April 21, 2020

5 Ways a Bad Back Cover Blurb Can Kill a Good Book

By Paul Goat Allen

This may sound crazy but the back cover blurb for your novel—essentially a synoptic teaser—just may be the most important part of your self-published book. Here’s why:
Some readers out there will buy a book solely on cover art—and cover art is hugely significant for that reason—but the vast majority will read the book’s back cover blurb (or overview if they’re purchasing online) to see if the storyline sounds interesting.

Think of your blurb as a street sign outside of a newly opened restaurant promoting the establishment’s specialties. If the sign is effective, passersby will enter the restaurant and sample its culinary offerings. If it’s not effective, they’ll just keep walking.

Your blurb is that sidewalk sign. It is your very limited time—sometimes just a few seconds—to get potential readers interested in your book.

Do you want to guarantee that no one will buy your book except for family members and friends? It’s easy—just write a crappy blurb. If you don’t think that you can produce a truly terrible back cover blurb, here are five helpful hints:

1. Just don’t write one

Skip the whole thing entirely. That way, potential readers will have absolutely nothing to go on except the title and cover art. (Believe it or not, I’ve seen more than a few self-published books with no blurb whatsoever—just blank space.)

2. Write a blurb that is almost as long as the book

This is almost as bad as no blurb at all. I’ve reviewed self-published novels where the back cover is filled—top to bottom—with rambling blurbs. An effective blurb is short and sweet; it’s called a teaser for a reason. Don’t go into too much detail here: identify the category (mystery, romance, thriller, etc.), introduce your potential readers to your central character or characters, describe concisely the conflict, and end the blurb with a thought-provoking sentence. This is the bait that ideally will hook your reader.

Below are four prime examples of effective blurbs. All of these novels were exceptional—and all had impressively strong back cover copy.

The back cover blurb on Merritt Grave’s military science fiction adventure Lakes of Mars (2019) instantly hooks the reader with a great first sentence: “Aaron Sheridan doesn’t want to live anymore.”

Mark Lunde’s The Phantom of Witch’s Tree (2018) identifies the novel’s category with a back cover blurb that perfectly describes the book as a “novel that shatters all the shoot-‘em-up conventions of the traditional western as it shifts seamlessly between dark fantasy, horror, and the supernatural, unleashing a wild ride through an Old West never before experienced.”

Jaye Wells ends her back cover blurb of Meridian Six—an apocalyptic thriller that she self-published in 2013—with the ultimate teaser: “When the world is at war, freedom is a luxury paid for with blood.”

Brian James Gage ends his back cover blurb of The Nosferatu Conspiracy—a dark blend of occult fantasy, alternate history, and apocalyptic fiction revolving around a vampiric Rasputin that he self-published earlier this year—with a great teaser: “History is a lie. The truth will be exposed.”

3. Use an excerpt from the novel as your blurb

This is risky business as far as I’m concerned. I have seen this idea work on a few books, but it fails more often than not. And although this may not be the case, it makes the author seem unmotivated—too lazy to write a good back cover teaser. You want your book to look absolutely polished, and having a well-written and compelling blurb gives the reader an indication of what’s to come.

4. Use the blurb to stroke you own ego

This is a big one for me. When I’m browsing through self-published books or ebooks online looking for something to review and come across an overview that is less about the novel and more about the author, I cringe—and never review the book.

I don’t want to come across as rude here, but I don’t care about how many degrees you have or how many stories you wrote when you were in grade school or what your hobbies are or how many pets you have. If it doesn’t directly pertain to the novel or the inspiration behind writing the novel, don’t share it. It’s about the story, not you.

5. Take all the passion out of it

A back cover blurb, or ebook overview, is not just a synopsis. And this is the biggest misconception for self-published authors. The majority of self-published books I read have a clinical synopsis for a blurb. That’s adequate but more often than not, these lack passion and power… that hook that I mentioned earlier. You’re excited about your book, right? The blurb is your chance to get others excited too. Convey that passion through the blurb!

The bottom line here is this: the back cover blurb shouldn’t be an afterthought. It is hugely important and should be as polished and powerful as the actual novel.

Paul Goat Allen has been reviewing books for more than 25 years. In addition to BlueInk Review, his work has appeared with BarnesandNoble.com, The Chicago Tribune, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and more. He also teaches in Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction graduate writing program. Readers of this blog are offered a $50 discount on a BlueInk review by using the “key code” Allen. (This in no way guarantees a review by Allen.)

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