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Ensuring Your Blurb Actually Matches Your Plot

For both published and unpublished writers we discuss the importance of your blurb. This is the description you include in your query letter and the description you will likely be asked to supply your editor when it comes time to sit down and write cover copy. It’s also the description your agent will ask for when it comes time to pitch the book. Whether you like it or not, learning to write the blurb for a query letter is an essential part of your author toolkit. You’re going to need to do it time and time again.

The biggest struggle authors usually have when it comes to the blurb is trying to take all the pieces of the their stories and winnow them down to just one paragraph. What do you weed out and what’s important to keep? Lately though, I’ve been reading a lot of really enticing blurbs that don’t match the material I then request. It seems in this case, the author has a vision for what the book is about, but hasn’t carried that through in the execution of the writing. Usually, the chapters I read are bogged down in back story or viewpoints different from the one described in the blurb.

When a reader (agent or editor) reads a book’s blurb she is going to expect the story to give her something that closely matches the blurb from page one, or at least something the reader feels is leading to the blurb. If the book is described as being about a woman who is searching for her kidnapped daughter then we are going to need to get to know that woman and see the kidnapping pretty early on. That’s why we picked up the book. We didn’t pick up the book to read about the kidnapper’s experience as a child or how the kidnapper became a kidnapper (unless we somehow know from the beginning that it connects to the woman).

I encourage authors all the time to write your blurb before writing the book, but I also encourage you to use that blurb to keep you on track as you write the book. If your story veers too far outside the blurb either you need to rewrite the blurb or, more likely, you might need to take a close look at whether the book itself has gone off track.

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10 comments

  1. How is one to do that in one paragraph? A paragraph ought to have one topic and the support to carry the topic sentence. I cannot see that happening in a query letter. I have rewritten mine several times and continue to face the same problem. The protagonist, the problem, its solution and the the setting are important. But I suppose, if the query needs to be one paragraph, I will need to say in a phrase that which should be given a paragraph of its own. Why, other than saving time, would an agent or publisher want such work? I, like so many other, would hope that one could be given at least another page or half a page to create the tone of the story and tell the reader that the author promises conflict and resolution. Not stupefied, but certainly disappointed.

    1. The problem is that you will have to always do this in one paragraph. When you find a publisher, she’ll need a blurb to base the cover copy off and this cover copy (typically the same length as a query blurb) is what will entice readers to buy the book. In all honesty, if you can’t write the blurb maybe you need to take a second look at the book itself.

    2. Steven,
      I hope Jessica doesn’t mind me promoting another blog here, but I’ve found Query Shark (http://queryshark.blogspot.com/ ) to be an excellent resource for query writing. The archives are invaluable. Yes, it’s one particular agent’s query advice, but it still goes a long way toward how to get a query from “needs more work” to “send me pages”.

      1. Thanks for the reference. I have used the website before but sadly have yet to be chosen to get a response. Good and bad, I suppose. I will continue writing the query (is this different than a blurb?) Seems it should be. A blurb hooks the reader, I get that. The advice I have read indicates a query should have more to it than a “punch in the jaw.” Didn’t QueryShark state a query is more than a blurb? Okay, I will write a blurb a couple of dozen times to see how succulent I can get 143,000 words. That’s like shoving a hundred bowling balls in sock. Thanks your response.

  2. @Steven Sweek, It might help you to move away from “A paragraph ought to have one topic and support to carry the topic sentence.” That’s marginally true in certain kinds of persuasive or argumentative writing, but queries are different. You can’t prove or argue with a reader about what your story is about. The story is the argument.

    You might find some of the query formulas helpful. I don’t know if Jessica has one in her archives, but several other industry professionals suggest them as a starting place. She does have a great collection of queries from authors she represents/has represented. (click the queries tag and go back to pages 26-28)

    I’ve seen three or four varieties, and they are all useful for getting the four or five most important pieces of information into a paragraph (e.g. main character, conflict, stakes, choice, setting<—not meant to be the "correct list" just some examples). Then you have to make it pretty.

  3. Steven…stop. Mentally delete everything you wrote in that response. There is another way to approach this. Put in your ear buds and listen to a little music–and not acid rock. Punch up, let’s say, The Eagles. Listen to Lyin Eyes. A complete story is told in 8-9 stanzas. Do you realize that? A complete story. Granted, that’s longer than a blurb, but not terribly longer. Do that with a couple of songs and you will get a sense of how a story can be created using minimum words. Hope this helps.

      1. Steven. If you’re willing, email your blurb to me and I will critique it for the blog (you need to be willing to let me post it). I think it might be helpful.

  4. Great idea, Jessica. Appreciate you doing that for all of us to learn from.

    I find writing a blurb like writing a pitch – you have to tell the story in one paragraph. I have a resource which I’ve found hugely helpful for this. It’s for pitching, but I now use for writing queries/blurbs etc. I just expand for the blurb and query – but this gives me a starting point.

    As it says: The pitch is a 2-3 sentence summary that includes the “who, what, why, and why not.” Just enough information to intrigue the agent (I want to read that book!) and induce salivation (I think I can sell that book!). I’ve always assumed this is what a blurb and query are both supposed to do as well.

    If anyone is interested, I got the resource from this blog post.

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