By Paul Goat Allen
There are several reasons why most traditionally published novels you pick up have a blurb prominently featured on the front or back cover. The addition of a strong blurb—an endorsement by a person of note (a well-known author or expert) or an excerpt from a professional book review—immediately establishes a perceived level of quality and value. If Stephen King or John Grisham liked this novel enough to endorse it then chances are good that you would probably love it too, right? The same goes for a starred review in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, or any publication or website of note—not many releases get starred reviews so the novel with the glowing review excerpt on the cover must be an extraordinary read, right?
A strong blurb can also serve as a teaser of sorts for potential readers, giving them a little taste of what’s in store if they purchase the novel. Clayton Lindemuth’s Solomon Bull (2017) is a perfect example of a self-published novel that utilized a blurb masterfully. The blurb on the cover—an excerpt from a BlueInk review—succeeds in both establishing quality and piquing reader interest.
“A virile tale about a tough-as-nails Blackfoot Indian… a roaming badass… a well-crafted, solid thriller.”
And if I’m being completely honest, book covers with blurbs just look better, they look more polished and professional. A novel without a blurb on the front or back cover seems naked to me—unfinished.
I’ve been reviewing self-published titles for almost 30 years and I can say that although the vast majority of self-published releases don’t have blurbs, I’m seeing an increasing number that do—particular nonfiction releases. And it makes a difference. Book covers with blurbs stand out when compared to “naked” covers. They’re immediately more eye-catching and interesting, at least to me. That sense of perceived quality is definitely real.
Here are just a few examples of indie authors who have been savvy enough to seek out strong blurbs to feature on their front or back covers. You’ll notice that the Semegran cover has not one but four killer blurbs on the back cover!
The Benevolent Lords of Sometimes Island by Scott Semegran (Mutt Press, 2020):
“A genuine, moving and irresistible meditation on the value of friendship.”—BlueInk Review (Starred Review)
“A fantastic coming-of-age thriller.”—IndieReader (IR Approved)
“An absorbing, nostalgic, and polished story.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Highly accomplished and well-crafted read… a modern classic.”—Readers’ Favorite Book Reviews. 5 stars.
City of Grudges by Rick Outzen (SelectBooks, 2018):
“City of Grudges captures my hometown of Pensacola, Florida, much the same way Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil immortalized Savannah.”—Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, former congressman (R-FL)
Who’s There? A Collection of Stories by Dimas Rio (Dimas Rio, 2020):
“Dark stories that entrance and unnerve.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Unsettling, suspenseful stories (with) evocative writing.”—BlueInk Review
“The stories hum with life. An original and powerful collection.”—Self-Publishing Review
The Velocity Mindset: How Leaders Eliminate Resistance, Gain Buy-In, and Achieve Better Results—Faster by Ron Karr (Amplify Publishing, 2021):
“An extraordinary roadmap for leadership with a fresh, practical, and motivational perspective.”—Jay Baer, New York Times bestselling author of Youtility
Retrograde: The Darkness by Alicia Godmasch (IngramSpark, 2020):
“⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️”—Bianca Bowers, Clarion Book Review
No Blanks, No Pauses: A Path to Loving Self and Others by Shelly McNamara (Amplify Publishing, 2021):
“Weaving her life story with beautiful poetry, Shelly McNamara encourages all of us to think deeply about the direction of our lives and the relationships that count.”—Katie Couric
Angels in Stone by Tanja Kobasic (Stone Series Publishing, 2013)
“Simultaneously spellbinding and soul-rending.”—BlueInk Review
My Lifelong Fight Against Disease: From Polio and AIDS to COVID-19 by William A. Haseltine, PhD (Amplify Publishing, 2021)
“Place this book at the top of your list. You will be inspired to make an impact on the world, with a remarkable guide to help show you the path.” —Sanjay Gupta, MD, Associate Professor of Neurosurgery, Emory; Chief Medical Correspondent, CNN
Gawker Slayer: The Professional and Personal Adventures of Famed Attorney Charles Harder by Charles Harder (KDP, 2021)
“The highest-profile media lawyer in America.”—The Hollywood Reporter
So, that’s great—you have a catchy blurb from a well-known person, or a professional review site, that persuades readers to pick up and read your novel. But what does this ultimately mean? According to Scribe Media cofounder Tucker Max, a good blurb can increase a book’s sales between 5-10%. And while this isn’t an exactly jaw-dropping rise, it’s a nice boost from just a few sentences on the cover of your novel.
Does a strong blurb guarantee a good read? Of course not. But, again, that perceived quality and value can mean the difference between a potential reader purchasing your release or choosing another title. That one blurb has offered you the golden opportunity to sell more books, and to satisfy more readers.
Here’s the real beauty of blurbs though—not only can writers use them on front and back covers to boost interest and (ideally) sales, these blurbs can be used for self-promotion. I’ve seen blurbs all over author websites, on Amazon/Goodreads title pages, even in emails as signatures. And if a blurb or review excerpt focuses on the author and not a particular title, that author can now use that blurb indefinitely. A great example of this came back in 2018 when NPR reviewed Lavie Tidhar’s Unholy Land. The (glowing) review included the line: “Lavie Tidhar is a genius at conjuring realities that are just two steps to the left of our own—places that look and smell and feel real, if just a bit hauntingly alien.” Since then, I’ve seen the shortened blurb (“Tidhar is a genius.”—NPR) in numerous places. It’s the absolute perfect blurb—and Tidhar can, if he chooses, use it in any future promotional material he wants.
The reality, however, is that blurbs can be extremely hard to come by, with much depending on timing, who you are, and how extensive your professional and/or social network is. Review excerpts are easy enough if your release happens to get positive reviews on sites like PW or BlueInk but landing a big-name author can be a virtually impossible task, especially to a self-published author with very few connections. (In a future blog, I’ll share some relatively simple advice that could help indie authors land compelling blurbs.)
Can your novel be commercially successful without any blurbs? Of course. But if you want to give your release every chance to succeed in a brutally competitive market, securing a strong blurb is something to definitely consider.
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.