June 10, 2013

5 ways a bad back cover blurb can kill a good book

By BlueInk Guest Blogger, 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 it’s an ebook) 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!)

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

This is almost as bad as no blurb at all. An effective blurb is short and sweet; it’s called a teaser for a reason. Don’t go into too much detail here: 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.

For example, here is the last sentence of the overview for Jaye Wells’s recently released self-published ebook Meridian Six: “When the world is at war, freedom is a luxury paid for with blood.”

My optimum blurb, or overview, would be one or two paragraphs long.

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 read and come across an overview that is less about the novel and more about the author, I cringe — and do not buy the book.

I don’t want to come across as rude here, but I don’t care about where you went to college or how many stories you wrote when you were in grade school or what your hobbies are or how many pets you have. The less I know about you the better. 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 synopsis for a blurb. That’s adequate but more often than not, these lack passion, power, the 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 full-time for almost 20 years, including writing for BlueInk Review, a service devoted to reviewing self-published work exclusively. In addition to BlueInk Review, his work has appeared with BarnesandNoble.com, The Chicago Tribune, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and more. Readers of this blog are offered a $75 discount on a BlueInk review by using the discount code D7G2. (This in no way guarantees a review by Allen.)

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