A great title and an eye-catching cover will entice readers to pick up your book (or click on the link), but the back-cover blurb is what will persuade them to read it.
Different Types of Summaries
First, let’s look at some common types of summaries used in the publishing industry; blurb, logline, hook, and synopsis.
Each of these types of summaries has its own unique purpose, but should be used in conjunction with the others. The following guidelines will help you draft your own summaries, but remember to always follow individual submission guidelines.
• Blurb – 100-200 words. Summarizes the story, characters, and conflict without giving away the twists, or ending. Often includes the inciting incident. Found on back covers, book flaps, and online sales descriptions.
*Note: Not to be confused with an Author Blurb which is a short endorsement from a fellow author, usually on the back cover or first few pages of the book.
• Logline – 25-50 words. Boils the story down to a single, easily understood concept in one sentence. This term is most often used for films, but can be helpful for authors as well. See my article here for more information about loglines for books.
• Hook – Anywhere from a few words to a few sentences. Grabs the reader’s attention while revealing the single most interesting and unique element of the story. Often found at the beginning of a blurb, on a book cover, or movie poster.
• Synopsis – 1-3 pages (can even be up to 20 pages, depending on who is asking for it). Outlines the main aspects of the plot, characters, and story arc in detail. The ending and all twists are revealed. Often asked for by literary agents and publishers. Sometimes called a Summary.
WRITING THE BLURB
Between 100-200 words, the blurb is found on the back cover of paperbacks and on the front flap of hardcovers. The back cover of a hardcover will often display a shorter blurb or an extended hook, and/or reviews, author blurbs, and awards.
Remember the purpose of the blurb is to sell. Most readers skim blurbs and won’t give their full attention unless it grabs their interest. Stick to short sentences, short paragraphs, and use simple yet vivid descriptions and imagery.
When formatting your back-cover blurb use the acronym H.I.S.S. Hook. Inform. Stakes. Style.
This is the first sentence or two designed to catch the reader’s attention. The hook is what captures the interest of the reader, and thus ‘hooks’ them into wanting to know more of your story. Depict what is unique or most interesting about your book and make that your first line.
Give a feel for the main character, show his/her personality, and tease the main conflict. Don’t reveal the ending or include big spoilers, but you can usually include the inciting incident. Give just enough info to make the reader want more.
What is the dilemma for the characters? Describe what is at stake if they are unsuccessful in their goals, but add a dash of hope for a satisfactory conclusion.
Make sure your blurb matches the tone and mood of your book. If the reader expects romance, and the book is a horror, they will come away unhappy, no matter how well the book is written. By careful word choice, the genre, style, and tone of the book will be apparent. Read examples from successful books in your genre to get a feel for style. Dynamic style words can be used as key words or tags when listing your book on online publishing sites and platforms.
Other Things to Include
- Endorsements: Include one or two author blurbs from recognized authors in your genre. If you have several endorsements, these can replace the blurb on the back cover (reserving it for the hardcover front flap).
- Reviews: Include professional reviews from known outlets. Don’t include reviews from family and friends, or social media fan reviews.
- Author Photo and Brief Bio: a professional looking, clear close-up photo may accompany a brief bio on the back-cover flap. This bio does not replace the formal author bio included in the book near the back which can go into more detail about your background. Keep the flap bio short and to the point.
- Accolades: State if you are an award winner or best-selling author.
Study the following examples of successful blurbs with noted H.I.S.S. formatting and underlined style words.
Just Intuition by Makenzi Fisk
A fiery blast in a northern Minnesota town takes the life of an elderly woman. Was it really an accident, or was it murder?
Officer Erin Ericsson wants to find out, and she’s not going to be deterred by anyone, especially not the investigating detective. One thing is for sure, someone in the close-knit town likes fire, and no one is safe.
Erin’s girlfriend Allie has a secret, a gift she’s been hiding all her life, but it may be their only way.
Can Erin convince her to face her nightmares and unmask the killer before it’s too late?
Together they use their skill, and a bit of intuition, to solve an escalating series of deadly crimes. Their search leads them through unforgiving back woods and face-to-face with evil. (129 words)
Austenland by Shannon Hale
Front Flap, Hardcover.
Jane Hayes is a seemingly normal young New Yorker, but she has a secret. Her obsession with Mr. Darcy, as played by Colin Firth in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, is ruining her life. No real man can compare.
When a wealthy relative bequeaths her a trip to an English resort catering to Austen-crazed women, Jane’s fantasies of meeting the perfect Regency-era gentleman suddenly become realer than she ever could have imagined. Decked out in empire-waist gowns, stripped of her modern appliances, Jane throws herself into mastering Regency etiquette and flirts with gardeners and gentlemen – or maybe even, she suspects, with the actors who are playing them.
It’s all a game, Jane knows. And yet the longer she stays, the more her insecurities seem to vanish. Is she about to kick the Austen obsession for good, or could all her dreams actually culminate in a Mr. Darcy of her own?
With humour, charm, and perfect sympathy, award-winning author Shannon Hale delivers a novel that will delight every reader who has ever dreamed of escaping into Austenland. (178 words)
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Front Flap, Hardcover.
Could you survive on your own, in the wild, with everyone out to make sure you don’t live to see the morning?
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.
Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games.
But Katniss has been close to dead before – and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
Acclaimed writer SUZANNE COLLINS, author of the New York Times bestselling Underland Chronicles, delivers equal parts suspense and philosophy, adventure and romance, in this searing novel set in a future with unsettling parallels to our present. (205 words)
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Even in the future, the story begins with Once Upon a Time…
Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl…
Sixteen-year-old Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past and is reviled by her stepmother. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction.
Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future. Because there is something unusual about Cinder, something that others would kill for. (Stakes) (135 words)
Before becoming a short story author and screenwriter, Allison has been a librarian, production assistant, art director, and coalminer. She has diplomas in Cinema, Television, Stage & Radio, and Writing For Children, and is a member of Alberta Romance Writers’ Association (ARWA) and Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers (CSIF). She finds time to write when she can extricate herself from her four kids and their pounding on the bathroom door.
This article appeared in the May 2021 Opal Writers magazine.