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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Reaching Your Readers ~ by Laurie Schnebly

Laurie Schnebly Campbell combines work for a Phoenix ad agency with teaching other novelists about the craft of writing. She's also published half a dozen romances (including one that won "Best Special Edition of the Year" over Nora Roberts) and a how-to for fiction writers on creating believable characters. Check out her workshop on blurbs -- and more -- at


We all have our reasons for writing. Reaching out to others, expressing truth in fiction, offering inspiration...and so much more. But what if nobody reads what we wrote?

Some writers don't care, because they're perfectly happy just getting the story down on paper and shoving it in a desk drawer. Yet other writers WANT their words to resonate with readers, which means they need readers to find their book.

How can you make that happen?

Getting published by a major publisher is one way. So is hiring a marketing director who will publicize your work. But if you're not working with a full-service publicity team, one of the biggest advantages you can give yourself is something relatively simple:

A great blurb.

That's what readers will see on your back cover. And on your website. They'll see it in your bio with articles, in newsletters from bookstores, in reviews posted near your release date, and -- perhaps most important -- they'll see it when they're browsing online for books.

What Blurbs Do

You've seen blurbs that made you think "I've gotta get that book!" You've also seen blurbs that made you think "Nope, not what I want" and others that make you think "Hmm...keep browsing."

So how can you write a blurb that makes everyone think "I've gotta get that book!"?

The fact is, you can't. No matter how great your book, it's not going to thrill every reader in the world. Someone seeking a cookbook doesn't want a story about fly fishing. Someone who wants a thriller won't be satisfied with women's fiction. Someone shopping for first-graders doesn't want a romance novel.

That's okay. You don't care about those readers.

The readers you want already know what they're looking for...and it's the kind of book you write.

What about your book will appeal to them? That's what your blurb needs to feature.

Creating Your Blurb

Some writers have an easier time creating a 60,000-word manuscript than a 60-word blurb. Or 30 words, or 150, or whatever length you decide on -- and by the way, it's good to have different lengths available for different uses.

I used to think I was incredibly gifted because I had a much easier time writing blurbs than manuscripts, until I discovered my gift wasn't actually a special talent. It was from my day-job experience of writing ads.

Because, really, your blurb is an ad for your book. You've noticed how the headline of an ad either draws you in or makes you turn the page, right? The first line of your blurb is exactly the same way.

Websites that track the eye movement of people reading them (and I have no idea how they do it!) found that readers who aren't captured within the first eight seconds are lost.

How many words can you read in eight seconds? The average adult reads 200-300 per minute, so this gives you about 30 words to capture their interest.

And how do you choose those words? This is where it helps to think like an advertising copywriter.

The Advertising Basics

* Know what your audience wants. If you're not sure, ask them.

* Know what YOUR book offers that readers won't necessarily get in ANOTHER book they might also enjoy. If you're not sure, read others like your own.

* Know where your readers look for books, because that'll affect which blurb you use where.

Yes, you'll want different blurbs. Everyone browsing Amazon might see the same one, just like everyone reading the publisher's catalog will see the same one, but if you're indie-publishing you can change it as often as you like. You can even do test-marketing to see what works best.

Before you start testing, though, try writing half a dozen blurbs of (for instance) 30 words apiece. See which points you keep using. Odds are good that those reflect your opinion of what's most special about the book.

Then run those samples by people who know your book. Do they feel like you've left out something vital? What is it?

You can play with this for as long as you like, until you absolutely HAVE to get blurbs out to the public. But thinking about your blurb, even before you've finished your book, is a handy thing when it comes to marketing.

Which Leads To...

If you want some other tips on creating a blurb that'll attract readers, you could win free registration to August's yahoogroups class on "Blurbing Your Book" just by leaving a comment before tonight's prize drawing.

And since I'd love to get some comments I can quote during that class, here's my question for you:

When you're browsing for a book -- not one you've already chosen because you love that author / topic, but when you don't have any particular book in mind and just want to view some possibilities -- what do you do?

I can't wait to find out!

You can get Laurie's book Believable Characters: Creating with Enneagrams on her website: or on Amazon. 


  1. I am one of those writers who would rather write a whole book than those wretched blurbs. Thank you so very much for these very helpful hints, Laurie.

    1. Oh, Mary, you're sure not alone -- it's funny how non-writers tend to think "writing is writing; if you're good at novels you're also good at poems and articles and cookbooks and battery-changing instruction manuals."

      Whereas that's not the case at ALL; we don't expect poets to be able to write murder mysteries. So there's sure nothing wrong with having one skill but not (yet) the other!

  2. Hi, Laurie! (I'm a Laurie-holic.) Taglines and loglines have recently come on my radar. What a great (and free) way to market our books by adding this little teaser on our covers. Thanks for the timely topic.

    1. Denise, wow, this is the first time I've seen your blog profile -- how COOL about Good Ole Boys being available now!

      Looks like you've been incredibly busy since the last time we chatted, and doing all kinds of fabulous stuff...nice way to start the day, catching up with such great news. :)

  3. I used to be pretty good at writing back cover copy and blurbs, but somehow I've lost my knack. I still do enjoy writing them, though. Much easier than writing a book. What I really would like to learn is how to write a good tagline.

    1. Margery, you're sure on the right track already -- the fact that you're used to blurbs means you've nailed down the skills it takes for a good tagline.

      There might be some books where a tagline doesn't quite work, but that isn't necessarily because you've done anything wrong...there might just be too many diverse elements in the book. Even so, it's a lot easier to rewrite a tagline than an entire novel (whew!)

  4. When I'm browsing books, I'm first drawn by the cover and maybe the title. The title doesn't have to have an impact, but it's great if it does--which is rare since so many sound alike! Then I click on the book and look at the blurb.
    I want to know the central dilemma right up front or have some fascinating, exotic or unique glamorous hook or question posed.
    And you're right, come to think of it, even if the blurb is several paragraphs, I have to get hooked in the first line or two.

    I can already see your expertise in these few tips, Laurie! I bet your workshop is excellent--would love to win it!
    Stephanie Queen (not a blurb expert)

    1. Stephanie, way to go on analyzing what makes you buy when you're browsing -- that'll be an advantage in writing your own blurbs, because you're already thinking like a judicious consumer.

      Isn't it a shame how many titles do sound alike? Last month a friend's book came out with the exact same title one of my books had...and this was the SECOND time our publisher her a title that matched one of mine. Go figure!

  5. Hi Laurie! Back Cover copy is always a problem for me! No matter how hard I try, I just don't seem to catch the 'wow' factor in my blurbs.

    When I look at a book, cover is the first thing I look at; then I flip it over. Even if the cover is gorgeous, if the blurb doesn't thrill me, I leave the book there. I want to know what the conflict is, what the characters are facing and a hint at the outcome--nothing worse than getting a book with an unexpected ending. Hate when that happens.

    1. Patty, it's interesting that you want a hint of the outcome -- seems like people are divided between those who'd rather not get an unexpected ending and those who adore 'em.

      But you're sure right about it being awful when the author breaks an implied contract between the book's label (like a romance where they end up not loving each other, or a mystery where the crime isn't solved). I don't usually make big pronouncements about right and wrong, but that's just wrong!

  6. Laurie, I bless the day I was told about your Plotting via Motivation class. I took it and it changed my writing. You made it understandable, fun, and it took! Thank you. Now I can't wait to take the masters class!

    1. Ane, it was a great day for me as well -- it's been such a treat watching you work! Three cheers for Patty being such an advocate, and now you're carrying on the tradition as well. :)

      And the master class is coming next April, although it's not yet up on the website...but I'll look forward to seeing you there.

  7. I forgot to say, making up those taglines is one of my favorite things to do. My favorite of mine is: With a friends like Claire, you need a gurney, a mop, and a guardian angel.

  8. This made me think about how I do choose a book blindly. I look for something that speaks to me, character driven. I want the blurb to promise I'm going to want to spend time here! Usually I cheat though, and ask others for recommendations! Thanks for making me think about this - I do have trouble writing blurbs. Especially on a recent novel. Now I think I know where to go with it!

    1. Stephanie, I'm right there with you in valuing friends' recommendations above anything I read about a book -- once you know somebody else's tastes, it's pretty easy to calculate how you'll line up in terms of likes & dislikes.

      (One summer when I had lots of free time, I asked a bunch of people "what's the best book you've ever read?" and any that made a person's face light up went onto my list. Not saying I FINISHED all of 'em, but it was fun figuring out what rang their chimes!)

  9. Laurie,

    Great work on this post. Being passive simply does not work. Authors have to be proactive to reach their readers. It's a message that I've been talking about for years. Thank you,

    Author of Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams

    1. Terry, I love your book title -- and wish the link would work; for some reason my computer keeps saying "no go."

      Can you imagine what it must've been like in the old days, when all authors had to do was write a great book? It might still be that way for a few superstars, but these days it seems like the most successful authors are the ones who've really mastered that proactive approach.

  10. I look at the "people who bought this book also bought" on
    Amazon. I really want to win your workshop! kristys words @ yahoo dot come

    1. Kristy, what a great way of seeing what kind of readers a book appeals to -- there might be a few goofballs in the batch, like if someone was buying a gift for their crazy cousin while also stocking up on their own picks, but by and large that'll provide a good clear picture.

      Although, hmm, now I'm having fun thinking of what'd be the MOST weird "also bought" to see on my book pages. :)

  11. First off, i am not a writer, i'm a self diagnosed readaholic. i read a lot of blogs, and often from those reviews i'll make a list for publishers to get it to review myself, or if that fails, at my local library. i find that asking friends for recommendations doesn't work so good as our tastes are so different. And i don't like reading first chapters anywheres, since i read so much, i think i've read the book when all i might have had is the first chapter. Covers might be what draws me to pick up the book, but the blurb at the back makes the decision for me. i like to know what the genre is, where and when it takes place. If a favorite author has written a recommendation, i might take it. Thanks for listening to me, too!

  12. Marianne, you're exactly who all of us blurb writers want choosing our books! (Hmm, you may start getting lots of requests from people seeking a readaholic's opinion.)

    And I was tickled to see your bio mentioning Phoenix, because that's where I am...although it's not QUITE as nice in the summer. Want to trade homes for a week or two? :)

  13. Helpful post! I am writing my first one and detesting the process I must admit. A bit clueless so spending a lot of time reading good ones to give me a better idea.

    1. Julia, what a smart idea -- writing blurbs is a lot like writing a book in that way; it helps a lot to see how other people have approached the task and take note of those you especially like.

      Even more useful is the fact that not everyone will like the same blurbs for the same sticking with your own favorite style is the best way of ensuring that you'll reach those readers who resonate with YOUR voice!

  14. Cover and title, on the table at say, B&N, or a bookstore I've wandered into--those draw me, then the blurb. Is it a subject I care to pursue? I'm not too crazy about coming-of-age books so if it compares it to a Catcher in the Rye, or Scout in Mockingbird, I might put it down. And if the words "rollicking" or "romp" are used, that's usually a no go, as well. But, whatever the subject, random pages will sell me. I've bought a coming-of-age simply because of beguiling text. So,no telling. But the blurb helps.

    1. Guinotte, you're SO right about the storytelling voice being a huge factor in persuading a reader "yep, this is a book I'll enjoy."

      I never even THOUGHT about reading zombie-apocalypse books until someone quoted the first page of a recent title, and even though I shuddered at the idea of picking up such a book I absolutely had to read it...the voice was just so good!

  15. Great post! Thanks for the insight.

    Selecting a book? If I'm at the library or book store, where the books are spine-out, the title has to catch my attention. Only the big names seem to have cover-out placement, so the cover matters more online.

    I go to the blurb first. Like the cover, I find the best blurbs reflect both the genre and the author's voice. IMHO, the blurb needs to have more than the basic, A must do B, else C formula. Give me a twist, an unexpected challenge or conflict.

    Of course, for most of us, crafting that blurb isn't easy! Your class sounds like a wonderful opportunity

  16. Cathy, wouldn't it be great if libraries and stores had more books with the cover out? Squinting at all those spines, especially in the narrower YA and romance books, gets tough after 10-15 minutes of browsing. And browsing is such fun...

    I'll bet your books are full of twists, unexpected challenges and conflicts -- and you're not even TRYING to attract readers who prefer comfortable, predictable stories. So you're right on target in thinking that's the best style for your blurb!

  17. Hi Laurie,

    GREAT sounding workshop!

    If I'm buying either online or "in the flesh" I operate in this order:
    first chapter

    I HATE being given a book as a gift because--unless I've read the first few pages--I don't know if I like the voice, and it's the voice, in the final analysis, that sells me the book.

    A cover won't sell me a book, but an interesting one will make me look at the blurb. Sometimes (just because I don't like being manipulated--even by me) I'll read the blurb of a book whose cover doesn't appeal in the slightest.

    A blurb won't sell me a book, but if it's intriguing it will make me curious enough to open it up and read the first few pages.

    The first few pages / first chapter will either clinch the sale or lose it.

    I'd love to learn to do the advertising deal better.

  18. Gracie, I'll bet anyone who's ever given you books as a gift will never know what a disservice that was! Unless you've gotten them trained: "Pick something ELSE." :)

    Sounds like it all comes down to the opening pages, which makes perfect sense -- anything else can be misleading, but the actual writing is pretty hard to disguise. I'm curious, though, if you've ever bought a book whose author-cover-blurb were so compelling that you didn't even bother previewing the first chapter, or if that's an absolute must?

    1. Hi Laurie,

      My family do the book voucher/gift card thing now! :-) So I guess I've trained them. And they still love me (which is even better!)

      In answer to your question. No, I can't ever recall having bought a book where the author-cover-blurb alone caused me to buy. Piqued my interest, certainly, but not caused me to buy sight unseen.

      Even when a book is free (like freebie days on Kindle) I still won't blindly download simply on price. It's author-cover-blurb-first pages/chapter. Obviously, new authors who haven't yet established a name yet are at a slight disadvantage using these criteria. BUT when almost everyone is unknown--for example, in this new world of self-publishing--everyone has that same disadvantage.

      I guess the other main requirement I have is I have to be able to read that story more than once, twenty times minimum, without getting bored, so I'm looking for keepers. This is why voice is so important. I'm looking for characters who will become friends I want to spend time with. They can live in worlds that either fascinate or appall me--or both--but their emotional experiences with life, love, and loss need to be such that they draw me back time and again to the same story. The same world. They need to be ordinary people who are willing to wade through hell to discover and then release the hero inside their own hearts.

    2. Gracie, what a great explanation of what makes a book worth buying -- the idea that it's gotta be a keeper you'll read 20 times without getting bored is a wonderful definition!

  19. Hi Laurie,

    So for me it's 1-COVER then 2-BLURB then 3-FIRST PAGE then REVIEWS, but I read the reviews only to get a better sense of what the book is about because opinions vary so much. But if the blurb can give me a good idea about the story, I don't bother with the reviews. Sometimes the TITLE, but not usually.

    Looking forward to the class.

  20. Sheryl, now you've gotten a head start on one of the first assignments in class...which means you'll save extra time for writing your wonderful stories!

    And your idea of using reviews to clarify what might be a less-than-complete blurb is a good one; it's always a treat finding some reviewer whose opinions pretty consistently match up with your own.


    Thanks to everybody who offered comments today! It's always a treat seeing insights from readers (many of whom are also writers) on what makes them pick up a book. :)

    Patty's going to announce the winner of the free class, so I'll look forward to seeing that person (and the rest of you who've already signed up at at the yahoogroups loop called BookBlurb) next month!

    Laurie, who'll check back tomorrow in case I missed anything after heading off to bed tonight

  22. When I'm looking for a book, I go to the Bookrack, a used books bookstore, because the books are cheaper and someone, at one time, paid good money for them ... I look at covers first. Unless I'm buying a book on a recommendation or because I'm familiar with the author, I have a hard time buying a book whose cover I don't like. Then I read the back cover and first paragraph of chapter one. I look at the size of the print and fan the book to see if there is lots of dialogue. I bring my husbands iPad in the bookstore and look up my selections, to read customer reviews on Amazon. I buy several books at a time because I live in a remote area and this bookstore is in a city a four hour's drive away.

    Here are some lines from blurbs that appealed to me.
    1. Romance, maybe--but only if the man is at least as reliable as her black lab ... Green Always Patti Hill
    2. Tess Crabtree grew up wanting nothing more than her mother's unconditional love. If I Had You Deborah Bedford
    3. ... who blesses the tiny blue satin hearts she sews into each dress she sells. Blue Heart Blessed Susan Meissner
    4.... opportunity arises at a brand-new pharmacy, ... Waiting for Daybreak Kathryn Cushman

    Looking at these lines I realize that I picked them because I identify with the contents. I'm particularly fond of a black lab named Bailey; I've always wanted my mom's unconditional love; I used to sew red hearts into the sock dolls I made and my daughter-in-law has just become a pharmacist.
    I've not read any of the books yet so I don't know if I made good picks or not. M

  23. What a lovely example of how blurbs work -- hitting that "hot button" in a reader is something every author dreams of, and it's such a random event that (no matter how much we'd love to orchestrate this response) we simply can't do it.

    But when the blurb does include a detail that resonates, like black labs or Mom's love or sewing hearts or pharmaceuticals, that book is pretty well guaranteed to sell!


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