The following is a guest post from author Mark Edwards.
I spend a lot of time reading and analysing book descriptions on Amazon. Last year, when Killing Cupid was stuck just outside the top 100 on Kindle, I became convinced it was because of the description. So I studied the books in the top ten and tried to work out what it was that made those descriptions work so sell. Then I rewrote the Killing Cupid blurb.
An hour later, sales had doubled and the book was in the top hundred. A week later, it was in the top ten.
Now, as a book description writer for hire, I get a lot of clients asking me to critique their current description. And there is one mistake that nearly everyone makes. It’s not surprising at all. Before I was a novelist, I was a marketing manager and part of my role involved training new marketers in how to write good copy. They made exactly the same mistakes that novelists make when trying to write sales copy – because that’s what your book description is. It’s purpose is to sell.
When you are so close to the material, when you’ve spent months or years working on your book, you know it inside out. You live and breathe it. You inhabit the minds of your characters, you know where they live, understand their world and their motives. You created the plot and know the cause and effect, the ebb and flow. It’s your baby, and you love it.
So when people ask you what it’s about, expecting a quick line or two that sums up the book and tells them why they should want to read it, the chances are you stumble. You give too much detail. You’re not sure what to mention and what to leave out. You want to tell them everything. Or maybe you don’t even know what the big hook is. You’re too close to it. It takes a very rare writer to be able to step back and pinpoint the single hook that will make a potential reader say ‘Wow! I really want to know what happens in that story…’
The big mistake is this:
99% of writers, when crafting their book description, do not make it crystal clear what this book is about and why anyone would want to read it.
Because that is all you have to do – you need to introduce the big problem or dilemma at the heart of the book. You have to explain why it matters. Don’t go into too much detail. Forget the sub-plots and the minor characters. Be linear and straightforward. And end it with a question or a cliffhanger.
It’s not easy. That’s why publishers rarely ask writers to write their own blurb on the back of their books (although I wrote mine, in tandem with my editor). It’s why companies pay professional copywriters, who have studied and learned their craft, a lot of money to create sizzling copy.
To get started, the first thing you should do is get somebody else, a trusted friend, to read your book, then ask them to describe it in a couple of sentences. What was the main thing they liked about it? If you already have some reviews, you will probably find that the reviews give a clearer idea of what the book is about than the description itself.
Then ask yourself the most important question: What is the central problem of the main character? What adversity do they have to overcome? What difficult decision must they make? What danger are they in that they need to battle against or escape from?
If you can answer that question, clearly, think about this: is it an interesting problem? Will it strike a universal chord? What emotions will it stir in your reader?
Once you’ve identified the answers to those questions, you need to get that across in a clear and concise way. Remember that, online, people scan-read and will pick out words that grab them. Try to use words that will stick in people’s heads and intrigue them.
Finally, another thing to remember is that a lot of readers like familiarity. That’s why people will read all the novels by an author they’ve enjoyed before. An unknown author is a risk. So using the names of similar authors can work really well. If you write legal thrillers, why not say this will appeal to fans of John Grisham?
To help writers help themselves, I have created a free PDF guide that will walk you through how to craft a sizzling book description. You can get it here.
Mark Edwards is the co-author of Catch Your Death and Killing Cupid, which hit No.1 and 2 on Amazon at the same time last year, leading to a book deal with HarperCollins. Mark ascribes part of this success to the book descriptions. He also runs IndieIQ, which offers advice and help to self-publishers, specializing in writing and critiquing book descriptions. Mark is currently accepting new clients. Contact him through http://indieiq.com/contact/ for more details.
Excellent article. Writing copy is something I’ve had a hard time with myself–I wrote, re-wrote, and re-wrote again the copy for both my releases, and I’m still reconsidering it. These are some nice concise guidelines to follow…thanks!
Mark has done a great job with this one, hasnt he? I’m the same as you–constantly tweaking away at my book description. Unfortunately, Amazon doesn’t seem to be displaying much of one at all at the moment for Something in the Cellar. Oops! I’ll definitely be taking Mark’s advice on board, too.
Great post, Ryan. Thanks for sharing! I think all writers struggle with this for some degree. After all, we’re having to condense our whole story down to a few words. I have the same problem with titles. I’d rather write another whole book than come up with a blurb and title.
Very welcome, Will – big thanks to Mark for writing this one. I totally agree with you regarding titles and blurbs. Titles are more of a problem for me – I cringe at the thought of some of my early title candidates for What We Saw (which I happen to think is a pretty good title after months and months of making my mind up/tearing hair out).
Very interesting article, I think the tips on here can be transferred to a number of formats too. Whether you’re writing a description/blurb for your website, submissions or even a tweet, it’s always a potential banana skin! Will be taking the advice on board thanks 🙂
I totally agree, Jack! Some great advice that is applicable across the board. 🙂