Why Writing A Book Blurb Is So Awful. (And Maybe How To Make It Easier)

I hate writing summaries of my books. I’m not sure why it’s so painful, given that, you know, I already wrote the book. The description should just be a condensed version of what I already have. No big deal, right?

Except it’s absolutely excruciating. I’ve often thought I should try to trick beta readers (the ones who like the book, anyway) into writing it for me. Then I can just tweak their descriptions of it, and voila! I’ll have a ready-made blurb.

It’s actually not only for my books, but anything, that I hate writing a summary. For me, the worst part of writing a review is recapping the story. I guess it’s because when you write it, you are just regurgitating stuff you already know. It doesn’t feel productive. It’s like writing a book report in school.

Writing most things is a loose art–you start putting down words and gradually see where they take you. But writing a summary is more like carving something out of marble. You know where you need to go and it’s just a matter of chipping away until you get there. Which feels tedious when you are used to writing in a more natural way.

The most fun ones to write are casual, even humorous ones, where you’re not taking things too seriously. These are most easily done when you don’t like the subject, and want to poke fun at it. That makes this difficult, since authors generally write these things specifically to get people to buy our books–we don’t want to be making fun of them.

But it occurred to me that maybe that is a good clue. For your first draft at writing the summary blurb, try deliberately writing in a super-casual, almost comedic style.

As an experiment, I tried rewriting the description of The Directorate this way. (What I’ve got now kind of makes me wince, even though it was the best I could do at the time) If it were somebody else’s book, and I were describing it to a friend, here’s what I’d say:

“So there’s this woman who’s in the space army, and she’s a big fan of this guy who won this huge war in the past and established the current government where Earth, the Moon and Mars are united. But there are these pro-Earth  traitors who are trying to topple the government, and she gets sent to work on a remote station where the government is running secret projects.”

That’s obviously way too informal. But without much effort, I turned it into:

“Lt. Theresa Gannon is a loyal soldier, even as she gradually discovers that there are traitors in the ranks. But when she is sent to a remote station on the edge of Directorate-controlled space, she begins to learn the full scope of what the traitors are planning, and uncover troubling secrets about the Directorate itself.”

I think the latter is better than what I originally had. So I think one good way of writing a blurb is to write it as casually as if you were telling your best friend about the book, and refine from there.

7 Comments

  1. You may be on to something. Honestly, there are about 83 reasons that I’m not writing much these days and haven’t for a couple of years. One of them is because I’m not sure anymore what the objective is. (It’s kind of like the struggle my kids have with doing well in college when they don’t know what they want to be when they grow up.)

    I can’t imagine spending as much time writing as I used to without there being an objective. Which means publishing. And while I’ve gone the self-publishing route, I still hold on to the dream of an agent and a publisher and untold millions.

    Which requires …

    The dreaded cover letter
    The dreaded synopsis
    The dreaded … well, it’s all dreaded, to be honest.

    Writing those summaries and synopses are, yes, the worst part of writing and I don’t want to do it, and you can’t make me! Or, if I never finish another piece, I don’t have to worry about it. I need to get over that worry.

    1. I know what you mean. I’ve struggled with some of the same issues, to be honest. But, although almost everyone I know thinks I’m crazy for believing this, I do think that there may be a path to success for self-published authors like us. Maybe not untold millions… but then again, maybe so.

      All I know is, you’re a helluva good writer, and people like me will always enjoy reading your work. I’m not saying you should force yourself to write, by any means–but I can tell you that you have an eager audience, even if it’s not big enough to garner you those millions. (Yet.)

      1. The only way for self-published authors to thrive is through volume in a genre that secures a steady audience. What I’ve learned through my own experience and that of others is that the hardest genre to do that in is literary fiction which tends to be where I reside in my writing these days. Which is one of those 83 reasons I’m struggling these days.

        I actually don’t want millions, just enough to pad my retirement income so I can quit working. 😉

  2. My problem with writing the blurb is I don’t want to give too much away. If I give a Cliff Notes version, why would anyone want to read it? I tend to be too vague, which doesn’t grab much attention. If you have a good hook, you can start it and let the reader want to know more.

    1. Yep; the hook is the key. Although to be honest, I’m not sure how many readers even pay attention to the description–most of them base their buying decisions on other things like reviews, recommendations from friends, etc.

      But, I figure I still have to have it, so might as well make it good. 🙂

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