Killer Crabs and Bad Leprechauns

An entertaining post about back cover description: Killer crabs and bad leprechauns: how the best book blurbs excite our brains

Book jackets have been enticing potential readers for nearly 200 years with copy that amuses and intrigues. Here, a veteran blurb writer reveals their secrets and the history of the craft

My favorite bit is this:

5 Old blurbs are unhinged

Most blurbs written more than 30 years ago now sound highly eccentric. Many don’t want to be liked: the anti-blurb on an elderly paperback of Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory informs us that: “A baleful vulture of doom hovers over this modern crucifixion story.” Some bear little or no resemblance to the books they describe, such as the gloriously tin-eared 1990s Tor editions of Jane Austen’s novels. “Mom’s fishing for husbands – but the girls are hunting for love” is the sell on Pride and Prejudice.

Horror blurbs, especially those on the night-black Pan paperbacks found in holiday cottages, are their own special brand of nonsense, whether summoning up killer crabs (“A bloody carnage of human flesh on an island beachhead!”) or psychotic leprechauns (“They speak German. They carry whips…”).

I did wonder about the “bad leprechauns” in the title of the post! Glad get to see where that came from.

Since we’re looking at back cover description, here’s a post at Jane Friedman’s blog about how to write good back cover copy. The take-home message here is: be brief. I agree with that. Sometimes one encounters back cover description on Amazon that goes on and on and on, describing every important detail about the plot, the characters, or sometimes both. Don’t do that. No one is going to read that, and even if they did, it’s impossible to make that interesting to read. Be brief. Really brief.

Here’s a post on the same topic that I think is better, however: 7 Secrets to Writing Persuasive Back Cover Sales Copy

Seven secrets, okay, so what are they?

1. Start with a headline that makes or implies a promise

2. Make your copy “at-a-glance” friendly

3. Choose exactly the right voice

4. Create a powerful rhythm

5. Focus on what your book is about – not on what happens

6. Stir up human emotions

7. Leave them wanting more

You can click through to read the comments under each point, but fundamentally I think this seems right. The headline or tagline is practically impossible for me, but I do think it’s probably a good idea to try to write one. The “at a glance” thing means lots of white space, not lots of words. Voice, rhythm, sure, if you can pull that off. And yes yes yes, do not describe the plot. Definitely not.

I’ve said this before, but the best back cover description I know about is this one:

An impulsive word can start a war.
A timely word can stop one.
A simple act of friendship can change the course of history.

Cliopher Mdang is the personal secretary of the Last Emperor of Astandalas, the Lord of Rising Stars, the Lord Magus of Zunidh, the Sun-on-Earth, the god.
He has spent more time with the Emperor of Astandalas than any other person.
He has never once touched his lord.
He has never called him by name.
He has never initiated a conversation.

One day Cliopher invites the Sun-on-Earth home to the proverbially remote Vangavaye-ve for a holiday.

The mere invitation could have seen Cliopher executed for blasphemy.
The acceptance upends the world.

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2 thoughts on “Killer Crabs and Bad Leprechauns”

  1. Some editor had a whole lot of fun with that Austen reissue. A 10 word blurb!

    It is a truth universally acknowledged that blurbs are better with “They fight crime.”

    He was an up and coming assistant attorney, looking to sign a business deal with an eccentric Hungarian nobleman. She was an upper-class 20-something on a Grand Tour with a friend.

    Together, they fight vampires.

  2. Ha! I love Pete Mack’s Dracula blurb! And the Hands of the Emperor blurb is wonderful. The last line gives me chills.

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