How to read a blurb?

An analysis of the cover texts of a sample of original prose books


Keywords: blurb, techniques of influence, structure, genre, genre analysis, fiction

When a book enters the market, its first task is to attract the reader’s attention immediately, taking effect in but a few moments. Therefore publishers usually attach special attention to cover texts. From the publisher’s point of view, the blurb is part of marketing – it works like consumer advertising, which lures the reader’s eye and gives the necessary confidence to make a decision. This is why any paper book can be seen as a luxury item requiring sophisticated advertising techniques, including attention given to the blurb content as a special genre.

The article approaches cover texts with techniques of structural and linguistic analysis in order to find out the influencing techniques aimed at exciting the prospective reader’s interest in original Estonian prose. As revealed by an analysis of the 61 prose books nominated for the Estonian Cultural Endowment Award during 2009–2019, the cover texts use a six-step system including the title, plot and subject matter of the book, as well as an author introduction and a few testimonials about the book and the author. Although the blurb structure can vary a lot, all blurbs are meant both to inform and advertise. Those aims are achieved not only by blurb contents, but also by linguistic and stylistic choices using peculiar verbs, enticing adjectives and labeling nouns, as well as other arousers of curiosity like epithet, metaphor, simile, rhetorical question, elliptic clause, antithesis and hyperbole, sometimes adding allusions and intertextual references. Either directly or indirectly, those literary devices also serve to convey values characteristic of the Estonian cultural context.


Andrus Org (b. 1974), PhD, University of Tartu, Institute of Cultural Research, Lecturer of Estonian Literature (Ülikooli 16, 51003 Tartu), andrus.org@ut.ee

Riina Reinsalu (b. 1982), PhD, University of Tartu, Institute of Estonian and General ­Linguistics, Lecturer of Estonian Text Linguistics (Jakobi 2, 51005 Tartu), riina.reinsalu@ut.ee