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Hard-working blurbs

The hardest-working words in a book appear not between its covers but on the back (and often the front) cover.

This is an exercise about thinking through how writers and publishers reach out to readers. Go to the biography/memoir section of a bookshop and look at the range of titles, keeping in the back of your mind where your memoir-to-be may sit. Do this online if you can’t get to a bricks-and-mortar bookshop.

Note which titles leap out at you first. (This is the cover doing its work.)

Pick up these titles that first catch your eye and read their blurbs. Note the features of the blurb that work on you: is it the opening line or the hook? Is it the choice of extract or epigraph? Do the title and blurb marry well? Note especially, the words that pique your interest – and make you want to take the book home.

Do this as many times as you can bear to, and pick the two that impress you most. Are they the titles with the covers that first grabbed you?

Now, write a very short tagline (sometimes used as a subtitle) of 25 words or fewer that describes your memoir-to-be. Here are some examples:

Jordan Belfort, ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’: Stockmarket Multimillionaire at 26, Federal Convict at 36
Malala Yousafzai, ‘I am Malala’: The Girl who Stood up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban

Then, have a go at writing a blurb that describes your memoir-to-be. Ensure it is no longer than the longer blurb of the two that have impressed you.

About Foong Ling Kong

Foong Ling Kong has two decades’ experience as an editor and publisher of books across a wide range of genres, especially non-fiction. She is also Managing Editor of Anne Summers Reports and a board member of the Stella Prize.

Update: Foong Ling will be running a webinar on How to Pitch to Publishers for Writers Victoria in November 2015.


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