Darren M. Palmer
Tips for Writing a Great Book Blurb & Author Bio
One of the biggest mistakes I have seen authors do is focus on the front cover and book while dismissing the back cover. If you lack detail when it comes to the book blurb, it will show up. One may ask what the blurb is. A blurb is the copy/text that appears on the back cover of a book. Your back-cover blurb is the second thing a potential buyer looks at after your front cover. You can write a ‘description blurb’ of your book yourself (in the third person) or have a ‘review blurb’ written by someone else in which praises for your book are mentioned. The 150 to 200 words you’ll choose to place on your book’s back cover might just be the most important part of your entire book project.
Think of your favorite books in your personal library. Aside from the titles and authors, what usually comes to your mind? All those beautiful covers? The most memorable images provide visual cues about what’s inside the pages, setting the mood, or giving some clues about the story. Some covers tell a story in and of themselves. So what about the other side of the book? The book’s back cover. Anything?
I’m pretty sure that nobody remembers what’s on the back cover of their favorite books. And yet I believe this is the most important – and most overlooked – book marketing real estate for self-published authors.
Authors spend a great deal of energy writing the book – of course. Next is choosing a title and helping create an eye-catching cover. But when it comes to the back cover of their printed book, many new authors skimp or are unconcerned with what goes on the back cover. And that’s a huge mistake. Here are some basic do’s and don’ts.
WHAT TO DO!
Limit the amount of content on the back cover. Unless it’s an oversized coffee table book, you’ll have room for – at best – 150 to 200 words. Put too much content and it will overwhelm your potential buyer. You’ll have to make the font size so small that people will need a magnifying glass to read it.
See what other authors in your genre are doing with their back covers. Before writing your own back-cover copy, examine the backs of other books in your genre for examples of what is working for other authors.
Write a short summary of what your book is about. Again keep it tight – write only a paragraph or two. If it’s a novel, you must include the story’s most engaging plot points. For a non-fiction book, authors should make a bullet point list of the book’s main features and actually put that list on the back cover. Use three to five bullet points only (odd numbers are best, marketing research shows), and tell what the book will do for the reader, or what the reader is going to learn from your book.
Add your picture to the back cover. Have a professional headshot created for you. This should be a clear, close-up photo of your face. Just you. No significant others, kids, or pets.
Include a brief bio. For non-fiction authors, you should include two or three points to establish that you are an expert with the training and/or experience that qualifies you to write about your topic.
Put endorsements on it. They should be short and powerful statements – preferably by someone well-known in your genre (if you’re a novelist) or your field (if you write non-fiction).
WHAT NOT TO DO
Make yourself the focus of your book’s back cover. Your focus needs to be on your readers and why they should be interested and/or trust in what you have to say. It’s all about tapping into your readers’ need for your book. Unless you make that connection, those potential readers will choose another book, no matter how good your writing and content might be.
Write clichés such as “a must-read” or “This book will change your life.” The back-cover copy is not a book review. Make sure the tone is understated. People know you wrote this ad for the book. If you write about it in superlatives, it makes you look bad – either arrogant or desperate or exaggerating, depending on people’s perception. Write confidently but humbly, stating facts about the book and telling its benefits, rather than writing adjectives and adverbs of self-praise. This will win your trust rather than reap your derision.
Get just anyone to write an endorsement for you. You have minimal space, so your endorsement must be a recognized name in your genre or field. Better to forego endorsements than to look like you tried – and failed — to find someone talented to recommend your book.
Forget to proofread and grammar-check your back cover copy. These are the most painful goofs and typos! It’s a sure sign to prospective readers that the pages inside the book contain the same kind of careless errors.
While you might not remember the back cover content of the last book you read, it undoubtedly played a major part in your buying decision. The words you place on your back cover are crucial to your book’s success – or lack thereof. Give your back-cover copy the time and attention required so that it can close the sale!
A robust and insightful blurb is one of the most important and powerful selling tools for your book because it serves as your sales pitch. Once your book’s title and cover have drawn the reader in, the blurb will make the difference between a missed opportunity and a sale. You have one shot at introducing your book to your reader ‒ make it count.
While the cover design creates interest, even intrigue, the blurb will convince readers to buy your book. A book blurb is there to entice a purchase, not demonstrate your writing skills; therefore, it should be short and to the point.
Blurbs for non-fiction books are very different from those for fiction, in that they convey a message and the benefits the reader will receive from reading the book. Do not think of the blurb as an afterthought!
A non-fiction book blurb should give a quick indication of the author's credentials, which readers it is written for, and why they need it. On the other hand, a fiction book blurb should convey the atmosphere, specify its genre, and indicate what kind of book it is (mass-market or literary fiction). Quotes are extremely valuable to both fiction and non-fiction blurbs as they accurately describe the expectations the reader should have of the content.
It’s imperative to match the words to the product. Do not make a romantic novel sound like classical literature: you will put off both potential markets. Try to use your genre keywords too – they’re great for SEO ‘findability’ and to help classify your book on the shelves.
Book Blurb Essentials
Blurbs for non-fiction books need to address the fact that the reader has turned to you, the author, for information rather than entertainment. Instead of creating suspense or drama in the blurb, you’ll want to reveal a little more about the content and its significance. Here’s how:
1. Determine your target market
Indicate who the book is for. This could be phrased as ‘For people who want…’ It could describe the primary problem your target market has. Followed by what they’ll get from the content, or how you will help them solve the problem and why they should make buy your book and read it now. Keep this concise.
It’s highly likely that other authors have already covered any subject you've written about, so you’ll want to look at similar books and their blurbs. Where does your book fit in? What’s unique about you? What’s your story? How do you differentiate your book? Perhaps you can identify a niche market or highlight a unique perspective that you bring to the content.
Is there a hook you can use that will attract readers in a particular niche market? Naturally, others will read (and hopefully) love your book too. Readers will feel that you really ‘get them’ will be those who can sympathize, empathize, admire or identify with you. Your blurb will persuade them to pick up your book, read it and recommend it to others ‒ if it lives up to expectations.
2. Make your opening line count
First impressions count. And when writing a blurb, your opening line is your first impression. Short, pithy, surprising sentences or valuable information will grab the reader’s attention. And it’s not a bad idea to lead with the most outrageous claim, alarming insight, startling reveal, etc. that you have. It’s not suggesting you make something up or be deceptive, but a clever use of words to create a need-to-know urgency in your reader never hurts.
3. Sell the benefits
Why should someone read your book? What’s in it for them? What will they learn? How will it change them? These are just some of the questions that you can answer by stating the benefits of reading your book. For the most part, non-fiction is about learning, teaching and training to varying degrees. Approach the copy of your back-cover blurb with the mindset of ‘what’s in it for the reader.'
You could structure sentences along the lines of, ‘What you’ll learn when you read this book:’ or ‘When you’ve read this book, you will know/understand/be able to:’ then follow this with three to five bullet points of benefits of the content. This is your chance to make your promises about the value the book will deliver and paraphrase the best bits from your Table of Contents to entice the reader.
4. Showcase your knowledge
Offer some of your insight and learnings in your blurb. Don’t give it all away, but you need to show your authority and relevant experience to build credibility. Demonstrate that you know something valuable which will help your readers. Mention something significant about the content that makes the book worth picking up, promising that there will be more of that useful information inside.
5. Write in your own voice
This is paramount. Your blurb should be written in the same voice as your book. It might sound obvious, but so many writers don’t do this. A potential reader looks at the blurb the same way they would look at the book itself. In a non-fiction book, you are selling your knowledge, experience, writing, and yourself, so if the blurb doesn’t represent the common language you use in your book, the reader will feel a disconnect. Besides, it will only make your words more authentic and impactful.
6. Keep it short
Most blurbs are only between 100 and 150 words long, excluding the author's biography. Keep your blurb within these limits if you want it to make an impact. Your last sentence should wrap it up – primarily coming full circle back to the first sentence. You can use bullet points and questions. The book blurb should arouse curiosity, rather than provide answers. You want them to think, ‘That’s what I need to know!’ or ‘That sounds just like me …’
7. Use a cliffhanger
The aim of your blurb is to leave readers curious and wanting more ‒ so much so that they would actually buy the book. For non-fiction books, your cliffhanger should promise a strategy or a solution to address a problem the reader has, or a situation they want to understand, or information that they are seeking, and so on.
8. Get testimonials
Testimonials are a powerful way for you and your book to have credibility and ‘social proof’, making your book more appealing to potential buyers. Powerful testimonials from notable, credible people in your related field are the goal.
The praise on your book cover should clarify, in one brief sentence (include a maximum of three short quotes), why someone should read your book. The quote should be from someone whose name the reader recognizes or whose title shows they know what they’re talking about ‒ if not, it might be ineffective. Acquiring testimonials and endorsements is something you’ll need to start working on early, often before you’ve finished writing your book.
9. Author biography
Keep this short and focused on why you, the author, are uniquely qualified to write this book and what motivated you to do it. Three sentences should cover it (you can put a more extended Author Biography inside your book). List your key credentials and qualifications but don’t write a CV or present irrelevant details – align this with the tone and subject matter of the content. Readers want to know the person offering the information they’re spending their time and money on is genuine.
10. Author photo
A professionally photographed headshot of you adds character and illustration to all the words on your back cover; it also helps your readers connect with you. It can be in color or black and white but should show you looking friendly, likable, approachable and trustworthy.
Make sure these elements are concise and well laid out (a back cover covered in text with not enough ‘white space’ is unappealing to the reader) and your back cover will be doing a great job selling your non-fiction book. Your book blurb can also be used in pitch letters to reviewers and journalists, and as background information for anyone wishing to interview you about your book. The book blurb is a vital communication aid when promoting your book, so invest plenty of time and effort to ensure you get it right.