How to Write a Back Cover Blurb for Nonfiction
By Rachelle Ramirez
Are you ready to write the book description for your back cover—your blurb—for a book of nonfiction but don't know where to start? Have you started writing your blurb and gotten stuck? Are you even sure you know what a back cover blurb is, what it's supposed to do for you?
The back cover blurb is probably the last thing you want to write and potentially the most difficult to create. But it is likely your best marketing tool. The pressure is on you to get it right so that sales will follow.
But writing a back cover blurb doesn't have to be hard if you understand your aim.
I know the feelings associated with writing a blurb under pressure. I've been there, and I had to do my research. I sought shortcuts and tips for getting my blurb right, and I found them. Let me save you some time and frustration by sharing what I've learned.
WHAT IS A BACK COVER BLURB?
The bottom line, it's the trailer for your nonfiction book. It's a sales pitch to potential readers. It's the 100 to 200 words printed on the back of your book that you hope will intrigue the reader enough to buy your book.
WHAT A BACK COVER BLURB IS NOT
The back cover blurb differs from a proposal, which is the detailed outline you write to sell your nonfiction book to an agent or publisher. It differs from a synopsis; which is the fiction equivalent of the proposal. It's not an endorsement; a "blurb" written by a celebrity or a well-known author. It doesn't contain reviews of your book from critics or media organizations. And it is not the same as a book description used on Amazon; which is often the back cover blurb plus endorsements and reviews.
ARE THERE DIFFERENT TYPES OF NONFICTION BACK COVER BLURBS?
Yes. To simplify the blurb writing process, we need to understand that there are two types of nonfiction books; topic-based and story-based.
Topic-based book categories are how-to, self-help, academic, anecdote or quote collections, academic, big-idea, and sometimes lyric essay.
Story-based book categories are memoir, autobiography, biography, and sometimes lyric essay.
We need to differentiate between these two to determine what the blurb will and will not contain.
WHAT DOES A NONFICTION BACK COVER BLURB DO?
Your blurb does a lot of heavy lifting:
It tells potential readers what to expect from your book and convinces them they need to read it, that it is worth their time.
It promises the book will help the reader by educating them, solving a problem the reader has or entertaining the reader so they can escape their everyday lives.
It sets reader expectations by conforming to the genre. Is it story-based or topic-based? What kind? Your potential reader wants to know.
It usually includes an author bio that convinces the reader that the author is uniquely qualified to write the book.
WHAT DOESN'T A NONFICTION BACK COVER BLURB DO?
Appeal to everyone.
Reveal all the complications (story-based) and solutions (topic-based).
Rely on cliches.
Lean toward sensationalism and make promises sure to be broken.
Compare one author or book to another.
Explicitly state how great the book is.
Contain plot spoilers (story-based).
Introduce subplots (story-based).
HOW DO YOU WRITE A BACK COVER BLURB?
My number one piece of advice is to first review the blurbs of the bestsellers in your genre. Invest time in researching blurbs in your genre, and you'll have examples that will practically provide a formula for writing yours.
Choose a few favorites and analyze their structure. Which words had the most impact on you? What made you want to read the book? What patterns do you see in the blurbs that you could use as a structure for yours? How might you emulate those blurbs?
If you're writing a story-based book, see if there is anything you can borrow from the back cover of fiction works with stories similar to yours. For example, if you're writing a book about a great athlete, you might want to look at the blurbs for fictional sports performance stories.
NOW YOU'RE READY TO WRITE THE BLURB
You will complete this in seven simple (not necessarily easy) steps.
Begin by grabbing the reader's attention. Similar to the first line of the book, can you shock, entertain, surprise, or intrigue the potential reader with a grand opening line?
Briefly introduce your topic and the problem the book solves. What's the book about? Include context if needed to understand the problem. Make it clear whether or not it's story-based or topic-based without outright stating it.
Reveal the scope of the book. Does it discuss the life of Napoleon Bonaparte or his role in the French Revolutionary Wars? Is the book about how to bake cookies or the history of baking?
Set the mood of the book. Is it humorous, exciting, cautionary, prescriptive, authoritative, speculative? Is the book for experts or the lay-person?
Promise an emotional pay-off for the reader, a solution to their problem. Focus on enticing the reader instead of informing them.
Include your author's bio? Topic-based blurbs include an author's bio that convinces the reader that the author is uniquely qualified to write the book. The author's bio is optional in memoir and autobiography since "uniquely qualified" is implicit. It's also optional in biography, quotation and anecdote collections, and sometimes lyric essay. Rarely, you will find a topic-based book without an author bio as in when the author is a celebrity or when the author is meant to be invisible. (Note: your author's bio will include your best 3 to 5 credentials such as education, awards, number of years studying or practicing in the field, publications, and media appearances related to the topic). Be brief.
End with a cliff-hanging question. Make the reader think they need the book, or they will be missing out.
If you follow these steps, you'll write a successful back cover blurb that you can use as a critical point of communication when you promote your book.
If you find yourself stuck writing your blurb, consider hiring an editor to help you further develop your ideas. It may be of great benefit to work alongside a guide familiar with the expectations of nonfiction readers and the publishing industry.