The wonderful editoresses at Allen and Unwin have let us draw on their collective wisdom to answer the question: What Do Editors Do All Day? Check out their fantastic blog Alien Onion, where this series first appeared.
Other than the cover, the blurb is the only tool a reader has to tell if a book they pick up is right for them. To put it another way, the blurb is the publisher’s best chance to communicate to the reader exactly why they should buy that particular book and not any of the other eleventy-million shelved nearby.
So writing a good blurb is really important.
It’s also really hard.
- A good blurb tells enough of the story to intrigue the reader, but doesn’t give too much away.
- It shouldn’t be too long.**
- The praise for the writing needs to be enthusiastic but not forced.
- It can be good to make comparisons to other books – but not ludicrous or spurious comparisons.
- You want to send recognisable signals about genre and appropriate audience, but you don’t want to sound hackneyed or trite.
Writing a good blurb often includes making many false starts, and requires the help of people from all over the company – and in many cases the author too. And sometimes it includes changing your mind when you actually see the blurb in place on the cover. It can be a long process.
Which is why we’ve come up with a handy shortcut.
The Onions’ Patented Easy-to-use Blurb Writing Kit.
- Below is a set of handy flashcards illustrating commonly used adjectives.*** Print out a set of the cards.
- Cut out each card.
- Fan out as per a deck of cards and ask your colleague to choose five at random.
- String together with nouns like prose, tale, exploration, feat and tour-de-force.
- Source endorsement from high-profile author.
- Adjourn to pub for rest of the afternoon.****
No need to thank us. We live to serve.
** Not only because a long blurb risks boring the reader, but because your designer is liable to get cranky when there’s too much text to fit on the back cover.
*** Of course, if you are Dave Eggers you simply put all the best adjectives into the actual title of the book – and then you can skip the blurb-writing process altogether and adjourn to the pub to read the page proofs of your heartbreaking work of staggering genius while you sip on a nice glass of shiraz.
**** Or adjourn to your local bookshop for a spot of Blurb Bingo. Print out the LOLjectives on one piece of paper and give a copy to a friend and keep one for yourself. Start at opposite ends of a bookshop. The first one to locate all the adjectives wins. Adjourn to pub.
Thanks, Alien Onions!
The Centre is running the Essentials of Editing starting 19th of April.