Let's talk about the four biggest blurb mistakes that might be costing you book sales.

Hi there,

Welcome to a new edition of my Reedsy weekly marketing newsletter! While brainstorming topics for today’s newsletter, I had a chat with Victoria Jacobi from our Reedsy Discovery team, and she suggested that I tackle book descriptions, or book blurbs

I know that writing blurbs is one of the things authors hate the most. That’s understandable: writing a blurb is an entirely different skillset from writing a book. But you can’t afford to have a lackluster blurb, because that’s the main thing (along with your cover) readers will judge your book by. 

Now, I’m not a professional copywriter myself. So instead of giving you my blurb tips, I thought I’d let Victoria share the top five mistakes she spots in blurbs submitted to Reedsy Discovery, in her own words. Over to you, Victoria 🙂

At Discovery, I skim authors’ blurbs every day and often need to rewrite them when pitching books to reviewers. So where do they go wrong? Usually they feature at least one of four mistakes:

  1. They introduce too many story elements
  2. The blurb is a review in disguise
  3. There are no stakes
  4. The description is too generic

Avoiding these pitfalls is easier said than done, especially in your own blurb. So let’s take a look at what these mistakes might look like for a book most of you have probably read: Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

1. They introduce too many story elements

Harry Potter grew up with his mother’s family after his parents passed away when he was a baby. Receiving little attention and affection underneath the Dursley roof, Harry can’t believe his luck when he is sent a letter. But his aunt and uncle do not want him to read it. 

Readers need to instantly know what a book will be about — the keyword being instantly. In this example, are we focusing on the family dynamic? The secret letter? Harry Potter does touch on all of these things, but none of them constitute the main plot. 

So let’s take a look at the story elements we’ve introduced here:

  1. Backstory of his parent’s death;
  2. Relationship between Harry and his family; and
  3. Mysterious letter.

The bottom line: not only are you wasting important real estate in the first three lines, but you’re leaving little breathing room for curiosity by shoving all these story elements down a reader’s throat. 

How to spot the problem: For each sentence, ask yourself: is this my main plotline? Does it directly relate to it?

2. The blurb is a review in disguise

For fans of Narnia, Harry Potter is an enthralling tale of witchcraft and wizardry, featuring a flying motorcycle, a troll in the dungeon, and a magical castle. Appealing to both young and mature readers, this is the perfect book for bedtime reading!

I know where authors are coming from when they write something like this. Bestselling books always feature glowing reviewer and author quotes, right? But the crucial difference is that quotes do not equal a blurb. Your job as an indie author is not to review your own book. If your cover has caught the reader’s attention, the next thing they actually want to know is: who will they be spending time with? What is at stake? What they won’t immediately want to know is that this is a perfect book for bedtime reading. 

How to spot the problem: Are you using value adjectives such as “delightful,” or “captivating”? Have you introduced your main character? Have you introduced the stakes?

Which brings us to the next point…

3. There are no stakes

Harry is just a normal boy until he discovers he can use magic. He is summoned to attend a prestigious yet secret wizarding school, and an unforgettable adventure begins. 

A sequence of events is not a story. Where is the conflict? What is at risk for Harry? Harry is living a miserable life in a cupboard underneath the stairs, until he discovers his magical powers. Now we’ve at least introduced some stakes to the first sentence: escaping a miserable life. Always put an event in context to convey the extent of the risk for the protagonist.

How to spot the problem: Ask yourself: what is at stake for my protagonist, and does my blurb make this clear?

4. The description is too generic

When Harry finds out he’s a wizard, he’s catapulted into a secret magical world. But dark forces lurk in the shadows — can Harry win the fight against evil?

This kind of blurb gives me the same vibe as a telemarketing company trying to scam me into a new phone tarif. Don’t get me wrong! It’s quite punchy and creates some excitement. But the “novice” and “dark vs evil” trope is about as fresh as the lost sock underneath your sofa. Who, or what, are these dark forces? What kind of fight are we talking about? You have a unique and original story to tell — don’t sell yourself short!

How to spot the problem: Is your blurb just a few lines? Does it feature one common trope after the other? Have you included pertinent details about your character? Are you actually showing what’s unique about your story?

If you take away one thing from this newsletter, then take away this: identify the central question that drives your story, and then make sure people are left asking that question after reading your blurb.

Until next week!

Ricardo & Victoria

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