The art of back cover blurbs can be tricky. Whether you’re writing a back-cover blurb for your blog page, your publisher, your query, or whatever else, making a back-cover blurb that is enticing yet doesn’t give away too much is a fine line.
Through many hours browsing the library and picking up random tomes that would strike my fancy, or wandering the aisles of Barnes & Noble, I have concocted a formula to help you beautify an existing, or create a rockin’ back- cover blurb that will grab the attention of even the most dubious readers.
Some basic tips in the art of blurb-crafting:
1) Your back- cover blurb is supposed to sound like your voice. Nothing is more boring than a cut and dried, seeming laundry list of facts that makes it seem like the author used a fill-in-the-blank form to insert important information about the plot in a last-ditch effort to get someone to read their work. Add some sugar. Add some spice. But make it nice. Make the back-cover blurb sound like your voice, whatever that may be. It gives the reader a sneak-peak of what they’re getting into. While 99.9% of back cover blurbs are told in third-person, there is still some room for originality.
2) There are certain things that MUST be in your back cover blurb while still maintaining some intrigue. Especially in YA and MG, the main character’s names and ages must be referred to. But character names, and a basic sketch of what kind of character this story focuses on is important. Setting, especially if the setting is exotic or interesting is another good staple (though not completely essential). The stakes for your characters are A MUST. A basic understanding of the plot is also obviously needed.
3). Try to include what kind of read this will be, light and fluffy, dense or profound, chilling and twisted, candid and cute, romantic and steamy— there are a plethora of moods and images a novel can evoke, make sure the reader knows which one they’ll be privy to.
4) Leave the reader with something to think about, or something to question. End with a line for them to chew on that makes them want to pick the book off the shelf and carry it home. The final line of the back-cover blurb is perhaps the most important.
Some notable examples:
The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.
But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who
have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.
The first sentence of this back-cover blurb is awesome. The stakes are clearly present. And best of all, the reader knows there is romance, and that a forbidden love is enclosed within, but there is no laundry list of the things Celia likes about Marco and likewise. Love mentioned without getting to mushy and clique. Excellent.
Bono met his wife in high school, Park says.
So did Jerry Lee Lewis, Eleanor answers.
I’m not kidding, he says.
You should be, she says, we’re 16.
What about Romeo and Juliet?
Shallow, confused, then dead.
I love you, Park says
Wherefore art thou, Eleanor answers.
I’m not kidding, he says.
You should be.
Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed misfits—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.
While adding character dialogue into the back cover blurb isn’t super common, it definitely works here. The last sentence is a cute lead- in to the story that definitely puts a smile on my face. You definitely know what kind of story you’re reading before you flip to the first page.
Jason has a problem. He doesn’t remember anything before waking up on a school bus holding hands with a girl. Apparently she’s his girlfriend Piper, his best friend is a kid named Leo, and they’re all students in the Wilderness School, a boarding school for “bad kids.” What he did to end up here, Jason has no idea-except that everything seems very wrong.
Piper has a secret. Her father has been missing for three days, and her vivid nightmares reveal that he’s in terrible danger. Now her boyfriend doesn’t recognize her, and when a freak storm and strange creatures attack during a school field trip, she, Jason, and Leo are whisked away to someplace called Camp Half-Blood. What is going on?
Leo has a way with tools. His new cabin at Camp Half-Blood is filled with them. Seriously, the place beats Wilderness School hands down, with its weapons training, monsters, and fine-looking girls. What’s troubling is the curse everyone keeps talking about, and that a camper’s gone missing. Weirdest of all, his bunkmates insist they are all-including Leo-related to a god.
To write a back-cover blurb for his spin-off series is a tall order, and Riordan has a lot of information to convey, but by breaking it up into characters like this is a great tool to use. You get a feel for all your main players, you get the stakes, and he is able to draw intrigue into each of their plot threads to definitely make this story seem inviting.
Around the world, black handprints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.
In a dark and dusty shop, a devil’s supply of human teeth grown dangerously low.
And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.
Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she’s prone to disappearing on mysterious “errands”; she speaks many languages–not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she’s about to find out.
Taylor definitely uses the unique setting of her story to her advantage, and she definitely has a way of outlining her characters to make them seem like the type of character you’d really want to spend 300+ pages with. Taylor’s inclusion of cool little detail also draws interest to her story; she knows just what details from her story to include on the back cover to make you want to look inside.
Up until senior year, Greg has maintained total social invisibility. He only has one friend, Earl, and together they spend their time—when not playing video games and avoiding Earl’s terrifying brothers— making movies, their own versions of Coppola and Herzog cult classics. Greg would be the first one to tell you his movies are f*@$ing terrible, but he and Earl don’t make them for other people. Until Rachel.
Rachel has leukemia, and Greg’s mom gets the genius idea that Greg should befriend her. Against his better judgment and despite his extreme awkwardness, he does. When Rachel stops treatment, Greg and Earl decide the thing to do is to make a film for her, which turns into the Worst Film Ever Made and becomes a turning point in each of their lives.
And all at once Greg must abandon invisibility and stand in the spotlight.
This is a great back-cover blurb that has a lot of personality and voice. You definitely get a feel for the characters, their stakes, and already have no qualms in comparing Greg to Holden Caulfield.
While some back-cover blurbs will be longer than others (I am guilty of long blurbs) 300 words should be the limit.
Some things to avoid:
1) Your characters can come off sounding clique and flat if they are chalked up to as “the mysterious and handsome stranger” or “the guy with dreamy eyes” or “super popular and perfect cheerleader” ect. Though your character may be mysterious and handsome, or may contain dreamy eyes, don’t describe them as such. Find a more original, and deeper way to describe them or else they come off as stock characters with no personality.
2) Maybe this is more of a personal preference but try not to end the back- cover blurb with a question. “Can she find a way to love despite her battle scars before she loses the one she cares about?” “Can they save the world despite the odds against them?” Because typically stories are fraught with happy endings. We know from the beginning that the answer to these question is yes. So why ask the question? For me, I get tired of reading back- cover blurbs that end in questions. Rarely, rarely, does a back cover blurb that ends with a question actually make me want to read the book. I feel like ending in a question is a bit of an easy escape and that there are much more original and enticing ways to end a blurb. (Though there is the rare exception of an author who uses a rhetorical question well).
3) Try to avoid making your story sound average. Use enticing details and colorful language. Take the best of your story out there. Don’t hold back. Don’t think “well, that’s only a minor plot thread, maybe I shouldn’t mention it..”, if it’s cool– it needs to go in there. Avoid starting off with phrases like “_____is the new kid in school” or “in a small town where nothing ever happens” or “on a dark and stormy night” or “no one understands ______”, these starters scream of clique, teen angst, or ho-humness.
4) Try not outline your romantic threads if they are not relevant to your plot/ the flow of your back- cover blurb. It is almost a given these days that nearly every book will have some amount of romance. Try to avoid throwing in the fact that there is romance just to throw it in. (For instance, “Daughter of Smoke and Bone” definitely has romance in it, but I was hooked on Taylor’s book without even knowing about the male love interest from her blurb).
5) Try not to use second person unless you’re sure you can rock it. Asking the reader to “imagine a world where _____” or “Picture a world where______” can work in middle grade or children’s books, but should be used with caution.
These are just some musings and tips I have developed over time and is by no means the law on writing such things, just some hopefully helpful tips from a Little Lady 😉
What are some of your favorite back cover blurbs?
Make sure you check out all of the Lit Lady’s book blurbs on this link here.