In music, having ‘perfect pitch’ means your ear is so finely attuned to music that you can hear a single note, and name it without fail. It’s a great help when tuning a guitar, but when pop singers make a “style” of deliberately singing flat, it can be like fingernails on a blackboard.
When it comes to writing, there isn’t one—a perfect pitch, that is. Everything is trial and error. You, the writer, are on trial, and you’re going to make errors. So, relax and enjoy the adrenaline.
That being said, I noticed some interesting things at a local bookstore while doing my own research on what makes a compelling ‘back cover blurb’. For the record, the only difference between a blurb and a pitch is context and location.
A blurb is on the back cover of a book and is written down. Or it may be on a website, but again, it’s written down.
You, the writer, are at a safe distance.
A pitch begins with giving the same blurb verbally to a complete stranger at a writer’s conference.
You, the writer, are completely exposed and had better be ready.
I learned some interesting things during my archeological dig at the bookstore.
- There are some books which sell simply because the author’s name is synonymous with “don’t be a fool—buy this book!” Not being one of these authors, I looked mostly at books by people I wasn’t as familiar with.
- If the book is part of a series, it’s surprising how many sequel blurbs don’t have the same “dangle of mystery” allure as the first book in the series. They usually depend on the reputation of the first book (understandably) but aren’t as interesting to read by themselves.
- A lot of books rely on outside endorsements to the exclusion (or minimization) of anything that would spark interest. True, if a famous author gives your book a thumbs-up, you’d be foolish not to gleefully accept. (I’d still like to read something catchy about the book itself.)
- A blurb is not the same as a synopsis. Back-covers shouldn’t give away major plot developments before the reader has a chance to crack the book open. But some (inexplicably) do.
I kept asking myself: (1) which blurbs caught my attention, and (2) why. Here’s what I discovered:
The most intriguing blurbs begin with a short (15-25 words) ‘hook’ that piques the interest. Your first thought is, “Tell me more.”
The rest of the blurb contains clues, hints, and tantalizing “what if’s”, which again prompts a reaction of “tell me more”.
This, in turn, leads to you opening the book and skimming a few pages. And greatly increases the odds of you visiting the nice clerks with the debit machines.
Knowing which blurbs caught your attention is invaluable when it comes to writing your own. And if creating a good back-cover blurb is the beginning of a good pitch, you’re already off and running.