The art of the blurb

Every book needs it. That ubiquitous back cover sales pitch that we call the blurb. Why? Because people first judge a book by its cover, then read the blurb as the decider on whether to buy the book or not (they would have loved to skim through a few chapters before buying the book, but then again, the books in the bookstore come wrapped up in polythene to maintain their newness, hence the blurb for a sneak peek).

You would think that blurbs are only limited to novels and other forms of fiction. But no, even puzzle books such as the Su Doku, the 2007 edition (I could not get a more recent copy), published by the The Times need one. Sample this:

“To help satisfy the nation’s appetite for Su Doku, The Times offers up its seventh instalment of the Japanese puzzle. Book 7 contains 150 previously unpublished puzzles, ranging from the mercifully Mild to the utterly unforgiving Super Fiendish. It’s getting tougher all the time, so be prepared to raise your game and wrangle once again with the devilish number grid.” Which edition was a bookseller, so you be the judge on the impact of this blurb in pushing sales.

To clarify matters, a blurb is not a plot summary or review of a book: A plot summary would reveal all the twists and turns, and the characters involved; which makes it pointless for the reader to get the book if he knows how it ends. On the other hand, a review picks up salient plot lines, perhaps a bit of characterisation and one or two central themes – a kind of extended sales pitch for the studious reader to get the book in future. The blurb, on the contrary, appeals to the here and now and is aimed at the harried gentleman or lady stumbling on the bookstore or on the book section at the shopping mall as he or she attends to the weekly grocery shopping or picks up office supplies. Which means that a book’s blurb has to be good, very good, as it has only one chance to get the book chosen over another.

So, how is an author to write a blurb that gets readers to buy her book? Simple. Think of the blurb as a movie trailer. Intriguing. Intense. Evocative. A solid punch to the gut. Those are the (almost universal) qualities of a great movie trailer. Which means it introduces the protagonist. States a crisis the protagonist is in. A twist here and there in relation to the genre of the book, perhaps magic, else, a conundrum in the educational sector and such like. All these in words that engages all our senses and moves us to buy the book. Pretty much like Harry Potter’s novels, of which the blurb of the first issue in the series get us anticipating of a great adventure ahead:

“Harry Potter has never played a sport while flying on a broomstick. He’s never worn a cloak of invisibility, befriended a giant, or helped hatch a dragon. All Harry knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley. Harry’s room is a tiny cupboard under the stairs, and he hasn’t had a birthday party in ten years.

But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to a wonderful place he never dreamed existed. There he finds not only friends, aerial sports, and magic around every corner, but a great destiny that’s been waiting for him… if Harry can survive the encounter.”

You might also like