Novel descriptions

Posted by Yvonne Barlow on Monday, December 2, 2013
The back cover description of a novel can be more difficult to write than a novel itself (sorry, overstatement, but it got your attention).
This descriptive text should intrigue the reader so much that they take the book to the sales till - or at least open to the first page so they can gain a sense of your writing.
The best novel descriptions are short and give us a sense of the main character, the setting and the conflict the character faces - no more! Tell too much, and we may feel we know the story. 
For instance, I personally put down books that mention family secrets (they are always discovered), strange houses (usually has something to do with a family secret) and strange dreams (too easy a metaphor for the plot). Having said that, I've been reluctant to read books based on flimsy back cover blurbs that have nothing to do with any of these. State of Wonder by Ann Patchett is a truly engaging novel but the blurb was a complete turn off - I think it was the 'enigmatic scientist' and 'mild-mannered lab technician' that made the story feel predictable - in truth, State of Wonder was anything but predictable. I finally only read it because my book group made me. 
So, my advice:
Let your readers discover the characters for themselves - no subjective stereotype such as the bored housewife, the ambitious man.
Keep it crisp - the main character, perhaps one other character, a sense of dilemma, and a hint of options.
And write it in an active voice - no use of the word 'was'.
Limit words to 250 max.
Good luck.


Tags: "back cover blurbs" "novel descriptions" synopsis "book blurbs" 
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Yvonne Barlow Editor at Hookline Books - where book clubs and readers choose the novels that go to print.

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