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When it comes to selling books, the book description is a writer’s most powerful tool. It’s what sells books in the first place, and it’s what keeps them selling even after the book has been published. A good book description is short, compelling, and memorable, and it makes the reader want to know more. Writing a great book description is a matter of knowing the rules and breaking them in the right way. The key to a good book description is making the reader want to read the book, and following these steps will help you do just that.
Anticipate the reader’s main questions
The balance between telling too much and telling too little makes for a schism in most book descriptions – but why? It’s because the reader is left primarily to interpret the book on their own. As you type away at your next description, keep in mind that somewhere in your own process you started telling yourself about what the book was. Recall those impressions – are they accurate? Is the story vivid or intriguing? Are the characters relatable? Did you catch yourself skimming because the pace was dull? Instead of inflating your summary with the writer’s version of the story, actively address the reader’s concerns. They probably aren’t as interested in the main character as the author, so why focus on that? Point out other characters, voice, or plot developments to pique the reader’s interest. Sensible choices make the writing easier.
The real value in keeping your audience in mind is that if you show a close awareness of your audience, you can save yourself the burden of telling the whole backstory before the conflict kicks in. After all, we already know we want to know the “how” of the story – your job is to keep the “when,” “why,” and “what” in mind. You should only bother giving the reader the brief history of your backstory if it resolves one of these questions, particularly the first. Otherwise it’s okay to save it, because the story might sideline the backstory anyway.
Write a killer hook
Though what constitutes a “great” book description relies on personal taste, there are some standards that almost everyone can agree on. One such standard is the opening. A hook is a one- or two-sentence summary that instantly captures the reader’s interest, in the same way that a movie’s hook attracts an audience and gets them to keep watching. These can take the form of a memorable phrase, a startling detail, or an intriguing character, depending on the tone you’re going for. Keep the opening of your book description short, as most readers won’t keep reading after the second sentence.
The opening of your book description should have another element to it, called a “nut,” which is a trope, detail, or character-specific detail that helps quickly contextualize the rest of the story. It’s a single metaphor, symbol, or detail that sums up the rest of the book — a clever turn of phrase, a unique plot point, a philosophical or socio-political detail, or memorable characterization of a particularly unique or compelling character. If you can create an intriguing fight between two factions that neatly sums up the philosophical conflict at the heart of your book, you have a combination that will keep readers hooked.
Find the unique angle of your story
If you want to write a truly stunning book description, you’ll need to think about what makes your book special. Sounds obvious, right? But that’s actually the hardest part. Choosing the right angle can be a challenge, but it’s also where you’ll garner the most attention and interest from potential readers. If you’re having trouble identifying your book description angle, try this brainstorming method. Start by listing all of your ideas about the book, regardless of how big or small or how basic or complicated they are, and then circle the ones that stand out. The more unique and engaging your angle, the better your book description will be.
Understanding that balance between familiar and new will also help you make small tweaks to your book description throughout the process, however. Even if you already win over your audience with a really great first line, you may still want to come back and revise to improve it. If you go with the angle that you really love, then you’ll have a much easier time writing a great book description — it’ll just flow out of you.
Make sure you sell the genre
Your book description sets the tone for your novel. It gives your readers a sense of what will make them want to read. If your book is about an ordinary girl who gets caught up in an industry fueled by the blood diamonds of West Africa, let the world know that right away. If you don’t, readers may think they’ve bought a quiet Southern novel when what you’re really giving them is All the Pretty Horses.
Don’t just give general sales info, like the number of pages or the number of a series it’s a part of, because nobody wants to know that sort of logistical stuff. Write your description in one voice, with one tense and one viewpoint. Each paragraph should be about one point of information, with a single purpose and single viewpoint. This will help you to avoid confusing any reader. The more terrible you are at writing a book description, the more likely it is that someone will put it on the backburner. If your book description is boring or disingenuous, people will get an idea of what they’re getting into before they turn the first page.
Tease the buying desire
Before you even word a single phrase, you should have an understanding of the type of book you want to write. This will help ensure that you meet the expectations of your readers. For example, if you’re writing a detective novel, avoid talking about the detective’s career troubles or unrequited feelings for the victim’s wife. You be clear upfront that this novel is about a detective solving a murder, and then you can talk about how this detective’s psychological quirks make her ideal for solving crimes, or how having just become a father, he’s more determined than ever not to fail this time. Something in that vein will more effectively catch readers’ attention and engage them. Now, start to look at books you’ve read in your chosen genre. You’ll start to notice trends that get book descriptions good promotional success, while noting some of the bad ones as well. That’s not to say all bestselling book descriptions are good or all bad book descriptions are bad — far from it, as there are always exceptions — but it’s a good place to start.
When you’ve gathered a lot of examples that handle the book details well, don’t just look at them academically. Imagine that you’re a reader who’s never read the author’s books, never really been interested in the genre, but for whatever reason has decided to buy this one. How would you describe it to yourself to make you click on the “buy” button? Now, think about the elements that you think are crucial. This might seem like you have to look for the same words over and over again, but in truth, keywords are only effective if they’re woven into a sentence so they can be pulled out as keywords. That means the only way they really come through is if you write them naturally. It’s actually a very fast and natural process, once you get used to it. Just when you think you have the sentence right, go in and change up your words. Don’t feel restricted by keywords, use them just as an idea catalyst.
Your goal as an author when writing a book description is to create a long-tail keyword phrase that is so appealing and intriguing that the potential reader wants to buy your book anyway, even if they haven’t read it already. One way to do that is to think about who your book might appeal to and what they’re looking for. Social media allows you to find out who your readers are by looking at the most popular tags that are used with links to your book so you can determine what they’re looking for. In order to write a great book description, you need to research keyword tools such as click-through rate information, audience keywords, and more, so that you have a firm handle on all the relevant information on how to write a great book description. Once you’re prepared, brainstorm using those terms to type out and format your own description. It’s a great idea to use a free word counter, such as Google Docs, that lets you see your target page length at a glance, so that you don’t go past the max word count. And of course, it’s critical to proofread multiple times, fact-check, and edit your book’s description for grammar and spelling, in order to make it a great book description that you can be proud of!
Perhaps the biggest mistake that authors make when writing a book description is that they try to include the whole story. But that’s not what potential readers want to know! If you include the whole story, you’ll turn readers off to your book in the first few sentences and they’ll more likely click away. That’s why it’s a good idea, when writing your description, to begin with the creation of the setting to a scene. It could be a brief description about a location, a line of dialogue between two characters, or the protagonist thinking. But you’re really sketching out the situation without revealing any plot details or describing the emotions of characters. You can even try and use a rhetorical question that’s relevant to the book, such as in “What if discovering the tragedy of the fragile nature of life became synonymous with the experience of death itself?”
Have a clear storyline
Before you can write an engaging book description, you need to know exactly what your book is about — the genre, the characters, what happens, and why the book is special. If you aren’t totally clear on what your book is about, it will be impossible to write a good book description. We’re talking plot, scenes, character arcs, and so on. For a nonfiction book, you need to be sure about what to include in the description — this is less important for fiction, but it will shine through in the character’s motivations, actions, and dialogue.
When you’ve broken down everything in your story, look for the central conflict between needs and desires — who wants what and why, and how do they choose to get it? If you set up the struggle clearly and on the surface, you can move in whichever direction feels most satisfying. Many authors say that their stories are “masquerading as something else.” In other words, they start writing and end up in a different genre or story direction entirely, because the “true story” was right there in their subconscious. Sometimes, this takes the authors in a direction better than their original plan!
Add visual and inspirational elements
The heart of any description should be your book’s main plot points — as much as possible, you want the book description to serve as a plot summary. Even if you’re writing a detailed and complex book, you’ll have some main dramatic moments that must anchor your description. That said, it can be a tricky balance between giving too much detail, and giving too little. The best goal to keep in mind as you’re writing your book description is to make sure that the average person would want to read your book. In order to do that, it’s essential to include elements that will both represent your story well, and keep people who skim the blurb engaged, even if they have only a vague idea of what your characters are and what they hope to do. Keep your beautiful cover in mind, and try to pick out a couple visual details that fit with your story — if you can’t think of any, talk to your cover artist. It helps to use schema-breaking sentences and images like the elephant we discussed earlier, too.
If your book is part of a series, make sure to make that clear — as we talked about here, giving people a reason to read the next book is a good reason to write a good book description. If it’s a standalone, though, make sure to contextualize your book by including the right set pieces in your description — most of which will be familiar to any sci-fi, fantasy, or crime fiction genre fan. Scarred aliens, magic spells, locked rooms, poker games, shark attacks, shadowy organizations, evil robots — all of these are genre archetypes that you can fall back upon and will resonate with your audience.
Don’t make it too long
It’s extremely tempting, when you have space for about 700 words or so, to fill each and every one. And you should fill as much as you can, but you need to be careful not to overdo it. Amazons allow for book descriptions to be very long and spacey, which is why it’s easy to give into this temptation. Make sure your book description actually sells your product. If someone is looking for a gripping page-turner, no amount of flowery prose or backstory about the main character’s childhood will convince them to buy.
If you’re not sure how long your book description should be, just search for a book very similar in scope and plot, and copy its length. It’s usually better to err on the side of being too succinct and only sell the great parts of your book, rather than trying to show off how impressive your prose is, but not getting to the point. There’s nothing more frustrating or off putting than jumping into the middle of a story only to find no purchase points. Readers want to know what they’ll get when they pick the book up, and your book description is the best place to spell that out. Skip the fluffy language that doesn’t tell the reader anything, and keep the reader in your sights throughout.
Any of these tips can make your description readable or engaging. But to really help people decide whether to buy the book, aiming to be concise is the only way. Nobody wants to read a dissertation on your book. You don’t need a ton of detail here. Instead, focus on what makes your story or narrative most compelling. Think about that moment when your characters’ or narrative’s world changes irrevocably. Now describe it, especially what those characters are feeling and thinking. Give people a sample of your own voice — you don’t read a book because it sounds like someone else. That opening sensation will be familiar to anyone who visits high school or college creative writing workshops. But the “show, don’t tell” mantra applies in marketing your book, too.
Your goals in this description are to show people what your book is about. The best part is that readers are hugely forgiving and will give you plenty of space. If you want to write a 1,500-word description of a middle grade adventure story, it might be hard to figure out exactly what to say on Amazon, but you’ll have plenty of space to talk about everything they’d need to know after seeing it on Goodreads or in a review. The key is to focus on what readers will see most compelling about your book, and do whatever is possible to get people to click “buy it now.”
Write from the perspective of your audience
Writing a book description can be daunting. If your book is part of some kind of series or a larger published universe, how do you sell the book to readers who may not be familiar with the book’s subject matter? How do you weave in the most compelling nuggets of information about your characters—without giving too much away? Starting with the basics, book descriptions are typically between 50-250 words. Read other popular book descriptions in your genre to get a sense of your word limit, and make sure to double check word count on self-publishing sites like Smashwords. Most importantly, you’ll need a snappy way to sell your book. Some authors use phrases like “get hooked on a feeling” or “fiction with heart and soul” to describe good hooks. What makes your story stand out from the other books in the same genre? It’s often found in the author’s voice, so your copy needs to have a distinct voice about it. Tone is also an important part of creating chatter in online social media outlets, so the perspective of your description is very important. If you write from the perspective of the target audience, you will create a buzz. Write the description from the perspective of the character, and you will have a romance novel. A good trick to help you with this is to pretend you are the main character in your story. Put yourself in the scene of your book and think about what you would do if you were that hero or heroine. How would you speak? What would be on your mind about this discovery or complex character? Every sentence in your book description needs to give vital information about your book, while keeping the reader wanting more. But, readers do not want to plow through tons of words before they get to any useful or interesting information. It’s a balancing act that you can achieve with the right combination of mystery and information.
Everyone wants to see the rest of the book — it’s the reason people buy books, after all. Your job is to tell them why they will be chomping at the bit to do it. Make sure your opening line is captivating enough to reel in your reader, and that every sentence in the chapter is doing just that. It’s hard work that is often overlooked, but you’ll be glad you took the time for it once you’ve got book buyers lining up out the door. With a little extra effort, you’ll be able to reap the benefits for weeks, months, and years to come.
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