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What is a Blurb?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A blurb is a brief piece of writing used in the advertising of a creative work. The classic example is the quote splashed across the cover of a bestselling novel, which reads something like “absolutely thrilling.” Blurbs are designed to drum up interest in the creative work, hopefully thereby increasing sales, and the hunt for them is a perennial quest for many artists, especially for people who are just starting out in their field.

Classically, a blurb is an excerpt of a larger review written by a reviewer, publisher, or fan. Authors frequently create ones for each other, trading quotes that can be used on book jackets and in promotional materials. Others may summarize the plot, as in “an epic pirate adventure set in the South Seas,” and some include excerpts from the work. These statements are often used again and again in promotional materials, and they may become extremely familiar to members of the public.

In addition to being used in the packaging for products like books, music albums, and movies, blurbs can also be used in posters, radio and television ads, and publicity packets sent out to journalists. They can appear in magazines and newspapers, as part of legitimate advertising or as sidebars in articles about the work being blurbed. Most are designed to convey the idea that the work is groundbreaking, unique, and excellent, leading people to conclude that they need to read, see, or listen to it immediately. Some have gone in the opposite direction, capitalizing on shock value to draw people in with quotes that emphasize that the creative work is horrific, bizarre, or totally unexpected. Satirists may use ones like “the worst movie I have ever seen” to intrigue potential viewers.

It's hard to get very much information about something from these short quotes, which is part of the point. The blurb is the hook that draws someone in, hopefully leading that person to decide to pay for the creative work being advertised. Movie posters often use them very adroitly, and they are also used to advertise plays, television series, art shows, and a wide variety of other creative works. While people are fond of saying that a book can't be judged by its cover, blurbs are actually designed to encourage people to do just that.

For those who are curious, the practice of using such quotes dates to 1907, when one first appeared on a book distributed to attendees of a publishing conference. The convention quickly caught on, and now it is routine to use such quotes in advertising materials. The inability to secure a good blurb can be a very bad sign for a new creative work.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By miriam98 — On May 20, 2011

@Charred - Whenever I get a book—or before I buy it—I read every single blurb in the book, whether it’s in the inside jacket or the back. Even though I know I'm being "pitched" by the blurbs, I still read them anyway.

I also notice that not all of the blurbs are about that particular book. For example, some blurbs may be about the author’s prior works, but they use them anyway to show that the author has a proven track record—or maybe because no one has bothered to comment on the new work yet. I’ve always found this curious, but it seems to be a common practice.

By Charred — On May 19, 2011

I was surprised when I discovered that authors who request blurbs will do so before the book goes to press. I had thought that they waited until the book was published, then submitted them for review to other authors. I guess it makes sense, though, when you understand that blurbs are just marketing materials and so they have to be prepared in advance.

By nony — On May 17, 2011

A book review is a blurb in its own way—it’s concise, and tells enough of the story to incite reader interest. The difference of course is that not all book reviews are positive, and so in that sense it would not function as a blurb, since a blurb is unabashedly self-promotional.

I think of blurbs as “teasers” or the equivalent of “movie trailers,” which give you enough of a sneak peak of what’s inside to whet your appetite for more.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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