Your Cover Blurb - Selling, Not Telling Your Book

You just finished your book and you need to write a blurb for your back cover and your product page. How, you ask yourself nervously, do I summarize the plot of my 300-page baby?

To write a good cover blurb, you need to understand what it is and what it is not.

The back-cover blurb is a short description of the story line, characters, and suspense element. It is meant to give the readers a taste of what's inside the book and entice them into buying it. The blurb doesn't tell the book's story, it sells the book the way a commercial sells a TV show or movie to viewers.

What the blurb is not is a synopsis of the book. By definition, a synopsis is a highly condensed version of a book, detailing the plot's beginning, middle, and end. Unfortunately, I have read cover blurbs that read like Cliff Notes. Why should I buy your book if you have just told me everything that's in it? 

While longer than the logline, the blurb must still be short and tightly written. A cover blurb should be no more than 250 words. There are three reasons for this. If you write more words than that, you may be tempted to give away too much of the plot. You also don't want to take up all the space on your back cover. Finally, your cover blurb will also serve as your blurb on your book's product page, and the Internet abhors long blocks of copy.

Here is the blurb for my first novel, The Killing Depths.

"A killer lurks beneath the waves of the western Pacific Ocean. The USS Encinitas, the first attack submarine crewed by both men and women, stalks the Crescent Moon, a renegade Iranian sub armed with nuclear-tipped missiles. But another predator hides aboard the American sub, a murderer who has already left a trail of dead women behind on shore. While the crew of the Encinitas plays a deadly game of hide-and-seek with the Crescent Moon, NCIS investigator Linus Schag must discover the killer’s identity before his – or her – blood lust leads to the submarine’s total destruction."

In only 95 words, this blurb introduces the mystery (a serial killer), the conflict/suspense (the submarine battle), the main character (Linus Schag), and his mission (discover the killer before whomever it is destroys the USS Encinitas).

For Eden: A Sci-Fi Novella, I summed up the basic plot of the book in 103 words.

"A sandstorm uncovers a long-buried secret in the Iraqi desert, an ancient Sumerian temple dating back at least 6,000 years to the beginning of civilization. An American army patrol sent to investigate the ruins is trapped inside the temple's eroded walls, first by an insurgent ambush then by another, even more powerful sandstorm. When an enemy mortar shell blasts an opening into a hidden burial chamber, Captain Adam Cadman and his soldiers take refuge deep in the ruins. What they find hidden inside threatens to destroy every belief about the beginnings of mankind—as well as modern society as we know it."

Again, the blurb establishes the place (Iraq during the U.S. war there), the main character (Captain Cadman), the action (ambushed soldiers), and the main suspense element (the ancient threat they find buried in the ruins).

Here is Lee Child's cover blurb for his latest Jack Reacher novel, The Midnight Line:

"Reacher takes a stroll through a small Wisconsin town and sees a class ring in a pawn shop window: West Point 2005. A tough year to graduate: Iraq, then Afghanistan. The ring is tiny, for a woman, and it has her initials engraved on the inside. Reacher wonders what unlucky circumstance made her give up something she earned over four hard years. He decides to find out. And find the woman. And return her ring. Why not?

So, begins a harrowing journey that takes Reacher through the upper Midwest, from a lowlife bar on the sad side of a small town to a dirt-blown crossroads in the middle of nowhere, encountering bikers, cops, crooks, muscle, and a missing persons PI who wears a suit and a tie in the Wyoming wilderness.

The deeper Reacher digs, and the more he learns, the more dangerous the terrain becomes. Turns out the ring was just a small link in a far darker chain. Powerful forces are guarding a vast criminal enterprise. Some lines should never be crossed. But then, neither should Reacher."

In just 178 words, Child invokes Reacher's background (he's an Army veteran) and service loyalty, the novel's location (the Midwest), and the suspense element (his search for the ring's owners uncovers a "vast criminal enterprise.")

Make your book more attractive to readers by adding a short excerpt from a favorable review at the end of your blurb or, if your book wins an award, placing a one-sentence announcement of the award at the beginning of the blurb (i.e., "Named Best Romance Novel of the Year by...").

Most writers think their writing is over when they type The End on the last page of their manuscript. In reality, the writing challenge has only begun.