7 Deadly Book Blurb Sins
7 Deadly Book Blurb Sins
Whenever I’m snooping around the bookshop for a new tale to enjoy in one of my rainbow-colored bubble baths courtesy of LUSH Handmade Cosmetics, I just keep cringing at the sheer amount of cliché hooks and overbearing descriptions plaguing book blurb after book blurb.
Well, no more! To give myself (and you) peace of mind, I have compiled this list of the most common book blurb mishaps, added explanations regarding what makes them harmful, and written detailed instructions on how to fix them. However, please keep in mind that this article only applies to fiction books, as non-fiction has a different set of best practices for writing book blurbs.
Now, without further ado, from my biggest pet peeves to the lesser offenders, here are the seven deadly book blurb sins:
1. You Don’t Want to Give Anything Away
Whenever a novice author gets advice on writing book blurbs, the most common thing they hear is: “Don’t give anything away.” Unfortunately, most authors, due to their inexperience and insecurity (which is perfectly normal), take this way too literally and end up with a book blurb that says everything and nothing at the same time. You want to keep readers on their toes, but there is such a thing as leaving out so much information that it feels like you’re asking the reader to connect the dots without giving them the actual dots.
- Your story sounds generic, cliché, and boring because of it.
- You’re making it harder for the reader to decide whether the story has the tropes they like/dislike.
- It doesn’t spark curiosity.
You can spot a book blurb guilty of this sin by the fact that it makes very vague claims and promises that can literally mean anything.
For example, talking about two characters being in danger in your book blurb isn’t exciting. What kind of danger is it, and why should the reader care?
These book blurbs are like trying to sell a cake whose contents are listed as “10% percent flour, 3% eggs, 20% milk, 67% other.” What’s the flavor, you ask? Wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise! Worried about whether or not you’ll get an allergic reaction? You’ll have to taste it to find out!
To best illustrate this point, read the following two one-liner book blurbs that describe the same story and see which one entices you to read the book more, or rather, which one doesn’t exactly push you to the edge of your seat to find out what happens next.
One-Liner Book Blurb Examples
- A young princess discovers a horrible truth and must now make a harrowing decision in order to save an innocent.
- A young princess discovers her real father is about to be hanged for a crime he didn’t commit, and the only way she can save him is if she marries him.
Here is a little trick I like to use when trying to figure out whether the sentence or paragraph I’ve written is too vague or just generally uninteresting:
If that sentence/paragraph makes me ask at least five additional questions that are not just requests for clarification, then it’s good. If I struggle to think of even a few or if I’m more focused on wanting to figure out things like “what is the secret” and “what is the danger,” then that means the sentence/paragraph hasn’t intrigued me enough, and more (interesting) information needs to be included.
Here are the additional questions that my mind has spontaneously spawned after reading the two one-liner book blurbs above. However, remember that the point is not to nitpick the sentence/paragraph apart in order to pull out every possible question one could ask regarding it. The intention is to help you put yourself in the shoes of your potential readers and to see whether parts of your book blurb make them want to find out more about your story, and thus buy your book.
Additional Questions Prompted by the First One-Liner Book Blurb Example
- What is the truth?
- Why is it horrible?
- What is the decision?
- Why is it harrowing?
Additional Questions Prompted by the Second One-Liner Book Blurb Example
- What is the crime in question?
- Did someone frame the father?
- How did the princess find out the man to be hanged is her real father?
- How did she become a member of the royal family if the king is not her biological father?
- Does the king know she’s not his real daughter?
- Is the queen the princess’s real mother?
- If yes, does she know that the king’s daughter isn’t his?
- How will the princess marrying her real father save him?
- Is she even allowed to do that?
- If not, how will she pull it off?
- Does her real father know she is his biological daughter?
- If not, will she tell him or keep it a secret?
- Will he agree to such an arrangement?
Even though I have managed to think of four questions that I genuinely want to know the answers to after reading the first one-liner, they are merely requests for clarification. On the other hand, observe how many questions popped into my head after reading the second one-liner, and not a single one of them is just me trying to figure out what the heck the author (or whoever wrote the blurb) is talking about.
Most importantly, I hope you can see now how being generous with information can spark more curiosity in readers than you’d think. Once again, yes, it’s possible for you to give away too much information, but providing too little can potentially do even more harm.
2. One of Your Selling Points Is a Secret/Dangerous Situation/Race against Time/Etc.
This point is somewhat related to the first one because it’s one of the most common things you see in overly vague book blurbs.
Why do you think having “a secret” or other similar terms in your blurb automatically makes your story interesting? Nobody ever sees the word “secret,” for example, without any context as to what it could be and thinks, “Oh, this book sounds intriguing! It has a secret! I need to know what it is!” You will notice that the best blurbs that try to sell readers on secrets and such actually don’t mention the word “secret” at all. Why? Because it’s already implied from the context, and the context is what makes it interesting in the first place, not the fact that it’s a secret alone.
What’s worse, your secret is probably not even that relevant. Far too often, I see authors using a “secret” or another vaguely described plot device as one of their main selling points for a book when it turns out this alleged “secret” has little to no bearing on the plot.
For instance, one book blurb I’ve read mentions the main character’s powers being a secret, but once you start reading, you realize it’s only a secret within the first chapter, by the end of which everyone (and I mean everyone) finds out about it, and is never mentioned or referenced again afterward. I honestly felt cheated.
If you want a “secret” to be a major selling point for you, make sure it’s actually interesting and has a huge bearing on the plot like Cersei and Jaime’s romantic relationship in A Game of Thrones.
It’s okay if you don’t have a secret worth mentioning. That’s totally fine. Just leave it out of the book blurb. But if you have one, then give us more context other than “it’s a secret.” A secret can be anything. It could be somebody trying to hide the fact that they wet their bed or it could be that the main character was the murderer all along. Just make sure you’re not accidentally selling your readers a mystery box whose contents can range from a piece of string to a brand-new Ford Focus.
3. Your Book Blurb Becomes Your Review Section
This one only applies to retailers such as Amazon. On your own website, you are the king and you can choose where to place the book blurb and where to place reviews. On retail websites, however, your book blurb is not your review section. Most retailers have separate sections for this. Please do not copy-paste five-star Amazon reviews into your book blurb area when readers can already get to those just by slightly scrolling down the page. Some retailers such as Amazon even have a special section where you can put all of your editorial reviews, so, there is no need to waste the little precious space you have that a good, quality, enticing book blurb can call home.
Some people may disagree with me, but I just find this incredibly annoying, and I will also explain why it can potentially harm your book sales in my fifth point.
If you really, really, really want to put reviews in your book blurb sections on retail pages (which I obviously recommend you don’t), at least put them at the very end of the section, and only include review snippets that actually have something relevant to say. Reviews such as “this book is a must-read” mean nothing. Everyone who has ever enjoyed a book will call it a “must-read.” But a potential reader doesn’t know what makes something a “must-read” for someone else. It can mean completely different things for different people. If you want to showcase a review, showcase one that also tells the reader what the book is like more specifically while also (hopefully) praising it. For example: “This short story’s characters are more developed than those in most full-length novels I’ve read.”
4. Your Book Blurb Reads like a Novel
Don’t make your novel’s book blurb read like a…well…novel. This one is a little bit harder to explain without showing you an example, but this article would end up being 5,000 words long.
In essence, don’t make your book blurb into some kind of teaser for your book that is essentially a (non)canon scene with your characters in it, or worse, you copy-pasted an excerpt from your book and are using it as a book blurb. At most, you can have a character “narrate” what the story is about, which is a good practice for first-person POV books, but please don’t actually put dialog quotes and setting descriptions into your book blurb.
A book blurb is meant to summarize the entire work, not showcase a piece of it. That’s what the “preview” setting on many online ebook retailers is for, and in brick-and-mortar bookstores, people can simply take a book off the shelf, open it, and read a page or two.
If you write your book blurb the same way you wrote the damn thing, you are only going to alienate your potential readers and give them a pointless filler when what you could have done was given them concise information that would have actually made them see whether your type of story is their cup of tea.
5. Your Book Blurb Reads like a Synopsis
Don’t make your novel read like a synopsis that is literally just a retelling of the events of the book. Now, a lot of people confuse this with my first point of “don’t make your book blurb too vague,” but they’re actually two very different things entirely. You can have a vague book blurb that reads like a synopsis, and you can have a non-vague book blurb that doesn’t read like a synopsis.
Most people refer to a book blurb suffering from this issue as being “too wordy.” It’s because the biggest reason why a book blurb reads more like a synopsis is that it uses too many words or sentences to express a single idea. Once again, keep in mind that your book blurb being “too wordy” doesn’t mean that you’re “revealing too much” to the reader, although many authors interpret it this way.
Because you have limited space and attention span in potential readers, your sentences need to carry not one, but two or more ideas at once.
Example That Reads like a Synopsis
“She went to the beach at night. She never dreamed she’d find a dead body. After that, her life changed forever.”
Example That Doesn’t Read like a Synopsis
“She never dreamed she’d find a dead body on the beach, but that night, her life changed forever.”
As demonstrated, whether your book blurb reads like a synopsis is completely irrelevant to how much information you present to the reader. It’s about the way it’s presented, and presenting your book blurb like a synopsis reads very sluggishly and sloppily.
6. You Have No Taglines
Readers are pressed for time and they are lazy. I should know—I’m like that and you probably are, too. They don’t want to have to go through huge chunks of text. You need to hook them with one or two short sentences, preferably with lots of line spacing in between to make it look even quicker/easier to read, and then let them decide whether they want to know more and read the “meatier” part of your book blurb.
The tagline(s) should go at the very top of your book blurb for obvious reasons. Some readers will never even bother to click that “read more” button to expand the rest of your book blurb, so make those first few lines count.
7. You Leave In Unnecessary Details and Leave out the Important Ones
This last one is a little tricky because it varies from book to book. You really need to get into the shoes of your potential reader and figure out what information they would need to be able to decide whether your book is right for them. Allow me to elaborate.
Since book blurbs are meant to be short and to the point, the reader will assume that anything you mention plays a major role in the story, and you don’t want them to get excited over something that you end up only glancing over briefly within the book itself. Need I remind you of the “secrets” authors frequently include in their book blurbs that often amount to nothing within the stories themselves?
I’ve read this one book blurb for a romantic thriller in which the author mentions that the characters first assume the protagonist’s ex-boyfriend is a murderer, but later find out that there were multiple people involved. My immediate thought was, “Oh, so it’s actually a book about a gang or organized crime of sorts?” The author said “no” and explained how these “multiple people” actually play a very small role in the story compared to the ex-boyfriend and the main characters. Once again, the mere mention of something in a book blurb can immediately shift a potential reader’s expectations.
Similarly, make sure not to leave out important details either, and not just to avoid the common trap of making your book blurb too vague. If your story is a paranormal romance with a werewolf (not a shifter) and a young woman, disclose that s**t. I’ve made this mistake far too many times, and readers would leave me less than favorable ratings because I hadn’t made certain important details clear enough. I guess half man, half goat erotica is not everyone’s idea of a fun Friday night.
For example, if a potential reader is looking specifically for a romance story featuring a drug cartel and decides to buy your book where the most you mention is “six young men banding together to do organized crime in the name of love,” they are going to be sorely disappointed if they find out the story is really about six high schoolers robbing a liquor store to be allowed to go to a college girl frat party.
Yes, your cover is and should also be a heavy indicator of what your book is about, but keep in mind that if you follow genre conventions, your cover will most likely only identify the broad genre, such as whether the book is romance or horror. If you have a shirtless hunk on your cover with a vague background and a general romantic font for your copy, it may not be clear what setting and context the romance takes place in, and the job then falls to your book blurb to expand on the concept and give your potential reader a clearer picture.
In any case, I hope that after reading this article and by implementing my suggestions, you will agree with the points I’ve made here and see more book sales in the future.
And if you’re interested in improving your blurb-writing game further, I highly recommend Bryan Cohen’s book How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis: A Step-by-Step System for Enticing New Readers, Selling More Fiction, and Making Your Books Sound Good. Also, check out my other posts for more tips and tricks on various topics related to creative writing, content writing, and copywriting!
But, now, my questions for you are:
Which one of these 7 deadly book blurb sins are you most guilty of?
Are there any parts of this article you perhaps disagree with me on?
P.S. I use affiliate links, but I never recommend stuff I don’t personally enjoy or find useful. Of course, if you don’t like the idea of me getting a few extra bucks, feel free to Google the stuff on your own. No hard feelings.