The Secret to Book Blurbs Success: Crafting Headlines that Sell 

JD Caron
August 25, 2023

Book blurbs are as essential as book covers. Every book needs a blurb. Every blurb needs a headline.

Simple, right? Well, not really.

In this article, you'll learn exactly what a headline is, and how to write a blurb headline that gets attention (with PLENTY of book blurb examples!).

The Importance of Book Blurbs

4 out of 5 readers choose their next great read from its blurb.

So, having a killer blurb is a must. But even more importantly, at least 80% of selling your book happens within the first 2 lines of your book blurb. This means your book is unlikely to get noticed unless you can grab a new potential reader's attention right from the start of your blurb.

What Is A Headline?

In book blurbs, headlines refer to the opening statement, often referred to as a hook.

In marketing, a headline is considered the MOST IMPORTANT part of any ad because it's how the reader, listener, or observer decides whether or not they want to pay attention to that particular ad. The rest of the ad has no effect if nobody is paying attention.

The same principle applies to blurbs. Which is why thinking of it as a hook is vital.

In our previous article about writing a blurb we talked about hooks. To review, a hook is a question or statement that raises more questions for your reader. You can have either a closed hook, which answers those new questions. Or an open hook, which doesn't.

Between the two, open hooks tend to sustain interest for longer and are better at encouraging a new potential reader to buy your book. This is because "thirsty" readers want all their burning questions answered. And when they don't get their answers from their blurb, they know their only option is to buy and read your book.

But, we can't just throw a bunch of questions on a page and call it a day.

There is a subtle art to it.

The Power of the Book Blurb Headline

The obvious function of a headline is to captivate a potential readers’ attention.

BUT on a deeper level, it gives them a very important piece of direction; it tells them to: START READING HERE! (here being at the top of the blurb). Seems silly, but this is actually a very important job for the headline to accomplish.

Why?

Because often, the way blurbs look encourage a readers’ eye to travel elsewhere. For instance, visually interesting graphics will pull your eye away from text, and bigger paragraphs are subconsciously viewed as more important so our eyes will naturally go there first.

You never want your reader to be confused because their eyes saw things out of order, so help them out by giving them no other choice but to start at the beginning. And it’s as simple as bolding the text.

What bolding does is create a heaviness from the contrast between black text and white background. And this will always be more visually “important” than anything else. So take advantage of this biological reflex and bold your headline. Every time.

Why a Good Headline Matters

Readers who start at the beginning are more likely to read a blurb in its entirety.

And readers who finish reading a full blurb are FAR MORE LIKELY to buy that book.  In most cases, if you’ve already sold them in the headline, they WILL read the rest of the blurb…and ironically, only as a matter of courtesy and respect for you, the author. Not because they need more convincing.

So, how can you generate your own, intriguing headline that both zings and sings?

Well, first, you bold (have I said that enough times yet?). Then, you dazzle - by choosing the right headline for your book.

Food for thought

A blurb with a solid headline is just as important for your existing, loyal readers as it is for attracting new potential readers. An independent study found that 87% of readers will still consult the blurb of an author they already know and love before they buy their latest book.

If you're a self-published author wanting to stand out, this is one step you can't afford to skip.

Choosing the Right Book Blurb Headline

There are two categories of headlines: Active and Passive.

PASSIVE HEADLINES

PASSIVE HEADLINES

These hooks are separate from the storyline of your blurb and usually focus on an observed aspect of the book. This is more of a formal “introduction” to your book, like the opening credits of a movie.

These hooks are separate from the storyline of your blurb and usually focus on an observed aspect of the book. This is more of a formal “introduction” to your book, like the opening credits of a movie.

Both categories are effective in their own way. Again, a headline’s true power comes from the use of open and closed hooks. So what are the types of headlines you can use in your blurb? Well, most of them you've more than likely already heard of and used in your writing. But some are additions we are adopting from the world of copywriting.

1: Fact Statement

A juicy truth from your book, that doesn't necessarily have to be true in the real world.

This is one of the best types of hooks and is a quick way to name the main plot line or setting of your book. And, it's an easy way to set the mood for the story.

Best use:

  • Both nonfiction (more common) and fiction books.
  • Made stronger with: Genre and emotional words.
  • Active or Passive? Can be both.

2: MC Dialogue:

A glimpse into your protagonist's inner thoughts from a scene in the book.

This one is great for building an immediate connection with your main character, and allows your reader to understand your writing style and the tone of the book. It can also be used to set the blurb up for a before/after story theme.

Written in first-person.

Best use:

  • Fiction. Very common in romance, uplifting/light mood novels, and ones with female protagonists.
  • Made stronger with: Genre and storyline words.
  • Active or Passive? Active.

3: Question

This is one of the strongest openers due to human nature. Every reader will naturally (and compulsively) try to answer a question.  Considered the most popular marketing technique, the question hook packs a serious engagement punch.

Best use:

  • Works well for both fiction and nonfiction.
  • Made stronger with: Layering.
  • Active or Passive? Can be both, but Passive is most common.

4: Contrast

This is where you create a feeling of weighing opposites, or of harmonizing two antagonistic forces.

Your reader gets an immediate idea of the stakes at hand, as well as the storyline, the genre, the mood, and type of "ride" they can expect (i.e.: suspenseful, creepy, inspiring, non-stop action, romantic, etc.)

Best use:

  • Used across all genres.
  • Made stronger with: Layering with other types of headlines (more on that below).
  • Active or Passive? Passive.

5: Unusual (Unicorn)

This one is all about shock factor.

What is it?  Something so unexpected, absurd, surprising, or scandalous, that a reader can't help but read on. Careful not to cross the line into completely incoherent, because it can leave your reader with a negative bias ("this author sounds crazy").

Best use:

  • More common in nonfiction, especially in books with a more serious/important message.
  • Made stronger with: A blurb that reinforces the underlying message in the unicorn.
  • Active or Passive? Passive is more common.

6: Condenser| Overview (Elevator Pitch)

This is your entire story arc in about 12 words or less. The strength lies in being up-front about where the storyline is going, so that your readers know exactly what to expect.

Best use:

Appropriate for both fiction and non-fiction.

Made stronger with: Emotion words. If you're going to tell them the destination, might as well tell them what to bring along (e.g., tissues, knives, a vibrator, etc.).

Active or Passive? Passive.

7: Extension

Used to reference past books or characters within a series. It's where you quickly refamiliarize your existing readers with your main characters. And, how you can subtly mention to a brand new reader that there are other books to check out.

Non-fiction authors may use this to extend their author brand or liken their book to similar books in their genre.

In my opinion, this one is tragically underused.

Best use:

  • Most common with fiction.
  • Made stronger with: Including the main characters, mood words, and promotion (self- or the series itself).
  • Active or Passive? Passive.

8: Special Case

Reviews (Passive)

When you feature your most glowing reviews before you dive into the story, you're setting your reader up to view your  book in a positive light. This is called a halo effect, and often carries through the rest of the blurb.

Vetting your book to a complete stranger is important, especially when you are new to the scene and have few reviews to show off. Many readers use the review section to make a final judgment call.

Best use:

Debut book, a standalone novel, or the first/second book of a series. I do not recommend this for an extended series as it is not needed.

Stronger with: Consider adding a visual for embellishment [✰✰✰✰✰]. Not required but add interest. 

Story Quote (Active/Passive)

This is when you use a compelling scene, or character dialogue from the actual text of your book as a lead-in to the blurb.

To keep it active, choose an excerpt that you build upon as you continue the blurb.

To make it passive, use an excerpt that foreshadows a great scene but that is separate from the flow of the blurb.

Best use:

  • Most popular for fiction.
  • Stronger with:
  • A pinnacle scene, or when used to draw a connection with the main character.

Awards, Accolades & endorsements (passive)

This is another form of social proof, which vets your book like a review but could be seen as having more trust factor.

That's because a single review is based on the personal taste of one. But an award, nomination, or having a reading club recommendation means a panel or group of people have agreed on their taste in your book. 

These become the "word-of-mouth" recommendations that will begin the snowball of organic sales you want.

Best use:

Both non-fiction and fiction authors can proudly display their prizes.

Stronger with:

  • Pair with another type of headline.
  • If your book has multiple awards, choose 2-3 of the most meaningful to you. Do not list every single award, nomination, or recommendation.
  • Also, try to list something other than New York Times' Bestselling Author. These days, there are more people on their list than off of it, so the accolade has lost meaning.

Which headline should you choose?

The best thing you can do is to write as many as you possibly can. I mean it. Fill a whole page…or 20! Don’t edit as you go, just rhyme them off one after the other. The more you practice, the better you get. And the easier it will be to decide which one(s) suit your book the best.

There are types of headlines that will feel more natural to your story and those are the ones to go with.

Once you’ve exhausted your brainstorming power, start to whittle them down until you have just a handful that you’re attached to. Then, let your friends or even your readers take over and give you their thoughts on which one sounds the best.

And don’t fret if there’s more than one that's popular…because this leaves you room to test the market, which you should always do, regardless.

A secret to getting an even bigger punch with your headline is to use more than one. Or mix-and-match!

Layering / Combination examples

Let's look at some clever blurbs to see just how diversely you can use multiple headlines.

But there is one rule: Layer in moderation for best results.

RULES OF USE

There are a few simple rules to remember when you're choosing your blurb.

  1. The shorter the better. (3 lines max., 1 line is best.)
  2. Your headline should always be reinforced by the cliffhanger. Make sure the two are mirroring the same idea, or have the same focus. They don't have to say the same thing, but the topic they are touching on should be the same.
  3. Honesty is the best policy ☺. Pick the most relevant focus to highlight about your book (is the story about finding lost love? Battling aliens? Spiritual growth? Eating healthy? Catching a killer on the loose? The depth of the emotion that is grief?). This sets up your reader's expectations properly, and avoids bad reviews. We want the reader to know what they're getting themselves into, and not trick them into thinking it's about something else. When people feel tricked, their drive to get justice is very high and they can easily damage your reputation with "keyboard revenge".
  4. Have fun, but make sure the message is very clear (aka keep it to ONE central topic). Sci-fi and fantasy authors have the hardest time with this because of the nature of these books to be Epics, but you do have a central theme there, whether it's the world your characters inhabit, the missions entrusted to the characters, or the general plight of the characters (e.g. rising up from poverty, vanquishing a supernatural force, etc.). 
  5. Keep it appropriate for your genre. A serious book needs a serious headline, while a funny book can have a more playful headline. The more you can convey the mood of your book, the easier it will be for a reader to "get in the zone".

A Last note…

Once you’ve found a blurb headline that works, and your sales recover or reach new heights, your readers will do the selling for you.

That's because the secret sauce to propelling your reach is to have great reviews, and a lot of them.

Have you noticed that some books seem to be doing VERY WELL despite not having a headline or even a blurb that sounds good?

These books are usually the classics, and after decades of word-of-mouth, use in language curriculums, and portrayals on stage, many of them don't need a snappy blurb (although it still helps). The same goes for books that are backed by strong publishing companies or by celebrity endorsements.

However, when you're still in the growing stages in your renown as an author, you do need to pull out all the stops to get more and more readers on board. A compelling headline is one of the quickest ways to build engagement for your blurb, which then sells your book to new readers, and builds your momentum as a self-published author.

BONUS: Here's some infographics that summarize the headlines. Feel free to download and keep, or pin for later ☺! (Note: the extension-style is missing):

headlines for book blurbs
book blurbs headlines
book blurbs headlines

What did you think? Were there types of headlines that you felt immediately connected with your book?

Or better yet, did you come up with some fresh headlines that some classic novels missed out on?

About the author 

JD Caron

Denis was a coach long before he ever knew what that was. From his time in the military, to the decade he spent as a 911 ambulance dispatcher, he constantly found himself in leadership and teaching roles (he knows his way around an emergency). And after struggling to self-publish his first book, he knew he could help others do it better.

Currently, Denis is traveling around Europe, exploring WWII sites and sampling all the delightful cuisine the continent has to offer.

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