Writing a Blurb for a Short Story Collection

Book store shelvesIs there a more frightening word in the self-publisher’s vocabulary than blurb? If you’ve been experimenting with publishing eBooks for any length of time, you’ve probably felt this dread. You’ve written the book, polished it up, secured a fancy cover design. Everything seems so perfect, then it’s time to upload your shiny new book to Amazon and you it a roadblock. The well prepared of you probably took the “Product Description” box into account, but if you’re the seat-of-the-pants, it’ll all turn out right on the night type, like me, perhaps not.

I don’t know what it is about writing a blurb that sets my teeth on edge. It probably has something to do with my aversion for self promotion. I am of the generation that grew up on the internet, I had a deep-seated loathing of spammers and affiliate marketers, and anything that puts me in the same box as them is something I want to avoid. Unfortunately, I’ve chosen a career path where a certain amount of self promotion is needed. (For more on overcoming these hurdles, I can really recommend reading Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing.) For some reason, writing a blurb brings out the same loathing in me.

It probably shouldn’t. Something spammers don’t realise (or won’t acknowledge) is that there are places where it is acceptable to self-promote, and places where it isn’t. Some examples; I hate writing my Amazon author page almost as much, but this is a perfectly acceptable place to shamelessly self promote. Your author page is a small corner of the internet that is entirely about you, and anyone that visits that page does so because they want to hear more about your achievements. Go nuts! On the other hand, logging in to twitter and sending promotional messages to random tweeters, clogging up their feeds, unacceptable.

The first step to writing your blurb is acknowledging that it is an acceptable place for promoting your work. Chances are, anyone reading your blurb is already interested in your book. You want to present it in the best possible light to sell a copy, and the reader wants to know if it’s the sort of book they’d be interested in. It’s an interaction between two business partners, and if you write your blurb effectively and honestly, both parties will probably end up satisfied.

So, why do blurbs feel so uncomfortable to write? Probably because we are trained from a young age not to blow our own trumpets. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can be a little awkward. There’s a reason the publishing industry hires marketers and PR men to promote books, they have no connection to the work itself and their only motivation is to sell the product. Personally, that’s a little too mercenary for me. I want to write a blurb that accurately reflects the book I’m trying to sell and develops the right audience. At the same time, I don’t want to be insecure about it and sabotage sales.

Octopus Cover
Coming Soon!

With The Octopus of Suspense, (publishing this week) I have an extra little problem. Octopus is a short story collection. It’s a good book and I’m very proud of it, but it doesn’t have a single plot I can try and sell an audience on. Worse still, it doesn’t cover a single genre. In fact, there are few things the stories have in common. This cuts down a lot of the easiest parts of writing a blurb, and forces me to really focus on the key facts. There are eight stories in the collection, they are around 1000 words each, they each follow a distinct character, they were originally published weekly but have been revised a polished for the collection. The problem is, of course, that these are hardly what you would call selling points. But, I feel the best approach is to present these facts clearly and honestly, without undermining the book. In time, if the book is good, it will sell itself.

Here’s my current blurb for The Octopus of Suspense. 

The Octopus of Suspense is a collection of eight little stories that will take you somewhere new. Exploring a range of genres, each story enters the world of a unique character. From the desk of troubled pulp writer, to a starship in the distant future, The Octopus of Suspense offers a surprise at every turn. Originally written for weekly release online, they have been revisited and expanded for this new collection. Each story is between 1000 and 1500 words long.

Owen Adams is a writer and blogger with a love for short fiction. He is the author of the Time Travel stories; Christmas Past and Time Trial.

It’s a little clumsy and will probably be treated to a rewrite before I finally hit the big red button, but I think it’s fair. It highlights what I think are the selling points, teases a couple of the stories and tells a little about the origin of the collection. I chose not to refer to the stories in this collection as “Flash Fiction,” though they certainly meet that definition, partly because I don’t like the label much and partly because I think it would place them in a budget box that they don’t deserve to be in. However, a lot of readers don’t enjoy stories this short, so I made sure to include the wordcount.
Your blurb is important, but it isn’t as important as writing a good book. The world isn’t exactly meritocratic, but the internet is forever. If your book is genuinely worth the time, it has a good chance of finding its audience. A blurb should be a tool and never an obstacle. It should describe the book honestly, but not too honestly. Don’t tell your prospective readers that you are the new Shakespeare, it will only lead to disappointment. But don’t sell yourself short either. If you’ve written an exciting story with a twist in the end, sell it. The better you communicate your story’s strengths, the better your chance of finding a reader who loves what you have to offer.
  • Just read your Christmas past, I bought it after reading a review on Squidoo. A very interesting book and an ending that simply begs for more.
    I have also found it very interesting to read some of the posts here on this blog. This post especially since I too and trying to publish some books on poetry. Like you I am not the sort of person given to self-promotion and feel that my friends and colleagues will look badly at what I tend to lump in with spam, although I know it isn’t really. I guess it is a necessary evil. You do make some good points however, thanks for that,

  • Hey, I’m really glad you enjoyed the book. I’m not familiar with Squidoo, any chance you could provide a link to the review so I can check it out. I’m really happy that the blog has been helpful to you. Personally I really struggle with finding the right line between Writer and Publisher that is required when you self publish, so it’s nice to know others feel the same.

    Thanks for reading!

  • Thanks!

  • Wow, this is just what I needed to hear right now. These are all excellent points, and now I’m going to have to go check out my blurbs and maybe even make some changes.

  • Thank you! I’m glad it was useful. 🙂

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