Jacket Blurbs and Other Forms of Torture

We’ve all been there. You’re caught in a social situation, be it a backyard barbecue or a spouse’s work Christmas party or perhaps something slightly less onerous, like a funeral, when the conversation invariably loses momentum and ebbs towards silence. Moments such as this are especially treacherous for the writer, for they give rise, as predictable as acid reflux on taco night, to that hackneyed fallback topic of failing conversations.

‘So, what do you do?’

“Oh… I… I’m writing a book,” you say, knowing full well that this is as much an invitation to the next question as unlocking the doors at Walmart on Black Friday. Yet you say it anyway. You are a writer, aren’t you? Why write at all if not to share your story? But that story is a fragile thing, crafted in tiny fragments, each one scrutinized and contemplated before being set in place. It’s not the sort of thing you blurt out all at once to a vacant-eyed middle-marketing-manager over a warm glass of Pinot Grigio. But you opened your mouth, didn’t you? So here it comes.

Wow, what’s your book about?’

When that inevitable question comes you have two choices: devolve into a sort of animated ventriloquist’s dummy that only speaks in pat Game of Thrones similes, or distract your interlocutor with the flash of an empty hors d’ouevre tray and make good your escape to the bathroom.

That, or work out a smashing good jacket blurb before the situation ever arises. Because that’s what a blurb is, in essence. It’s how you pitch your book to a perfect stranger whose interest, for whatever reason, you have momentarily attracted.

For the record, I have yet to do this myself.

My first attempt at blurbing (yes, I just verbed ‘blurb’. And ‘verb’) came way back in November of 2016, when I first threw my hat into the NaNoWriMo ring. As part of the National Novel Writing contest, I gleefully created a profile for both myself and my book. Warden Of The Lost Way was on its way to becoming an awesome book, and I was eager to share. But when confronted with a blank text field labelled Synopsis I paused. How to sum up hundreds of thousands of words in just a paragraph? It was then that I discovered what exquisite torture it is to write a back-cover blurb for one’s own book.

…that’s what a blurb is, in essence. It’s how you pitch your book to a perfect stranger whose interest, for whatever reason, you have momentarily attracted.

I gave it a try, and even wrote a blog post about it if you care to see how I did. But now, having finally completed the book, I face the much more serious, exhilarating, and daunting challenge of actually marketing it. And that means I need to be able to talk about it more confidently than a sixth-grader giving an oral report on his unopened copy of A Wrinkle In Time. Which was, more or less, what I did back in November of ’16, since it was incomplete and I had therefore never read it.

I have since toyed with a few new iterations of the blurb for Warden of the Lost Way, and in the interest of sharing and constructive criticism I present them here, along with my own comments on each.


Fallen to bounty hunting to save his family from the ravages of a harsh winter, a warden stumbles upon a bloody trail, but when it leads him through fire and death to salvation, will he be able to survive the trials of his rise in fortune?

The word ‘warden,’ in terms of a jacket blurb, is somewhat problematic here, in that without context it doesn’t communicate just what a ‘warden’ is. ‘Ranger’ is closer in meaning, though inaccurate, and has too much of a Dungeons & Dragons connotation anyway. Also, this does little to introduce other important characters and motifs. Moving on…


When a humble Warden’s act of valour earns him the recognition of a powerful lord, he must choose between his sworn duty to his brothers and the chance at nobility that will both free his family from poverty and fulfill the arcane words of a mysterious Seer.

This is a good stab at a blurb for Part One of the book, but how about the rest?

…But the Seer doesn’t tell all, and if she knows that in the neighbouring lands, a highborn girl’s kidnapping threatens to escalate into war, she gives no warning.

While accurate, this doesn’t give much context as how the two situations relate to each other. Also, why have I chosen to omit the characters’ names? Without them things become confusing as the blurb gets longer. Better to leave this one and try again I think.


When an act of valour earns Ashdoran, a humble warden, the recognition of a powerful lord, he must choose between upholding his sworn duty to his brotherhood, and a chance at nobility, a prospect that would deliver his family from poverty, as well as fulfill the enigmatic words of a mysterious Seer.

This smacks of traditional fantasy, but of course it leaves out Ashdoran’s wife, Isador, who is as much a main character as Ashdoran, and so should have equal billing. Failing to mention her story arc is a disservice to the potential reader. So revise the above to:

…and a chance at nobility, a choice urged by his fretful wife Isador, and unbeknownst to Ashdoran, the mysterious Seer who has been giving her counsel.

Let me try another.


Ashdoran, a humble warden, must walk a dangerous path while balancing the growing burdens of family, honour and duty, while his wife, Isador, learns the price of ambition, and the perils of heeding the words of a mysterious Seer.

This, while not perfect, is closer. It mentions all the key players and touches upon their major challenges. Succinct, but not terribly compelling. It begs for a second paragraph that will give an idea of the setting; from this description it could be almost anything, from Victorian London to the Mississippi bayou to ancient Rome.


When his act of valour earns Ashdoran, a humble Warden, the recognition of a powerful lord, he must choose between duty and enrichment, a choice that will be influenced by both his fretful wife Isador, and the mysterious Seer who has been giving her counsel.

Similar to the previous version, with a better grounding in the story’s initial events. Still far from perfect though. Onward!


When his act of valour earns Ashdoran, a humble warden, the recognition of a powerful lord, he must choose: uphold his duty to his ancient but struggling brotherhood, or pursue the promise of becoming a lord himself.

…his duty to the brotherhood that made him the man he is, and the promise of a lordship and a life that could be.

…the brotherhood that has been his whole life, or the promise of a life that might be.

These iterations do a better job of setting up the primary dilemma of the book, but again Isador is forgotten, as is the latter half of the story.


When his act of valour earns Ashdoran, a humble Warden, the recognition of a powerful lord, he is forced to choose – uphold his sworn duty to his declining brotherhood, or seize the offer of a new life of prosperity for his impoverished family. His choice is clouded not only by his wife Isador, who risks life and limb to reach him, but by his friends, his Captain, and a mysterious Seer, whose subtle influence could be steering events down a perilous path…

This is getting close. It touches on all the key characters, sets up Ashdoran’s primary dilemma, included Isador with a hint of danger and excitement, and alludes at the machinations to come.

This is a task that bears more consideration, and I welcome your own thoughtful comments on it, my serendipitous readers, since you are precisely the audience for which these blurbs are intended. Your perspective is even more valuable than mine, being free from author’s bias and (hopefully) sparked by a bit of curiosity. As for me, some further brainstorming with pen and ink is in order. Thanks for reading!

– DGP

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