Your blurb sells your book to your agent, your editor, and the readers. In your blurb, you should give a tantalizing glimpse of your hero, his world, and his big problem, but do not reveal the major plot points. Use word choice and writing style to convey your story’s genre and overall feel. And do all this in only 200 to 300 words. But don’t worry. It gets easier with practice.
Let me write you five sample blurbs, selling a story that we all know: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. The genre, hero, hero’s world, and hero’s big problem all remain the same. It’s science-fiction. Our hero is a restless teenage boy. His world is a boring desert planet within an evil galactic empire. His big problem is that he has acquired a droid that the Empire will do anything to reclaim. However, my word choice and writing style in each blurb indicate whether the story has the overall feel of a space-opera adventure (the traditional Star Wars that we know), a comedy, a romance, a gay romance, or a thriller.
My sample blurb for Star Wars as space opera: Young Luke Skywalker fears he may die of boredom, stuck on his uncle’s farm. His desert planet lies far from the fighting between the evil galactic Empire and the daring Rebel Alliance. He dreams of becoming a Jedi knight like his long-lost father. But his monotonous world shatters when he acquires a droid that the Empire will do anything to recapture. On the run from Imperial storm troopers, he must work with his fellow fugitives to rescue a rebel leader as he comes of age as a warrior.
Try to get a lot of mileage out of a single sentence or phrase as I did with his desert planet lies far from the fighting between the evil galactic Empire and the daring Rebel Alliance. This sentence clarifies the science fiction genre, Luke’s world, and the overall conflict that encompasses his personal conflict. Here are words I used to convey additional information.
-Overall feel of adventure and fun: Dream. On the run. Dangerous adventure. Come of age as a warrior.
-Our hero’s defining characteristics of youth and inexperience: Young Luke. Die of boredom. (Can’t you just hear a teenager whining about that?) Stuck on his uncle’s farm. (He’s too young to start his own life.) Dreams of his father. (Because he has no deeds of his own to focus on yet.)
-Hero’s biggest problem: He acquires a droid that the Empire will do anything recapture.
My sample blurb for Star Wars as a comedy: How can Luke be a hero when he feels like a total dork? First, he buys a pesky little droid for his uncle’s farm. Next, the massively stupid Imperial storm troopers invade his boring desert homeworld to reclaim the Empire’s property. Luke has no choice but to go on the lam with a gaggle of misfits, including a smug mentor who speaks in riddles and a sleazy space pilot with a death wish. Oh, and they have to rescue a cranky princess who runs the Rebel Alliance. If they all don’t end up killing one another in frustration, they might just overthrow the Empire!
I wrote this in present tense and used adjectives (pesky) and adverb-adjective combinations (massively stupid) to sound like a standup comedian telling a story. I also tried to work in words with a humorous connotation: dork, gaggle, misfits, smug, sleazy, cranky.
My sample blurb for Star Wars as a romance: Haunted by the death of his long-lost father, young Luke Skywalker vows never to grow close to anyone. He spends lonely days slaving on his uncle’s farm on a desert planet far from the fighting between the evil galactic Empire and the daring Rebel Alliance. But when he acquires a droid that the Empire will do anything to recover, he must run for his life. As he trains to become a Jedi knight like his father, he must learn to trust in his fellow fugitives, including a swaggering space pirate whom he sees as his rival in a quest to rescue a beautiful, captured rebel princess.
For a gay romance, I use the same blurb up through "swaggering space pirate" and replace the rest of that sentence with, who infuriates and bewitches him. The two blurbs are identical except for the love interest mentioned in the last sentence. Note that in both romance blurbs, the story is still science-fiction, but emphasizes Luke’s feelings, loneliness, and isolation that changes to connection.
My sample blurb for Star Wars as a thriller: Growing up on a remote desert planet far from the war between Empire and Rebellion never prepared young Luke Skywalker to run for his life. But when he buys a droid for his uncle’s farm, the Empire unleashes its sadistic storm troopers to reclaim its property – and slaughter his family. Now Luke must escape into the dark reaches of space with a cryptic old guru and a cynical mercenary. As Luke and his fellow fugitives make a hopeless attempt to rescue a captured rebel leader, Luke knows in his soul that it will lead him to a shattering confrontation with the emperor’s psychopathic enforcer Darth Vadar – the murderer of Luke’s long-lost father.
Here I wanted a sense of overwhelming danger arrayed against a vulnerable hero and some shaky allies whom he might not even be able to trust. I used the most sinister words I could find to fit the circumstances: sadistic, slaughter, dark, cryptic, cynical mercenary, hopeless, psychopathic enforcer, and murderer. The part about the storm troopers killing Luke’s family is a plot-spoiler, but a thriller writer might insert it into the blurb anyway to increase the sense of horrific danger.
Never do a bait-and-switch with your blurb to mislead readers into thinking your story fits into this year's favorite genre. (New writers may think the quality of their writing will make up for the deception.) If the blurb for your story makes it sound like a romance, the story itself should emphasize the romantic relationship.