The Art of the Cover Blurb

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White Rabbit: The allure of “Mysterious Jack”

Until the March/April issue of 2013, Arizona Wildlife Views magazine did not sport blurbs on its cover. That year, as part of a redesign, we began to envision the magazine as a newsstand-worthy entity. We think it’s good enough to sell in single copies, and we wanted to be ready for that day if it comes. That meant adding blurbs to the cover.

You probably already know this, but a cover blurb is text on the front cover that lures the reader inside. It’s marketing copy that sells the magazine to a casual passerby. These blurbs are not meant to follow grammatical rules. Their sole purpose is to catch your eye so you will pick up the magazine and flip it open.

There are words you may glimpse on the covers of magazines as you wait in the checkout line that you’ll never see on the cover of Views. We’re a wildlife magazine, so you probably won’t find promises such as “win a fabulous prize,” “more money, guaranteed,” or “easy secrets for improving your love life” on our cover.

The task of writing cover blurbs falls to the Views editorial team. Nobody’s more familiar than we are with what’s inside the magazine, so who better than us to write blurbs? Here’s how we do it.

First, the editor and art director select a cover photo, usually one connected to an important story inside that issue. That makes writing cover blurbs easier because we already know what at least one of them should promote.

Then, one of us (usually me) opens the cover file and summons up the forces of creativity. We each have a different way of doing this: My way is to spend a minute or two looking out the window and thinking about nothing much. Then I turn back to the computer screen, look at the cover photo and start collecting words that relate to it.

At this point, I’m just playing. Which words grab my attention, incite curiosity, make me smile or think, challenge me, raise a question? Once I have a list of random words, I start moving them into various configurations of head and deck. In a blurb, the head is the larger text. The deck, in smaller type, amplifies the idea expressed in the head.

In the past three years of learning to write cover blurbs, I’ve come up with the following strategies:

  1. Keep it tight: Make every word count.
  2. Grab attention: Deploy every word for maximum effect.
  3. Waste not: Avoid filler words whenever possible.
  4. Be honest with readers: Don’t promise what you can’t deliver.
  5. Make it matter: Give the reader a reason to care.

I’ve had some failures, but fortunately readers didn’t see them because once I have generated a set of three to five possible heads and decks, my boss reviews them. She has a very creative mind. If she doesn’t find magic among the list I’ve created, she’ll develop her own blurbs, which generally make me slap my forehead and say, “Why didn’t I think of that!” We go back and forth until we’re happy with the copy.

Here are some of my particular favorites from the past few years. Which do you like best?

Bighorns
Can they be restored to the Catalinas?

Girl gang
The tribal life of the curious coati

Those eyes!
Hypnotized by burrowing owls

Racing
to relocate 600,000 tiny trout

Thirst
Water and wildlife in an arid land

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