By Jenny Hilborne
Author of mysteries and thrillers
I consider myself fortunate.
For the past eight months, I've been reading and reviewing pre-publication novels for the New York Journal of Books. Every month, NYJB reviewers get a lengthy list of books to peruse. Anything containing great suspense and great storytelling grabs my attention, but with only a few lines of back cover blurb to go on, making a decision is still a bit of a gamble. I don't have time to waste and once I've selected a book I'm committed to reading the whole thing, whether I like it or not.
Usually, I'm not disappointed with my choice. Only one book I've read for NYJB has received an unfavorable review (I'm not going to name it, but the review will post on the NYJB site upon the books release in September). This is the book that prompted my little outburst in my last CFC blog post. Quite frankly, the book sucked, but I credit the author for the incredible back cover blurb that pulled me in. If the blurb had been written in the vein of the book, I'd have skipped right past it on the list.
Of course, back cover blurb isn't enough on its own. The cover is the mannequin in the window, the thing that gets readers to stop. Once they have stopped and picked the book up, the blurb is what keeps it in their hand and propels them to look inside. Authors can give a great pitch at book festivals, but the blurb is usually what sells (or doesn't) the book. It hurts when a reader decides to pass and sets it back on the shelf, or the table. Yes, that's happened to me in the past, and I questioned if it was my pitch or my blurb that failed me.
At book events, I love and loathe the question: "What's your book about?" Mostly, I love it, but I get that panicky feeling inside: how do I condense the whole 300+ pages into a succinct ten second pitch? It's the same thing authors face when writing the blurb. It's tough.
I've been asked by other authors about writing a back cover blurb, and I hesitate to give advice, usually because I don't know their story. All I can say is, the blurb that pulled me in on the aforementioned sucky book included emotion, intrigue and suspense. The plot seemed simple and told me a little about the victim. It hooked me and roused my curiosity.
When I write my own blurbs, I find the best hook in my story and use it on the back cover. I think a good blurb includes conflict and identifies the main character. It must speak to the intended audience. A reader looking for romance won't be happy with a romantic blurb that disguises a thriller. If the book includes both, make it clear.
Back cover blurb is as much of an art as the novel itself. A tight, crisp blurb makes it easier to pitch at a book festival. It makes it easier to love it when a reader asks that question: What's your book about?