It all starts innocently enough. You’re going along about life, and you mention to someone that you’re getting close to finishing your next book. “Oh?” They say, with the faintest spark of passing interest. “What’s it about?”
What is it all about? It’s about this girl, except it’s also about this guy, and it’s about love, and life, and the human condition, and how sometimes our enemies are better friends than the people we think our friends, but really it’s about the attempt to install a weather station, but it’s on a planet with a failing attempt at terraforming, and about how statist societies rewrite the past at the expense of the future… if you want to know what it’s about, the author says, that’s why I wrote 60,000 words! But you have only a scant few seconds before the interest passes, and somebody else makes a funny remark, or the ads end and the football game resumes. Or the browsing person on the internet, having been briefly distracted by your cover long enough to click on it, moves on. So, how do you answer this question?
At the heart of every story, there is this: A person, who wants something, but a force opposes him. This is important, because of these stakes. Either they get it, or they don’t.
Take the first and second sentence of that paragraph. (Not the third; you don’t give away how it comes out in the blurb.) Who is your person? What do they want? What opposes them? What are the stakes?
Simplify. If you have two or three main characters, pick the one whose wants or needs drive the story the most. Unless you’re writing epic fantasy, where the browser will be disappointed if you don’t introduce at least three sides, stick to one protagonist, and one opposing force. Generally, that’s the first opposition they meet in the story, not the one they meet in chapter 3, and definitely not the one revealed in the twist in chapter 20.
Your description should not, as a rule of thumb, reveal any information past chapter 3.
Who is important? When and where are they? What do they want? What are the stakes? Why? This is far more important than what happens. If any of your sentences could be summed up as “And then this happens”, cut them out. Your audience won’t care what happens until they care about who it happens to, and why they want their goal.
For a good exercise, go to a promo place, like ebooksoda. Pick your book’s category, and start checking the blurbs on books for sale. Any one that sounds interesting enough to check on Amazon, open in a new tab. When you have ten or so books that are interesting enough you might download a sample, go back and look at the blurbs that hooked you. (I recommend a promo site because they’re likely to be first in series, and books you haven’t seen before. Also, because they require a shorter character limit than retail markets, they often force authors to rewrite the original blurb into the shorter, punchier, more eye-catching hook it should have been in the first place.)
Here are a couple examples – as you look through, break it down by who, where, what they want, what’s opposing them, and what the stakes are.
The grid is down, the world’s in flames, and FEMA is demanding his ship and cargo, but Captain Jordan Hughes isn’t buying it. Stranded far from home with a priceless cargo, faced with a near-mutiny, and worsening violence ashore, Hughes doesn’t think things can get much worse… then they do.
Benjamin Travers and his friends have woken up in the past. As they search for a way home, they realize they’re not alone. There are other time travelers, and some of them are turning up dead…
Lalla’s beloved great aunt wants to bar-b-que dad’s new sidekick, Bruce the goat, and her man-hungry cousin has her sights set on her number one pilot. What else could possibly go wrong? Oh yeah, her new pilot is really a Las Vegas CPA hiding from a vicious hitman.
Butterscotch Jones thought that living in the far north provided enough peril until a private plane crashed outside her hometown of McIntyre’s Gulch in Canada. The treasure inside the plane attracted both the RCMP and the Russian Mafia. For a town built upon isolation was about to be exposed…
Can true love conquer all, even a centuries-old curse? Rancher turned ghost-town restoration expert, Sawyer, is falling hard for the red head next door. But when a dangerous man from Mia’s past arrives in town, Sawyer finds himself drawn into the eerie legend of Lonesome Point.
One thing you’ll note about these: they’re short. Short is harder to write than long, because every word has to count. (In this, it bears a resemblance to poetry.) Short is better to read, though, because you’ll never catch the attention of a listener after they get bored, or enthrall a reader after they put the book down. Catch ’em up front, hook their interest so hard they want to know what happens, and download your sample (or flat out buy your book) to find out what happens!
Senior Lieutenant Steve Maxwell’s dumped into a war zone on a peacekeeping mission, without enough people, equipment or information. Nobody else is following the rules of engagement, the bodies are piling up, and he’s going to have to choose between his duty and his men’s lives…
Can you write your blurb in fifty words or less?