Why You Need the Perfect Book Blurb – and How to Write it

Welcome back to my occasional series on marketing your book.

In this series, I hope to help you find your way through the mass of information on book marketing and find a route through that works for you.

I don’t claim to be a book marketing expert, but as someone who’s been doing this for a couple of years I hope I can pass on tips that’ll help people who are also starting out. And I’ll tell you what I did wrong so you don’t have to make the same mistakes as me.

So far in this series we’ve looked at:

As you’ll know if you’ve been following my newsletter, I’ve been focusing on my book blurbs in recent weeks. This is the text which goes on the back of a physical book and on your sales page in the book retailers.

The blurb is crucial. I don’t believe it’s quite as important as the cover, but I do think it’s very important. There are plenty of examples of people rewriting their blurbs and seeing sales increase (although the impact isn’t as drastic as getting yourself the right cover, in my experience).

So once you’ve got a quality, on-genre cover for your book, the next thing to do is to write the blurb.

Options for Writing Your Blurb

There are a few approaches to this:

  • Take the synopsis of your book and condense it into a hundred words or so.
  • Hire someone who knows how to do book blurbs and leave it to them.
  • Learn how to create your own blurbs and test them until you find one that works.

Let’s take a look at each of these in turn.

Option 1: Condense Your Synopsis to Create Your Blurb

This is what most of us do when we write our first blurb. I know I did.

If your blurb starts with the words ‘it’s about a girl/guy/elf/cat/dinosaur that does x and meets y and z happens…’ then you’re taking this approach.

And I’m afraid it doesn’t work.

Just like your cover, your blurb is a marketing tool. It’s a piece of advertising copy (yes it is). So you need to write it according to the rules of copywriting.

If your blurb just describes the plot, that will do two things:

  • It will bore people.
  • It will spoil the book.

And it will also be impossible to write in a pithy way.

Instead, your blurb should entice people. It should introduce them to your main character, give a hook (if your book has one), and make them want to know more.

So avoid summarizing the plot. People don’t care. They want to know who your story is about, what’s different about it, and why they should care enough to read it.

I’ll provide some examples shortly. But first…

Option 2 – Hire Your Blurb Out

This is a valid approach. There are people out there who do this for a living, and have achieved great results for their clients.

But it’s not the approach I’ve chosen to take.

You’re a writer. You may not be comfortable with advertising copy, but you’ve got a BIG head start on 99% of the population. You can probably learn this.

But if you do decide to hire it out, do your homework. Check out reviews for the person you’re hiring it to. Ask to see examples of their work. Check out those books on Amazon and see what their sales are like. Is the blurb working? Would it make you want to buy the book?

If you’re 100% positive that this person knows what they’re doing, then hire them. It will cost you money but could save you time which you can spend writing the next book.

Option 3 – Learn to Write Blurbs Yourself

This is the approach I’ve chosen. It means time away from writing but over time, it will give me a skill which I can use to sell books for the long term, and will save me money.

As I become more proficient, I anticipate being able to write blurbs more quickly, and it wouldn’t be worth the money to hire it out.

And while I’m testing my blurb skills, I can be making money from the ads I’m using to do that testing.

This is the approach recommended by Nicholas Erik, who writes excellent long-form marketing guides:

  1. Pick one of your books.
  2. Identify a budget you would have allocated to hiring it out (a good blurb writer will charge a few hundred dollars).
  3. Try writing different versions of the blurb yourself, honing it as you go. Spend that budget on running ads to test the conversion rate of the blurb.

This way you’ll spend the same amount of money, learn a new skill, and make some money from the sales you get while you test.

This is the approach I’ve taken, and it’s starting to work. I ran my second International (i.e. not in the US) Bookbub deal on my political thriller A House Divided last week. The only thing that had changed about the book was the blurb.

This time, with the same audience on Bookbub, I got 351 sales on Kindle in the week after the deal. (I’m only including Kindle as the book wasn’t wide for the first Bookbub.) Last time, I got 284 sales. That’s an increase of 24%.

Bearing in mind that I may have got less sales on Amazon for the second deal where the book was wide (I got an additional 107 sales on Kobo), a 24% increase is significant. And the only thing that had changed about the book in that time was the blurb.

I will continue to test that blurb with ads, and hone it until it converts as well as possible. But I think that doing this will help me to get more sales and gain a valuable skill which I’ll use for years to come.

How to Improve Your Blurbs

Now, I’m not (yet!) an expert on writing blurbs. But I can share the tips I’ve been picking up from more experienced writers than me and from the books I’ve read and courses I’ve done.

Here are some of them.

Identify Key Words

One really useful tip I got was from Orna Ross on the Alliance of Independent Authors podcast:

  1. Print out the blurbs of the top ten books in your genre (if you’re an indie author, try to find the top ten indie books, as trad published books may be selling because of their marketing budget and not their blurb).
  2. Highlight words that are repeated in different blurbs.
  3. Identify four or five ‘hot’ words that are used the most.
  4. Find a way to incorporate them in your blurb.

I did this for my psychological thriller and got words like secret, lies, trust, husband and dead. It helped me completely rewrite my blurb. And it made the process (which I normally hate) fun – bonus!

Find a Hook

In Adam Croft’s book Writing Killer Blurbs and Hooks, he says to identify a hook for your book if you can. His own career was boosted by the hook for his book Her Last Tomorrow: ‘Would you murder your wife to save your daughter?’

If you can find a hook, use that at the beginning of the blurb and in your adverts too. I added a hook to my blurb for A House Divided. It previously began:

Jennifer Sinclair is many things. Loyal government minister, doting mother and loving wife.

That gives you a feel for the character, but it isn’t a hook. So I changed the opening line to:

What if the government you served came for your son?

When I talk to people about that book, if I say it’s about an MP whose son is radicalized, it gets their interest. So I thought I’d refer to that in the hook.

I’m still testing it – I’m not sure if I should use ‘family’ instead of ‘son ‘. But that’s the important part – testing. Testing gets you data, and nothing beats data when you’re making a decision about marketing your books.

Include (or don’t) a Call to Action

This is a controversial one.

Some markets are more tolerant of calls to action than others. Most of the experts on blurb writing that you’ll hear on podcasts and read about on blogs are American, so their advice is geared towards that market.

Bryan Cohen, who runs a blurb writing business and has written the book How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis, makes lots of use of calls to action.

For the US market, there’s plenty of evidence that this works. So for my political thriller, for example, I might use:

You’ll be gripped by this book, because everyone loves an ‘eerily prescient’ thriller.

Now, that isn’t a true call to action as it doesn’t tell the reader to do something. But to the British ear, it sounds pretty sales-y.

A more obvious example might be:

Buy A House Divided and lose yourself in a world that might just come true.

I’m not saying either of those are very good calls to action! I’ve made the decision not to use calls to action for that book because it’s marketed squarely at the British market. But if your books are aimed at the US (and it’s a huge market: you’d be wise to target it), then a call to action may work. And that doesn’t mean I’m not going to test them: my assumptions may be wrong.

Test, Test, Test

Whatever you include in your blurbs, and whichever approach you take, this step is crucial.

Once you’ve written the new blurb, test it.

Run some ads and see what your conversion rate is. Change the blurb and repeat.

Designing the ads can be tricky: should they reflect the blurb, or not? Well yes, and no.

Yes because you don’t want a disconnect between the ad text and the blurb. This will put the brakes on conversion.

But no because if you change the ads along with the blurb, then it could be the ad making the difference, and not the blurb.

I suggest one of two options:

  • Design an ad that won’t create that disconnect to any of the blurbs and can be used for all of them; something a bit more generic.
  • Design an ad for each blurb, that very closely reflects the blurb. Only test that blurb with that ad. This way, you’re testing a package: blurb and ad.

Which you go for depends on how closely linked your blurbs and ads are, and how similar your blurbs are to each other (the more similar, the more easy it is to use the first option).

Summary – The Importance of Blurbs

Before you start running ads to your books, take some time to work on your blurbs. It’s a waste of time and money to run ads to a blurb that doesn’t convert.

You’ve already got a great cover. Now it’s time to complete the package with a fantastic blurb. Good luck!

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