Friday, August 22, 2014


There seem to be a lot of misunderstandings about the back cover copy—the “blurbs” that so many writers have to put on the back of their books.

In Ye Olden Tymes, some person who was paid to do stuff like that—meaning, a fellow who probably looked like a dumpier version of a Mad Men character—would take care of the blurb as part of the deal a writer got when they were published.

Now, with more and more writers turning to self-publishing, and with more and more publishing houses relying on the writers to provide copy, advertising, marketing, and more…it’s likely going to be something the writer does.

And that’s great! Because, well, who understands the story like the person who wrote it?

But it also sucks. Because, well, who less understands how to sell the story than the person who wrote it?

Wait, lemme ‘splain. No. Is too long. Lemme summarize. (And because the summary is this long, you should understand how important this subject is.)

Watching most writers tell others about their books is like watching parents show baby pictures: it’s a passionate, energizing, fascinating process for everyone… except for everyone who isn’t the parent. Sorry, but (and I say this as a parent myself) very few people really care about Tommy’s new tooth, about Lucy’s skinned knee, the nanosecond-by-nanosecond details of Charlie’s first step.

There. I said it. If I’m gone tomorrow it’s because The Angry Parents League finally dragged me away to an underground oubliette filled with binkies and used diapers, there to die in madness induced by never-ending Teletubbies reruns.

Back to my point: we don’t care about the everyday details of other people’s kids. At least, not until we are thoroughly invested in the child. And you don’t get a stranger thoroughly invested in anything by spewing mundane crapola.

Challenge/experiment time: go to the park. Meet a random stranger. Tell them all about your latest shopping trip. Go through it in excruciating detail. See how long it takes that person to “remember a job interview” he/she has to get to. This will be the result even if the person is a homeless person wearing a T-shirt that says “Working is for Suckers.”

So why, if that’s the case, do so many writers try to “suck in” complete strangers with the boring, banal details of their story?

It’s because those writers a) don’t care to be professionals, or b) just don’t understand the purpose of the blurb. I will ignore group a) because, to be honest, they irritate me and I hope they suffer embarrassing diarrhea at a fancy dinner party. No help for them.

As to group b), here is the purpose of the blurb, and this is the only purpose of the blurb. I will put it in big black letters so’s y’all know I’m serious-like.

The only purpose of the back blurb is to raise a question that can ONLY BE ANSWERED when the reader BUYS and FINISHES the book.

That is IT, people.

No one cares about Johnny’s knee. No one cares that you bought bananas and they were fifty-nine cents off because you got a coupon and you usually throw those mailers out but this time you didn’t and wouldn’t you know it blah blah blah blah SNORE.

The outside of your book—the cover design, the spine, the lettering, EVERYTHING—is for one purpose: to separate the suckers—er, readers*—from their money. Your blurb is part of that. And its part of the job is (again):

The only purpose of the back blurb is to raise a question that can ONLY BE ANSWERED when the reader BUYS and FINISHES the book.

So how do you do that? A few clues. First, leave out the details. No one cares about Sheniqua’s first skinned knee. Lead with that and it’s a buzzkill at the Christmas party. But if you say, “So, Number Three almost died today,” all conversation STOPS.

Those who know that “Number Three” is your third kid (Sheniqua**) will think, “Holy crap, died?!”

Those who don’t know what “Number Three” is will think, “Who died?” or “Who’s number three?” or “I thought you could only go up to Number Two!” (this is a Christmas party after all, so some of your people probably aren’t thinking straight at this point).

But everyone’s interested. Because you haven’t given details. You’ve raised questions. If you walked out of the room at this point, you’d get angry phone calls from “concerned” (i.e. ragingly curious) friends and family.

This is a good start for your blurb. Raise that question!

Also implicit in the above are a few other things that good blurbs tend to include: the genre of the piece (romance? Western? sci-fi?), the mood (funny? scary? Melodramatic?), and the HOOK. This last merits a bit of discussion here.

The hook is that gimmick, the setup, that grabs you in just a sentence or two. The core idea that sets it apart from all the others out there. It’s what you’d see on the movie poster—The Shining is about a family trapped in a malevolently haunted hotel, The Hunger Games is about a girl who competes in a battle to the death with other teens, etc. Note this, again, is not the story. Neither description told you who would live, who would die, what their lives were like outside the bare description of a setup. But the setup…interesting!

Look at the following examples. I will start with a romance blurb, because it is something I most often see screwed up by people so in love with love that they love to put the love on the page to the point that their loving loveliness turns my love to…. Augh, I can’t even finish writing this sentence. And I have a hard time finishing their blurbs. I made this one up, but it’s sadly accurate.

When Sharlene wakes up after a five-year coma to discover that she has a ring on her finger and a three-year old baby named Kumbaya, she has no memory of how she got the ring or where the baby came from. Doctors assure her that Kumbaya is hers, and their tears assure her that the story behind the little half-Liechtensteinian babe is a heartrending one. But for some reason, no one will speak to her. They will not explain the ring, the baby, or the two million dollars in smuggled African conflict diamonds she also finds in the baby’s bassinet.

Now Sharlene is on a mission. To find the father of the child, to find the owner of the diamonds, and, hopefully, to find the man she somehow knows in her heart that she loves. She will travel across the world, from Australia to France to Indonesia on a globe-trotting trip that will take her everywhere and bring her into contact with people like the deaf-mute man who somehow plays harp music that makes her heart sing. She will travel everywhere…and then return to find that answers, and love, were right at her side all along.

Angel in Flight, now available on Amazon!

And my thoughts after reading this, of course: HO. LEE. CRAP.

There’s no reason to read the book. Sounds like I’ve just read it, actually. I got the beginning, the middle, and even the end (she’ll find her answers when she comes home, and at this point I’m so sick of reading about it I don’t care anymore). I won’t even mention the useless redundancies in the language itself, or the fact that it proclaims itself as “available on Amazon” to someone READING IT ON AMAZON. Sheesh.

The saddest part is there’s a good blurb hidden in there. Think of this:

Sharlene wakes from a five-year coma with no memory of her accident. Or how she got the wedding ring that sparkles on her finger, the $2 million in illegal diamonds…or the three-year-old baby that doctors insist is hers.

Now Sharlene is on a mission for answers. Led by clues she finds, led by a need to know. And most of all…led by a feeling that love waits at the end of her journey.

Now I ain’t sayin’ this is art. But it is 1) shorter (which is almost always better on blurbs, since you have maybe ten seconds to grab someone and twenty seconds total if you DO grab them), 2) leads with the “hook,” and 3) SETS UP THE QUESTIONS THAT CAN ONLY BE ANSWERED BY READING THE BOOK (Who gave the ring? Where did the diamonds come from? A three-year-old baby?)

Here’s another blurb. This one from my book Strangers, which has been a top seller on Amazon, Nook, Kobo, etc.

You wake up in the morning to discover that you have been sealed into your home. The doors are locked, the windows are barred. THERE'S NO WAY OUT.

A madman is playing a deadly game with you and your family. A game with no rules, only consequences. So what do you do? Do you run? Do you hide?


This is 100% about the hook (waking up completely sealed in a family home), and about the QUESTIONS: will the protagonists make it out? Who is the madman behind it? What are the motives? How is such a thing possible to be carried out? And, hopefully, more questions that can only be answered by clicking that little “Purchase” button.

I also did the tricky move of putting the reader “in” the story. Instead of being “A family wakes up” (Strangers is about a family), I said “You wake up,” “you and your family,” “what do you do?” etc. It personalizes the story and makes the moving question even stronger sometimes (though of course this doesn’t always work). For instance:

You wake up from a coma. Five years gone. Illegal diamonds next to you, no memory of them or the sleeping three-year-old that the doctors insist is yours.

The only way to find answers is to follow the clues left by a mysterious man. A man whom you sense will lead you not only to your past, but to your future. Not only to understanding, but to love.

Okay, hopefully you get the point. And, regardless, I’ve blathered enough.

Remember, though (if you remember anything), this single thing. The point of blurbs. The fact that no one cares about your babies…not right away. You have to get them invested in the questions and the big stories before they will be interested in the details. And remember…

The only purpose of the back blurb is to raise a question that can ONLY BE ANSWERED when the reader BUYS and FINISHES the book.

Good luck. Go forth and sell your babies.

* I say this jokingly. But also not. I will accept money from idiots as well as discerning readers. I don’t believe in discrimination, and how DARE you judge!

** Yes, that’s your pet name for little Eugene


Michaelbrent Collings is a #1 bestselling novelist and screenwriter, one of the top selling horror novelists on Amazon for over two years straight, and has been a bestselling novelist on various ebook lists in over forty countries. His newest novel is This Darkness Light.

His bestsellers include The Colony Saga, Strangers, Darkbound, Apparition, The Haunted, The Loon, and the YA fantasy series The Billy Saga.

He hopes someday to develop superpowers, and maybe get a cool robot arm.

Amazon author page:

He also has a Facebook page at and can be followed on Twitter through his username @mbcollings.

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