It’s not enough to just write the book.
Today’s author must be both writer and marketer. Authors in the the world of digital media and the rise of independent publishing are responsible for not only writing the book, but selling it, too. Even authors who are traditionally published are often responsible for a good portion of the promotional efforts.
These days, everyone knows that people can and do judge books by their covers. Most authors emphasize the importance of a a good book cover in selling books, but they’re talking about more than just the image and text on the front. Perhaps as important as that front cover, is the book’s description or blurb, found on the back cover for print books, or in your ebook’s meta-data.
A good book description’s job is to capture reader interest and make them want to know more,. Whether we’re talking about the hook of the first line, which must make you read on to the next sentence and then the next, or about the description as a whole, which must hook the reader, making them want to buy the book to learn the rest of the story, the book description is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal to sell books. According to Brian D. Meeks, a good book description has three elements: a powerful hook, engaging copy, and visually appealing formatting.
Mastering Amazon Descriptions
In Mastering Amazon Descriptions, Brian D. Meeks offers a formulaic plan for writing book descriptions that will sell books, including examples of description re-writes for books in varied genres. Although these descriptions are specified as Amazon descriptions, I’m sure this technique will work equally well with Kobo, or Barnes & Nobel, or even the Apple Store. By the time you’ve read through this book, you’ll be writing back cover copy like a pro, because Meeks’ method is simple enough that almost anyone can do it.
To prove it, I’ll share with you the re-write I did of the description for Delilah, which I am preparing for its re-release in the coming year.
Here is the original description:
“Brutally raped and left for dead, her fourteen-year-old ward abducted, Delilah’s homecoming from prison quickly turns into a quest for vengeance. Tough and gritty, sheer will and determination take her to the Colorado mining town of Leadville in her hunt for her attackers and the girl, Sarah. Somehow along the way, the colorful inhabitants of Leadville work their way into Delilah’s heart, giving her a chance for a future she thought she’d lost along with her innocence.”
Here is the description I wrote for the re-release before I read Mastering Amazon Descriptions:
Delilah is a woman haunted by her past. Her homecoming from prison quickly turns into a quest for vengeance when she is brutally raped and left for dead, and her fourteen-year-old ward is abducted. Sheer will and determination take this tough and gritty heroine up against wild beasts of the forest, Indians and outlaws to the Colorado mining town of Leadville, where the colorful inhabitants work their way into Delilah’s heart, offering a chance for a future she thought she’d lost along with her innocence.
Now, here is the description I wrote using Brian D. Meeks’ method:
Haunted by her past.
Raped and left for dead; her fourteen-year-old ward abducted.
Sheer will and determination take this tough and gritty heroine up against wild beasts of the forest, Indians and outlaws.
Can the colorful inhabitants of Leadville work their way into Delilah’s heart, offering a chance for a future she thought she’d lost along with her innocence?
I don’t think anyone would argue that this last description is an improvement. It has a better hook, shorter sentences, and leaves the potential reader with a question to make them want to learn more and read the book.
How to Write Fiction Sales Copy
How to Write Fictin Sales Copy, by Dean Wesley Smith offers three different formulas for writing back cover blurbs and sales copy, which are aimed toward a wide distribution, and several different approaches. Smith is an old pro in this writing game and he’s good at what he does, (which is write). While his methods are not as formulaic and are not specific to Amazon, they are never-the-less effective in posing unspoken questions about the book and making readers want to know more. Smith also offers 32 actual story blurbs as examples in multiple genres.
To experiment with one of Dean Wesley Smith’s techniques, I thought I’d try to rewrite the blurb for my paranormal mystery novella, which is riddled with what Smith calls “The Author Problem”, which results from too many passive verbs and too much focus on the plot. My description doesn’t have a lot of passive voice, but it does focus on the plot too much, revealing more than necessary, which is a common author error. The idea behind the blurb is to give potential readers just enough to pique their interest and make them want to purchase the book. If you reveal too much of the plot, there’s no reason to buy.
Cassie is nervous about her return to her ancestral lands with her boyfriend Tony for more reasons than one. She hasn’t been up in these mountains since the unexplained drowning of her parents. And her parents aren’t the only ones who have died or mysteriously disappeared in the area. Cassie doesn’t really believe the old legends passed down from her Native American ancestors, but she harbors no desire to become the keeper of her tribal legacy or the protector of the gold that goes with it. In fact, she plans to tell her Grandmother to pass the legacy to someone else, perhaps her cousin Miranda, who has been searching for the treasure for years. Cassie wants nothing to do with it now that she carries Tony’s baby in her womb. When Cassie forces herself to go out on the lake that took the lives of her parents and she discovers a cave which holds the treasure of her people, she must admit that the legacy is real, which means the curse that guards the treasure and threatens the males of her tribe must also be real. When Miranda’s boyfriend, Jake disappears on the lake, Cassie must find a way to stop the curse, before Tony becomes the next victim.
So here is my attempt at a rewrite, using Smith’s basic blurb pattern, beginning with a character summary that “nails the genre if possible”.
Cassie wants nothing to do with the legacy her grandmother wants to hand down to her. She doesn’t believe in all those Native American legends anyway.
She and Tony plan to be married and start a family. They’re only returning to her ancestral lands now to tell her grandmother to pass the tribal legacy on to someone else, along with the cursed gold that goes with it.
When she forces herself to go out on the lake where her parents drowned, she discovers the cave which holds the tribal treasure and the lake takes another life. Now Cassie must rethink all that she believes. If the treasure is real, could the curse be real, too?
Can Cassie find a way to stop it before Tony becomes the next victim?
If you love paranormal mysteries, pick up a copy of “Hidden Secrets”.
Which one of these descriptions would make you more likely to buy the book? You can see what a difference a few simple changes can make.
Authors must be able to write sales copy, as well as fiction or nonfiction, because stories don’t sell themselves. On The 6 Figure Authors podcast suggest that if a book isn’t selling well, the first things to look at are cover art and blurb. We see here with the examples I provided, what a difference changing up the blurb can make. I recommend both Mastering Amazon Descriptions, and How to Write Fiction Sales Copy to any author who wants to polish their blurb writing skills and improve their sales copy.