy and the salvation of the entire world rests on her/his shoulders. In fantasies, they usually awaken to powers hitherto unknown or in other types of books, they end up being the only one with the right skills to find the truth.


This is the part that’s supposed to get the reader’s blood going and generally includes a list of the obstacles: On the run from the police/evil sorcerers/abusive ex-husband, can the protagonist find the killer/control the power/defeat the ex before the murderer strikes again/destroys the world/deals out more abuse? Not that a question can’t be useful, but if your protagonist is a cop trying to catch a killer, then it’s just silly to ask a question about whether or not he can do so – he wouldn’t be the protagonist if he couldn’t, right?

Bonus points if you use phrases like ‘race against time.’

So what makes a good book blurb?

As I expected when I began to research this topic, everybody’s got an idea and some even have it broken down into steps (there’s a list of the links I read at the bottom of this post). But here’s the gist I got:

  • Know what kind of blurbs appeal to you as a reader (augh, research? LOL)
  • Keep it short (maybe 4 paragraphs maximum)
  • Don’t give away the store (they’re supposed to buy the book to see what happens, remember?)
  • Remember that it’s about the story and characters, not the setting or the era (Ancient Rome was interesting, but if it’s a romance, I need to feel I’ll like the couple)
  • Set a mood (give me a taste your writing and how it evokes the atmosphere of the story)
  • Work as hard at polishing your blurb as you do your novel

Got your own list for what makes a good blurb? Tell me about it in the comments. In matters of writing advice, I’m like the Waco Kid in Blazing Saddles. When Sheriff Bart asked him if he needed any help, he replied, “Ohhhh – all I can get.”

Blurb Writing Blog List

  1. How to Write a Blurb by Marilynn Byerly
  2. Four Easy Steps to an Irresistible Book Blurb
  3. How to Write an Effective Blurb for a Self-Published Book by Sarah Juckes
  4. The Five Core Elements of a Book Blurb by Frances Reid Rowland (my fave of the blog posts)
  5. Blurbs That Bore, Blurbs That Blare by MichaelBrent Collins

Oh, Damn

ghost group at Hardwick House, Hawstead, Suffolk, England 1884

“Oh, damn!” The ghost said, contemplating the wheezing, struggling man on the floor. “Sorry! Sorry!” He exerted himself to become more tangible in order to help the portly man back to his feet.

Red in the face, the man glared at the apologetic spectre.

“Just what do you think you were about?” he demanded.

The ghost would have blushed had he been able. “Sorry! It’s just that so few of the living come by anymore and there are quite a few of us spirits in this place and so we’ve become rather competitive, you see, and -”

The man seemed to puff up even more, his red face shading more into purple. “D’you mean to say that you’re contesting one another to scare the daylights out of unsuspecting people?” He shook a finger violently at the ghost, who glided back a step or two in alarm. “Don’t you realise such things could get out of hand? You could give someone a serious turn and then where you would be? Spectres like you are the reason honest house agents like myself have a difficulty in finding owners for these ridiculous relics and more than one ghost has gone wanting for a place to haunt when their castle falls down about their heads for lack of proper maintenance!”

“Sorry! Sorry!” the ghost said again. “Terribly, awfully, sorry. Really. Wasn’t thinking, is all.” He floated closer and brushed at the man’s suit. “All over now, though, right? No harm done, eh?”

“No harm done? No harm done?!” The finger came out again to stab at the air, then suddenly, the man’s eyes rolled back in his head and he fell bonelessly to the floorboards.

The ghost, startled, crept closer. “Excuse me? Are you alright?” He reached out a transparent hand and pushed at the man’s chest. The man’s eyes flew open, he took a great, gasping breath, and then his eyes snapped shut and the breath blew out of him in a gust. A moment later, a portly spirit emerged from the fleshly chrysalis, finger still raised to berate.

“Oh, damn!” the ghost said.