Tuesday, March 15, 2011

To Blurb About Blurb

You know, I really thought I’d be able to do it. Write my own back cover blurb that is. I’ve worked with copywriters, and it's always looked easy enough. This time the copy is for my own book. How difficult can it be?

Oh per-lease – what wicked little imp was sitting on my shoulder laughing his socks off when I thought that? You’d think it would be simple wouldn’t you? Especially for your own book; after all, who knows the book better than you do yourself? Hah! Perish the thought. There’s a word count to start with. Didn’t think of that? Well it has to fit onto the back cover doesn’t it? I should know that, I’m a book cover designer in my day job, and the bane of my life is trying to fit the copy onto a back cover whilst still making it look attractive. (More of that later.) But there’s so much to take into consideration – like how much of the plot to reveal, whether to give away any twists, or just hint at them, and yet still give the book-buying public an enticing taster of the story. All in under 150 words. No pressure there then.

The idea, apparently, is to sum up the novel in a few paragraphs, making it sound ‘unputdownable’ and a ‘must read.’ Somehow, the hero, heroine and protagonist must all get a mention. If it’s a romance, whether paranormal or otherwise, the prospective reader needs to know who (or what) the hero is, the object of his desire, and the problems he needs to overcome in order to achieve a happy ending. But I have made it sound a bit easy, and it really isn’t. If you found writing a synopsis difficult – try writing the back cover blurb! (Cue for slightly hysterical screeching here.) I have to say writing the whole novel was less problematic.

But I tried, honestly I did. I wrote and rewrote and then wrote it all again. Too long, too short, too linear, it went from not teasing enough, to giving too much away, and so on. I was beginning to despair of ever getting the blurb to resemble anything half-way decent, when Callie Lynn Wolfe, my lovely editor stepped in and sorted out my bumbling blurb in a matter of minutes. (Well it felt like minutes to me.) I collapsed in a grateful heap and then began thinking about the blurb as seen from ‘the other side.’

Here in the UK, publishers employ copywriters specifically to write cover blurb, I don’t know how it works in the US, but I suspect it’s much the same. Copywriting is an art, and the copy has to please everyone – and I do mean everyone – from the publisher to the commissioning editor and the sales and marketing teams – to the author, and all this before the copy even reaches the long-suffering cover designer. It’s always late too, and now I know why!

*Hands up* I will admit to a slightly biased agenda here. I am often plagued by the sheer amount of cover copy which has to be squeezed onto the back of an A-format paperback. So from my point of view as a designer, less is more. Oho, how different it became when the boot was on the other foot so to speak. That’ll teach me!

The back cover really needs to be almost as attractive and eye-catching as the front cover. Sound weird? I’ll explain. Most books in your average bookshop are displayed spine out. Very few are front out, apart from the well-known authors and obvious bestsellers. When Mr or Ms Book-buyer takes the book from the shelf to look at, he (or she) would (hopefully) have been attracted by the cover in the first instance, but what’s the next thing they do? Absolutely. Turn the book over to read the blurb. If the back cover is full of dense, small type, the chances are they will lose interest and put the book back. They really don’t want a lot of information, but they need just enough to see whether it’s their kind of book – or not – in a couple of paragraphs. (So that’s all there is to it, huh?)

Often (again, here in the UK) there are copious reviews which someone somewhere wants to add to the back cover. Reviews are usually preferred in bold type, which takes up even more space. As an author, I can appreciate any positive reviews are a massive bonus, but as a designer, do the general public really care whether Mr Pattinson-Smythe of Fly Fishing Weekly thinks a novel is ‘Wonderful?’ Very unlikely. Although if a quote from The New York Times says the book is ‘wonderful’ it would definitely go on the cover with great joy. (In huge type – probably bigger than the title.)

In these days of Amazon and e-book downloads, it’s the front cover which (hopefully) catches the eye of the browsing buyer, followed by a few lines of copy taken from the back cover. These lines have to really work and they don’t have long in which to do it. Admit it, you’ve often scrolled down through pages of your favourite genre in order to find something you like the look of, until either a cover or a particular clever copyline catches your eye. So the cover blurb is so very important and probably the reason I freaked and gibbered all over the place whilst trying to get it right. To my editor I can only say, “You rock.” It’s been a very steep learning curve for this ‘fledgling’ author.

So . . . here it is then, the approved blurb for my novel, with a lot of help from my friends!


Three-hundred-year old William James Austen has settled into a comfortable life of wealth and privilege. As the vampire Elder of London, the Machiavellian Will always gets what he wants. What he wants now is Elinor Jane Wakefield, but she’s human, and he hasn’t turned a human for centuries. His own city rules forbid it.

Enjoying a successful dancing career on the West End stage, Ellie’s life takes an unexpected turn when she is plunged into the terrifying existence of a fledgling vampire… The need for blood does not rate high on her agenda, and she doesn’t trust the one man who can help her through her transition.

Will is determined to win Ellie’s love and trust, but when his maker, Khiara, arrives in London, sparks really begin to fly. What hope can there be now for the eternal love Will craves?

Phew! And relax . . .

Berni Stevens


  1. You're right. It does look easy...but that's how professionals make things look.

    I love your blurb anyway and can't wait to read the book.

  2. So funny! The book sounds brilliant - worth all the effort.

  3. Great blog - really interesting to hear how it works for the designer. I'd never thought of that. And the blurb sounds fab.

  4. Fantastic---I'm eagerly awaiting 'Fledgling'. Will sounds like a vampire to die for!

  5. Who says you can't judge a book by its cover? Thanks so much for your expert insight. I look forward to having my very own copy of Fledgling!