The Dark Art of the Blurb


The Dark Art of the Blurb

Kate Cuthbert and Ainslie Paton gave a workshop on blurb and synopsis writing at the Romance Writers of Australia conference in late August. The synopsis run-down is available here

First, and foremost, blurb writing is very different from story writing, and in order to write an effective blurb, you will need to switch hats.

change hats

The cover is designed to catch the reader’s eye: all gloss and very little substance. The blurb is where you hint at the emotional punch.

The blurb is sales copy and a very different beast from writing your manuscript. So where do you start?

All you need (as in pretty much any situation) is a little Game of Thrones…

Imagine the landscape is your manuscript. In order to write your blurb, you need to hop into a helicopter and rise above, outside. You need to be able to see your manuscript as a whole, and not all the pieces. Now, imagine which parts of your manuscript rise up to meet you? Which parts will your helicopter crash into? These aren’t necessarily the rises of your emotional or narrative arc, but the elements that really stand out about your manuscript.

Is it snappy dialogue? Is it a unique setting? Is it a dark, brooding alpha hero? Is it a devastating black moment? Is it a timely issue?

Ignore the working parts - look only at the towering spires
Ignore the working parts – look only at the towering spires

Once you have a good idea of the ‘peaks’ of your manuscript, have a bit of a brainstorm – a few different peaks mean a few different angles you can take. How can you best exploit those angles? What are some key words or fantastic phrases?

This is your thinking phase – don’t write anything yet, just mull it over in your mind. Maybe take a shower. Go for a run. Something meaningless that will let your mind wander.

When you’re ready, it’s time to write.

flight plan

You’ll want to write more than one blurb – write a couple using the different angles you’ve been considering.

Blurb overview

Consider your opening and closing very carefully:


cliff hanger

Use each word judiciously, consider which words will end up before the ‘jump’ in e-tailers like Amazon.

first words

Avoid clichés, in both words and structure. For example, ending your blurb with something akin to ‘Will they overcome their struggles and live happily ever after?’ is very over-used in romance (and also a silly question – if you’re reading a romance, of course they’re going to over come and live happily ever after!)

Finally, you’ll want to test your blurb. Ask people you know (who will be honest with you) if they’d read the book based on the text. Is it exciting? Is it enticing? Does it give away too much? Does it not share enough?

Work and re-work until everyone – your friends, your neighbours, those people at the bus stop – can’t wait to get their hands on your masterpiece.

Once you’ve gone over every element in your mind, know your direction, understand your peaks, and mastered a good ending, you will have conquered the dark art of the blurb!

blurb breakdown

(all slides care of Ainslie Paton, and used with her generous permission)

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