Who Wants What – and Why Can’t She Have It?

Someone spots your cover and likes it. They click on it. Now what?

Now comes your copy. Also known as blurb or description, your copy for your ad is probably the most important part of your book – in commercial terms, anyway. This is your chance to sell.

Most book copy follows a pattern. You tell enough about the story to describe the setting, introduce the characters, present the story question, and leave the reader with a cliffhanger – hopefully one so compelling it will sell the book. Your blurb is also a chance to show your writing style.

You answer the question: “Who wants what, and why can’t she have it?”

AuthorSociety.com describes it this way:

Most fiction book blurbs start with a situation (a), introduce a problem (b) and promise a twist (c). They usually end with a sentence that emphasizes the mood (d) of the story.

Here’s an example from the bestseller The Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins:

(a) Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

(b) And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved.

(c) Has she done more harm than good?

(d) Compulsively readable, The Girl on the Train is an emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller and an electrifying debut.

Some experts say to use short sentences, but I think it’s more important to use short paragraphs. Many readers will skim your ad quickly.

The most common skimming method has readers looking at the first few words of a paragraph, then skipping to the last few words.

Breaking up that “wall of text” gives them more opportunities to become interested.

Like the cover, the most important thing about your blurb is that it tells the truth. Don’t describe an innocent romance as “steamy.” Don’t say you write like (insert famous author’s name). You write like you – be proud of your work.

Sometimes you may want to give away the end, just so the reader knows it’s what she likes. We see this on some romances, for instance: “HEA, no cheating, no cliffhangers”.

You can quote from your best reviews in your blurb. The reader knows you picked a positive review, but if it’s thoughtful it can still persuade them. Don’t post: “This is an excellent book. I would buy more from this wonderful author.” We know that’s your mom.

Of course, if you’re fortunate enough to have a quote from a source readers would recognize (New York Times, Oprah, Pulitzer Selection Committee) – don’t be shy. Put that first.

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