The blurbs have it

There’s always a discussion or three in progress about what gets readers to pick up certain books. Personally, I’m drawn in by covers and titles, followed closely by back cover blurbs. I like my covers simple and the titles intriguing; while I’d prefer to have both, that doesn’t always happen. And there are exceptions, certainly. Michelle Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra series have gorgeous covers, but I wouldn’t call them simple.

But while covers and titles are what get me to check out the book in the first place, it’s the back cover blurbs that get me to open that first page, to read that first paragraph, skim that first chapter. I didn’t used to pay much attention to how they were written, but the longer I go down this writing road, the more I do.

Because the majority of New Adult novels tend to be self-published, I’ve been reading a lot of self-published blurbs, and I’ve noticed a trend: if it’s got even one misplaced comma it gets an automatic pass from me. Likewise if there’s no contractions; c’mon. It’s the 21st century. We use can’t, won’t, you’d, and other various words with enough regularity that I’m willing to bet you use them in every day conversation. The writing should reflect that, especially if it’s a contemporary story. Anything else combined with today’s vernacular just sounds stilted and horrid.

Then there are the blurbs that drive me absolutely batty: the misleading ones. I can’t tell you the number of times I’d read the blurb, skim the first couple pages, and buy the book, only to discover after the first couple of chapters the book was nothing like what was described on the inside cover flap. These days with ebooks you can have samples sent to your ereader, or just check the book out of the library, but I had to do everything my way (which is the hard way) and waste money on these books. Probably the most recent example was A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife. With its comparison to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and premise of a wife desperate to hold onto the life she’d created, I expected a taut mindfuck of a thriller. I could not have been more wrong. Seriously. It’s two months later and I’m still wishing I could get back all those hours I wasted reading the book, waiting for it to get better.

So what makes a good blurb?

Voice. I love voice. I especially love voice in back cover blurbs, which can be hard to pull off. Honestly, I’m not sure I’ve come across one in recent memory that did. So, lacking voice, what else? A clear, concise summary of the plot. Case in point: Natsuo Kirino’s The Goddess Chronicle:

In a place like no other, on an island in the shape of a tear drop, two sisters are born into a family of the oracle. Kamikuu, with creamy skin and almond eyes, is admired far and wide; Namima, small but headstrong, learns to live in her sister’s shadow. On her sixth birthday, Kamikuu is presented with a feast of sea-serpent egg soup, sashimi and salted fish, and a string of pure pearls. Kamikuu has been chosen as the next Oracle, while Namima is shocked to discover she must serve the goddess of darkness. So begins an adventure that will take Namima from her first experience of love to the darkness of the underworld. But what happens when she returns to the island for revenge? Natsuo Kirino, the queen of Japanese crime fiction, turns her hand to an exquisitely dark tale based on the Japanese myth of Izanami and Izanagi. A fantastical, fabulous tour-de-force, it is a tale as old as the earth about ferocious love and bitter revenge. (Goodreads summary)

You know what? That really is what the book was about.

One thing I’ve become more leery of in recent months is recommendations, or cover quotes, from other authors. Yes, sometimes a cover quote will push me one way or another when it comes to deciding to buy a certain book. But as Krista, a fellow reviewer over at Vampire Book Club, recently learned, sometimes those cover quotes can be misleading.

Do cover blurbs sway you one way or another when it comes to picking up a book? Are there some authors you’ll read even if the blurb doesn’t sound interesting?

4 thoughts on “The blurbs have it

  1. For me it’s all about the blurb. The cover can be fantastic, but if the blurb doesn’t catch me then I won’t read it. Dishonesty in a blurb will get the author banned from my reading list for life. This was a great post.

  2. For me, cover art first. I’ll skim through a blurb then read a sample on Amazon or B&N. If by the end of the sample I’m not saying “Oh my God, what happens next?” then I’m not buying the book.

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