Blurb is a wonderful word and so aptly onomatopoeic. It describes the summary of a book that traditionally appeared on its back cover, but in this ebook era is more commonly encountered on the Amazon or Smashwords sales page for that publication. It’s used for other creative works too and found on DVD and CD cases, web portals and magazines.
Blurb as a word was first coined in 1907 by American humorist Gelett Burgess who used it to refer to the promotional text on the rear cover of the dust jacket of his book Are You A Bromide? The term quickly became popular. His original blurb included a picture. Over time this practice has generally been dropped but the name remains.
Here’s how Burgess himself defined blurb:
Blurb 1. A flamboyant advertisement; an inspired testimonial. 2. Fulsome praise; a sound like a publisher...On the “jacket” of the “latest” fiction, we find the blurb; abounding in agile adjectives and adverbs, attesting that this book is the “sensation of the year.”
The Germans were also developing this idea of including a catchy summary of a book’s contents on the back cover, or on the half title page, at around the same time. Karl Robert Langewiesche was the main man here but it’s Gelett Burgess that made the idea of the blurb famous.
Despite its slightly silly sound, blurb is important. It’s a hook. It’s there to catch a prospective reader’s attention. It has to be sharp and relevant. It can consist of a pithy synopsis of the book, perhaps include a quote or two from it and ideally a favourable one-liner from a reviewer or a fellow (but usually much more famous) author or relevant celebrity. It’s not to be dismissed lightly and it’s something you need to put some work into. Don’t go with your first effort. Work on it and improve it.
Here are the key elements:
- Your blurb needs to be seductive and emotive. Give it your all.
- Go for around 250-300 words in total in two or three paragraphs.
- Pull your reader in with the first line. It could be a question, or a controversial or counter-intuitive statement.
- Use strong, opinionated, riveting words.
- State the main issue or conflict of the book.
- Hint at the resolution but don’t give it away.
- Add a snippet from a favourable review if you have one.
Get your editor to give you a hand - that's what we're here for, to help our authors.
We'll look at some examples in my next blog post.