The evil that is blurb-writing…

There’s no doubt about it.  Writing a blurb for the book jacket is either an art or a form of torture which should be outlawed under the Geneva Convention. 

Probably both. 

But I believe that part of the agony for the writer may lie in a misunderstanding of what the blurb is there for. 

And this is the point where the readers of this post say, “Bennetts, obviously it’s to tell potential readers what the book’s about.  ‘Struth, you get stupider every week!”

Well, yes-ish.  Quite possibly.

But telling what the book’s about is not really what the blurb is there for.  It’s really to get the potential reader to buy the book. 

Now, I’ve always maintained that authors should not, I repeat should not, have anything to do with their own blurb or possibly even with their own pitch.  Because if the author could sum up in 180 words what their book was about, they wouldn’t have to bother writing all 100K+ of the thing, would they? 

They’d write the little article, say what they had to say, and then wander off for a round of golf or a dip in the sea…

Ask a novelist to write their own blurb and they come up with all the important things they’re saying in the book, and three quarters of the plot, and then some…No, no, and no.

How much of the plot?  Probably no more than the first fifty to one hundred pages worth, with a hint of what follows.  But absolutely no giveaways.

A bit about the setting or period should be included.  So that a reader of fantasy or historical fiction can identify that they’d like it.

Another few hints about the characters the reader will meet within the covers of said oeuvre.

And a bit about the writing, if there is a style to be noted.

All of these are messages to the potential reader of ‘if you liked that, you’ll like this…’

That’s pretty much it.  And the fact of the matter is that few authors have the ability to detach and to be that hard, cold and business-like about their own books.  We always want to say, ‘But you haven’t mentioned…’

Which is a roundabout way to say that the blurb for my new book, Of Honest Fame, has now been written for the Advanced Information sheets.  (Yes, I’m a little excited…)

Did I write it? 

Er… That would be no. 

They did let me look at it.  And I should like to stress that looking involves the eyes and not the fingers on the keyboard…

Yes, of course, I did try to suggest that there were a couple of other characters or things that might be included which were very important.  I was being helpful.  They no doubt thought I was being petulant.

So I was ignored.  As was right and proper. 

And that’s my news…

And I’ll just go back to the growlery now and get on with the part which I do best…


10 comments on “The evil that is blurb-writing…

  1. Excellent! And so true. Thank you.

  2. Ellie says:

    I had very little to do with the advance info for Songs, but I was expected to write the jacket copy for it. My editor said they liked to let the author have the first go, as some of them are quite good at it, then if necessary bash it into shape afterwards. It was agonising, but the end result was quite pleasing. Rather like childbirth, I imagine.

  3. Mockingbird says:

    I cannot write blurb… I try… usually I fail. It’s very painful.

  4. Rudolf says:

    I remember the closest I came to this was the blurb we had to put up on Authonomy. I tried it many times with varying degrees of failure.

    I guess I have to just get on with the other side instead and forget about this unless or until the time comes when such a thing is needed… Am not holding breath these days, I’d have expired long ago 😉

    • M M Bennetts says:

      Unless we’re brilliant at it, we’re all complete rubbish. And I don’t mean that we’re just not good at it, I mean we’re wholly useless. I am.

      (And no, editor and editor in chief, if you’re reading this, I do not want it corroborated for my readers…)

      But I truly believe it’s this thing of if we could have said it in 180 words rather than 100K, we would have done. So don’t ask us.

  5. Toby Neal says:

    Oh that I should get that far. *growlery here I come*
    I hate that tooting your own horn shit.

  6. cavalrytales says:

    You know it’s difficult when no-one’s written a ‘How To’ book or promises for $25 you can ‘Write your own Blurb in 28 days – or your Money Back’.

    C’mon – SOMEONE must have a formula. Pretty please?

    • M M Bennetts says:

      Count the number of words in blurbs in books to which yours is similar. Break down what they’ve in their paragraphs: story; characters, writing, etc. Then go and do likewise. The trick about blurbs is to give the general reader the idea, but not to get so specific that they’re overwhelmed with detail.

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