7 Deadly Book Blurb Sins

7 Deadly Book Blurb Sins

When looking at other fiction authors’ book blurbs, I constantly see the same mistakes over and over again, so, I have compiled this list of the most common book blurb mistakes I see, added explanations regarding what makes them harmful, and written tips on how to fix them. However, please keep in mind that this article doesn’t apply to non-fiction, as non-fiction has a different set of best practices for writing book blurbs. Now, without further ado, from my biggest pet peeves to the lesser offenders, here are the seven deadly book blurb sins:

1. You Don’t Want to Give Anything Away

Whenever a novice author is given advice about writing book blurbs, the most common thing they hear is: “Don’t give anything away. Make the reader want to read the book to find out the details.” Unfortunately, most authors, due to their inexperience and insecurity (which is perfectly normal), take this way too literally and end up with a book blurb that says everything and nothing at the same time. You want to keep readers on their toes, I agree, but there is such a thing as leaving out so much information that it feels like you’re asking the reader to connect the dots without the actual dots.

Firstly, it makes your story sound generic, cliché, and boring. Secondly, it makes it harder for the reader to decide whether the story has the tropes they like/dislike. And thirdly, it doesn’t spark curiosity. You can spot a book blurb that makes this mistake by the fact that it makes very vague claims and promises that can literally mean anything. For example, talking about two characters being in danger in your book blurb isn’t exciting. What kind of danger is it, and why should the reader care?

These book blurbs are like trying to sell a cake whose contents are listed as “10% percent flour, 3% eggs, 20% milk, 67% other.” What’s the flavor, you ask? Wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise. Wondering whether it contains nuts because of your allergies? You’ll have to taste it to find out.

To best illustrate this point, read the following two one-liner book blurbs that describe the same story and see which one entices you to read the book more, or rather, which one doesn’t push you to the edge of your seat to find out what happens in the story.

One-Liner Book Blurb Examples
  1. A young princess discovers a horrible truth and must now make a harrowing decision in order to save an innocent.
  2. A young princess discovers her real father is about to be hanged for a crime he didn’t commit, and the only way she can save him is if she marries him.

Here is a little trick I like to use when trying to figure out whether the sentence or paragraph I’ve written is too vague or generally uninteresting: If that sentence/paragraph makes me ask at least five additional questions that are not just me asking for clarification due to vague wording, then it’s good. If I struggle to think of even a few or I only want to know things such as “what is the secret” and “what is the danger,” then that means the sentence/paragraph hasn’t intrigued me enough, and more (interesting) information needs to be included. Here are the additional questions that my mind has spontaneously spawned after reading the two one-liner book blurbs above. However, remember that the point is not to nitpick the sentence/paragraph apart in order to pull out every possible question one could ask regarding it. The point of this exercise is to put yourself in the shoes of your potential readers and to see whether parts of your book blurbs make them want to find out more about your story, and thus buy your book.

Additional Questions Prompted by the First One-Liner Book Blurb Example
  1. What is the truth?
  2. Why is it horrible?
  3. What is the decision?
  4. Why is it harrowing?
Additional Questions Prompted by the Second One-Liner Book Blurb Example
  1. What is the crime in question?
  2. Did someone frame the father?
  3. How did the princess find out the man to be hanged is her real father?
  4. How did she become a member of the royal family if the king is not her biological father?
  5. Does the king know she’s not his real daughter?
  6. Is the queen the princess’s real mother?
  7. If yes, does she know that the king’s daughter isn’t his?
  8. How will the princess marrying her real father save him?
  9. Is she even allowed to do that?
  10. If not, how will she pull it off?
  11. Does her real father know she is his biological daughter?
  12. If not, will she tell him or keep it a secret?
  13. Will he agree to such an arrangement?

Even though I have managed to think of four questions that I genuinely want to know the answer to after reading the first one-liner book blurb, they are merely requests for clarification, which, too, is a sign that the sentence/paragraph isn’t providing enough dots for the readers to try to connect. On the other hand, observe how many questions I have spawned after reading the second one-liner book blurb example, and not a single one of them is just me asking for clarification due to vague wording.

But most importantly, I hope you can see now how more information can actually spark more curiosity in readers than less. Once again, yes, there is such a thing as giving away too much information, but giving away too little can, in my opinion, actually do even more harm.

2. One of Your Selling Points Is a Secret/Dangerous Situation/Race against Time/Etc.

This point is actually somewhat related to the first one because it’s very often one of the most common things you see in overly vague book blurbs.

Why do you think having a secret or other similar terms in your blurb automatically makes your story interesting to the reader? Nobody ever sees the word “secret,” for example, without any context as to what it could be and thinks, “Oh, this book must be interesting! It has a secret! I need to know what it is!” You will notice that the best blurbs that try to sell readers on secrets and such actually don’t mention the word “secret” at all. Why? Because it’s already implied from the context, and the context is what makes it interesting in the first place, not the fact that it’s a secret alone.

But what’s worse, your secret is probably not even that relevant to the plot. Far too often, I see authors using a “secret” or another vaguely described plot device as one of their main selling points for a book when it turns out this alleged “secret” has little to no bearing on the plot. For instance, a book blurb mentions the main character’s powers being a secret, and in the book, it’s only a secret within the first chapter until the discovery of this “secret” sets the plot in motion. I honestly feel cheated whenever this happens.

If you want a “secret” to be a major selling point for you, make sure it’s actually interesting and has a huge bearing on the plot like Cersei and Jaime’s secret relationship in A Game of Thrones. If you don’t have a secret worth mentioning, don’t. If you do, then give us more context other than “it’s a secret.” A secret can be anything. It could be somebody trying to hide the fact that they wet their bed or it could be that the main character was the murderer all along. Similarly to my previous point, the reader can’t guess your amazing plot points and you can’t expect them to be interested in your story because they were unable to believe you that this “secret” you speak of is really going to knock their socks off without giving them any context whatsoever.

3. Your Book Blurb Becomes Your Review Section

This one only applies to retailers such as Amazon. On your own website, you are the king and you can choose where to place the book blurb and where to place reviews. On retailer book pages, however, your book blurb is not your review section. Most retailers have separate sections for this. Please do not copy-paste five-star Amazon reviews into your book blurb area when readers can already get to those just by slightly scrolling down the page. Some retailers such as Amazon even have a special section where you can put all of your editorial reviews, so there is no need to waste the little precious space you have where a good, quality, enticing book blurb can be.

Some people may disagree with me, but I just find this incredibly annoying, and I will also explain why it can potentially harm your book sales in my fifth point.

If you really, really, really want to put reviews in your book blurb sections on retail pages (which I obviously recommend you don’t), at least put them at the very end of the book blurb section, and only include review snippets that actually have something relevant to say. Reviews such as “this book is a must-read” means nothing. Everyone who has ever enjoyed a book will call it a “must-read.” But a potential reader doesn’t know what makes something a “must-read” for someone else. It can mean completely different things for different people even within the same genre. If you want to showcase a review, showcase one that also tells the reader more specifically what the book is like while also (hopefully) praising it. For example: “This short story’s characters are more developed than those in most full-length novels I’ve read.”

4. Your Book Blurb Reads like a Novel

Don’t make your novel’s book blurb read like a…well…novel. This one is a little bit harder to explain without showing you an example, but this article would then be 5000 words long instead of 2,700. In essence, don’t make your book blurb into some kind of teaser for your book that is essentially a (non)canon scene with your characters in it, or worse, you actually copy-paste an excerpt from your book and use it as a book blurb. At most, you can have a character “narrate” what the story is about, which is a good practice for first-person POV books, for example, but please don’t actually put dialog quotes and setting descriptions into your book blurb. A book blurb is meant to summarize the entire work, not showcase a piece of it. That’s what the “preview” setting on many online ebook retailers is for, and in brick-and-mortar bookstores, people can simply take a book off the shelf, open it, and read a page or two.

If you write your book blurb the same way you wrote your book, you are only going to alienate your potential readers and give them a pointless filler when what you could have done was given them concise information that will actually make see whether your type of story is for them or not.

5. Your Book Blurb Reads like a Synopsis

Don’t make your novel read like a synopsis that is literally just a retelling of the events of the book. Now, a lot of people confuse this with my first point of “don’t make your book blurb too vague,” but they’re actually two very different things entirely. You can have a vague book blurb that reads like a synopsis just as you can have a non-vague book blurb that doesn’t read like a synopsis.

Most people refer to a book blurb having this problem as it being “too wordy.” It’s because the biggest reason why a book blurb reads more like a synopsis of the book is that it uses too many words or sentences to express one idea. Once again, keep in mind that your book blurb being “too wordy” doesn’t mean that you’re “revealing too much” to the reader, although many authors interpret it this way.

Because you have limited space and attention span from potential readers, your sentences need to carry not one, but two or more ideas at once.

Example That Reads like a Synopsis

“She went to the beach at night. She never dreamed she’d find a dead body. After that, her life changed forever.”

Example That Doesn’t Read like a Synopsis

“She never dreamed she’d find a dead body on the beach, but that night, her life changed forever.”

As demonstrated, whether your book blurb reads like a synopsis is completely irrelevant of how much information you present to the reader. It’s more about the way it’s presented, and presenting it like a synopsis reads very sluggishly and sloppily.

6. You Have No Taglines

Readers are pressed for time and they are lazy. I should know—I’m exactly like that, too. They don’t want to have to go through huge chunks of text. You need to hook them with one or two short sentences, preferably with lots of line spacing in between to make it look even quicker/easier to read, and then let them decide whether they want to know more and keep reading the “meatier” part of your book blurb.

The tagline(s) should go at the very top of your book blurb for obvious reasons. Some readers will never even bother to click that “read more” button to expand the rest of your book blurb, so make those first few lines count.

In addition, to refer back to my third point, don’t waste this precious space on a generic “this book is amazing” review when readers can already assume what most of your five-star reviews are saying and can check them out to verify for themselves in the designated review section if they really want to.

7. You Leave In Unnecessary Details and Leave out the Important Ones

This last one is a little tricky because it really varies from book to book. You really need to get into the shoes of your potential reader and ask yourself what you would like to know that would make you want to read your book. Allow me to elaborate.

Since book blurbs are meant to be short and to the point, the reader will assume that anything you mention plays a major role in the story, and you don’t want them to get excited over something that you end up only glancing over briefly within the book itself. Need I remind you of the “secrets” that authors include in their book blurbs that often literally amount to nothing within the stories themselves?

I’ve read this one book blurb for a romantic thriller book in which the author mentions that the characters first assume that the protagonist’s ex-boyfriend is the murderer, but later find out that there are multiple people involved. My immediate thought was, “Oh, so it’s actually a book about a gang or organized crime of sorts?” She said “no” and explained how these “multiple people” actually play a very small role in the story compared to the ex-boyfriend and the main characters. Once again, the mention of something in a book blurb can immediately shift a potential reader’s expectations.

Similarly, make sure not to leave out important details either, and not just to avoid the common trap of making your book blurb too vague. If your story is a paranormal romance with a werewolf (not a shifter) and a young woman, disclose that. I have made this mistake far too many times myself where readers would leave me less than favorable ratings because I hadn’t made certain important details clear enough.

For example, if I a potential reader is looking specifically for a romance story featuring a drug cartel and decides to buy your book where the most you mention is “six young men banding together to do organized crime in the name of love,” they are going to be sorely disappointed if they find out it’s actually about six high schoolers robbing a liquor store to be allowed to go to a college girl frat party. Or worse, if the potential reader is not absolutely sure your book about organized crime specifically features a drug cartel, they might also decide to not take that chance and pass on your book in the first place.

In Conclusion…

Yes, your cover is and should also be a heavy indicator of what your book is about, but keep in mind that if you follow genre conventions, your cover will most likely only identify the broad genre, such as whether the book is romance or horror. If you have a shirtless hunk on your cover with a vague background and a general romantic font for your copy, it may not be clear what setting and context the romance takes place in, and the job then falls to your book blurb to expand on the concept and give the potential reader a clearer picture.

In any case, I hope that after reading this article and by implementing my suggestions, you will agree with the points I’ve made here and see more book sales in the future. Just remember that, while your book blurbs are an integral part of enticing your reader to buy your books, they are also not the only factor they take into consideration when deciding whether or not to part with their money.

And if you’re interested in more details about writing book blurbs, I highly recommend Bryan Cohen’s book How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis: A Step-by-Step System for Enticing New Readers, Selling More Fiction, and Making Your Books Sound Good. Also, definitely check out my other posts for more tips and tricks on various topics related to writing, the publishing industry, and/or video game industry!

But, now, my question for you is: Which one of these 7 deadly book blurb sins are you most guilty of? Are there any parts of this article you perhaps disagree with me on?