The Unsung Hero of Publishing: Why Blurbs Deserve More Attention

Meru Gokhale
23rd Apr 2024

"Opening lines have a huge amount of power, probably more than any other part of a text, and they are instructive for starting any piece of copy. But with the first line of a blurb, the stakes are even higher," writes Louise Willder, my former colleague from Penguin Random House, in her book Blurb Your Enthusiasm. 

In the world of publishing, where countless books compete for readers' attention, the blurb plays a crucial role in helping readers discover new stories. When a reader picks a book from a shelf store, this short piece of text, usually found on the back cover or inside the jacket of a book, helps them decide whether to pick it up or move on to the next one.

I've seen up close the impact a well-written blurb can have on a book's success. A good blurb should capture the essence of the story and the author's voice while providing a glimpse into the reading experience that awaits. It's not just a summary of the plot but also a carefully crafted invitation to the reader. In his book, The Art of the Publisher, Robert Calasso compares the task of writing a book blurb to introducing one friend to another. He notes, "…you must overcome the slight embarrassment that always exists in every introduction." There is an art to crafting a blurb—it needs to entice without giving away too much, highlight the "hook", and establish the book's tone and target audience. And it must do all of this without sounding like a boring advertisement. 

After all, it's the first impression potential readers will have of a writer's work, so the authors must get it right. When writing a blurb, they should consider their ideal readers, the genre of their book, and the key elements that make their story unique. What is the core premise or hook of the story? Who is the main character(s), and what drives them? What is the central conflict or mystery the book revolves around? Collaborating with an editor can help refine the blurb and ensure it effectively communicates the book's strengths.

I sometimes wonder if readers recognise the value of a well-crafted blurb. It can provide insight into whether a book aligns with their interests and reading preferences. A compelling blurb can pique curiosity and help readers discover new authors and genres they may not have considered before.

In today's fast-paced publishing industry, the blurb remains a timeless tool for connecting readers with the right books. It's a simple yet effective way to communicate the value of a story and entice readers to take a chance on a new book. It may not receive the same attention as other aspects of book publishing, such as cover design or marketing campaigns. In fact, the rise of customer reviews online has lessened the prominence of traditional book blurbs to a degree, but we shouldn't overlook its importance. A great blurb can make the difference between a book that gets lost in the crowd and one that finds its way into the hands of eager readers.

As we continue to navigate the ever-changing publishing landscape, let's remember to give the humble blurb the recognition it deserves. By crafting powerful blurbs and using them to guide our reading choices, we can help ensure that great stories find their way to the right readers.

If you're interested in learning how you can use Editrix to write a book blurb, watch this video: