How Long Should a Blurb Be?

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It’s time for another “How long is a piece of string?” blog post. I’ve previously looked at how long a novel should be and how long chapters should be, so now that we’ve mastered those components, it’s time for how long a blurb should be.

Apart from the title and the author’s name, the blurb is the first thing a potential reader will read and unless there is some word of mouth getting around, it is primarily what will help them make the decision on whether or not to read it. Getting it right can be the difference between a sale and that sale slipping by.

Not Too Long
It should go without saying, but like so many things in writing, it has to be spelled out (pun intended) – a blurb shouldn’t be so long that it won’t fit on the back cover of the physical book you are publishing. Even if you’re only publishing as an ebook, the blurb still shouldn’t be too long because potential readers want to know pretty quickly the basic premise of the story.

For those who need a word limit, 200 would be an absolute maximum (and even that is probably a little too long).

Not Too Short
On the other hand, the blurb shouldn’t be too short either. While brevity is the soul of wit, a blurb needs to be more than witty. It needs to be informative and intriguing and interesting.

For those who need a word limit, 40 would be an absolute minimum. Think 40 sounds like a lot? Try boiling your elevator pitch down to so few words. It’s almost impossible.

Don’t Give Away Too Much
The biggest challenge of writing a blurb is not to give away too much. When you’re excited about the story between the covers, sometimes the urge to reveal everything as a means of drawing readers in is overwhelming. But if you give away too much, then there won’t be anything left to surprise them as they read the book. And there’s nothing worse than an anti-climax.

Don’t Give Away Too Little
Equally, if you give away too little in the blurb, you might be failing to connect with those potential readers. It’s so important to find the balance between too much and too little information, between creating in the person reading the blurb a sense of needing to know what happens as opposed to a sense of already knowing what happens.

Direct Quotes Only
Some of the most powerful blurbs are created by simply using a direct passage from the book. It’s rare that this is possible, that there is a moment in the book that sums up and sells perfectly the story contained within. But if it does exist, it certainly helps solve the problem of having to write a blurb from scratch.

Don’t Make the Book Out to Be Something It Isn’t
There’s nothing worse than a blurb that makes a reader think a book is about one thing, only for them to read it and find out it’s about something else entirely. As a general rule, I’m not that interested in romance novels. I’ll happily read other genres that contain elements of romance but there has to be something more to the story to interest me. So when I read a blurb that promises thrills and intrigue and crime and action, if I end up reading a book that is just romance, I feel let down. I feel deceived. Even if it was a perfectly good romance novel.

Making your book out to be something it isn’t is just setting yourself up for criticism.

*****

There are exceptions to these rules because in writing, when it’s done well, breaking the rules is always acceptable. But so few of us break the rules well. So if we can stick to the rules instead, we should come out at the other end with a blurb that if not remarkable is at least suitable.

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