Jilly: Fifty Words of Book Blurb

Books and blurbsDo you buy books based on the blurb? What attracts you and/or puts you off?

Last week I complained that I’ve been suffering from book blurb blindness. I’ve resolved to read more new-to-me authors, at least one per week, so I’ve been paying more attention to the book marketing communications that find their way to my in-box. I actually started reading them instead of giving the usual hasty skim in the hope that something would leap out and grab me.

I couldn’t keep it up. Even on a slow day I get emails from BookBub (ten free or discounted titles of various romantic sub-genres), Amazon (usually at least two emails with a dozen books each, plus others if an author I like has an upcoming release), SmartBitchesTrashyBooks (anything up to a dozen books on sale, reviewed or newly released), and a handful of author blogs or newsletters.

I’m barely dipping a toe in the water, and I guesstimate I receive about 40-50 targeted suggestions per day, in addition to recommendations I actively seek out from friends, discussions here and other trusted sources. That makes over 300 titles per week, from which I’m trying to find one or maybe two new reads. If I gave those titles a minute each, that would be five hours out of my week, enough time to read another whole book. So I’ve reverted to giving most of them a few seconds, and following up on the few that catch my attention.

According to BookBub’s information for authors, at the time of writing they have over 2.1 million subscribers in the contemporary romance sub-genre. For a free book, the average number of copies downloaded is 29,500 and for a discounted book it is 2,520. Or, more or less, one contemporary romance subscriber in every seventy might give a book a try if it was free, one in eight hundred might pay for it.

Those 2.1 million BookBub subscribers make their decision based on the book’s title, its cover, and 40-50 words of blurb. That’s about three sentences in which to make the book stand out in a sea of other titles, but also to make a clear story promise, let the potential reader know what kind of read to expect, optimize the opportunity for reader satisfaction and minimize the risk of disappointment and book rage.

I tried a little experiment and it’s surprising how many decision-making triggers can be present in such a small package. Without the benefit of covers or pricing information, below I’ve sampled a selection of blurbs from BookBub’s current contemporary romance offers. I’d be interested to know which ones appeal to you, and why. Or if not, why not.

Here goes:

Seaside Dreams by Melissa Foster
A spicy romance from a New York Times bestselling author! When Bella accidentally breaks the law, she meets sexy police officer Caden. “Make sure you have all night, because once you start you won’t want to stop reading” (Brenda Novak).

Barefoot in White by Roxanne St Claire
Willow is too busy planning weddings for smitten couples to give her own love life a thought. But when Navy SEAL Nick reappears at one of her weddings, it’s hard to forget his irresistible charm — or their painful history. “Plenty of heat, humor, and heart” (USA Today) from a bestselling author!

Shopping for a Billionaire’s Fiancee by Julia Kent
A fun romance from a New York Times bestselling author: Billionaire Declan is getting ready to propose to Shannon, but there’s a pesky mother-in-law to worry about — and his future fiancée just swallowed the ring… With over 550 five-star ratings on Goodreads!

Secret Blend by Jennifer Bramseth
In this smoldering story of law and love, brand-new judges Rachel and Brady start up a passionate romance behind their chamber doors. But it’s hard to keep a secret in Bourbon Springs, Kentucky…

Not Over You by Amanda Torrey
Since her brother’s devastating death, guilt-ridden Savannah has been running from her past. When she returns home, will her high-school sweetheart Quentin be able to convince her to stay? A heartwarming love story about second chances.

Snowflake Bay by Donna Kauffman
Having just returned home to Blueberry Cove, Maine, Fiona is busy planning her sister’s wedding. But when she reunites with her childhood crush Ben, Fiona has a chance for a romance of her own! A “sassy, witty, sexy” read (Library Journal) from a USA Today bestselling author!

Someone Else’s Fairytale by EM Tippets
Chloe Winters is living every girl’s fantasy when star Jason Vanderholt falls in love with her — every girl’s fantasy, that is, except her own… Can he change her mind? A “deeply satisfying” romance (USA Today) with nearly 1,200 five-star Goodreads ratings.

My thoughts:

  • I don’t get dazzled by the term ‘bestselling author’ and I don’t judge books by the number of five-star ratings they have, though I’ll bet many people do.
  • As I mentioned last week, I’m not a fan of ending the blurb with a question. Can they overcome this or deal with that? This is a romance; I can answer that one without reading the book.
  • I pay attention to characters’ occupations, and I like the sound of active, hard-working people with a purpose in life. So I’m all for wedding planners, SEALs, judges, doctors, nurses, special ops guys, firefighters or sports stars. I’m quite happy for the hero to be rich, but I’m not thrilled if he’s just described as a ‘billionaire,’ because that makes me think the story will focus on his wealth and lifestyle.
  • I’m positively influenced by occupations and situations that seem to lend themselves to conflict. Wedding planner and a SEAL? Might be interesting.
  • I’m over small towns with whimsical names. I’d be compelled to check out a story set in a small town with a non-adorable name, or one that implied the town was some kind of battleground. That might be fun.
  • I find it helpful when the blurb indicates the tone of the story. If it’s described as hot, spicy, or sizzling, I assume the heat level will probably be more than I’m looking for. If it’s sweet or heartwarming I assume it will probably be too gentle for my tastes. I like smart and funny. I’m ambivalent about sassy, sexy and witty. I really like the quote for Barefoot in White: ‘heat, humor and heart.’ That sounds like my kind of story.
  • If something about the blurb catches my attention, I’ll ignore any or all of the foregoing comments.

My favorite blurb from the selection is Barefoot in White. I’m slightly dubious about a heroine called Willow (sounds sweet/heartwarming) and I worry about characters with a painful shared backstory, but the author had me at ‘heat, humor and heart.’ I’m going to check this one out.

Next up – Secret Blend. I have reservations about smoldering/passionate, and but I’m intrigued by the notion of two brand-new judges falling for one another. To investigate.

Third choice – Someone Else’s Fairy Tale. Hm. I don’t know what either of them does for a living. The hero’s a star. The blurb has a question – can he change her mind? And it quotes 1,200 5* reviews. That picks off most of my caveats above, and yet…I’m curious. I’d like more information and I’ll go looking for it.

The ones I wouldn’t follow up right now? Shopping for a Billionaire’s Fiancee – the language for this makes it clear it’s lighthearted comedy – a fun read with a pesky mother-in-law. Maybe another time, if I was in the mood for a romp, I’d pick this one first. I don’t think I’d ever pick Not Over You. With a devastating death and a guilt-ridden heroine, I’m already reaching for the kleenex. Not for me, though I have friends who’d be all over an emotional-sounding story like this.

Lot of food for thought here for an aspiring author of contemporary romance. If I’m feeling brave, I might have a try at writing my own blurb next week.

Which blurbs engage you (or don’t)? Why?

18 thoughts on “Jilly: Fifty Words of Book Blurb

  1. I’ll come back to this a little later, but I wanted record my impressions of the first two. The first one, Seaside Dreams, hit all good triggers. Seaside (warmth, please!), spicy, sexy and a nice review from an author (author? or was she just a character in the movie, “Down with Love”? she looks author-esque).

    The other one I would give a pass because of three words that aren’t my cup of tea. The angsty Barefoot in White title (barefoot and pregnant? ugh), the militari-esque Navy SEAL (I’m kinda off wars at the moment), and their “painful” history. Ugh, ugh, ugh. However, I realize from chatting with you all and reading other romance reviews, these keywords are PRECISELY someone else’s cup of tea. So, if it’s accurate, it’s a good blurb.

    Gotta go pick up the kid, but this is fascinating stuff . . . .

    • Back. I think they are all very good blurbs that tell the reader exactly what she needs to know to make a quick decision. None of them are great blurbs that make me say, “Gotta get that!!” But I’m not sure if I was ever sold on a blurb alone.

      (-: With the Billionaire title, I think the only thing they really need is enough description so that the fan knows s/he doesn’t have the book already. “Oh, I don’t think any of the fiancees have swallowed the ring.” I bet those books follow a very particular pattern, and if the potential Billionaire book deviates, the guy has to be a millionaire or a tycoon or something else. Has anybody read one (or several) of them? I’m a little curious, to be frank, ever since I read about the Billionaires and the Virgin (Stablegirl, etc) on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

      • I don’t think I’ve ever been sold on a blurb alone, either. It’s a prompt to go check out reviews (the comments, not the ratings) and read some sample pages.

        I haven’t read any Billionaire novels. I guess the promise is a lifestyle thing, shopping and private jets and whatnot, which is a fun fantasy, especially if you’re working your socks off to pay the bills. I’ve met a billionaire or two; I know they’re like everyone else, but with a lot more money, so they’re not my particular catnip. Other archetypes, however… I’m very happy with a cowboy or a Navy SEAL, smart, noble, heroic and strong 😉 . I’m sure it helps that I don’t know any.

    • Interesting, isn’t it? We spend forever curating and polishing our 100,000 word stories, and that’s necessary, but the first hurdle is to get the story in front of readers who are open to read that flavor of book, and that means giving the right signals in the blurb. It’s amazing how much useful information can be condensed into a judiciously-chosen fifty-word thumbnail.

      (Oh, and Brenda Novak is a bestselling and much-loved romance author, so her endorsement is a very nice boost for Seaside Dreams).

      • (-: Normally, I google something like that instead of just letting it sit. But I’ve been working through that Daniel Kahneman book (Thinking Fast and Slow), and he talks at one point about three made-up names. I think one of the is Bill Stenberg. He mentions that one many times, and also says that if you saw the names on a list and were told to guess which ones were celebrities, there’s a good chance you’d check the made-up names because you have the feeling you read them somewhere.

        Novak’s a common name. I have Novak grandparents, there’s the sexy Kim Novak, and Barbara Novak was the writer in Down With Love (movie). And I’m sure I’ve heard of Brenda Novak (even though I haven’t read her; I’m woefully underread in the romance genre). So, I was bemused by my own reaction — even though I couldn’t remember a book she’d written, I had an instant feeling of, “Oh, if Brenda Novak thinks it’s good, it should be.” Isn’t the brain ridiculous?

        I’ve only paid conscious attention to one author blurb for the author in my life, though. It was by Anne McCaffrey, and she wrote, “Lois writes good, gooder, goodest!” LOL, that should not be a rec to pay attention to, but somehow it made me happy. Of course, by that time, I already knew that, so it didn’t help Lois’s sales . . . .

    • Michaeline- I was seriously amused to see that our picks were exact opposites. 🙂 I would definitely pass on Seaside Dreams. The blurb does not indicate that there is any actual plot and when you toss in “spicy” and “sexy” it makes me think this is another one of those books that are just a bunch of sex scenes linked together with flimsy connecting bits intended only to get you to the next sexual encounter. I like real plot with my story.

      I would totally go for the Roxanne St. Clair book. The blurb appeals to me, but probably only because I adore Roxanne St. Clair. Also, I know “Barefoot” doesn’t refer to barefoot and pregnant, but the fact that this series is set in Barefoot Bay in the Florida keys (there’s your warmth!), every title in the series has the word Barefoot in it, and the books are intended to be beach reads. I also know Roxanne St. Clair is a fabulous writer so I don’t need to worry about finding the writing incompetent. Her hero is probably a Navy Seal because she has other book series about Navy SEALs and she may be attempting to draw those romantic suspense readers over to her contemporary romance series. Her Navy SEALs are not stereotypical tough guys, but deeply nuanced, intelligent, and appealing characters. Jilly, I haven’t read this one, but I’m betting you’ll like it.

      This is fascinating to see what we all take away from the blurbs. Thanks, Jilly!

      • Whee! Jennifer, you just made my day. I have not read anything by Roxanne St. Clair and she just went zing! right to the top of my list. Florida Keys to brighten up a dark, rainy January day plus good writing plus deeply nuanced, intelligent and appealing Navy SEAL *** fans self *** – now THAT’s my idea of a good time.

        And it is indeed fascinating to see what we each read into the blurbs. I am so glad I wrote this post 🙂 .

        • (-: This proves the value of a good rec from a trusted friend. MUCH more informative than the blurbs. Thanks, Jennifer!

          (I’m wondering if there is a true advantage to a keyword title. Seems like fan service — here you go, guys, more of the same! In paranormal, it’s often a general designation of what to expect — the Magic Does Something Or Other series from Ilona Andrews comes to mind. All good, all concerning magic. But, if the fans know your name, does it really help to have an integrated title? It does make it easier to make up a title because options are limited. But, as a stranger to St. Clair’s works, the Barefoot combines with the Navy SEAL thing very oddly. Glad to know it’s probably not like that.)

      • Michaeline- keyword titles. I’ve been wondering about this, too. I love keyword titles from authors with multiple series. I’m too lazy to want to have to figure out what world a particular book belongs in and I often don’t read every series an author writes. That said, wow, I would want to pick my keyword VERY carefully. Like you, “barefoot” rubs me the wrong way. It was used in a large variety of derogatory phrases and comments when I was growing up. If I hadn’t read St. Clair’s newsletter introducing the series and explaining Barefoot Bay I might have had the same kind of reaction you did.

        I was leaning toward keyword titles. If I keep that plan I will want to do some serious polling of people’s reactions.

  2. Jilly – interesting. I read and rated the blurbs and then read your comments after and we were close on many things. I too don’t put much credence in the number of ratings or the “bestseller” tag. A blurb that indicates the tone of the story is a real plus and occupations that are interesting / believable and lend themselves to conflict are a necessity.

    A Billionaire hero is an automatic turn off. Adding the cliche of a “pesky mother in law” and “swallowed the ring” and I’m out for Shopping for a Billionaire’s Fiance.

    “A heartwarming love story about second chances” counteracted my dislike of a a devastating death and a guilt-ridden heroine, so I might give Not Over You a chance, but I’d want to read some sample pages for tone before giving it the green light.

    Snowflake Bay had my interest right up until I got to “A sassy, witty, sexy read.” I want the blurb to show me that – I don’t want to be told.

    The judges in Secret Blend could be interesting, but the blurb leaves me wondering what the conflict is. The blurb doesn’t really give me enough to go on, and I have wonder how much the story would focus on courtroom / trial stuff and how much on the characters.

    Apparently what I am looking for is a blurb that shows me interesting characters, a strong conflict, and gives me an idea of the tone of the story. No problem, right?

    • One thing to note about bestseller rankings and numbers of starred reviews – they’re very important to BookBub and some of the other marketing gatekeepers (I assume because their own statistics show that these influence readers as a whole). So there’s getting the right blurb in front of the right readers…but also getting over the hurdles to even get on the lists to get in front of the right readers. Marketing. UGH.

  3. Hmmm. I do listen to the opinions of well-known authors, but only if I like their stuff. I saw one the other day that SEP recommended and was influenced (though not enough to plunk down actual money). If Jenny Crusie recommended a book, I’d buy it in a heartbeat (and study it like the Magna Carta).

    Other than that, my greatest influencer seems to be connection. I liked the one set in Kentucky because it’s next door to my home state of Ohio and my parents came from there. I liked the small town ones because I lived in a village of 4000 people when my daughter was in high school and they were halcyon days. Unfortunately, connection is pretty random. What connects for one reader leaves another cold.

    Just riffing on that, but I wonder if there’s a way, for my Touched by a Demon series, to play up the feeling we’ve all had at one time or another that the entire universe is conspiring to make our lives difficult? That for us to have this many problems all at once would require an act of God, as it were.

    Thanks for this post. It’s made me realize it’s time to start composing blurbs.

    Looking forward to seeing your entries!

    • I love, love, love your idea of focusing on the fact that the universe actually is conspiring against your protagonists. Talk about the universal in the specific – I’m sure we’ve all had that feeling. In my last job we used to reference the River of Slime from Ghostbusters; there were times when we just knew it was running deep and wide, right under our feet.

      • I just did word counts on these, and on today’s BookBub selections. The average blurb runs around 40 words. That’s going to be tough.

        • The one time I had a BookBub ad, the author didn’t write the copy for it—the BookBubbers did it. So you don’t have control over how they describe it, although they do look at the blurb that’s posted for the book on Amazon (or wherever you are selling the book). You have more space for the “back cover” blurb, but that doesn’t make it easier to write….

  4. Pingback: Elizabeth: This is Your Story – Eight Ladies Writing

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