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The Art of Blurbing

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012 by Kate

They’re everywhere. Book jackets, of course, and ads for movies—but also, unlikely places, such as cereal boxes and sides of buses. Twitter is essentially built on them. Yes, we are surrounded by blurbs—short (usually), glowing reviews or micro-stories lauding this, that, or the other.

When flooded with this many “inputs,” as a tech-y friend of mine would say, how do you make sure the blurbs you write (or are written about you, your company, or your product) stand out? At the Content Bureau, we’re often called upon to craft copy blurbs for clients, so we’d like to share what we’ve learned over the years about the “art of blurbing.”

Name the object of the blurb in the blurb. We’ve all seen blurbs that are so ambiguous the context or even the object of the blurb (OOB) can be impossible to discern. Here’s an example: “Destined to be a modern classic.” What’s being recommended? A book? A nouveau cocktail? An architectural wonder? We just don’t know. So, do everyone a favor by actually using the proper name of the OOB in your blurb. (Example: “Lisa’s blog post on tropical fruit sculptures is destined to be a modern classic.”)

Don’t manipulate people’s words. Yes, even the best writers have editors, but blurbs that use ellipses to string together the most laudatory words from a longer quote or truncate words with parentheses are highly suspect. Blurbs such as: “Among the best (of this year’s books) . . . offers a unique perspective . . .” Hmmm. Makes one wonder what the original text was and what was excised between the ellipses, doesn’t it? A rule of thumb: A blurb should not contain either ellipses or parentheses, and if you must slice and dice words, get the blurber’s signoff on the re-engineered text.

Remember, there’s no “I” in “blurb.” Who doesn’t like to be asked their opinion? That you have been asked should be enough, so check your ego. Blurbs are meant to sway an uncommitted audience, not serve as vehicles for self-promotion. (Anecdote: One Content Bureau venture capital client requested removing any references to him or his very prestigious company, so that the focus of his web blurbs would be solely on the companies he was lauding. Every blurber should be so generous.)

Don’t be promiscuous. Good advice generally in life, no? But it’s particularly relevant when it comes to blurbing. If your name is attached to too many blurbs, you’re in danger of losing whatever cachet you have. So be judicious; reserve your political capital and blurb only about things that really matter to you or when you can offer deep insight.

Make it stand out. If you’re going to go to the trouble of blurbing, you might as well ask who else is going to be on that book jacket, or wherever else, and what they plan on saying. This can help you craft something more helpful for the blurbee or OOB, and also contribute a unique insight. You are doing them a favor—and happily—so no harm in making sure it works for both of you!

For more insights, read A.J. Jacobs’ essay on how he took control of his blurbing.

is a member of the Content Bureau editorial team.

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Beyond the Style Guide

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