Saturday, September 20, 2014

How To Write An Awesome Jacket Blurb For Your Novel

The last two weeks I went through the process of writing a book proposal for my first novel. That included writing a jacket blurb. You know, the little summary of the plot you see on the back of book covers. They're usually around 100 words. 

Of course when I started out I was sure that writing one wouldn't be nearly as hard as everyone else said it was. They were just exaggerating, right? I mean, how hard could it possibly be?

Hard. Really hard.

But if you're in the middle of trying to write one, you probably know that already. And if you're about to try to write one for the first time, well, you'll soon understand what a horrific ordeal it is. But take heart! I have come up with an exact scientific equation for writing an awesome jacket blurb. It never fails. 
Ha! I had you there for a second. In reality, there is no exact science to anything related to writing, and definitely not when it comes to jacket blurbs . But I did find a way that works pretty well for me. I call it The Who, What, Why, When, Where Formula. Here are the 5 steps:
  1. Who. Identify your main character. Find a tag to describe him. It’s good to use his name, but you also want to tell the readers who he is. A sentimental florist. A feisty wood elf. Find a way to convey who your character is in a concise way.
  2. What. Identify what your main character is fighting against. Usually this will be your antagonist, but sometimes it’s a group or an apocalyptic event or, well, you get the point. Find a good way to describe what the character is fighting. A psychotic gun collector. A 1000 mile wide tornado. The hate of the woman he loves. Make it interesting.
  3. Why. Why does your main character care? Why is he trying to stop the what factor? Give him a reason for fighting, preferably one with high stakes.
  4. When. Is there an allotted time in which he has to finish his task? Tell the reader. A deadline raises the stakes even more, which gets people interested.
  5. Where. Identify where this is all taking place. This is easy if your book is set in the real world. Tags like: a sleepy town. Bustling New York. Yada yada yada. It’s a bit more difficult if your book is in its own separate world, like mine. You can try and pull the whole “in a galaxy far, far away,” but I wouldn’t recommend that. You can try giving the name of the world, just be careful because nobody has ever heard of it and it generally won’t help orient the reader. However, if the rest of your blurb is done well, it should be pretty obvious that it isn’t set in this world, so this last step isn’t always necessary. Use with discretion.

If you go to the bookstore and read the back covers of a few books, most of them have at least 4 of these elements. Step 5 is sometimes missing. Like I said, it’s not always essential, but if you can find a way to make it fit in seamlessly, then you might as well. Now for some tips:
  • Try not to mention more than the absolute essential characters. Main character, yes, you need to mention him. As for any other characters, it’s best if you do not name them. If you have to add more than your main character, give them a tag, but not a name. This can hurt. I know because I had to simply brushed over one of my absolute favorite characters by mentioning her once under the tag of ‘a half-blooded she-elf.’ She is way more than that, but for the sake of the blurb, I simply couldn’t go into detail. Sometimes us writers have to make horrible sacrifices.
  • Tell the truth. For goodness sakes, don’t lie about your plot! That’s just unfair. I once picked up a book because I liked the back cover description. But then a few chapters in I realized, “hey, this isn’t what they said it would be!” And I didn’t finish reading it. Now, I’m not saying you can’t make things sound interesting, just make them sound interesting without going outside the confines of the plot.
  • Do not give away the ending. Please. It’s like a movie trailer showing that the main character dies at the end. Nobody likes that. People read books because they want to know how it ends. If you tell them how it finishes before they even start it, well, then they just won’t read it. Simple as that.
  • Use strong words. No, I’m not talking about using profanity. That’s a very, very bad idea. I’m talking about using words like agony instead of pain. Shatter instead of destroy. Words that stir up images, bring to mind certain ideals. Words that people immediately connect to.
  • Do not confuse a jacket blurb for a synopsis. I was a bit confused about the difference at first. A blurb is for enticing a reader, giving them a little taste of what the book is about. A synopsis gives away a large portion of the plot, if not all of it. You do not want to do this in your blurb! Your blurb should spark curiosity, not lay out the entire storyline.
  • Keep it short. The first blurb I wrote I used only 80 words. Then I had a nice little blurb that I could add to or leave as is, depending on what publishers and literary agents ask for in their guidelines. It’s easier to start small and add stuff in versus starting large and having to chop stuff out.  

And that’s about it. It’s always a good idea to go and read a dozen or so other jacket blurbs before you start writing your own. It’s also a good idea to have written a logline first. That way, instead of having to boil your entire book down, you get to flesh out a single sentence. It makes it seem a lot easier somehow.

Have you ever written a jacket blurb? What technique did you use? I’d love to hear from you!

Related articles:
How To Write An Awesome Logline For Your Novel
Things That Make For A Good Book Title

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  1. Oh my goodness is this hard. Also taglines. Hook people to pick up your book in one sentence? Yikes! Great post!

    1. I know. They're really hard to get the hang of. =) Thank you for reading!

  2. Hannah, thank you for your thoughts. I have shared this blog on twitter, tumblr, pinterest, and Linkedin. I think it is a great little nugget of information.

    1. Wow. Thank you so much for spreading the word! And thank you for taking the time to comment. It's really encouraging to know that my post was helpful to you.

  3. This is great, thanks for sharing!

  4. Thanks...wish you the very best...

  5. Great advice! I was having trouble writing a summary of my book, but I found this and thought it was close enough to a summary. Therefore I have a successful summary/synopsis/jacket blurb after reading this! Yay, thanks!

  6. Every topic and every articles is charming and attractive heaps of material i have downloaded it will take time to read


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