The Enigmatic Blurb

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Why is it that even the mention of writing a blurb strikes abject terror into the normally calm and sane writer?

The task of describing and summarising a whole book, months or years of work, into a few short paragraphs seems nigh impossible. In the process the blurb has to be unique, capture the reader’s attention, excite them and tempt them to read on, ultimately to buy the book. The blurb and obviously the cover are often the first and only sales pitches for the book. The undertaking ahead feels hopeless.

Fear and dread of the blurb were my immediate reactions once I’d committed to publishing my anthology…I knew I needed one, yet every time the thought surfaced I erased it from my mind and dove even further into editing! As ever I needed a deadline and one evening I cleared my schedule for the following day, ensured I would not be disturbed and made a promise to myself to complete the blurb within 24 hours!

Early the next morning I entered my study and was confronted by my desk…the aforementioned one from my Frazzled! post. I could not work here. First I had to clean my desk – literally!

Over the past couple of months my working space had become chaotic with piles of paper and books balanced precariously and riotously on top of one another. There wasn’t even space for an A4 notebook. My solution was to move everything into the spare bedroom and once the desktop was polished I faced the gleaming wooden surface. Perfect! With reverential care I placed a notebook, pen and pencil on the desk, followed by my notes for my blurb as well as the print-out of how to write a blurb.

Yes, I lied a little…for weeks I’d been researching blurbs.

A blurb is tricky under normal circumstances and even more complex for a short story collection, I feel. First of all, I studied blurbs from other short story anthologies and I tried to pinpoint what drew me to them and what elements jarred – making notes all the time.

Next, I read ‘How to Write a Blurb’ articles online. One particular website provided fantastic information and I’d highly recommend The Author Society’s  ’17 Tips on How To Write a Blurb That Sells’.  Some tips were redundant for my anthology as the article was geared for novels. However, here are some points I found particularly useful and relevant:

  • The best length for a blurb is between 100 – 150 words. I would also like to add that it’s important to leave good line spacing for ease of reading.
  • Treat your first sentence like a pick-up line. It should entice them to read on and needs to be clever, engaging and new.
  • Use a cliffhanger. The reader needs to leave curious and hungry for more.
  • Use words that cater for your audience. They should evoke atmosphere and meet the readers expectations of the genre.
  • Use short sentences as buyers usually skim through the text.
  • Use hyperbole as these are powerful tools to spark curiosity.
  • Stay true to your voice. This piece of advice remained with me as I wrote my blurb. I felt it was vital to retain my voice which runs through the stories to be part of the blurb.
  • Use fresh eyes. Let it rest, print out and read in different formats such as phone, paper, computer.
  • Rewrite it many times.

With these notes to hand I started to scribble down ideas as I skimmed through my stories again; however there were two major stumbling blocks.

How could I include two of the most important elements of a blurb into mine; namely giving readers a setting and introducing the main characters? With so many different locations and characters; what could I do? In the end, I decided to give a flavour of some settings and some characters. With my short stories in front of me, I scanned back and forth, jotting down compelling and memorable characters, places, themes and feelings.

Gradually nuggets of a plan appeared, gems of ideas developed, but my initial blurb idea was still too vague. All the time I imagined a future customer, standing in a shop, quickly glancing at the back cover. How could I entrap them with my words, coax them to stay and read on and finally seduce them to buy a copy?

I rewrote the blurb time and again; examining every word and taking breaks as I paced around my study, reading aloud to myself, standing over my words, studying them, amending, rereading my notes.

Gradually an overall theme emerged and with this core central stabilising factor to the beginning, middle and concluding paragraphs I created my final blurb. One hundred words exactly!

The final blurb will be revealed soon! I have been promised the book cover this week and hope to post both together.

“A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.” Edgar Allan Poe

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