Using a Blurb to Shape Your Novel

When I finished the first draft of the final version of TEROH that I’m sharing with beta readers now, I decided to write a blurb (a short, intriguing description) about it. Since then, I’ve edited it countless times as I seek to balance how I want readers to view my novel along with their actual perceptions of the story they end up reading. It’s not so much the plot that changes in the blurb so much as how I pitch it.

There are so many ways to turn a thought or phrase, and each way holds a slightly different meaning.

This also pertains to the other novels I’m planning for my series. Unlike TEROH, I’m actually starting with a preliminary blurb before developing the novels themselves. (I’ve talked a bit about this before as well as how I’m using music playlists to shape the direction that my stories will take.) Looking back on my process for TEROH, I think there are some advantages to doing this.

1: A blurb can provide focus early on in the writing process.

As I’m discovering in planning my sequels, nailing down some preliminary vision for your story’s plot before trying to write about it can make it easier to suss out what your story is actually about. It still may change dramatically by the time the final draft is written, but the journey in getting it on paper the first time could turn out to be less…wayward with a little vision beforehand.

Finding the theme(s) of a novel can be a nebulous thing when you’re learning to write a novel for the first time. With TEROH, I had a really hard time with this because things like plot and theme weren’t my main focus; it was actually the characters and the world they lived in, which is its own kind of character. However, now that I’ve had the chance to really explore those things in a full-length novel, I feel I can focus more on developing the larger plot of the series itself and even “see” some of the major themes ahead of time.

Actually, after working on TEROH, I realized that the name I’d chosen for the novel (Rise of Hara) actually had one of the book’s major themes implied in it already! After that realization, I decided to do the same for books in the rest of the series, giving me a clear starting point. (I’ve also dropped hints of the sequels’ names in the first book, hehe.)

That being said, I can still make the sequels character-driven, but being able to write about the characters should be less rocky because I’ve already done a lot of the legwork in Book I. The rest is just further exploration based on the foundations I’ve already set, which frees me up to try new things with the plot. (In my opinion, TEROH is not terribly ambitious when it comes to plotting since I focused much more on character. Not necessarily a bad thing, though.)

2: A blurb can help convey the spirit of the story you mean, or want, to tell.

Mood, tone, word choice, revealing the right angles…those all count for something.

How many times have you read a book blurb, only to finish the story later and think, “Wow, that was nothing like the blurb!” Or, “Huh, that blurb was kind of misleading…” These are the things I’ve been thinking about lately because I really want to avoid striking the wrong notes or misleading my readers with the story that gets advertised on the back of the novel. Granted, starting with the blurb before you’ve even written the story pretty much guarantees a number of edits on the blurb itself, but that just gives you more chances to practice and perfect what makes a blurb successful.

That being said, I also want to make sure that the story on the pages matches the one I’d like to portray.

One of my beta readers recently finished reading TEROH. On the last questionnaire I sent to him, I included my working blurb for the story and asked if he felt whether it was an accurate description both in tone and content. Some parts were a hit while other parts were a miss—which leads me to my next point.

3: A blurb can help you reevaluate & fine-tune your manuscript.

By writing a blurb before arriving at the point where you think your story is ready for publication, you force yourself to zero in on the heart of what matters most in your novel and reevaluate its effectiveness. If readers are telling you after the novel’s been published that your vision, hinted at in the blurb, isn’t quite panning out with their reading experience, then you won’t have an opportunity to fix that.

Now, this could just mean that the blurb itself needs to be rewritten. However, if you feel the blurb is truly representative of the story you meant to tell, then it could mean that more extensive work is needed on the story itself. Figuring this out before publication with early readers can give you some idea as to what still needs tweaking and allows for larger changes to be made if needed.

Sharing both my novel and my blurb with beta readers has given me some great ideas on how to make it even stronger. Because I’m taking this feedback and giving myself the chance to fine-tune the story so that its themes can be more impactful, I can now delve into deeper storytelling and create an even richer, more satisfying reading experience for future audiences.

What is your experience with back-cover blurbs?

As a reader, do you find that most blurbs tend to help or hurt your perception of a novel? For writers, what value have you found in writing blurbs for your stories?

 

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9 thoughts on “Using a Blurb to Shape Your Novel

  1. I definitely do this after the first draft, or in rare occasions before the book begins. It helps me clarify the main conflicts of the story or ‘what is it about?’. Which isn’t always easy to figure out! LOL

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  2. I see what you say, I really do, but this doesn’t work for me.
    I tried it last year for NaNo, because I thought it makes sense and it may have helped me since I had so little time to plan the story. It was a complete failure.

    I need to actually write the story, at least a couple of drafts, before I get a grasp at what the story truly is, with all its elements (world, characters, plot, ect.) THEN I can write a blurb and it can help me… though I normally write a synopsis, not a blurb.

    I suppose it depends on what kind of writers we are. For me, writing the blurb before the actual story does’t’ really work, but it does help once the story has taken its shape.

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    • Fair enough. I’m sure it can vary from writer to writer and story to story. Certainly wouldn’t have worked for me when I first started writing TEROH.

      No matter what part of the writing process a blurb comes into play, though, it can still be a useful tool.

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    • Glad you found this useful!

      For me, I don’t dread the book blurb so much as writing a synopsis (still working on the latter, lol). It’s one thing to entice readers and another to summarize a whole novel from A to Z succinctly.

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  3. I could imagine writing the blurb before writing the story, but for me I think it would be a waste of time.

    My current story came about because of an idea of setting a story (based on a movie) in a setting that I know well. The story has turned out very different (though still in the same setting), and part of the process of finishing the story has been forcing myself to give up, almost completely, on my original idea.

    I did write a blurb for my first novel. It’s pretty accurate. I wrote it about 20 years after starting the book.

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    • I don’t think I could have finished a draft without being flexible with my original ideas, either. That can even be fun.

      For me, that’s the beauty of writing blurbs before I’m completely done with the novel: they’re so short that I could easily rewrite or edit them dozens of times if I wanted to–and each time, I see a new way to look at the story itself.

      Sometimes the blurb helps me see what’s lacking in the novel, or a developing story, and inspires me to come up with new ideas on how to strengthen it during the editing, or even the plotting, stage. Other times, I can use it to re-align parts of the story so they support the main plot line better.

      Almost like the way an outline can help you keep a story on track. Just less…restrictive, imo.

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