Back Blurb Revision

Books on self-publishing give pointers on writing the back blurb: that’s the short introduction on the back cover of books. This is how a book sale works. The customer comes into the bookstore. If the cover art/design is appealing, the customer will pick up the book. If it isn’t appealing, then all is lost. But the customer doesn’t buy on the basis of the cover art. It’s the back blurb that makes the sale. The back blurb is like the elevator pitch: you have 15 seconds of the customer’s time: make it happen. Why do they need to read your book?

My friend TS was in town last week. He’s an English professor and we got talking into how it’d be cool if I could test out some of my ideas at the college where he teaches. Give a lecture or something like that. What he wanted was a short description of what I was working on to present to the department. I thought, ‘I should revise the back blurb and send it to him’.

Revised Back Blurb (with Shout Line)


Tragedy is a high stakes game where gamblers stake the milk of human kindness for a crown (Macbeth), the immortal soul for mortal glory (Dr. Faustus), or happiness for distinction (The Master Builder). By playing the game, heroes expose themselves to risk: a dead man’s hand or a queen of spades lurks in the cards. This is the idea of the risk theatre.

Paying Melpomene’s Price is about the risk theatre. The risk theatre sells heroes its benefits at a dear cost. Oedipus saves Thebes, but pays the price in doing so. Because relief is purchased by exile, love is purchased by blood, and power comes at the cost of the soul, tragedy is a valuing mechanism. It assigns a tangible value to intangible human qualities: the milk of human kindness may be exchanged for a crown. In an increasingly monetized world, tragedy restores value to humanity because its transactions are not measured in dollars and cents, but blood, sweat, and tears.

This book is written for students of tragic art theory looking for a philosophy of tragedy that celebrates the innate value of life. It is also written with dramatists in mind: in these pages is a neoclassical working model of drama. With its template, the dramatist can bring the idea of risk theatre to the stage. It is also written for those dismayed in the monetization of all things: the risk theatre puts the human back in humanity.

Old Back Blurb

The loss of a sense of value in a world where everything has become monetized has led to a reexamination of the tragic art form as a means of reclaiming human value. What if tragedy were a marketplace? What if it were like one of the great bourses in New York or Frankfurt, except anger and ambitions change hands instead of stock certificates? What is more, what if Melpomene’s price is not something to be paid in dollars and cents, but the terms of payment are all-too-human things such as faith, the milk of human kindness, or even the soul of a man.

This book is the meeting of Aristotle’s Poetics with Smith’s Wealth of Nations. It paints a picture of the hero as a gambler willing to lay down his life in gage for the great reward. It will help you conceptualize how the hero rediscovers human value by playing the high stakes game in the ludic theatre. Written for dramatists, theatregoers, and students of tragic art theory, there are detailed examples of how tragedy can be conceptualized not as a destructive medium, but as a celebration of the spiritual wealth which resides in each one of us.

Written by a lifelong connoisseur and student of the theatrical arts, this comprehensive study breaks down tragedy into its constituent parts: the hero’s wager, the myth of the price you pay, and the role of the unexpected. They myth of the price you pay provides the philosophic underpinnings of tragedy: you get something for something, nothing for nothing, and sometimes nothing for something. In the hero’s wager is the dramatization of the myth of the price you pay. Finally, the role of the unexpected generates the thrill of theatre. In breaking down tragedy into its constituent parts, it builds them back up to argue that tragedy is the greatest show on earth.

Edwin Wong is an expert on theatre and literary theory. He has written and lectured widely on the subject. He graduated with a BA in Greek and Roman Studies at the University of Victoria and a MA in Classics from Brown University. Check out his theatre blog at: His favourite tragedy is Macbeth and his favourite tragedian Aeschylus.

The new back blurb is 40% shorter. It gets to the point quicker. And it offers specific examples right away instead of talking about generalities. These are things that the style guides have been talking about. What do you think–is the new back blurb better?

3 thoughts on “Back Blurb Revision

  1. Lloyd H.

    I like them both but I think the revised version is a bit more intellectually accessible. I’m sure you have already come to terms with this but your subject matter is (I think) esoteric enough that there will be a “limited readership”.
    For what it’s worth, this is how I buy books. Every March we spend the month in California (Solvang). There’s a fairly large community of informed and wealthy readers who buy books, read them, then donate them to a thrift store (I go to “People Helping People”). I spend an hour or 2 there and in that time buy a year’s worth of books (about 50) for about $15 (US!). First determinant is books I’ve heard of or authors I’ve read and want to read more from. Then I go according to your accounting above: cover, blurb. If they pass then they go in the bag. It’s fun and inexpensive.

  2. Edwin Wong Post author

    That’s exactly what I was hoping to hear: more accessible. With the limited readership, every advantage will be big.
    Wow, what a deal! Just looked up Solvang too. The population is only 5000 but if one were to judge the population from the cultural diversity and richness there, it would seem like the population were 10x the size! What a unique place. Strong theatre and cycling scene. I always like to be learning, thanks for sharing!
    And…maybe it’d be an interesting idea to seed the book when it comes out by donating it to thrift stores?

  3. Lloyd H.

    Excellent, Edwin. Thinking out of the box. It suits you.

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