How to Write Better Book Descriptions to Sell More Books
14:00 EST - Nov 20, 2019
Two-time USA Today bestselling author of sci-fi/fantasy and books for authors. Co-host of the Sell More Books Show and the co-writer of 1,000+ book descriptions for authors in a variety of genres.
Welcome to How to Write Better Book Descriptions to Sell More Books. We're going to get right into it. What is a book description? If you're new to this, if you have heard of other terms like "blurb" but you don't really know what it is let me tell you.
What is a book description?
When it comes down to it the book description is the text that shows up on your online sales pages, on Amazon, on Apple, Kobo, etc. It also shows up on the back of your paperback book, hardcover book or audiobook. But unless you're selling at a conference, nobody's even looking at the back of that book. They're all looking at what the words are on your sales page.
It's around 150 to 300 words, usually. It's a little longer for a non-fiction book.
A book description is your opportunity to get readers excited about your book. The book description is the best way to turn browsers of Amazon, people who make it to your page (maybe by chance), into buyers. Now a lot of you might wonder, "How do I condense my book because it's 80,000 words. How am I supposed to get 150 words from that? That seems impossible."
Book Description Formula: The Basics
That's the line that you'd put on your movie poster, it is the line that gets people in your genre to know that your book is for them. It's the line that gets people who write in your genre to know the book is for them.
It always starts with a hook. If you have quotes from people — even something from the New York Times, I would still always put the hook first.
This for fiction is your character's emotional journey. It is where your character is at the start, where your character is once things happen to him or her. It's always focused on the emotions of your character. A lot of you get really excited about your plot so you want to share as much of it as possible in your book description, but readers like to connect with characters more then they like to connect with plots.
Now, from a synopsis of non-fiction, it's about how you convey the information. Anecdotes, case studies, tips, and tricks: that's what the synopsis entails.
This is my favourite thing. I do love the selling paragraph. This is where you tell your readers what your book is, so to remind them what your book is and why they should go and buy it. What is it about your book that is so awesome? This is when you're putting on your publisher's hat and you say that your book is great.
I know that's hard for you because usually there's a lot of folks out there who are pretty humble — who don't like to share that kind of thing — but you have to come from the reader perspective here. The reader thinks that a publisher has written that. You have to remember that.
Call to Action
This is essentially asking readers to buy your book. You do it in a professional way. "Buy this book to experience something amazing today."
This is the formula, now I'm going to go to every last part of it, but before then... here's the challenge that we have.
Our book is full of a lot of stuff, plots, characters, settings, tips. We have this very limited window here, right? 150 to 300 words to get people who stumble on our page to be excited enough to click the buy button. We have to use this space very wisely.
How on earth do you condense this 80,000-word book? How do you do it? Well condense isn't quite the right word. It's honestly about making a choice. Let's start right off the bat with your hook. How do we choose what goes in our blurb and what doesn't?
How do we choose?
Novels tend to have one main conflict. One that usually deals with death, love, or enlightenment, someone might die, someone might fall in love, or someone might have enlightenment, have a big ah-ha moment. Non-fiction books usually have one main takeaway.
Now if you list out all of your book's conflicts or takeaways, you need to choose the one that's the biggest, that's going to get your target reader excited. If you write fantasy, what's going to get your fantasy readers excited? If you write self-help, what's going to get your self-help readers excited? You take that conflict or that takeaway and that's what you base your description on.
It's not about trying to condense every last plot point. It's about figuring out what is the big thing that my readers would be excited about here, and it's about basing your description on that. You don't have to worry about including plots or sub-characters and all of that, all you need to focus on is what is the number one conflict or the number one takeaway in my book?
Example: Harry Potter
Let's say we were writing a book description for Harry Potter, the first one, and we wanted to come up with a hook. There's a lot of characters: Hermione, Ron, all of the professors, all of the bad guys, Snape. But you could settle on the number one conflict, which is usually in the format of: the protagonist wants something but something is standing in their way. Harry just learned magic, but the most powerful wizard of all time is out to kill him.
Pretty big conflict.
Then we take that conflict and we try to restate it a bunch of different ways. This is not the kind of thing where you come up with one idea and then that one idea is perfect. You need to come up with a lot of different options. You create your headline based on your conflict, which for this is
When evil awakens, one boy’s magic must save the world...
I twisted the conflict a little bit to make it a little bit bigger. We need to save the world here, we need to do something big and bold and incredible. That is something you need to keep in mind with your conflict.
Example: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
Let's go to a non-fiction example. Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Lots of tips, lots of examples, but the main takeaway is you get to discover how to declutter your house using one simple rule, which is "hey, does it bring me joy or does it not bring me joy?" Then you create your hook based on that.
Tired of dealing with clutter every day of your life? Discover a simple system that'll cut your tidying time in half.
For non-fiction, it's always that one problem you are solving.
In short, you need to start with good material (your number one conflict, your number one takeaway) to end up with much better copywriting for your descriptions, ads, and more.
A short diversion
I just want to give you guys a note first.
Who am I?
I've written actually thousands of book descriptions over time, I've learned a lot about the industry through my weekly podcast The Sell More Books Show with my co-host Jim Kukral. I recently presented at 20 Books Vegas, the big self-publishing conference.
I have been following the self-publishing industry for the last five years. I have been talking about the news, I have been learning about marketing, I have been attempting to make sure I give you the most relevant interesting information. I have also sold some of my own books. So far so good. I have had a lot of success with my own self-published books, so hopefully that proves that I'm worth my salt here.
Here's what you're going to learn today:
- why a book description is really the ticket for better sales and more readers
- how to effectively write the four parts of your description, and
- how to write that short copy, those hooks, those Amazon ads, and those things that gets readers interested in all of your future books.
What is copy? What is copywriting?
These are the words on the outside of your book. Chances are, a lot of you are just so good — significantly better than me — at the words inside your book. But the words outside of your book are the ones that help to sell the ones on the inside. This is the marketing. The words readers use to judge your work.
Look, you judge a book by its cover, by its blurb, by its book description. Readers are going to judge your work before they decide if they're going to buy, and so we want to make sure that judgment is very positive. This is the part of book marketing we have the most control over, even if you do publish with a small press. I've had a lot of authors with small presses work with me and my company because they do actually have control over writing the book description and the company is okay with that. Sometimes the author will do a better job with the description then the company itself.
Now, where do people look at an Amazon sales page? That's a good question. Michael Alvear on a study in Romance University did a little heat map test here looking to see what people are actually looking at on an Amazon sales page, helpful information to have. Surprisingly they don't look at the cover that much once they're on the page. They've likely seen it in an ad or they've seen it in a search so they don't actually need to look at it much over here.
Look at what they're really looking at: the title, the reviews, and if they're still on the page then what do they do next? They look at that book description. The interesting thing is: if they make it through your book description and they like your book they're probably going to buy it.
Copy is your closer
I like to refer to copy as your closer. It's your closer because the cover is going to draw readers to your page from an ad, or from social media.
The title and the reviews they keep them there. The title can't be super confusing, you can't have one review I like to say. Are you going to buy the socks with 50 reviews or the socks with one review? I'm going to buy the socks with 50 reviews, so you want to have more reviews obviously.
If they're still on the page after they've looked at the title and the reviews... then that book description can really seal the deal. There was this great study done by Mark Dawson years ago. He surveyed 10,000 readers and asked them, "How'd you find me?" He assumed everyone was going to say his cover, but four times as many, nearly five times said, "The book description."
It's not even necessarily that the book description was the thing that got them, but it was the last thing, it was the last point of contact before they purchased. If they like your description they'll buy the book so we better get it right.
The description starts with the hook
This is the line that's going to either compel your target readers, the people who like reading your genre, to either keep reading or to buy right there. Some people stop reading after the first line and decide whether or not to buy. It's that first impression, right? Your hook. That's why you really need to grab them with that line. If they like that first line, they might buy your book, they might join your list, they could become a fan forever.
A four-step process for writing hooks
I want to share with you the simple four-step process for writing these stellar hooks.
Step one: pick that conflict or takeaway
We've covered this already. Write them all out. If you're not sure which is the number one death, love, or enlightenment, high stakes conflict write them all out. Then you pick the number one option that you think readers of your genre would most identify with. If it's fantasy it might have to do with your fantastical world. If it's your thriller it might have to do with the murder that's happening. Pick the one that is going to resonate with your readers.
Here are a couple of examples.
The Fault in Our Stars: Two teens are in love but they're dying of cancer.
That's terrible. That book and movie make me cry.
Your Best Year Ever: Discover a five-step process for writing New Year's resolutions that stick
That's non-fiction. Conflict, what is the big thing usually related to death, love, or enlightenment for fiction. For non-fiction what is the number one thing readers are going to get out of this book? That's it right there.
Step two: use the conflict to write your hook
We're going to adapt that conflict to write your hook. Ignore the book and don't try to squeeze a million plots in here. Just focus on that conflict or takeaway. The Fault in Our Stars, we're going to rewrite it.
Young love, a terminal diagnosis, time is running out.
This is a restatement of two kids are in love and they're dying of cancer.
Your Best Year Ever. Nonfiction usually has a question followed by your book framed as the solution.
Are your New Year's resolutions always out of reach? Discover a five-step process for setting and achieving your loftiest goals.
I love discover. I like unlock, explore — all those words. This hook is: the problem followed by the solution.
Step three: rewrite the hook multiple ways
I like to do it 15 to 20 different ways. For the sake of time, we're just going to do one additional version. Fault in Our Stars:
Dying of cancer is tragic, but it's worse when you're in love.
Your Best Year Ever:
Will this be the year you achieve your resolutions? Discover a five-step process to make New Year's a time for goal setting celebration.
This is creative work, but we tend to use our editor brains on this. I recommend treating this like a writing sprint where you're just trying to get as many ideas out of your head at once. I've found that to be pretty helpful. Make these versions as wildly different from your first one as possible.
Step four: Pick the emotional one
You pick the one that is most likely to get you excited to read this book, that makes you excited as the author even.
Let's say we have our two options for our fiction here. We compare them and then we say "hey, we take a look," maybe we even share it with our readers, always a good idea. Share it with our readers and see which ones they vote for.
Option #1: Young love. A terminal diagnosis. Time is running out...
Option #2: Dying of cancer is tragic, but it’s worse when you’re in love...
In this case, I was a fan of option two. I think it fits the tone of the book a little more. It ends with a stronger word because it ends with the word love. Powerful words: love, death, pain, soul. Run those in there, make them the last word.
To share it with your readers is very helpful if you do have an email list, you do have a Facebook group, those are great places to share it with your readers once you start to collect them.
Let's look at the nonfiction ones:
Option #1: Are your New Year's resolutions always out of reach? Discover a five-step process for setting and achieving your loftiest goals.
Option #2: Will this be the year you achieve your resolutions? Discover a five-step process to make New Year's a time for goal setting celebration.
I ended up picking option one the first time I wrote this, but I actually like the second one now. I don't know which one I would pick now, but I think you can pick whichever one you want — but I would recommend that you share it with readers whenever possible. When you pick between not just two, but 15 to 20 and you can mix and match them, it gives you a much better chance of finding one that's going to connect with your readers.
I almost do all of my testing with readers themselves when I'm doing one of my own books. But, internally, we actually create five to 10 different options and then we pick which one ends up being the best that we're the most excited about and we use that as the hook.
More Hooks and Headlines
Here are some examples.
Thriller: A death row escapee. Nuclear launch codes in the wrong hands. A retired detective is the world's only hope.
Sci-fi: Humanity has escaped Earth. Their second home is in the line of fire. One renegade pilot will save or doom us all.
It doesn't always have to be three sentences but I was in a mood when I picked these.
Fantasy: Fairies and humans have always stayed separate. Until now. A reckless sprite's first day on the job could be her last.
We have death in almost all of these cases, thriller, sci-fi, and fantasy are similar in that the world is usually in danger. Romance, memoir and Young Adult tend to be a little bit different. Romance is usually about the will they or won't they?
Romance: He just wants to forget. She wouldn't take help if it landed on her. Together they'll find out exactly what they were missing.
Young Adult: Popularity just turned its back on him. She's never fit in. School never saw them coming...
Memoir is an interesting one, it tends to be a combination of fiction and non-fiction. We tend to refer to it as a reverse mullet with "business in the back and party in the front" — so we have the fiction party up top and the business in the back.
Memoir: A terrifying diagnosis. An unbreakable bond. An unforgettable journey.
Now, remember, you can use these hooks in your description, on Amazon as advertising copy, and as Facebook ad copy as well. Now with the hook, you've got their attention. Now it's time to real them in with your emotionally charged synopsis.
The Synopsis — Fiction
I'm going to go deep on fiction with a couple little non-fiction pieces of info here. Your typical fiction synopsis — that you will find in book descriptions — are not strong. These synopses:
- Don't know why their characters matter
- Don't flow because it's really, really choppy
- Doesn't grow. You don't feel the energy building as we continue on. And it
- Doesn't show that the book is awesome. It doesn't leave the reader wanting more, it doesn't have some big cliffhanger that is getting readers excited.
So we obviously want it to show that characters matter. We want it to flow, we want it to boost in energy as it goes on, and we want it to show that this book is so awesome that you have to pick it up right away.
Now the best-selling books of all time have these big characters. Heck, even the Bible right? You got these big characters of Adam and Eve and Noah. We relate to them, we connect with them. My mom used to work at a day camp and kids could come to her asking for not Hunger Games hair, not Capitol hair, but they were asking for Katniss hair. Readers connect with characters no matter what age they're at. It's not just enough to have someone's name and all this stuff happen to them. No, we need to see and understand how these characters feel.
Make readers know why the characters matter
How do you make readers know that characters matter in your book? You need to answer what defines your protagonist.
- What is something about that character that would make him or her relate to a reader?
- What is it that sets them apart?
- What is it that makes them interesting?
- What is your main character going through?
- Where are they at, emotionally, at the beginning of the story?
This isn't from an actual book description but I like this Harry Potter example.
Harry Potter just found out his whole world is a lie.
I'm not saying here that Harry Potter is upset, but I'm showing it because he just found out his whole world is a lie. He just found out something big. This doesn't just sound like something happening to him. It sounds like something emotional happening to him.
Make sure it flows
You want to vary up your sentence length, they can't all be the exact same length or it's going to sound like spoken word poetry or something. Some short sentences, some long sentences and it certainly can't be one long run-on. Man, I have seen a lot of descriptions that are just one long run-on sentence after another. Can't do that. If I'm a reader and I see that your description is full of run-on sentences I'm going to assume you write like Faulkner, minus maybe the skill.
Here's a mouthful:
As a spy for the top British intelligence agency, MI6, David Trotter has the highest security clearance, but he can't tell his family anything, which has never been a problem... until now.
I find it helpful to read those punctuation marks out loud because it makes you realize just how many there are. I wouldn't recommend more than one comma per sentence in a book description.
Instead, how about this:
David Trotter is at the top level of British intelligence. He may love his family, but he can't tell them anything about his top security clearance and his license to kill. It hasn't been a problem... until now.
Just feel how much more dramatic it is with those stops. It needs to not just be stream-of-consciousness; it needs to be well written. Be willing to cut details out, to remove plot points in an effort to get more flow into your description.
Make sure it grows
Look, you need to keep the momentum going, you need to make sure that the energy is going from the beginning to the end of your description. Because the synopsis is like a shark: if it stops moving it is going to stop getting oxygen.
I love using phrases like:
- "when the whole world change"
- "after meeting his maker"
- "dancing his way to the top of the charts"
- "as the tension between them builds."
These phrases are like a plane needing to speed up before it takes off. You're adding energy to the sentence so that they have enough speed to fly into the air. These kinds of transitional phrases can make a huge difference.
Lastly, it needs to show
You need to raise those stakes. Death, love, or enlightenment also plays a major role in the cliffhanger. I read too many descriptions that end with a whimper. It almost feels like the writer or the publisher just said, "Okay, I guess I'm done." Well, that's exactly what the reader's going to say. "Okay I guess I'm done," and not buy the book. You need to end with something really big. Example:
If they fail, the ones he loves may not survive the night.
Death right there.
So nail the fiction synopsis: know the character's emotions, let it flow with short and long sentences. Read it out loud, read all the punctuation marks out loud. You grow momentum with transitions. The runway before the takeoff, and then you just show how crazy this book might get. Cliffhangers are absolutely allowed here.
The Synopsis — Nonfiction
Now with non-fiction synopsis, I'm going to list a couple of points.
Establish your expertise
Very important that you establish that you're an expert. And if you aren't an expert you should at least say that you're an author because the first few letters of authority are author, so you want to have that you are an authority on this subject. Here's an example of expertise:
Fitness and military intelligence expert Gary Collins has helped thousands of people roam free with firsthand advice shared on his popular website.
Don't list everything. Focus on the transformational benefits.
Inside you learn how to balance your checkbook so you can finally save up for your dream vacation.
It's not just about hey you learn how to get out of debt, it's about what is getting out of debt going to provide for me? Maybe it's going to provide that you finally get to do the things you've been dreaming of. You need those, you need those transformational benefits in your non-fiction description.
What comes after the synopsis?
This is your closing argument, and it's going to make or break the sale. You need to remind your reader what the book is, and the action they should take to start reading it. We accomplish this with a selling paragraph and the call to action.
If a reader has gotten to this point in the description and they haven't bought, there is still some sort of resistance on their part. They don't yet feel compelled to buy it. We need to answer these questions for the reader:
- What if this book isn't for me?
- Sounds good but how do I know for sure?
We want to make sure the reader has these questions answered for them. We do this by using two simple sentences before we get to the call to action.
Sentence one, we tell it like it is.
We mention the genre and the series. For example:
Ted Saves the World is the first book in a YA superhero series.
It seems trite, but that's what we got to do. We got to remind people what is this book again? People have a limited attention span these days.
Now if the reader likes the genre they're more excited. You've scored a point. "Oh, I love superhero books." Bringing the genre back in is important.
Sentence two, why should I buy?
You want to use praiseworthy pertinent adjectives to describe your book. Remember, it's not time to be modest, you need to think of yourself like a publisher, not a bashful author writing his or her own bio. I use the if you like this you'll love this format. This has actually been proven to increase sales in a study on BookBub.com. Here's an example:
If you like wall-to-wall action, witty dialogue, and touching romance, then you'll love the first installment in Bryan Cohen's super-powered series.
It's weird to write your own name there like it's third person but it's absolutely necessary.
Finding those adjectives.
This is a great way to use your customer reviews. If you don't feel comfortable speaking highly of yourself you can look at your customer reviews. You can look at your customer reviews to speak highly for you. You can paraphrase them, you can copy-paste them, you can quote them, whatever you want to do, but you can use those pieces of reviews to speak highly for you if you would rather not use your own words.
A couple of examples.
Dead of Winter is the first standalone book in a spine-tingling series of romantic suspense novels. Okay, so that's a series too but if you like small town mysteries, heart-wrenching romance, and gripping tension then you'll love Melissa Pearl and Anna Cruise's white-knuckle thrill ride.
The Law of Action is your practical handbook for mapping out your path to a purposeful life. If you like real-life examples of success, no-nonsense advice, and simple steps you can start today, then you'll love Rob Actis' life-changing guide.
Now we make our final plea.
Selling paragraph's in place. We're going to pitch our readers, we're going to tell them what to do. The description ends with a call to action.
What is the call to action? This is where you give your reader guidance. You hold their hand all the way to the shopping cart. You want to tell them what they have to do. For example:
Buy The Pugs of War to start the hilarious caper today.
I like to use buy but you can use other words like explore or discover. I like to do this at the end because you've got a potential reader who has seven internet tabs open, they have the T.V. on, their tablet is on. They're pretty distracted so you need to get through to them by telling them exactly what to do.
Buy Set Free by Real Love to start your must-have roadmap of the heart today.
I like today as well, it's very urgent. Like I said, you can use discover, unlock, explore, whatever you want.
And that's your full book description:
- Headline (the hook)
- Synopsis (character emotional journey or how you convey the information)
- Selling paragraph (what it is, and why people will like it)
- Call to action (buy the book because it's great!)
Here are a couple of examples. Fiction:
Reality is under attack. Every battle could be their last, and they're down to their final life.
In the battle to save his race, Scarhoof is the last guard standing. If the old shaman warrior fails to gather reinforcements, the defenseless minotaurs in his care will fall into the enemy's scaly clutches. But on the other side of the VR console, far more than Scarhoof's game world is at stake.
We have a little cliffhanger there going from paragraph one to paragraph two.
Adrianna and her team of programmers are in for some long nights on the job. Epoch International's latest immersive game wasn't supposed to come out for months, but a rogue AI had other plans. It's trapped players into the simulation and held their memories hostage. If Adrianna can't hack her way back in, Scarhoof and the other players could be lost forever.
They could die: death! Then we have our selling paragraph.
Eloria's Beginning is the dynamic first book in a new LitRPG series. If you like unconventional fantasy heroes, epic battles, and immersive gaming worlds, then you'll love Tom Hansen's VR adventure.
This is what it is, this is why you like it. Then we have our call to action.
Buy the book to boot up for a high-octane gaming session today.
We often tie that to the genre for fun.
Are you tired of living your life on autopilot? Discover a seven-minute fix to take back control and enjoy every moment.
Do you feel like you're too busy for self-reflection? Does your wellbeing take a backseat to your everyday responsibilities? Has that made you stressed out and on edge? Author Justin R. Adams was exactly where you are until he fine-tuned his methods for cultivating mindfulness. And now he's here to help you become healthier, wealthier, and wiser.
This is who the expert is. This is why you should listen to him.
Mindful Life Journal contains daily prompts and playful exercises [Bryan: that's how the information is conveyed] to enrich your emotions, your intentions, and your energy. By combining ancient Eastern wisdom with modern Western science, Adams' methods can make you more self-aware and confident with just seven minutes of effort per day.
Here are the transformational benefits:
In The Mindful Life Journal, you'll discover:
- How to get a deeper understanding of the relationships between emotions and energy, you'll get energy
- Thirteen fun challenges to help you pause and internalize the moment
- How to start the day in a better mood, not just for a better mood, how to become more intentional about your life
- Three months of non-dated entries and daily prompts to help you reflect on your progress
- A greater clarity of your beliefs, your values, and your sense of purpose, and much, much more.
This life-affirming book is the journal you need to live a more mindful life. If you like time-tested methods, structured approaches to self-reflection, and spending just a few minutes a day to make real progress, then you'll love Justin R. Adams' inspirational guide.
Buy The Mindful Life Journal to learn to live in the moment today.
Putting it all together
- Compelling hook: it gets browsers to buy or keep on reading.
- Your powerful your synopsis leaves readers wanting more.
- They solidify their decision with the selling paragraph, and
- The call to action tells them exactly what to do.
This is what you do. This is what you have to do to turn more browsers into buyers with all of your future marketing efforts. Now blurbs are tough. I've worked with thousands of authors, some of them have said that writing the description is harder then writing the book itself. I see a meme with Gollum that goes, "We hates the blurb but we must writes it." But that's not great because if copy helps you close the sale then — hey — you've got to get it right. It's very essential.
Speaking of calls to action: Work with Bryan on your book description today by heading to his Reedsy profile.