If you spend an hour loitering in a book shop picking up one paperback novel after another to read the blurbs, several things become clear.
First of all, blurbs appear to follow simple, identifiable rules. Cliches don’t matter. In fact blurbs are mostly made up of them. Variations on ‘their lives will change forever’ seems to be a favourite.
Blurbs have to make an instant impact, to grab the casual customer glancing at the back cover. Strong, highly-charged words are needed; there’s no time or room for subtlety and nuanced language. Desperate, heartbroken, scandal, secret, dazzling, devastating, headlong, disaster, trapped, escape, terrifying – emotive words like these. No wonder an hour of analysing blurbs left me feeling like washing left too long on the spin cycle.
What else did I learn? To make it crystal clear and snappy. It’s an advertisement, so know your audience. Who is this advertisement aimed at? Strike a chord with them. Centre stage your main character and sell him or her with a single hard-hitting phrase or sentence. Another sentence to create intrigue, without giving too much away. Then another which convinces the reader to buy the book, giving him the satisfying answer to the ‘what’s in it for me?’ question.
It ought to be easy. It’s not as hard as writing a synopsis – and it’s a lot more fun. But it’s not surprising that blurbs are usually written in house by the publishing firm rather than the author. Doing them day after day must perfect the technique. In fact, practising writing blurbs for other people’s novels would be a good exercise for those of us trying to write a blurb for our own. As it is, we may well feel our lives will never be the same again…