We did a little experiment recently with book blurbs. Blurbs are the few words on the back of a paperback that entice you into its pages and are a key tool in selling. Without a good one, the perspective reader will return your book to the shelf and select another author’s. It’s therefore important to find a way for those two-dozen words to make an impact. But how?
Our experiment was prompted when I started to think about blurbs for my latest thriller, The Rival. I eventually came up with 25 words that I felt effectively engaged the reader and I was pleased with the result. For a comparison, I re-read the blurb I’d created for Eavesdrop in conjunction with my publisher a couple of years before and realised that Eavesdrop’s blurb was missing something that the one I had just moulded for The Rival had somehow captured. But why did one feel so much more effective? I read and re-read them before I suddenly realised the difference was in the depth of emotional involvement.
The original wording for Eavesdrop had been search engine optimized; it captured the most important and exciting plot points; it displayed the style and tone of the book; it was short and punchy. But it didn’t engage in the same way. So I decided to test my new theory, and re-wrote it with the aim of putting the reader in the shoes of the protagonist. Instead of saying what he did, I instead asked, what you would do in the same situation?
To test whether my thoughts on this were correct, we then held an on-line poll among readers to get their view on 3 slightly different blurbs for Eavesdrop. We used the original one that had been so highly polished with my publishers, and put it alongside the one that maximized emotional engagement, and threw in a third that I made up in ten seconds. Here they are below in random order. Read them quickly. Don’t analyze them just yet, but simply read them as you would in a bookshop and see which draws you in most:
Smuggling and industrial sabotage leave Customs Investigator James Winter’s career in tatters. Who arranged his dismissal, and what’s their link to Middle East Assassins?
Your Customs Investigator career in ruins, your wife fighting cancer… What do you do when you discover the reason behind your dismissal is a police cover-up, and that there’s a way to prove your innocence?
James Winter’s career is trashed when a Mossad plan to track Syrian assassins has unexpected consequences. His fight for re-instatement uncovers a Middle East plot that suddenly threatens his own life.
So which of those made you most want to open the book and see what chapter one is like? The results in our poll were conclusive, with the middle one a winner by a large margin. The theory I’d stumbled upon merely by observation had been proven.
So, the secret of a good book blurb is to emotionally engage your perspective reader and to get him or her to feel what it would be like if they were your protagonist. As soon as they experience the same adrenaline surge, the same despair, the same anger as the hero, then the blurb has done its job. They are emotionally engaged, and so much closer to buying that book.
About the Author
Ian Coates is the author of a thriller, Eavesdrop, originally published by Bad Day Books, the suspense and thriller imprint of Assent Publishing. He worked in the high tech electronics industry for 30 years, where he specialised in the design of radio communication equipment. His intimate knowledge of that environment always triggered his imagination to think about the mysterious world of spies, and allowed him to bring a unique authenticity to his thriller. Ian is proud to support the British Science Association and donates a proportion of his book proceeds to that charity. He lives and writes in Worcestershire with his wife and two daughters.