A Writer's Life,  Second Life

Writing Workshop: Blurbs the Word!

Writing Workshop with Ceejay Writer
Fantasy Faire’s Literary Festival
A Benefit Event for Relay for Life of Second Life
Blurb’s the Word!
Sunday, April 30, 2023, 8:00 – 9:00am
If that back-cover description isn’t compelling, your potential audience could be passing you by. Learn how to hook a casual browser and turn them into your next avid reader.
This is the full workshop transcript.

Ceejay Writer: Let’s all imagine we’re at the website of our favorite bookstore, browsing the shelves. You see a Sci-Fi cover that appeals. You pick up the book, flip it over and read the back cover. (Brace yourselves. This is a real book blurb. I apologize in advance.)

It will be a blockbuster. A 7000 word summary is available free of charge at the start of “Look Inside” at amazon. You can read all of it, some of or ignore it completely as you please.

Full of incredible world-building and complex characters, [Book title redacted] is a thrilling space opera about greed, temptation, and the deadly consequences of human nature. Perfect for fans of classics like Dune and Project Hail Mary, [Book title redacted] is a complex and thought-provoking space odyssey that explores the depths of the cosmos, the limits of technology, and what it means to be human.

Six industrial revolutions have seen human life expectancy reach nearly 400 years and the development of a truly free and open society has resulted in a world where everyone loves and values each other. In 2,398, six of Earth’s best and brightest astronauts embark on a mission to explore “Nearth,” a hospitable planet outside Earth’s solar system, in search of new resources and possibilities for expansion. Upon arrival they make a shocking discovery: two new species of intelligent humanoids, still in the agrarian stage of social evolution, are locked in a devastating war.

What are the origins of their civilizations? Are they related to humans? And if so, how? What is their history? Where are their species and their societies headed? The answers to these mysteries are gradually revealed. Meanwhile, the human astronauts are beginning to sense there may be some unknown force in the background.

For Earth to have uninhibited access to its resources, Nearth’s agrarian societies must be destroyed. Each astronaut must confront the darkness within and decide whether they are willing to sacrifice their once steadfast morals for the sake of Earth’s gain. Can they overcome their selfish desires, or will they succumb to the allure of power and greed? Time is running out, and their decisions may determine not just the future of Nearth but the entire universe.

Just when they think their expedition is reaching a successful conclusion, a terrible accident intervenes.

txep’ongokx: oh, help
Ceejay Writer: Be honest. How many of you zoned out and started sorting your inventory instead of reading that blurb? I know I did. Why do I have 20 pairs of jeans, anyway?
txep’ongokx: it would be back on the shelf to cook a bit
Alice Knightly feels exposed lol
Ceejay Writer: Ideally, a blurb will contain about 100 to 200 words. That blurb is 338 words, and full of spoilers. I feel like I already know what’s going to happen around every turn, so why should I bother reading the book? Nothing will be a surprise! Back on the shelf it goes, and as I pick up another book and look at the back cover, I’ve already forgotten about this self-described ‘blockbuster’. I have nothing against this book or the author. I hope he sells a zillion copies! But if he does, his blurb’s not going to be the reason.
Robinette Waterson: I zoned out by paragraph 2.
Ceejay Writer: And in the spirit of full disclosure, here’s a blurb I wrote for The Flight To Brassbright back in 2015.

Constance is a wild, stubborn young girl growing up poor in a small industrial town. But beneath her threadbare exterior beats the heart of a dreamer and a wordsmith. She feeds her hunger for reading by picking the lock on the local bookstore late at night to enjoy her own private reading room. But at age 12, she’s orphaned. With no relatives to take her in, the local authorities scheme to take charge of the bewildered girl’s life. Running away to join the circus – like kids do in adventure books – seems like such a brilliant idea…or is it?

That was six long years ago. Now, Constance is 18, fed up with the constraints of life under the big-top, and despairing for her future. She’s ready to dust off her old dreams, but first she’s going to need another cunning escape plan. Can a young, newly-freed woman travel the road to her dreams and a place to call home? Step back in time to 1895 and take a wild, occasionally hilarious ride with Constance and the friends she meets along the way, as she travels the dirt roads and blue skies of a country called Industralia.

Her journey winds through towns and cities bursting with creative eccentrics, high-flying airships, dazed automatons, brilliantly cracked inventors and more than a few kindred spirits. With allies like these, what could possibly go wrong?

Wildstar Beaumont: 🙂
Ceejay Writer: I was a rookie. Making a rookie mistake. Here’s how that books blurb looks nowadays:

Constance is a wild, stubborn young girl growing up poor in a small industrial town in the late 1800’s. Beneath her thread-worn exterior beats the heart of a dreamer and a wordsmith. But at age twelve, she’s orphaned. Running away to join the circus—like kids do in adventure books—seems like such a brilliant idea… or is it?

Ceejay Writer: Bada bing bada boom done.
Saffia Widdershins laughs. Major spoiler omitted
Robinette Waterson: That sounds worth reading.
Ceejay Writer: Thank you!
Cяєss Kєnzi ŦƱℓŧƱהǝɨ): oo that cut a lot out!
Ceejay Writer: I’ve also developed this rapid-fire ‘elevator pitch’, which I’ve been using at book tables. If I say it clearly and crisply, while looking excited, chances are good that I’ll have a book sale.

“Anne of Green Gables travels Around the World in 80 Days and follows the Yellow Brick Road to find the Wizard of Menlo Park.”

muckhase says compactly what to expect
Ceejay Writer: Compactly – that’s an asset. You only have a few seconds to grab your reader.
txep’ongokx: i’d pocket that one in a heartbeat, and start looking for the sequels even before I start reading it
Ceejay Writer: Lucky you! I’ve written the sequel, Down The Tubes, and it’s in editing now. I haven’t got a blurb for it yet, sorry! If you take nothing else away from this workshop, please take this: A blurb or an elevator pitch’s job is to entice a reader into buying and reading your book. It is NOT their job to tell the story. Embrace the power of the cliffhanger! Now let’s look at the elements a compelling blurb will usually include. I’ll use my own shorter blurb as an example as we examine the different parts of a blurb.

Main Characters

Introduce your main characters in just a couple of punchy words. This isn’t a biography, it’s a fast snapshot. – In my blurb, the first sentence packs a lot of personality and background info into one sentence.


A compelling story has some sort of conflict. Readers get excited about conflict, because they know that’s where all the action is! – In my blurb Constance is orphaned and runs away. What happened to her parents? What is she running away from? Hopefully a browser is interested in knowing the answers and will buy the book.


What are the consequences of your character actions (or non-actions?) – In my own blurb, I chose to let this question dangle, taunting the reader with, “or is it?” You can play with the rules, but keep the goal in mind. You want to entice the reader into craving the whole story.

Hook Your Readers

Your book will not be for everyone. No book can be. My book is aimed at Young Adult readers, ages 13-18, though adults seem to enjoy it too. I’ve been criticized for not being ‘steampunk enough’, even though the story includes mechanical birds, a clockwork tikkerbot hatcheck girl, two passenger blimps, an entire WALL of mechanical arms… and lots of smaller inventions. But I don’t have pirates, a dystopian world, or a dark theme. I write silly steampunk. Sitcom steampunk. Hopepunk!

Robinette Waterson: Hopepunk! That’s delightful.
txep’ongokx: punk rock with a heart
Ceejay Writer: It’s actually become a real genre, much to my delight. It includes a lot of climate change literature too (CliFi)
Saffia Widdershins: LOL
Ceejay Writer: Now that’s all the pre-written text I have, to give you the groundwork. From here, I’d love to hear your questions, suggestions, advice (I never stop learning and no one should!) And if you brought a blurb for feedback, we can all tear into it. I also have some resource links to share. Hmmm, I’ll do that now so I don’t forget. Save these off – I’ll also be posting them and info about our workshop at my websites ceejaywriter.com and brassbrightcity.com

Forget The Book, Have You Read This Irresistible Story On Blurbs?
NPR delves into the history of blurbs in this trivia laden, fascinating article.

How to Write a Book Blurb: A Guide for Authors
An excellent four-step lesson in effective blurb writing.

How to Write a Back Cover Blurb that Sells

How to write a blurb for your book

10 Tips to Write a Book Blurb That Sells
There’s lots of excellent advice in this article.

Ceejay Writer: Okay! Back to you guys. Questions, sage advice, blurbs?
Wildstar Beaumont: while you were speaking I was thinking that you were basically making a “trailer” in words 🙂
Ceejay Writer: This IS your preview, yep.
muckhase: oh good comparison right?
Ceejay Writer: Good one! But never start your blurb with, “IN A WORLD….”
Wildstar Beaumont: hehe
Mυcкi ѕαναgє: once upon a time … GIGGLES 🙂
Cяєss Kєnzi ŦƱℓŧƱהǝɨ): awww but but why! lol
Ceejay Writer: Well. Every rule can and will be broken. If your book benefits from a cheezy cliche, go for it!
Ceejay Writer: I recently read On Earth As It Is On Television and it broke every rule I ever heard of. The blurb is long, BUT it held my attention. I won’t paste it here, but do read it when you have time, and see what you think. https://www.amazon.com/Earth-as-Television-Emily-Jane-ebook/dp/B0BRYS1FP7/
Wildstar Beaumont: so, who does typically write blurbs? the author or specialized people working for the publisher?
Ceejay Writer: Well, I’m an indie writer, so it’s up to me to write my own blurbs.
Wildstar Beaumont: nods
txep’ongokx: with so many authors turning to self-publishing, i’d think the authors write their own blurbs
Ceejay Writer: Traditionally published author have people to do these things.
Ceejay Writer: That’s why this topic was one I wanted to talk about. I’m pretty passionate about indie books being QUALITY books. We have to do everything ourselves, so we have to know a lot about various tasks.
Saffia Widdershins nods
Ceejay Writer: It’s a good idea to bounce your blurb off of other people before committing to it, too. A local book shop owner is nice enough to give me feedback too. I feel very lucky to have that.
Wildstar Beaumont: 🙂
Ceejay Writer: (Another indie tip. Become beloved by all your local indie book stores!)
Saffia Widdershins smiles
Wildstar Beaumont: is there still such a thing ? 🙂
Ceejay Writer: Actually, in many areas of the US, they are experiencing a resurgence.
Wildstar Beaumont: that’s nice. I did not know
Saffia Widdershins: Our much beloved Blackwell’s has been bought out by Watertone’s. But there is a nice independent in my part of Oxford.
Ceejay Writer: We have a fun little wine bar/book shop that has 4-5 evening get-togethers a week
Ceejay Writer: I can’t imagine Oxford without an indie shop, somehow.
txep’ongokx: there’s still a great percentage of people prefer bound books to read.
Ceejay Writer: Where I am (Michigan), we’re also crazy for Little Free Libraries, and I always see them packed to the gills with books, so SOMEone is reading them.
txep’ongokx: I like the convenience of a whole library in my pocket for travel, but my house walls are all lined with “traditional” books
Saffia Widdershins: I’m a fan of Victorian novels and I hate to confess it but I LIKE to carry the collected works of Charlotte M Yonge around on a Kindle.
Wildstar Beaumont: 🙂
Ceejay Writer: I read a mix. I carry my paperwhite everywhere and read it a lot, but as a book reviewer, I also get sent lots of hardcover books. I don’t mind. When I’m done I pop them in a Little Free Library. I wonder if our blurbs are working for us in those donation boxes, too?
Saffia Widdershins: And yes, it’s not just walls that are lined, it’s tables and a couple of chairs filled. We even have a small but serviceable bookcase just outside the loo.
Wildstar Beaumont: :))
Ceejay Writer: I’ve seen the interior of your house (behind and to the sides of the cat, of course) and you aren’t exaggerating.
Paws Pawzouti will read physical books in the library, but for buying, prefers the kindle… not so much for the convenience, that’s a secondary thing, but mostly the cost of kindle vs. paperbacks being… so… much… more… affordable.
Saffia Widdershins: right!
Ceejay Writer: True. Kindle is good for the budget.
Paws Pawzouti can get a kindle book for $7 CDN or the paperback version for $25.
Ceejay Writer: And Audible is very popular too.
txep’ongokx: and, when your eyes are tired, on a kindle you can make the print larger
Paws Pawzouti: Also dark mode. <3
Ceejay Writer: *laughs* I love embiggening the font!
Paws Pawzouti wants to have books with black pages with soft light grey text.
Wildstar Beaumont: sometimes you find little “monsters” there the kindle edition costs more than the hardcover … never understood the logic
muckhase Yes, me neither
Paws Pawzouti has yet to have that happen. ^^
Ceejay Writer: Paws, that would be incredible, but the price of those pages would make the book really costly.
Robinette Waterson: I started out with just ebooks, but people requested paper and audio. Now that recording studios are open again, I guess I’ll try reading again.
Saffia Widdershins: Blurbs (she murmurs)
Ceejay Writer: Wildstar, the big publishers play all sorts of pricing games. Drives me a bit crazy.
Cяєss Kєnzi ŦƱℓŧƱהǝɨ): lol
Ceejay Writer: SO! Blurbs! Let me be bold here. Who’s written one? I bet Robinette has.
Robinette Waterson: Yes, but I hated every second of it.
Robinette Waterson: Like you, Ceejay, I learned to boil it down to three main pieces and put them in a few sentences.
Ceejay Writer: I admit I’m hating every second of writing one for Down the Tubes, too. I don’t EVEN know where to start or what to focus on, yet.
Wildstar Beaumont: In any case (to follow Saffia’s “gentle” push) I have been thinking in these past 20 minutes how much I use blurbs to discover new things, and yes. it is whot my decision is based on. I never reflected on that before
Ceejay Writer: Robinette, I need to learn to boil down. I tend to over-write and then distill. I am not a concise person by nature, so this process tests me.
txep’ongokx: a blurb shouldn’t be a summary of the book, at most a hint of what started the story…
Ceejay Writer: Wildstar… you’ll be more aware as you read them, now!
Robinette Waterson: Yes, me too! I think everything is important and I must tell it, because I want to be fair to my audience and let them know all the good stuff!
Ceejay Writer: Yes. The point is for the blurb to grab you and pull you into wanting more.
Robinette Waterson: That was about blurbs.
Ceejay Writer: It’s hard for an author to be concise because to us, EVERYTHING MATTERS. But it’s not about our own favorite parts.
Saffia Widdershins: I am completely at sea with my one for what I hope will be the first part of a trilogy.
txep’ongokx: Gray meets Black and White , but must choose to be Neautral, despite the constant feedback from her new friends…
Robinette Waterson: Now I start with, pretty much what Ceejay is saying. Main character (basic and intriguing descrioption) MUST (story goal/conflict)…OTHERWISE (story stakes).
Ceejay Writer: Saffia, you could try various approaches. How would you tell a friend about it? Write that down. What kind of story is it? Adventure, romance, comedy? Write that down. Keep writing down approaches, then you have words to pick and choose from.
Saffia Widdershins: Mmmm
Ceejay Writer: Better to have a big bloated mass to work with than nothing, I think.
Saffia Widdershins: Yes!
Robinette Waterson: Indeed. Can’t edit a blank page. Toss it in all in there and pick out the gold.
Ceejay Writer: Robinette described the components well, save off her words. points up
Cяєss Kєnzi ŦƱℓŧƱהǝɨ) nods, “yes..” i like the nanowrimo approach, get it out there then cull it down
Saffia Widdershins nods
Ceejay Writer: Panning for gold in a sandy river.
Robinette Waterson: I just said what you said, Ceejay. Slightly different words.
Saffia Widdershins: Or phoenix egg shards in a deadly mine
Robinette Waterson: Hehehe
Ceejay Writer: Saffia….. well sure why not!
Ceejay Writer: Oh, here’s a blurb that captivated me recently.
Ceejay Writer: I bet Saffia will like it.

Raven’s a thief who just swallowed a dragon. A small one, sure, but now his arms are growing scales, the local wildlife is acting up, and his snarky AI familiar is no help whatsoever.

Raven’s best friend Aik is a guardsman carrying a torch for the thief. A pickpocket and a guard? Never going to happen. And Aik’s ex-fiancé Silya, an initiate priestess in a magical crisis, hates Raven with the heat of a thousand suns.

This unlikely team must work together to face strange beasts, alien artifacts, and a world-altering threat. If they don’t figure out what to do soon, it might just be the end of everything.

Things are about to get messy.

Ceejay Writer: And yes, I bought that book.
Robinette Waterson: It’s interesting. A little wordy, compared to others.
Ceejay Writer: It is. It’s longer than I try to do with mine, BUT it still worked for me on every level. And after reading the book, it’s interesting for me to return to the blurb to see what he didn’t put in it.
Saffia Widdershins: That is a really intriguing proposition! Can we have an amazon link please?
Ceejay Writer: Probably the best way to learn how a good blurb works is to be aware of your own reaction to those you read.
Ceejay Writer: https://www.amazon.com/Dragon-Eater-Tharassas-Cycle-Book-ebook/dp/B0BWFSN6B5//
Robinette Waterson: I love the first paragraph. Not sure I need to know some of the details. Now that you’ve read the book, Ceejay, what would you leave out and what would you put in?
Ceejay Writer: I probably would leave out how the characters clash with each other.
Robinette Waterson nods.
Ceejay Writer: Maybe just say ‘he and his friends’
Robinette Waterson: A thief, a guard, and a priestess – sounds unlikely enough, without the why of ex-fiance and all that.
Ceejay Writer: I like his TINY hint at technology in an old-world setting.
Ceejay Writer: Yes. Their titles alone are enough to make the point.
Ceejay Writer: What’s the thing that caught you first in that blurb?
Robinette Waterson: What grabbed me was the changing into a dragon.
Saffia Widdershins: The small dragon-swallowing, and the changes. But then, I have … reasons.
Ceejay Writer chuckles at Saffia.
Robinette Waterson: Great minds think alike.
Ceejay Writer: Eating a dragon – of any size – isn’t normally done. And it raises a load of questions.
Wildstar Beaumont: 🙂
Ceejay Writer: And THAT might be the tipping point that sells the book. I bought it because I wanted to know how in the heckfire anyone could eat a dragon.
Saffia Widdershins: Just HOW does he do it? With fava beans and a bottle of nice Chianti?
Ceejay Writer: HAH. And nope. Also, I’m not telling. 😉
txep’ongokx: haha
Ceejay Writer: And a sequel is on the way. I’ll be buying that, too, because the author did a great job of leaving JUST enough of the plot threads dangling to make me want another book. But that’s a topic for another workshop. 😉
Robinette Waterson: Oh goody, more good workshops!
Ceejay Writer: Thank you all for coming, and I’m fangirly-pleased that Robinette is here, too.
Robinette Waterson: Haha. I’ve watched you from afar, Ceejay.
txep’ongokx: thank you. very good morning to you all!
Ceejay Writer: We must do coffee!
Robinette Waterson: Great workshop, Ceejay. Thanks much!
Ceejay Writer: My pleasure!
Alice Knightly: Thank you for the very interesting workshop!
Ceejay Writer: I hope the rest of your days adventures in the Fairelands are wonderous!
Liz Wilner: ty Ceejay!
muckhase: I can only join
Saffia Widdershins: Thank you Ceejay!
Saffia Widdershins: Brilliant workshop – it’s got me thinking and planning 🙂
Ceejay Writer: Good! Mission accomplished, Saffia.
Saffia Widdershins: 🙂
muckhase: have a nice day everyone
Ceejay Writer: Take care! Thanks again for coming.
Liz Wilner: Have a great rest of the day!
Saffia Widdershins: And Ceejay is giving ANOTHER presentation later this week on the importance of continuity.

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Lori Alden Holuta lives between the cornfields of Mid-Michigan, where she grows vegetables and herbs when she’s not writing, editing, or playing games with a cat named Chives.

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