Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Blurb Building

Or, "How to Say What's in Your Book in 100 Words or Less"

As I mentioned in yesterday's blog, I received the following e-mail at the end of last week:

I’m putting together advance information sheets to go to London Book Fair next month. Now ... the BACK BOOK needs an AI. Do you have a short bio for Dr. Jim you can send me? And, a short blurb (around 100 words) describing the content?

Yesterday I talked about devising the promo bio. Today, I'll tackle building the blurb.

As I mentioned yesterday, it didn't take long to devise a bio, because I had already worked up a complete biography for Dr. Warson. All I had to do was condense what I had. Coming up with a short blurb to describe the content of a book that is not yet written took a bit longer, however. The 100 word limit essentially dictated the format.

When given a very limited number of words to work with, it always helps me to think in terms of paragraphs. One hundred words means only three paragraphs of 30 to 35 words apiece. (Two paragraphs of 50 words will be too blocky to invite a reading. Trying to include four paragraphs will practically guarantee that one of them gets short shrift.)

For a super-short synopsis of a non-fiction book, it helps to think: Audience, Author, Action.


The first paragraph should clearly define who comprises your audience. Don't say "this book is for everyone." Even though you may believe that this is true, the phrase is too general to have any impact. Analyze your audience. Who stands to gain the most from your product? Who is your ideal client or customer? Be specific.

Is this book for "every mother," "every child," "every grandfather," "every fifth grade teacher," or "every iguana veterinarian?" State your audience and then tell members of your target audience why they need to read what you have to say.

For instance:

A supple, strong, healthy back is the ideal for every equestrian. Unfortunately, too many riders’ backs suffer from injury, stress, or strain. Consequently, these people experience pain when in the saddle – or find themselves unable to ride at all.


Once you've gotten the attention of your target audience, you need to introduce them to the person who will guide them through the book. The second paragraph should clearly state who wrote the book and why that person is qualified to do so. If at all possible, the introduction should also connect the author with the reader:

In “The Rider's Back Book,” Dr. James Warson, a specialist in equestrian back injuries and a practicing neurosurgeon for nearly 25 years, answers the questions you have about your back.


In the final paragraph of any super-short synopsis, it makes sense to give the potential reader a taste of what the book holds in store. Speak in action verbs. Use "teaches," "clarifies," "discovers," "unmasks," and "explores." Tell the reader that the information in the book is accessible, and emphasize that he or she will be able to utilize the knowledge gained.

Another aspect to "action" is movement. Tell the readers how this book will affect them, change them, move them, or improve their lives.

If possible, include a nod to the clock in this paragraph. Mention something concrete that the readers will be able to take away with them upon finishing the book.

An example:

In this book, Dr. Warson explains the human back in easy-to-understand terms. He illustrates how various movements in the saddle affect the rider’s back. He then outlines straightforward steps you can take immediately to help keep your back ready to ride.

The 112 words in those three paragraphs made up the short synopsis that I submitted to Trafalgar Square. That's the text that will be on the AI sheets promoting the book that we're in the process of writing.

"What purpose does the short synopsis serve?" you may ask. Well, in addition to providing text for advance information sheets, a short book blurb can be used in several ways. Some suggestions for using all or part of a 100-word blurb:

* Catalog copy for placing orders,
* Online webpage descriptions,
* Dedicated webpage text,
* Press releases,
* Verbal promotional pitches...

Since I had the text written, I figured we might as well start using it. So my wonderful husband made a webpage for the book . There's no time like the present to start making people aware that the project is in the works!

And Now for Something Completely Different

William Douglas at Knight Ridder Newspapers reported yesterday that the White House officially "blamed the 78-year-old man whom Vice President Dick Cheney shot during a weekend quail hunting trip in Texas for the incident, as officials struggled Monday to explain why they waited nearly 24 hours before making the news public."

...words nearly fail me.

So Whittington, the octogenarian lawyer our VP shot in the face, neck, and chest, brought it on himself. Hmmm...

I only have one question: Why weren't the rest of us informed that Saturday was open season on lawers?