Episode 62: Writing Book Blurbs with Jessie Cunniffe

Welcome back to Alchemy for Authors!

In this episode, I talk with book blurb coach, Jessie Cunniffe.

Topics we discuss include:

  • How Jessie went from being a music teacher to a book blurb expert.
  • Why so many authors find blurb writing hard.
  • Why a book blurb is NOT a summary of your book!
  • The four things a reader is looking for in your blurb.
  • Some of the most common pitfalls authors make when writing a blurb.
  • The difference between hooks and taglines.
  • How to write a stellar blurb that converts browsers into buyers.
  • And how to start a fight on social media over writing blurbs!

If you’re someone who has struggled with writing blurbs for your books, then this episode is for you! Jessie shares a wealth of advice and tips for making your blurbs sparkle and entice new readers.  

Visit Jessie’s website here: www.bookblurbmagic.com

Download your FREE blurb cheat-sheet here

Email Jessie at jessie@bookblurbmagic.com

Follow Jessie on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/bookblurbmagic/

Follow Jessie on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/bookblurbmagic

Use the coupon code “ALCHEMY” to get 10% off the following Book Blurb Magic products:

Sign up for Carissa Andrews’ latest Author Revolution course, Four Books, Five Days: Mastering AI-Enhanced Series Planning, here. 

* Please Note: I am an affiliate for Carissa’s Four Books, Five Days course and Jessie’s products. I only recommend resources I enjoy, engage in or use myself. As an affiliate I get a small kickback at no extra charge to you.

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Find the full transcript of this episode below.

Episode 62: Writing Book Blurbs with Jessie Cunniffe

Jo: Hello, my friend. Thanks for joining me for Episode 62 of Alchemy for Authors. So I hope you’ve been enjoying a lovely couple of weeks since the last episode. And can you believe that we are already in September? And of course, you know what that means. That means that October is just around the corner, also known as Preptober, if you are like me and you’re a NaNoWriMo fan. It also means that we are on the last stretch of 2023. So now’s a good time to be thinking about where you’re at with achieving any of the goals that you might have set yourself at the beginning of the year. I know I’m certainly a little bit further behind than I had hoped with some of my books that I wanted to get completed this year. But the cool thing is there is still time. And on that note, I hope that you’ve had a chance to listen to the last episode, Episode 61, where I talked to my lovely friend and Millionaire Author Coach, Carissa Andrews.

Carissa was offering a wonderful opportunity to join her in October for her Four Books, Five Days course, where she’ll be guiding you through plotting a full book series, or you can always change that to a smaller series, if you like, or a longer series, it doesn’t really matter. It’s really adaptable. And that’s like wonderful in October, if you are a fan of NaNoWriMo and you want to use that time to get a headstart on planning for NaNoWriMo and getting all prepared for it, or if you’ve still got some goals that you want to accomplish before the end of this year, and you need some help, maybe plotting out a book or two or a series going into 2024, this course might be just the thing that you need to help you with that.

So I do hope you go back and listen to that episode if you haven’t already. Carissa will be showing us how to use AI. And in Episode 61, I talk about what that actually means, and no it does not mean writing books with AI. We need to keep our author voices and the special way that we work with words, so I’m not advocating for anything that gives that up, of course. What Carissa will be showing you though is how we can use AI for ideation, for character and world building and plotting. So again, it’s not about having AI write a book. That is your job, my friend. But without handing over our creativity and losing our voice or getting kicked off Amazon, we can use AI to help as our writing brainstorm friend, I guess, as something that we can bounce ideas off of and to kind of boost our efficiency with getting that basic outline down on paper that will allow us to use our magical author voices to fill in the blanks and create the wonderful story from that. So we’re talking about helping to lay the bones of a story or a series using AI as a tool for idea generation.

So if that sounds like something that you might be interested in, or if you’re like me and you’re just a little bit AI curious, then go check it out. It’s still at a really good price. I think it’s $47 USD at the moment, but it’s almost $2000 worth of content so definitely worth getting in as soon as you can to kind of pick it up at that cool price if it’s something that really speaks to you. The course starts October 1st, so there’s a bit of time, but I will make sure that the links to that are in the show notes.

But now let’s talk about today’s episode, because this is one that I’m really excited to share with you. I don’t know about you, but if there is one part of the book business that I really struggle with, and that is guaranteed to have me tearing out my hair, it is writing blurbs. Yeah. I don’t know what it is. It is tough. And the thing is, I know I’m not the only one that struggles with this.

So I’m really excited then to have this interview and to be able to share it with you with the wonderful Jesse Cunniffe, creator of Book Blurb Magic. Jessie is going to be sharing how she went from being a music teacher to a book blurb expert, why so many of us authors find writing blurbs so darn hard. She’s also going to talk about why a book blurb is not a summary of your book, and the four things that readers are really looking for in a blurb to grab their attention. She’s also going to talk a little bit about some of the most common pitfalls that authors make when writing a blurb, and in case you’re interested, how to start a fight on social media over writing blurbs. Yeah, so this is a really fun episode and I know you’re gonna get as much out of it as I did. Jesse just offers up so many golden nuggets in this episode to help with your blurb writing.

And not only that, but make sure you stick around to the end because she also has a special offer for listeners of Alchemy for Authors. So, if you’re in the process or if you know that you’re going to have to put together a blurb in the near future, stick around for that because speaking from my own experience, Jesse knows her stuff. She is queen at writing blurbs. So yeah.

So when you’re ready, grab a drink, find a comfy chair, sit back and enjoy the show.

Hello, my lovelies. Welcome back to another episode of Alchemy for Authors. Today I’m chatting with Jessie Cunniffe. Jessie is a professional blurb writer and book blurb coach from Sydney, Australia. A passionate advocate of the indie author community, Jessie has dedicated herself to taking the pain out of blurb writing with her custom blurb services and two signature courses, Book Blurb Magic, and the Spicy Blurb Playbook.

When she’s not writing or dreaming up the next BBM product, Jessie can be found journaling, exploring new ocean pools and playing her guitar. She has been a contributor to the arts pages of one of Australia’s most highly respected newspapers for the past decade. On the occasion that Jessie manages to snatch some reading time, she’s probably buried in PG Wodehouse or Agatha Christie.

Welcome to the show, Jesse. I’m so excited to have you here.

Jessie: Oh, thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here too.

Jo: So I would love if we could start how I normally start these episodes, with you just sharing a little bit about your writing journey and how you came to be an expert with writing blurbs.

Jessie: Hmm. It’s a been a long and winding road, and I think the best answer to that is, is very accidentally. Uh, but it’s like, it’s always the best way. So my background is actually as a music teacher. So I studied classical piano from a pretty young age, and my whole life up until fairly recently was teaching in high schools, in primary schools. Like I’ve taught ages three to ninety, by this point. But although my undergrad studies were in music and I was really, you know, sold on the whole kind of education side of things, I was always writing. I was an obsessive journaller. I created my own magazines when I was a kid, going to the photocopier, writing articles, pasting them all together. I always had an obsession, I think, in particular with short form writing. Sort of like blog posts and little articles and things just always really captured my attention, and I always admired how… I think my first writing love was actually tabloid magazines as a kid. Just reading them, being fascinated by how snappy the writing was. I was just like, this is incredible. How do people write like this?

So that was always bubbling away in the background and it sort of turned into, um, all through my undergrad, I ran a music blog. So I was writing album reviews and it wasn’t always the latest stuff. I also reviewed old classics and things, and the entry, like my blog posts were probably around about, you know, three, 400 words. They weren’t long but I sort of got a bit of a following amongst my cohort, and lo and behold, in the last year of my degree, the senior music editor of the Sydney Morning Herald walked in and did a lecture with us. And I by that point, I’d been published in a couple of local papers again for music writing. So I basically accosted him shamelessly and was like, here’s my writing. I have wanted to write for your paper since I was 13. Please give me a job. And he did. And that’s how I ended up working there for like the next ten years. Kind of on and off in always a freelance capacity. But the bulk of my work was music reviews that were 200 words long, which spoiler alert is the average length of a book blurb, which I just think is sort of fortuitous.

And it was hard. It was really hard to fit a whole album into 200 words. Sometimes, you know, with the paper, with budget cuts and things like that, they would give us 150 or a hundred words. The trickiest gig I had was writing 75 word album reviews like that, 75 words for a whole album. And it was just, you had to really distill the essence of what was going on and describe it in a way that gave people the feeling without being able to get into too much detail. And I was just, as tricky as it was, I was completely obsessed with it and I still am.

And I think that’s probably a large reason why when in 2020 I decided I wanted to do more freelance writing, more different freelance writing, and I wanted to have a bit more control over sort of the things that I was writing about. And I hopped on fiverr.com and I made a profile and I was like, I’m gonna write short things. And my boyfriend had just self-published a couple of books and he was just like, I have to write a book description, which he did with very little fuss, ’cause he’s just a, I dunno, he’s just very clever. And it was just not even a big deal for him. So I went into it very naively like, no one’s gonna, actually­­… I genuinely thought authors were gonna tell me where to go. They’ll be like, I just wrote a hundred thousand words. You think you’re gonna walk up and I’m gonna pay you to write a hundred words? Get lost. And as I discovered I was incredibly wrong. There was just this outpouring of people being like, I hate writing the blurb. It’s so hard. It’s so difficult. Please help me.

And I loved the challenge. Again, much like my music writing of distilling these books into 150 to a hundred words, I just became obsessed with it. Over the course of seven months, I wrote the equivalent of one blurb every single day on top of my day job. I was still teaching. And I just, it was the best apprenticeship I could have asked for.

I’ve written for almost every genre, like I don’t think there are many genres you could sort of approach me and say, have you written a blurb about this? And I’d say, no, ’cause it’s just, it was the most wild and wonderful kind of variety. But I got to the end of that year and was like, I can’t keep doing this on top of, I was working to all hours and I was charging like $20 a blurb and it was just, it was just like this wild time. And I got to the end of the year, I was offered more responsibility at the school that I was working at the following year, and I was like, well, I’ll just do what I do for a living, which is teach, so I’ll create a course.

I filmed Book Blurb Magic, my course, and kind of started selling it on Instagram the next year while I was still teaching. And for a good solid six months nothing happened. Like nothing happened. And I was just like, look, authors probably don’t even want to learn how to write their own blurb. It was basically it was just me making all these wrong assumptions. And I was just, this is ridiculous. I was only popular before ’cause I was writing people’s blurbs for them. No one wants to learn this. And one person bought it on Instagram and posted about it incredibly and was very positive about it. And from there it just kind of slowly snowballed. And then I started getting really good reviews. I was like, oh my goodness. Like authors were coming back saying this completely changed how I write blurbs, I’ve tried other courses, this is it. Like this is the course that shows you how to do it. And I was just so stoked, ’cause I mean, as a teacher that’s just the best possible feeling for me. When a student comes back and says, you gave me the light bulb moment, that’s just everything I ever have worked for my whole life. So that I was just like, wow, okay, maybe I’m actually onto something. People actually do wanna learn this.

And by the end of that year, I decided I needed to go back to writing blurbs one to one, ’cause I just missed it too much. And I jumped back in. I started my business and like a year later I quit my teaching job. And then here I am, because I’ve been full-time for seven months. Oh God, it’s eight months now, and it’s just gone gangbusters, which has been amazing. And just the people I get to work with, the books I get to write blurbs for- just incredible, the variety in this job is amazing and I’m so happy I ended up here.

Jo: Oh my gosh, that is such a cool story of how you got here. ’cause I’m a teacher as well, so I’m like, okay, I get it.

Jessie: There’s so many teachers in this space. I’ve met so many teachers. I’ve met so many piano teachers specifically. I think we must have the creative get stuff done entrepreneurial side to us that just explodes out in these ways.

Jo: Yeah, I totally think it’s that entrepreneurial thing, particularly as so many of the teachers I’ve met are indie authors as well. And because, you know, as an independent author, you’ve gotta wear so many hats and you do that teaching, right? You’ve gotta be able to quickly pivot and do all the things, and yeah. So I totally get it. That is so cool. And I can completely understand why blurb writing and your course and your consults and everything just absolutely took off. Because I don’t know what it is, but it is definitely one of the very few aspects of being an indie author that I really dislike. I really don’t like, and I really, really struggle with it.

It was a friend of mine who raved about you helping her with, I think she was working one-on one or over Zoom or something with you, with her blurb and she’s like, oh, and Jessie’s got a course as well. And because it’s me and I leave everything to the last moment, I was like, oh, okay, well I’m not gonna be able to set up an appointment with you, so I’ll grab the course and see if I can, you know, put something together. And it really helped. And yeah, honestly, I’m so glad. My last blurb for my most recent book, Hades’s Haunt, is probably the one I’m most proud of. It probably still needs a lot of work, but I think it’s definitely better than my other blurbs, which is… yeah.

Jessie: And I mean, this is the thing, your first blurb is… I’m so excited to hear that like that’s the blurb you’re most proud of, but your first blurb is always going to be, my first blurb wasn’t perfect. It was good enough for someone to be really excited that they paid me money for it. But you know, I was saying to you just before we got on the call that I’m up to my 315th blurb at the moment. And like you, my 315th blurb is a lot more streamlined than my first blurb, you know? Back in the day I was very much hitting around the 200 word mark, and these days my blurbs are much more between 130 to 180 words, which is, and blurbs are, I think, trending a little bit shorter as well as our tension spans get a little more impatient. And you know, you streamline things as you go along. And I see even my students, they come back to me for a third or fourth consult and I’m like, wow, you are like ready to do this on your own now. See you later. Because it’s just, it’s practice. But I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed the course.

Jo: Absolutely. So as authors, you know, so we will spend months or years and so many hours and that, and blood, sweat, and tears go into writing our books, and we CAN write a book. Why is it then that so many of us struggle with writing a blurb? Why do you think that is?

Jessie: I think there’s a couple of things. The first is that, you know, you guys are all long form writers who suddenly have to write short form. And they’re two really different things. I don’t know if, like, the authors that I see who write short stories are often so different to the authors who write long form, and I have so much respect. I mean, Agatha Christie has written some of my favorite short stories of all time. Graham Green as well. I’m obsessed with short stories, unsurprisingly. They also managed to write long form novels. I dunno how they do that. There’s a reason I haven’t written a novel yet, and it’s because I spend all of my time agonizing sentence over sentence like, for 200 words instead of getting past that. A thousand words is a lot for me. So there’s that kind of, I think, disconnect in that you’ve built up all these skills of thinking about a larger piece of work and then writing a smaller piece of work is, you know, in many ways equally hard, but totally different. And then we end up beating ourselves up over not having this completely different skill.

And I think there’s also a misunderstanding of short form writing in that we think ’cause something’s shorter, it should be easier. That’s just not the case. It’s fraught with difficulty. I’ve sat and stared at three words for an hour and been like, they’re not right. They’re not right. Like that’s, it’s that kind of work over, you know, the larger scale sort of work. But I think the other really, really damaging thing, I guess when it comes to blurb writing, is that there’s a lot of misinformation out there and there’s a lot of assumption that a book blurb should do, like it should squish your book into this small little, like it should summarize your book. A book blurb is not a summary. I’m gonna say that right now. That often is something that surprises people. I say that in like one of the first lessons of my course, and people are often like, what? A book blurb is not a summary.

A summary includes spoilers and all. It’s something you might send off when you’re querying or whatever else. But a book blurb is actually a piece of sales copy. So copy in this context, meaning writing. So, sales copy. And it has a really different purpose. It still has to tell a story. It still has to like connect with your readers, but in a different context. They’re not inside your book yet. It plays by a different set of rules. And if you persist with thinking about your blurb as a condensed version of your book, you are always going to struggle. You actually have to start kind of from the center point and work out and know what pieces of the puzzle you need to expand from rather than just trying to compress everything into mush, because that’s all you end up with. And then that’s when you get, you know, un uncertainty over, does this belong in the blurb? Should I include this, should I leave this out? You start writing 15, 20 drafts of the same blurb and wondering why it’s still not reading well or capturing the heart of your story. So it’s this, I think it’s a misassumption, I guess, that often sort of perpetuates the same struggles for a lot of authors.

Jo: Yeah. Yeah. I find it really, really tricky trying to get to that real, um, the most important points of my story, my novel, that I’ve written. Because to me it’s like, it’s all important! But it’s not. And one of the things that I struggled with was trying to work out how much to share with the reader through my blurb, and where I should keep some suspense, but not be too vague as well, because I think some of my previous blurbs, I’ve been a little bit too vague and there’s not much sense of the story.

So do you have any tips for how you can find a little bit more of that perfect balance between telling your reader enough to get them hooked without telling them too much or withholding too much information?

Jessie: Mm. It’s funny, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a blurb that reveals too much from an author when they’re like worried about it. Like, we’re all so obsessed with not giving away spoilers, okay, that we all end up being vague. That’s what happens. So my first piece of advice would be if you’re, you know, drafting your blurb, make it a little more specific than you’re comfortable being, and then kind of step back and see whether, it might just be a few small tweaks to be slightly more cryptic, rather than vague. Give it to your beta readers or whatever and ask them, is this too much of a spoiler? Or, you know, should we pull back in here? Because often it’s the lack of specifics that confuse our readers.

The main things readers need to know is they need to know, like if we’re looking at fiction here, they need to know who they’re going on this journey with. How that person ended up on that journey, and whether it’s a journey they’re interested in taking. They’re kind of three things that they really need to sort of have a handle on. You have to actually give an indicator of where that journey is going to end up, because probably one of the biggest complaints that like I’ve ever had or that I’ve heard other people have is when a book takes a direction that the blurb did not hint at, and you’re like, oh my God, it ended up being really dark. Everyone died at the end, or it ended up being not dark enough. So actually we need to give readers enough of an idea of what the spoilers will be, without actually telling them the spoilers. That’s kind of the line that I try to tread. For example, you’ll often get people saying sort of in the last paragraph of the blurb, you know, when a secret unexpectedly comes to light, so and so must figure out blah.

But I’m like, is the secret that their uncle is a murderer? Or is the secret that they’re adopted? Like, what level of secret are we talking here? Like, that tells me nothing. So giving little clues as to how that secret impacts, um, you know, if it’s a secret that comes to light that changes how the main character sees themselves forever. That gives you an idea that it’s an identity related secret. If it’s a secret that comes to light that, you know, highlights a, a hidden danger, then we’re like, oh, cool. Okay, someone’s in danger. We don’t quite know how much, and we don’t know what the danger is, but that’s the direction we’re going in.

Those little specifics can put the reader on a much surer path. And in a sense, yes, we don’t wanna give away spoilers, but also readers don’t like to go into things completely blind. People complain all the time about picking up a book, turning it over, and there’s no blurb, there’s just the little endorsement quotes from people. Nobody wants to go into a book blind. They’ll look at the cover and then they want to know the story and they wanna know just enough that they don’t know for certain what happens at the end, but they can be pretty certain that they’ll like it. And that’s, that’s what we really need to aim for.

Jo: Yeah, yeah, yeah. This is just making think I need to go back and redo some of my early blurbs for some of my earlier books. For sure.

Jessie: Talking to me will do that.

Jo: I’m gonna have to do that. So what are some of the most common mistakes then that you see authors make with their blurbs when they’re doing it themselves? Are there some things that kind of jump out at you that are quite common?

Jessie: Being too vague is a big one. Being too vague is a big one, but the other major one is that there’s often no clear narrative. So your story has a beginning, middle, and end. Right? That’s the, the narrative kind of arc of your story. Your blurb also has a beginning, middle, and end, but that beginning, middle, and end won’t be the same as your book because you’re not giving away the spoilers. So what a lot of people do is they will write a blurb, like a synopsis that stops where the spoilers start, and then you’ve got no momentum, no proper arc. It’s just an unfinished story, and contrary to popular belief that does not leave readers wanting more, that just leaves them confused and frustrated and less likely to be invested. So you need to figure out sort of the narrative arc of your blurb.

So, I always make sure that we understand where the character is at the start of the story, where they’re going and why. And it doesn’t have to be a physical going, it’s just wherever their story is going and why. Like what is the inciting incident that propelled them into that? And then where are they most likely going to end up? Or what do they really stand to lose? Like what is it that that could just all sort of fall apart? And again, it’s about sort of being that little bit more specific. And that requires like a bit of lateral thinking, a little bit of creativity. This is the thing with book blurbs is they are very creative. I think a lot of authors switch off their creative storytelling brains when they sit down to write a blurb. It’s kind of like, doing your taxes. Like this is not creative. I hate this. And in actual fact, there’s a lot of creativity that goes into writing a blurb. I think a lot of people try to make it a science rather than an art, and it’s definitely a combination of the two. If you try to distil it to too perfect a formula, you lose that creativity and sort of art. So we always want there to be a really clear story, like, use your storytelling skills, do what you do best. Make sure there’s a really clear story that has a satisfying conclusion in that we know what direction things are gonna take and we wanna know more about that direction. So that’s the biggest thing.

I’ve read blurbs where, just like, I dunno what the story is here. Like you’ve introduced a character and then suddenly they’re doing this thing, but I don’t understand why. It’s gonna be a connect the dots situation. So that’s probably a big one that I see. That and being too vague. Obviously writing blurbs that are too long or too short. So again, the sweet spot seems to be somewhere around 150 to 180 words, depending on your genre. Romance definitely tends to be on the shorter end of that spectrum. Complex, high fantasy tends to hit the 200 mark, very occasionally it will go slightly over it. I always put a hard stop at 230 words and I’ve honestly, there’s gotta be like a real special reason I’m going that far for a blurb. It’s gotta be under 200 words. That’s always the preferred maximum. On the flip side, I’ve seen blurbs that are a few sentences that really don’t tell us anything. And again, it’s about having that logical story that we can follow.

 I think another big issue that some blurbs have is that authors start with backstory. And the thing to remember about blurbs is that whatever is in your blurb, author readers are expecting to read in detail in your book. So I’ve read blurbs where I thought the whole book was gonna be about this kid between the ages of five to 15, and then a bit about some revelation they had when they were 30. And the author’s like, no, no, no, it’s all about me at age 30. But you need that backstory to understand what’s happening. I’m like, yes, but that’s not how the book is written. It starts with you being 30. So we need to start with you at 30 and then contextualize from there if we must, in order to help the reader understand what the story is gonna be.

But if you start from the age of five, so-and-so experienced this, people think that’s where the book will start, and they will be really freaking confused when they get in and find out it’s not that at all. So start with exactly where your story starts from, like page one, and then any backstory must be only in the context of making the story make sense as it moves forward. Don’t ever let your story move backwards in your blurb.

Jo: Yeah, that’s some gold right there. And so, I want to pick your brain a little bit more, but is there any other kind of like hard and fast rules that you have? So you’ve said about word count and where to start your story and everything like that. But what about things like point of view or do you write in first person, third person, and how many characters and things like that?

Jessie: If you wanna start a fight on social media, mention first person blurbs and have a strong opinion about them. So I will say the easy one to answer there is present tense. Tense is always present. Just because otherwise, it feels like the story has already happened and it’s far less compelling to want to jump in. So that is something I do occasionally see. Most authors, I think, instinctively write their blurb in the present tense because we’ve all read so many blurbs that are in present tense. The only sort of exception there is memoir blurbs that very often start in past tense and move to present tense. So it’s like a little bit because we know their life has happened, so that’s okay. I have also seen memoir blurbs that are still entirely in present tense, but often will start in past and move to present. But otherwise, present tense is what you want for your blurb.

Point of view is a whole other thing. And it’s the reason that I have two blurb courses. So Book Blurb Magic covers fiction and nonfiction third-person blurbs. So third-person blurbs have been the gold standard for forever. And in the traditional publishing industry, they’re still very much the gold standard. What I think happened, and this is a very, very loose science, because there’s no real proof or data. What I think happened is that we know that romance authors form an enormous portion of the self-publishing world. I think it’s something like 40% of the self-published books on Amazon are romance. It’s huge. It’s huge. And a lot of romance is written in first-person. And I believe that romance authors just started writing their own blurbs from first-person ’cause they were like, this is how I wrote my book. I’ll just write the blurb like this too. Like my premise is that it probably came from ignorance in the nicest possible way, but also that that they’re also trying to create that immersive experience, like show their readers, Hey, it’s a first-person book, so here’s a first-person blurb. And that has really stuck, and it’s actually been moving into a bunch of other genres now as well. We’re seeing it in sci-fi. We’re seeing it in crime. We’re seeing it in fantasy. Not predominantly. So romance, especially spicy romance, a lot of first-person blurbs, a lot of dual first person. You’ll see from one character’s perspective, the other character’s perspective. It’s kind of wild to me because it actually indicates that readers are starting to assume that the POV of the blurb is the POV of the book, which previously was never the case.

Previously, you would have a third-person blurb for every book, and you still can, like it still is the gold standard. There will be readers out there who get confused, but for the most part, it is still the gold standard. You read the blurb, it’s in third-person. You open the book up if POV’s really important to you and you want a first-person book. In romance, if your book’s in first POV, generally speaking, it’s a good idea to do a first-person POV blurb. You would never do a first-person POV blurb for a third-person book. So it doesn’t work in the reverse. But they’re becoming increasingly popular and there’s, look, there’s a bunch of problems with them. I pick and choose when I do first-person for romance. Like I say, a lot of spicy romance tend to choose first-person. But even if it’s a first-person romance book that has a lot of plot… Uh, I was writing one recently that just has a fairly involved plot. It’s not just boy meets girl and that’s it. There’s kind of a whole other thing happening. That doesn’t come across very, it’s very difficult to get plot details across in first-person because you’ve got to make it sound natural like, you’re just talking to the character. And it’s not natural for someone to tell you their whole life story. Like that’s not natural in that one first interaction. And it can feel like the character is talking at you rather than connecting with you. And some people, absolutely, like I say, if you wanna start a fight on social media, put out a stronger opinion about first-person blurbs, ’cause people either love them or hate them. And that’s an area where you really need to know your readers and know whether you’re gonna completely give them the ick, or whether this is what they’re actually looking for.

If you are not a romance author, I think you can safely start with third-person blurbs wherever you are. And even if you are writing romance, third-person is not, like there are worse things you could do. Because the worst third-person blurb will still not be as bad as the worst first-person blurb. I can guarantee you that. Just some of them, I dunno if you’ve seen any on Amazon, but like some of them are atrocious. And that’s why I created the Spicy Blurb Playbook, which is just a blurb course for romance authors that also shows you how to write the third-person blurb for, if you’re writing like sweet rom-coms and things like that, but goes into the detail, ’cause I haven’t seen anybody teaching first-person blurbs anywhere. And to be perfectly honest, I had to learn on the job. I was like, what is this? The first time I got asked to do it, I was like, what is this? This is not a blurb, I don’t understand. And kind of had to figure out how to make it not cringe. And it is possible. But it’s hard. And I don’t recommend starting there unless you know that that is a hundred percent what your audience is just desperate for. So third person is the safest way to go with let’s say 90% of blurbs.

Jo: Yeah. I’ve always found first-person blurbs when I’ve come across them, quite jarring for some reason. I couldn’t imagine writing one and, well, I don’t write romance anyway, so I won’t need to worry.

Jessie: I will say like a great example of a first-person blurb that I love is on Dervla McTiernan’s book, The Murder Rule. And it’s the shortest blurb. It’s very unorthodox, and it is in first-person. And that’s a crime book as well. Go look it up. It’s so fun. I was just like instantly sold. Instantly sold.

Jo: And there are other kind of things that are really important. So I know you’re saying like, there’s a general kind of, not a template per se, but a general way of structuring your blurbs, but then of course you need the creativity and that. But is it true that, like, do all blurbs need to start off with that hook before they get into, you know, the character, the who, what, why, all of that, and then finish with a CTA? Is that kind of like the standard, still? Like, hook and finishing with a CTA?

Jessie: More or less. And I will say, if you haven’t already and you wanna just see what the structure of book blurbs are, go to https://adoracopyediting.thrivecart.com/anatomy-of-a-book-blurb. That is a mouthful: https://adoracopyediting.thrivecart.com/anatomy-of-a-book-blurb. But that is my free cheat sheet that will actually outline fiction and nonfiction, just kind of the basic structure. And this is the structure that I recommend starting from. Do I always adhere to it? No, but mostly, because it does work. We know it works.

So look, I think you can’t negotiate on the hook. So the hook is like your click-baity sort of first line. It should work completely separately from the blurb. So, while it is part of the blurb, and if you commission me to write a blurb, I always write a hook for you as well. I make sure that we never have to rely on information in the hook in order to understand the rest of the blurb. Because sometimes people skim, and if they know that they like your book, I find that I’m guilty of doing this a lot in physical bookstores. I’ll pick up a book. I might know the author and I just wanna go tell me the story. And I start reading the blurb, skip the hook, ’cause it’s all formatted in fancy text up the top, and I’m like, oh, hang on, this first sentence doesn’t make sense unless I read the hook first. So I always use the hook. The hook is almost like the headline of a newspaper article, right? It operates completely differently, but it tells you what’s sort of gonna happen in the article and it gets you interested. And you don’t wanna be introducing names, places, any kind of jargon specific to your book in the hook. You want to be setting the atmosphere.

And there’s three formulas for hooks that I teach inside of Book Blurb Magic, and there’s a bunch of different ones in Spicy Blurb Playbook as well, but, you can be really creative with hooks. I’m still learning. I did a rhyming couplet hook for a fantasy book a few months ago, and I was, I’d never done that before and I just sent that off to the client, like, they’re either gonna love it or think I’m a loon. And they loved it. So there’s so many different ways you can kind of go with that, but it should be something eye catching that sets the vibe that intrigues people to some extent. And that is, I probably spend 70% of my blurb writing time, writing the hook and the rest is writing the rest of the blurb. The hook is hard. The hook is hard. Yeah. It’s like trying to come up with an advertising sort of tagline.

Speaking of which I will just quickly say, a tagline is different from a hook. So a tagline will go on the front cover of your book. So the example I always give, ’cause it’s just occurred to me one day, and it’s kind of easy, is if you have a crime book, the tagline might be “Murder is only a Minute away.” So it’s that real kind of puts you in the book. For me the tagline really needs to indicate genre very clearly. So to me it’s like, okay, murder mystery, cool. And then the hook for that same book on the back cover at the top of the blurb might be something like, “I didn’t know I could kill a man until it was already done.” So we were introduced straight to the character straight away. We’re straight to the particular scenario. And it’s a lot, there’s more detail there. I will also say on that, ’cause I just gave an example of a first-person hook, it’s quite okay to have a first-person hook and a third-person blurb together. Almost like a sort of quote from your book, the character sort of talking, and then telling the story in third-person, that’s also a okay as well. That can work really well.

So yeah, for fiction, like I say, the cheat sheet outlines all of this, so you don’t have to run madly to make notes if you’re listening, just go and download it. It’s what I’m talking about.

So paragraph one of our fiction blurb, I say fiction, it’s a narrative format, so if you’re writing memoir, this is kind of what you’re gonna follow as well. It needs to introduce us to the character, like where they are at the start of the story. What’s happening to them. So, you know, so and so lives in this awesome place. They’re unhappy with their life. And then either at the end of the first paragraph or beginning of the second, we should get the inciting incident. So they get the eviction notice and their life is turned upside down. So whatever it is that propels your character into the story. And if you’re writing memoir, there’s always an inciting incident as well. There’s always like a pivotal moment that kind of, your memoir is sort of hinged around, when things changed forever, that’s kind of what we wanna introduce. And it’ll sort of be up to you whether it comes at the end of the first paragraph, beginning of the second. It varies for me from blurb to blurb. It just kind of depends on how much setup we have to do basically.

And then second paragraph, look, that second paragraph’s the easiest. Most people do an okay job of the second paragraph ’cause that’s just like introduce a secondary character, if that’s relevant. Introduce a couple more plot points, kind of flesh out the direction the journey is going in. So no one really messes that up, too epically.

But then the third paragraph, it usually all just disintegrates. Because this is where we need to raise the stakes and it is the hardest and a lot of people actually try too hard and try to be too dramatic or, you know, end up being vague, as we’ve kind of mentioned. The main thing here is to sort of really outline… one thing I like to remind myself of when I’m upping the stakes, is what will physically, like concretely change for the character as a result of this journey? There’s a tendency to focus very much on the inner journey, and it’s very difficult for readers to care about characters they haven’t spent time with yet. 150 words, it’s a very short amount of time to get to know someone. And if you want them, if you want readers to be like concerned about your character getting their heart broken, they’re probably not gonna be super invested. Like they might, if they’re really in the market for that kind of book, they could be like, oh, this sounds really sweet. But they’re not, it’s not gonna really tug at their heartstrings. So we need to know who’s gonna die? Whose country is gonna get taken over by whatever? Who’s gonna lose their magic powers? Like what is it that they really, really stand to lose? As well as the interior stuff, ’cause that just bolsters it. The sort of more concrete stuff is what people are often relating to a bit more. We’ll probably all relate to getting freaked out by an eviction notice or like not having somewhere to live. Even if it’s something like losing magic powers, we can all sort of relate to how we would feel if we had magic powers and then we lost them. That would be devastating. So those more concrete things are gonna be more instantly relatable. And then of course they’re going to relate to the inner world of your character once they can spend more time with them inside your book. But yeah, that would be my main sort of tip for that raising the stakes paragraph.

And end with a really strong sentence. Try not to end with a question. There’s this real trend of ending blurbs with a question. And have I done it? Yes. Does it sometimes work? Also, yes. In like 95% of cases, possibly more, I’m being generous, it just, it’s better as a statement. It’s better as a statement. People think questions sound more dramatic ’cause it’s just like leaving something hanging. But if the question can only be answered by your character or only be answered by reading the book, it’s not engaging the reader. If the question is, will they find the such and such before the clock runs down? You’d be like, cool. I don’t know. I gotta read the book and find out. Probably my favorite way to use a question at the end of a blurb would be something like, you know, occasionally I’ve written ones that say: Which leaves just one question. Can this happen before such and such? Like that sort of, there’s something different about that. ’cause it gets the reader thinking about, well, will this happen? Or will this, happen? Those kind of two things. But generally speaking, questions are great at the beginning of the blurb. At the end of the blurb, not so much.

Always ask a question that your reader could conceivably answer that could get them thinking. That questions their morals or beliefs or how they might feel about something. That’s the kind of question we want in there that will get them involved. Ending on a will they, won’t they question? Nah, nah. Don’t ever use a ‘will’ question. Turn it into a ‘can’ question. If you have to use a question, turn it into a ‘can’ question. ‘Can’ sounds more something than ‘will’, I dunno. It sounds more ambiguous, less certain, a bit more involved. I don’t know. It’s just got a different vibe. But ‘will’ questions, I almost completely ban.

And then like you say, you finish with the CTA, which is our call to action. I only do that obviously on the online book description. This blurb that we’re talking about is the same thing that you slap on the physical back cover as the online description. But in the online description, ask for the sale. And if you’re not comfortable asking for the sale, tell them to click “look inside” and read the first chapter, and then bank on the fact that your first chapter’s so good they have to buy it after they read the first chapter. But something really nice and simple, just click buy now to meet, you know, this character and this character today. Or click by now to start reading today. Ask for the sale because people like to be told. What to do next. It’s just as simple as that.

Jo: Yeah. Gosh, I have just learned so much from you because to be honest, I never really had that clarity around the idea of the tagline and the hook being different on the front of the book and the back. I always kind of thought they were pretty much the same thing, so that was a real eye-opener to me. And also you are ending with a question. Because I have done other kind of courses before and read other articles and books and things like that. And that’s quite common, to be told to end on a question. And I’m thinking I’m really gonna have to go back through some of my previous blurbs because I think I’ve done that.

Jessie: Yeah. And it is super common. And like I’ve said, I have done it and sometimes it works. Sometimes there’s a point where I’m like, you know what? This is actually the right vibe for this blurb. But I always try to make it a question that the reader can get involved in. Otherwise, it’s to me, it’s really lazy sales writing. It doesn’t actually capture your audience. And I know I’ve spoken to clients before, they’re like, oh, I did this course and they said always end on a question. And I’m like, I don’t wanna know. I’m just gonna disagree. That is just, look, it’s always just my opinion. But I think, you know, I do love sales writing. I write all my own sales pages and things for my business as well. And it’s sort of a lot of the same, a lot of the same principles apply to blurbs. You are selling somebody a product, and why would you throw away their attention at the end with a really lazy question that they can’t even answer? They deserve more than that. So if you have a question at the end, challenge yourself to turn it into a statement. And if that doesn’t work, you need a different sentence.

Jo: Oh, I like that. That’s cool. So I want to ask, this actually isn’t something that I’ve ever thought about when I’ve been writing my own blurbs, but I know other people do. How important is it to think about stacking keywords into your blurbs, particularly when it’s like going on Amazon or something like that? Like is that important or, yeah.

Jessie: Yes and no. I will never compromise on, you know, the syntax of my blurb to fit a keyword in. The actual readability and how engaging your blurb is should always take precedence, ’cause otherwise, when people get to your page, they’re just, they’re not going to bother reading the blurb and they’re not gonna be invested. Sometimes authors give me a list of keywords that they would like as many as possible fit in, and it’s usually reasonably doable. We know that Amazon does scan the blurb as part of what it searches in terms of keywords, but I think the keywords that you choose in the backend of KDP are kind of a bit more important in terms of… to me, keywords are all about getting people to the blurb and then the blurb is making the sale for you.

I find usually that if I’m writing the blurb in language that is natural and appealing to the ideal readers for the book, the keywords kind of just fit themselves in there. But the last thing you want is a blurb that is just a keyword sandwich. I mean, AI can do that for you. If you wanna do that, go tell AI to write you a blurb full of keywords, and it’ll be awful. And no one will wanna read it. But it’ll have all your keywords in there. So to me, the actual writing takes precedence over the keywords, but a lot of the keywords will find their way in there anyway.

Jo: Yeah, that was kind of my thoughts too. I always go for the sound of what I’ve written and then yeah, load the keywords in the backend, and yeah.

Jessie: Yeah. I was talking to an Amazon ads specialist, ’cause I work with a few of his clients as well, and he was saying that, you know, if they’re getting lots of great click through on ads but not many purchases, the first thing they then look at is at the blurb, and it’s not for keywords. I actually asked him about it. I was like, should I be fitting more keywords into blurbs? And he was like, no. It’s obviously, use the right language for your audience because that’s going to help your searchability as well as them just understanding and resonating with your book. But what they’re actually looking for is a blurb that captivates people and then convinces them to click the buy now button. That’s what we want.

Jo: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. So for somebody that has written their book and is ready to dig into writing their blurb, other than your wonderful freebie, the anatomyofabook blurb.com, what do you suggest would be the next step for them? Like, how can they work with you?

Jessie: It depends whether you’ve listened to all of this and gone, that sounds awful. I don’t ever want to write a blurb. Or whether you’ve listened to it and gone, this sounds really cool, I’d like to try my hand at it. So I have two DIY courses, so Book Blurb Magic and the Spicy Blurb Playbook. Book Blurb Magic is just your general fiction and non-fiction all in the one. Spicy Blurb Playbook is specifically for all types of romance. So if you want the DIY route, those courses are always on demand. You get lifetime access and you can return to, I have people who go through the course every single time they write a blurb just to refresh. And any updates and things that I sort of regularly add things to them, and stuff like that as well, like you’re in there for life. So if you are really keen on the DIY route, that is the most budget friendly and the possibly the quickest if you’re a last minute person. I am generally booked out. I’m booked out to November at the moment for my custom blurbs and until October for my blurb audits. So always be thinking a few months in advance ’cause I book up real quick, and once I’m booked up, that’s it.

So if you do want to actually work with me personally, I’ve got two options. So the one-to-one blurb audit is a 60 minute Zoom call with me and we actually work through your blurb. So I have some people who’ve done the course and just want like really high touch work with me on their blurb draft. Other people who haven’t done any of my courses have just had a crack at writing their own blurb, or have occasionally brought me blurbs written for them by other blurb writers that they didn’t like, and we’ve worked through them together. So basically we get done a 60 minute call and it’s full on. We do lots of rewriting. We always start with what you have and that’s always kind of the skeleton of what we end up with. But it usually goes through a pretty serious transformation. And then you have two weeks after that call, we have a shared Google Doc, if you have any, you know, you can sleep on it, you can show it to your beta readers, you can come back and we work on it in the Google Doc if there’s any last kind of tweaks and things.

And those sessions are so fun because I really love working in real time. I’ve had clients say to me, my God, how are you working this fast? How do you think of things? I love that. I absolutely love that. If there’s a blurb in front of me, the ideas go mad and it’s very collaborative. So it’s not about you sitting there silently on the other side while I kind of do everything for you. We actually chat. It’s faster because I can ask the authors questions, they can suggest wordings. I’m like, does this word feel right? Does that word feel right? And then we actually, you know, sometimes they’re like, oh, this sentence is really dumb, but I’m thinking this. And I’m like, well, yeah, we wouldn’t use that, but that’s given me the idea to do this. So it’s this awesome, fun, creative brainstorm, sort of intensive power hour. And then you’ve got support for the two weeks after if you need it as well, because sometimes you’ll sleep on it after working on it so intensively, be like, oh, this sentence, it doesn’t make sense. That’s fine. But for the most part, actually, people walk away after the hour and are like, it’s done. I’m putting it on Amazon today, which is really exciting. I love that. I’m a very impatient person. I love that it’s done in the hour and it’s just, it’s instant gratification for everyone.

So like I say, those are usually booked up a month or two in advance. My custom blurbs book out much further in advance, so the custom blurb is totally done for you. I don’t read the books, so you provide me with a dot point kind of synopsis. It’s very casual. My favorite is like when people are just clearly kind of word vomiting, like they’re sitting in front of me with a cup of tea and like this happens, then this happens, then this happens. I need spoilers and all. So you just completely spoil your book for me. Just tell me everything that’s in it. And then I’ll come back to you if I have any questions. Sometimes I ask for the manuscript so I can just kind of have a look at tone and things a little bit more as well. But generally the author sitting down and giving me this sort of very casual synopsis is the absolute best thing for me to actually tap into the essence and the themes in the book without them having to overthink it, without me having to overthink it. And then that’s all just done by email. So I send you a draft, you can come back to me with tracked changes inward, if there’s anything that needs to be tweaked. And it’s unlimited revisions as well. Like we’ll work on it until you’re happy with it, which is always really satisfying as well. So, like I say, it depends how involved you would like to be in the process. You can have me do everything for you. You can do it together or you can do it on your own. It’s kind of really a choose your own adventure.

And I probably should mention that for your listeners, if they use the code ALCHEMY, they can get 10% off the courses and also off a single blurb audit or a single custom blurb. I also have discounted bundles on the site as well that already have like money taken off them. So if you know that you want to order four blurbs, you’ll get more money off. But the code will work for single orders. So if you just wanna dip your toe in the water and try and come work with me, I would absolutely love to spend time with you and help you out with your blurb.

Jo: Amazing. And I can totally vouch for you because I have done your Book Blurb Magic course and absolutely love it and know I’m gonna be going back to it time and time again. And, yeah, and my friend’s done, I think it was the one-hour zoom, maybe it was the audit or something, and she raved about you. That was how I first heard about you. So yeah.

Jessie: That’s so lovely to hear. And I’m so glad you enjoyed the course and I do love that the course is just always there if you need it. You can just always go back, particularly ’cause you do have to think in advance if you wanna book me one to one.

Jo: Yeah. Yeah. And I know for myself, I’m a last-minute person and then I get impatient and I’m like, oh, I just need this done. So yeah. So it works really well for me, which is really cool. Amazing. And so how can people connect with you, too? ‘Cause you’ve got a bit of a social media presence as well, don’t you?

Jessie: I do. Well, I mean, the first thing to say is that I do love it when people download the freebie because that puts you on my email list and I email five times a week, which I know is too much for some people, so you can unsubscribe anytime if that’s not your jam. But I email five times a week with loads of blurb writing tips. And also email marketing. I do email marketing for small business and authors as well. So like there’s just a whole lot of goodies in there and like, yeah, you can stay as long as you like, but I really love connecting with people on my email list. It’s a fun place. I get loads of replies every week and we just have great conversations. So that’s probably my favorite place to hang out. But I do also love Instagram. I’m not on any other social media apart from threads. Which I kind of throw in there with Instagram. So my handle is just @bookblurbmagic. And yeah, lots of free tips and things on there as well, if you wanna come hang out. Send me a DM and tell me you listen to the podcast and I’d love to chat with you or answer any questions that you have as well. Or just email me, jesse@bookblurbmagic.com if you’ve got any other kind of more specific requests or wonderings or you’re trying to decide which option is right for you, I’d be more than happy to help out.

Jo: That is so fantastic and thank you so much for that discount code too because yeah, I’ll put all of the information how to connect with you and remind everybody of the discount code ALCHEMY and everything in the show notes. And yeah, I’m just really excited and I know I’m not the only person out there who can write a book, but struggles with the blurb.

Jessie: So no, you are not alone. There is a huge community of blurb haters, and I’m here for you all.

Jo: Amazing. Well, it has been so wonderful talking with you, Jessie. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Jessie: Oh, likewise. Thanks so much for having me.

Jo: Here are some takeaways from today’s show.

1. The secret to getting good at writing blurbs is simply practice.

2. Your blurb should be 200 words or less in length.

3. A book blurb is not a summary of your book.

4. Avoid being so vague in your blurbs that you confuse your readers. Make your blurb a little more specific than you’re comfortable with, and then tweak it to be slightly more cryptic.

5. Readers need to know who they’re going on a journey with, how the character ended up on that journey, where the journey might end up, and whether it’s a journey the reader’s interested in taking.

6. Your blurb must have a clear narrative with a beginning, middle, and end.

7. Do not start your blurb with the backstory. Start where your actual story starts.

8. Ensure you write your blurb in present tense, unless you’re writing memoir where you might want to start in past tense and move to present.

9. Third-person blurbs are the gold standard. However, romance and some other genres are now experimenting with first-person blurbs, but proceed with caution.

10. Try not to end your blurb with a question. End it with a statement.

11. Making your blurbs appeal to readers takes precedence over creating a keyword sandwich.

So there we have it. I hope you got as much from this conversation as I did. Just a reminder that as a special gift for listening to this podcast, you can pick up one of Jesse’s courses or a single blurb audit or custom blurb for 10% off when you use the code “alchemy”. A L C H E M Y. Links will be in the show notes, of course, as will the link for your free Anatomy of a Book Blurb PDF.

And as I mentioned at the beginning of this episode, there is still time to enrol in Carissa Andrews’ Four Books, Five Days: Mastering AI-Enhanced Series Planning course, which starts October 1st. So you need to think about what do you want to achieve before 2023 is out. If you’re looking at streamlining your plotting process, then maybe this is the course that can help you do that. The link, of course, will also be in the show notes.

If you have enjoyed this episode, and I really hope you did, and if you want to see the show continue, please consider rating, reviewing, sharing this show with a friend, or you can of course, buy me a coffee at https://buymeacoffee.com/jobuer. Your support really does mean the world to me and helps both practically to keep the show going and of course gives me all the good vibes to continue. So I really do appreciate that.

So there we are, my lovelies. I am wishing you a wonderful writing week ahead and I’ll be back in another couple of weeks. Bye for now.

Blurbs, Book Blurbs, Plotting with AI, Sales Copy