The Oxford Dictionary defines a blurb as ‘a short description of a book, film, or other product written for promotional purposes.’
A great definition, yet a blurb is so much more than the word ‘description’ suggests.
This is the enticer that goes on the back of your book, or the front page of your Amazon, iBooks, Kobo or other online retailer page. It is the second thing a prospective reader will look for after being drawn in by your cover. As such, the importance of a well-crafted blurb cannot be overlooked. It should be engaging, entertaining and/or representative of the tone and plot of your story. And it should make the reader want to read more.
This means there are key elements that should be considered when crafting your blurb.
The blurb should give the reader a rundown of the central characters’ GMC and major plot points most closely linked to the central theme. It should NOT give away the ending of your story. No spoilers here. This is where it differs greatly from the synopsis.
The job of a blurb is to entice the reader into buying and reading your book. The trick here is to offer just enough to tempt your reader without revealing too much of your plot.
Structure of a blurb
A blurb comprises of four distinct parts:
- The premise/high-concept/central theme of your story
- The central characters’ GMC
- The major plot point linked closest to the premise
- The ending hook (includes higher stakes)
In previous posts on the synopsis, we’ve looked at each of these parts in detail bar the premise. So, let’s take a quick look at the premise now.
This is the basis of your story. It’s what happens to your characters as a result of your plot.
A great one-sentence definition of the premise is ‘high concept, taking a series of complex plotlines and consolidating them into one simple idea that immediately attracts interest, and that can be quickly and easily communicated.’
A great elevator pitch. Invaluable on the hop, if you just so happen to bump into an editor or agent.
What does the premise do?
- Sets expectations
- Embodies the high concept of the story
- Can work as a hook
- Can double as a log-line
- Reflects your story in one catchy, concise sentence
Some great examples of movie premises are:
- Alien – In space, no one can hear you scream.
- Hannibal – Undeniable genius. Unspeakable evil.
- Blues Brothers – They’re on a mission from God.
- Jaws II – Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water . . .
- Platoon – The first casualty of war is innocence.
- Robocop – Part man. Part machine. All cop.
- Pretty Woman – She walked off the street, into his life and stole his heart.
- I am Legend – The last man on earth is not alone.
- Breakfast Club – They only met once but it changed their lives forever.
- When Harry met Sally – Men and women can never be friends.
I touched briefly on the premise in my August post on the orientation paragraphs of the synopsis, under the heading of central theme. If you have your one liner from your synopsis, it might be a great opener for your blurb. If not, just make sure that as you craft your blurb, you encompass the idea or essence of your premise or central theme.
Now, we know the four elements of a blurb, let’s look at how this plays out in practice.
Worth the Risk (unpublished manuscript by Michelle Somers)
Alise Rierdan wants an orgasm without entanglements. But when a one-night-stand turns out to be the old flame from high school she believes killed her sister, what should she do?
Darius Fraser has clawed his way out of adversity to become world-class model, Colt Frasier. But he never forgot the girl who once denigrated him, and now they’ve crossed paths again, he’s out to even the score.
Then Darius rescues Alise from a gunman and the truth finally emerges. But now they’ve found the love they once lost, can they overcome Alise’s inability to give Darius the one thing he desires above all? A family.
What do we see here? We have a hook, which can loosely be considered the high concept. We have insight into the central characters’ GMCs, the major plot point (the gunman and truth emerging) and an end hook centering on higher stakes (Alise’s belief she can’t have children when this is the one thing Darius craves, central to his GMC). Of course, this could be longer and more in-depth. I challenge you to see how you could improve and strengthen on this blurb ☺
Murder Most Unusual (Michelle Somers)
She writes. He watches. He waits. He kills . . .
Romance novelist Stacey Holland doesn’t believe in love; marriage to a manipulator taught her as much. So she hides away in her fictional world, penning the perfect romance, intertwining the perfect crime. Excitement is for her books – worlds where the mortality of her characters is governed by a tap on her keyboard and the heroine always gets her happy ever after.
Homicide detective Chase Durant’s cases are real and gritty and one wrong move could be his last. The Force is his life – he doesn’t have room for more. Love and relationships hold no place for a man whose fate is predetermined by the genetic roll of a dice. With uncertainty on the horizon, he won’t promise a future he can’t guarantee.
Then a sadistic killer breathes Stacey’s gruesome murders to life and the pair are thrown together in a sick game of murder and lies.
When tempers flare, and the murders get personal, can author and detective fight their growing attraction all-the-while fighting the killer determined to destroy them both?
Does this blurb tick all the boxes? I’ve encompassed GMC for both hero and heroine, the central theme (also an opening hook, that first line of my blurb), the plot point closely linked to central theme (a point in the story where Stacey’s murders come to life) and a hook based on the higher stakes (either they find the killer or the killer finds them). Any suggestions on how I could tweak it and make it stronger?
Tell No One (Harlan Coben)
For Dr. David Beck, the loss was shattering. And every day for the past eight years, he has relived the horror of what happened. The gleaming lake. The pale moonlight. The piercing screams. The night his wife was taken. The last night he saw her alive.
Everyone tells him it’s time to move on, to forget the past once and for all. But for David Beck, there can be no closure. A message has appeared on his computer, a phrase only he and his dead wife know. Suddenly Beck is taunted with the impossible that somewhere, somehow, Elizabeth is alive.
Beck has been warned to tell no one. And he doesn’t. Instead, he runs from the people he trusts the most, plunging headlong into a search for the shadowy figure whose messages hold out a desperate hope.
But already Beck is being hunted down. He’s headed straight into the heart of a dark and deadly secret and someone intends to stop him before he gets there.
One of my all-time favourite authors, and if you like suspense, this blurb tells you why. For me it ticks all the boxes and then some. Here we have real insight into David Beck’s GMC. We have the premise, which happens to be identical to the book’s title, we have the higher stakes, and a fab hook that can’t help but make the reader want to know more.
Divorced, Desperate and Delicious (Christie Craig)
Ever since photographer Lacy Maguire caught her ex playing Pin the Secretary to the Elevator Wall, she’s been content with her dog Fabio, her three cats, and a vow of chastity. But all of that changes when the reindeer-antlered Fabio drags in a very desperate, on-the-run detective who decides to take refuge in her house—a house filled with twinkling lights and a decorated tree. (Okay, so it’s February, but she has a broken heart to mend, a Christmas-card shoot to do, and a six-times divorced, match-making mother to appease.) For the first time in a looooong while, Lacy reconsiders her vow. Because sexy Chase Kelly, wounded soul that he may be, would be an oh-so-delicious way of breaking her fast. Now, if she can just keep them both alive and him out of jail . . .
What I love about this blurb is that it is so representative of this story. It’s fun, and funny, and ticks all the boxes, but in Christie Craig’s wonderful voice. This is a great example of how to woo your reader by crafting a blurb that showcases not only your story and characters, but your writing style. When I read this blurb, I just know this story is going to make me laugh – Christie delivers on her promise. There’s a great lesson to be learned here – make sure that your blurb represents your story, and make sure that when your audience reads your story they feel you’ve delivered on your promise too.
Lingerie Wars (Janet Elizabeth Henderson)
Englishman Lake Benson loaned his life savings to his dippy sister so that she could buy a shop. It was a big mistake. His sister has been steadily flushing his money down the drain – and now he wants it back. Years in the special forces taught Lake that if you want a job done, do it yourself. So he steps in to make the shop profitable, sell it and get his money back. The only problem is, the business is an underwear shop. And all Lake knows about underwear can be summed up in how fast he can unsnap a bra. To make matters worse, the tiny highland town already has a lingerie shop. A successful one, run by an ex-lingerie model. A very gorgeous ex-lingerie model, who’s distracting him from his mission more than he’d like to admit. If Lake wants to get his savings back, and get out of Scotland, he only has one option – wipe out the competition.
Kirsty Campbell has spent years rebuilding her life after she woke up in hospital in Spain to find her body scarred, and her ex-fiance had run off with all her money. The last thing she needs is a cocky, English soldier-boy trying to ruin all she has left. Her home town is only too happy to help her fight the latest English invasion, although Lake is beginning to sway them with his sex appeal and cut price knickers. With the help of her mother, and the retired ladies of Knit or Die, Kirsty sets about making sure that her shop is the last one standing in Invertary.
It’s Scotland versus England as you’ve never seen it before. It’s lingerie war.
A little long, but again, Janet Elizabeth Henderson’s brand of fun and funny are clearly showcased here. We have a clear – and humorous – sense of both central characters and their GMCs, as well as what’s at stake. And the hook? Well, it’s as hilarious as the rest of the blurb, and a clear indication of how hilarious this story and its characters are.
The Firm (John Grisham)
At the top of his class at Harvard Law, he had his choice of the best in America. He made a deadly mistake.
When Mitch McDeere signed on with Bendini, Lambert & Locke of Memphis, he thought he and his beautiful wife, Abby, were on their way. The firm leased him a BMW, paid off his school loans, arranged a mortgage and hired him a decorator. Mitch McDeere should have remembered what his brother Ray — doing fifteen years in a Tennessee jail — already knew. You never get nothing for nothing. Now the FBI has the lowdown on Mitch’s firm and needs his help. Mitch is caught between a rock and a hard place, with no choice — if he wants to live.
Succinct and to the point – we get a great sense of Mitch and his life before and after joining Bendini, Lambert & Locke of Memphis. To be honest, I’d love to see more here. More of the peril that Mitch finds himself in. More about the fact that his predecessors have suddenly and mysteriously died. More about the fact that he will need to choose between keeping his oath as a lawyer or keeping his life. What do you think?
A is for Alibi (Sue Grafton)
A IS FOR AVENGER
A tough-talking former cop, private investigator Kinsey Millhone has set up a modest detective agency in a quiet corner of Santa Teresa, California. A twice-divorced loner with few personal possessions and fewer personal attachments, she’s got a soft spot for underdogs and lost causes.
A IS FOR ACCUSED
That’s why she draws desperate clients like Nikki Fife. Eight years ago, she was convicted of killing her philandering husband. Now she’s out on parole and needs Kinsey’s help to find the real killer. But after all this time, clearing Nikki’s bad name won’t be easy.
A IS FOR ALIBI
If there’s one thing that makes Kinsey Millhone feel alive, it’s playing on the edge. When her investigation turns up a second corpse, more suspects, and a new reason to kill, Kinsey discovers that the edge is closer―and sharper―than she imagined.
Here is an interesting take on the blurb – a play on the book’s title. And it works. Especially since this is the first in a series of Kinsey Millhone books. Not only does this blurb set up Kinsey’s character and what she’s about, it sets up – very concisely and cleverly – the story and premise of this particular book as well. What do you think?
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (J.K.Rowling)
“Turning the envelope over, his hand trembling, Harry saw a purple wax seal bearing a coat of arms; a lion, an eagle, a badger and a snake surrounding a large letter ‘H’.”
Harry Potter has never even heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping on the doormat at number four, Privet Drive. Addressed in green ink on yellowish parchment with a purple seal, they are swiftly confiscated by his grisly aunt and uncle. Then, on Harry’s eleventh birthday, a great beetle-eyed giant of a man called Rubeus Hagrid bursts in with some astonishing news: Harry Potter is a wizard, and he has a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. An incredible adventure is about to begin!
Such a great example of bearing your audience in mind. This is simply written, yet it is engaging and appealing to a younger audience. Could this blurb be enhanced with more detail? Perhaps. I’d be interested to see what you think and how you’d tweak this blurb to make it even stronger.
Needful Things (Stephen King)
There is a new shop in town. Run by a stranger.
Needful Things, the sign says. The oddest name. A name that causes some gossip and speculation among the good folks of Castle Rock, Maine, while they wait for opening day.
Eleven-year-old Brian Rusk is the first customer and he gets just what he wants, a very rare 1956 Sandy Koufax baseball card. Signed.
Cyndi Rose Martin is next. A Lalique vase. A perfect match for her living room decor.
Something for everyone. Something you really have to have. And always at a price you can just about afford. The cash price that is.
Because there is another price. There always is when your heart’s most secret, true desire is for sale…
A very different style here. This blurb is more about the premise and plot, and less about the central characters. Perhaps because, for all intents and purposes, the ‘central character’ is the evil that tempts the heart’s desire? I’ll leave that decision up to you. Regardless, this type of blurb is so Stephen King, and it totally works for him, and his genre – horror.
And here I’ll make my final point before I sign off. Make sure your blurb fits the genre. I’m going to mention romance now. Romance is all about the characters. Our stories are character driven, and therefore GMC is king. With that in mind, ensure your GMC stands front-centre, along with what’s at stake for your characters. This is not just about the story, but what the characters stand to win or lose if things do or don’t go to plan.
Remember, the primary goal of a blurb is to entice. Give the reader a taste that makes them want more. A blurb that sets their heart racing, that tantalises and leaves questions unanswered is one that will spur them to click ‘buy’ because they just have to know more.
And there you have it, a whole trail of examples, all so very different – different genres, different authors, different writing styles – yet there are two main elements all but the last share – clear insight into the central characters and a clear sense of higher stakes.
What to keep in mind when creating a premise
- Focus on the main story goal – if the story has several plotlines, include only the main plotline when creating your premise.
- Keep it tight and succinct.
- Define your characters, their goal, motivation and what’s at stake.
- Use adjectives to give your characters depth, for example, ‘scoop-hungry reporter’, ‘self-confessed playboy photographer’.
- The protagonist’s main goal should be as close to the beginning as possible.
- Show the action in the story by showing the protagonist to be proactive.
- Make it clear that the antagonistic force is an obstacle to the major goal.
- Include the stakes – what can be lost – and/or the urgency of a ticking time-bomb.
- Include world-building or set-up in stories where the rules are different, for example, The Terminator: ‘In a time where machines rule the world…’
- It’s not a synopsis, so don’t reveal the twist or surprise at the end.
- End on a hook – often this relates to what’s at stake in the story.
- And, as with all facets of writing, have fun ☺
As always, thank you to all my lovely followers, who’ve read and commented on my previous posts – either directly on the blog post or on the social media mentions. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your support.
For next month, I’d love to try something different. Let’s hold a question/answer forum where you post questions as a comment to this blog, then I will answer them as part of next month’s post.
This is a free for all! Any questions. Nothing’s off limits ☺
If you have a work in progress and want feedback on character GMC or arc or a sentence or paragraph that’s just not working, why not post it here? The questions can be as general or specific as you like. The more questions, the more fun! Remember, if you’re finding something challenging, there are probably others who feel the same. By posting your questions, you’re not only helping yourself, you’re helping others as well ☺
You have an entire month to post questions, until 5th December. So get thinking, and start posting.
On another note, I still haven’t heard from last month’s winner ANNETTE R
Annette, please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org to claim your skype session. If I don’t hear from you by the end of next week, I’ll draw another winner.
Many thanks once again, and I hope you all have a great month ☺
Michelle Somers is a bookworm from way back. An ex-Kiwi who now calls Australia home, she’s a professional killer and matchmaker, a storyteller and a romantic. Words are her power and her passion. Her heroes and heroines always get their happy ever after, but she’ll put them through one hell of a journey to get there.
She lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her real life hero and three little heroes in the making, and Emmie, a furry black feline who thinks she’s a dog. Her debut novel, Lethal in Love won the Romance Writers of Australia’s 2016 Romantic Book of the Year (RuBY) and the 2013 Valerie Parv Award. The second in her Melbourne Murder series, Murder Most Unusual was released in February 2017.
In between books, she runs workshops – both face-to-face and online – for writers wanting to hone their craft. The first book in her Simply Writing Series, Simply Synopsis, is changing the way writers craft this vital, yet perplexing, writing tool. And through her Simply Writing series of blogs, she hopes to simplify so much more.