Author’s Guide: Writing Book Descriptions

I wrote the book…why is it so hard to write the description?

Ah, the book description. We’ve read hundreds of them while browsing online for our next great read, but sometimes when you sit down to write your own marketing materials, it’s hard to know where to start. Your manuscript is massive, how can you possibly choose which details to focus on?

To clarify for those that aren’t sure – your book description is what’s typically displayed on your online product page. Here’s where it’s located on Amazon:

Screen Shot 2018-05-26 at 1.49.11 PM

In general, it’s suggested that you don’t write your own marketing materials. This goes for your back cover copy, your taglines, your book description, your author biography, and your summary. Not just the description.

Here’s the truth: You’re just too close to the material.

You’ve read your book (even if it’s been in chunks) dozens or hundreds of times. You’ve focused on the prose, the characters, the descriptions, and dialogue. Just like proofreading should be done with fresh eyes, so should marketing materials. In general, people just aren’t good at marketing the products they create. That’s why there are marketing teams: just because you know the material best, it doesn’t mean you’re the best at selling it. I know my apartment better than anyone, but that doesn’t mean I’ll get a better price for it than a realtor could. Same goes for my car, my furniture, and my company.

On top of that, you have an emotional connection to your material that can make it hard for you to see it objectively. I wouldn’t ask my mother to write me a job recommendation. No, definitely not, she loves me too much. She’d write about my spirit, empathetic nature, and kind heart, all of which are intangible details. I’d ask a coworker instead, someone who could focus on the details a hiring manager is interested in, like project management skills and being excellent at Adobe Suite.

Ideally, you’ll work with someone who knows marketing. You can give insights to your book like who your audience is, what you’d like them to take away from the book, and how you want them to feel while reading it. These are all very useful things for a marketer. Show a marketer your book, and they’ll find the magic.

That being said. We don’t all have the budget to hire someone else. So if you’re determined to write a product description yourself, then here are some tips:

1. Steal like an Artist

The famous concept of stealing like an artist states…. and that doesn’t just go for your art, it goes for book descriptions too.

I encourage you to check out Amazon’s Best Books of the Month. Find a book in your genre and study its book description. These authors (or more likely, their marketing team) have done an excellent job of getting their book noticed. That’s obvious, right? They’re being highlighted by Amazon.

Here’s the start to an excellent example from one of May 2018’s spotlighted books, a memoir called The Electric Woman by Tessa Fontaine:

9780374158378.JPG

“Tessa Fontaine’s astonishing memoir of pushing past fear, The Electric Woman, follows the author on a life-affirming journey of loss and self-discovery―through her time on the road with the last traveling American sideshow and her relationship with an adventurous, spirited mother…”

Notice how the description uses emotion to get us interested: “life-affirming, loss, self-discovery” are all things we are naturally interested in as humans. Add the quirky details of “American sideshow” and “spirited mother,” and we’ve hooked the potential writer. The above excerpt is only the first 42 words of the 250-word description, but it’s already got me hovering over “Add to Cart.”

 

2. Keep it to 250 words or less

It’s fun fact that 9 seconds is the attention span of a goldfish, and of human readers. So while you want to get enough content in your description to make it useful, you also don’t want to lose your reader in unnecessary details.

3. It shouldn’t just be your back cover description

While a lot of authors use the same material for the back cover and their product page, they should be different. Think about applying for jobs: you don’t use the same material in your cover letter as you do on your resume. Both documents are opportunities to showcase different reasons why you’re the right candidate.

Same goes for marketing materials. Don’t waste your word count. They should each deliver a unique, fresh take on the book.

4. If you’ve gotten quotes of praise, include them

Some authors manage to gather quotes of praise from fellow authors or even critics. These are great to include in your product description. If your quotes are written by well-known people or publications, you can include them at the top of your description. If they’re by lesser-known people, consider putting them toward the bottom. The beginning of your description is obviously very important, so don’t waste it on a mediocre quote by your mom. Love you, mom!

Here’s an example of a really great book that has an odd description. This is the description for Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell:

15745753

Screen Shot 2018-05-26 at 1.57.38 PM

The quote at the top is by John Green. Those of you may know him as the very popular author of The Fault in Our Stars. Green’s book is one of the bestselling young adult novels of all time, and Eleanor and Park is in the same genre. It would make sense, then, to explain who he is and what he wrote, yes?

It also chooses to include an excerpt from the novel. The idea behind this is to show the tone of voice and humor of the characters, but it doesn’t do a great job of explaining what the book is really about, does it? And to make matters worse, the formatting is weird. Luckily, Rowell became famous with one of her later books, Fan Girl, and this book was discovered anyway. Still, this description could use an update.

5. The Golden Ticket: “Fans of…”

There is no better way to communicate what your book is about than to compare it to other books. What is your book similar to? Is it like Twilight, but with a female vampire and a male human love interest? I’m sure fans of Twilight would be into it! By pointing this out to the purchaser, you’re confirming that they’re going to get what they want.

You can use other book titles, or just a general genre when creating the relationship.

“Fans of women’s contemporary fiction will love this tale of…”

“Fans of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train will love KC Burke’s book about…”

 

This is also an easy way to associate your book with quality work. Just be sure to align your work with well-known, popular material.

At the end of the day, your description need to be a marketable synopsis of your book. What will the author gain upon purchase? A hilarious tale for women? A serious guide for alcoholics? Be clear about what your book offers.

If you’re interested in our marketing materials services, please don’t hesitate to contact us!

 

 

Leave a Reply