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How to Write a Great Book Description

FEATURED IMAGE New York Book Editors 5 10 2021 How to Write a Great Book Descr

In the order of book marketing importance: first goes title, then cover, then book description. If you want to sell your book, you've got to nail your book description. Your title and cover can grab a potential reader, but your book description does all of the hard work. It intrigues the reader, teases a soul-stirring adventure, and bids them to open the book or, better yet, buy it.

While they may open up and read the first sentence or paragraph, it's ultimately the book description that drives the reader to say, “Heck yeah! Let me give this book a chance.”

Your book description plays an essential role in selling your book, no matter your genre, no matter your audience. So, let’s discuss how to do it right.

What is a Book Description?

Your book description isn’t a point-by-point summary of your book. Instead, it’s more like a movie trailer in written form. It sets up the main plot, introduces the characters, gives flashes of conflict, and emphasizes the theme. It’s an ad, and its goal is to hype the reader into purchasing the book.

Where Does a Book Description Go?

Your book description will show up in at least these four places:

  1. The back cover of your book

  2. Your book’s listing page on Amazon (and all other booksellers)

  3. Your book’s landing page on your website

  4. Your downloadable press kit

Also, excerpts of your book description may be used when someone interviews you or reviews your book.

Why is Writing a Book Description So Hard?

Writing a book description is right up there with writing a resume on the level of difficulty. But why?

First of all, it's tough to distill 100,000+ words into a few paragraphs. What do you focus on? What should you put in your description that will accurately describe the story without giving too much away?

Second of all, writing a book description requires a different skill set. You need to think like a copywriter to truly master book blurbs. You have to grab their attention, generate their interest, elicit their desire, and then inspire them to act. That’s a shift from storytelling.

Your book is a story but your book description is an ad.

Your book is a story but your book description is an ad.

If you’re never written an ad before, then you’ll need some help. But don’t worry, below, we’ll discuss what you need to know to kill it.

1. Keep it Short

When it comes to your book description’s word count, you have a budget of approximately 250 words to play with—and that's the upper limit. (Amazon recommends keeping your blurb to 150 words and caps you at 4,000 characters or around 500 words.)

After writing 100,000+ words, 250 seems like nothing. But it's everything at the same time. Every single syllable in your book description matters because people can stop reading the description at any time. If your word choice is off, if they've lost the excitement, if your description turns generic and formulaic, if your writing is unclear, or if you write too much in your description…you will lose your potential reader.

For some writers, 250 words aren't enough. So they just ignore it and write more. And for book covers, they may use a super-small font to fit all of their words.

Here’s the reason why you can't cheat the word count: Most people won't read beyond 250 words anyway. At that point, they'll decide whether they want to buy or move on to another option. So that’s why it’s best to work within the parameters of a teeny-tiny word count.

2. Hook the Reader Right Away

So, you have a small word count, but the first few words matter the most. Hook the reader right away with a shocking statement.

Here's the introductory line from the audiobook description for Jack Carr's The Terminal List:

“A Navy SEAL has nothing left to live for and everything to kill for after he discovers that the American government is behind the deaths of his team in this ripped-from-the-headlines political thriller.”

What can we learn from this book description? Pack as much into the first sentence as possible. Hint at the protagonist’s conflict, both external and internal.

Then, continue to build on what you’ve already shared by setting the scene and delving into the back story just a tad. In your hook, introduce the reader to your protagonist and give them a reason to care.

Dangle a carrot. Promise a good time. And do it as quickly as possible.

3. Leave Them on a Cliff

Your first sentence should hook them, and your last sentence should leave them teetering on the edge. If they make it to the end of your book description, they should have an overwhelming urge to buy it to find out what happens next.

A great way to do that is by asking a question that makes your reader think.

Check out the ending of this book description for The Dressmaker's Gift by Fiona Valpy:

“In wartime, the three seamstresses face impossible choices when their secret activities put them in grave danger. Brought together by loyalty, threatened by betrayal, can they survive history’s darkest era without being torn apart?”

4. Keep a Singular Focus

Remember that your book description should only introduce the main character and the main conflict. It should not discuss subplots. There’s no need to bring in secondary characters either. Focus on the character whose head your reader will be inhabiting.

5. Make it Scannable

Fact: We don't have the same attention span that our grandparents enjoyed. A study found that goldfish have a longer attention span than the modern human of the 2020s. So, even if you hook the reader with the intro of your book description, you'll still need to make your text scannable.

How do you make scan-friendly text?

Create short paragraphs. Throw out everything you’ve ever heard about five-sentence paragraphs. Instead, use shorter paragraphs to quickly share information without slowing down the reader.

Add bullet points. Use bullet points to deliver important information. This is particularly useful for nonfiction books to emphasize key points.

Bold text. This is another way to emphasize important points. Bold words or phrases that you want to stand out from the rest of the text.

Check out this book description for The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon. It uses bold text, short paragraphs, and a series of quick sentences to immediately draw the reader in.

Writing a Book Description

Image Courtesy of Amazon

6. Use Keywords

Keywords aren't just for website searches. Amazon, and other bookseller websites, function very much like a search engine. Add keywords to your book description to quickly convey what your book is about. Including keywords in your description will also improve your book’s discoverability because people tend to use these terms when searching for new books to read.

For example, a quick Amazon search for “redemptive romance” turned up (among others) Francine Rivers' The Masterpiece.

In the book description for The Masterpiece, “redemptive” shows up twice (three if you count the subtitle), and “romance” shows up four times (or five when considering the subtitle).

Because keywords help your book get found, be sure to include a few of them in your book description. Amazon will also give you the option to add seven more keywords, but it won’t hurt to include them in your book description. This way, you’ll speak directly to the reader and help them understand what your book is about in context.

7. Shout Out Your Series

Is this book part of a series? Let the reader know. Some readers prefer series and are more likely to purchase a book if they know that there's more to come. This is especially true if they like the premise of your book and your writing style (which they can glean from the first couple of paragraphs).

Here’s a simple shoutout that you’ll find in the description for Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan:

“Plus don't miss The One and Only Bob, Katherine Applegate's return to the world of Ivan, Bob, and Ruby!”

8. Showcase Your Awards

Has your book won awards or made it onto any must-read lists? Toot your own horn here. It’s an ad, after all. Share that social proof to persuade the reader that your book is worth the gamble.

In addition to sharing accolades, also add positive reviews to bolster your credibility. Cherry-pick the best reviews from well-known publications or respected authors in your genre.

That's how the book description for Charlotte McConaghy's Migrations starts:

Writing a Book Description

Image Courtesy of Amazon

With all of those descriptors, how could you not want to read more? Reviews will inspire trust, so add them to your book description. This also includes book reviews from “regular” readers. Never underestimate the persuasive power of a review—any review.

Final Thoughts

When writing a book blurb, remember that your goal is to create an ad for your book. It should only give the reader a glimpse of what’s ahead. Don’t give away too much and leave them asking for more.

Before you go, check out these related posts:

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