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.
I recently had the pleasure of reviewing two horror novels written by this month’s author guests; Arcana, by Paul Kane and Cold Black Hearts, by Jeffrey J. Mariotte. I found it interesting that these two authors chose one or two lines that were so similar to begin these very different horror stories. Both beginnings are designed to grab the reader and reel them in, and in both stories, it worked. The hook was instantly set.
Kane begins Arcana with,
“They were all going to die.
But it was for the cause, and they were not only glad to do it – they felt compelled to do it.”
Mariotte starts Cold Black Hearts like this;
“They were dead, all of them dead, and so was she.”
Both authors bring us into the story in the middle of the action at the point of impending death. We don’t know what is happening yet, but we know the speaker in each case is about to die. How does anyone walk away from that without reading more?
Both Arcana and Cold Black Hearts are horrific stories of evil and death, but they each present horror stories of distinctive and different flavors. Although each presents the battle of good versus evil, the resulting stories are very different, yet each has the ability to captivate their audience and satisfy whatever it is inside of us that makes horror such an appealing genre to us.
Arcana, by Paul Kane takes place in an alternate universe with a future where magick is very real and has survived through the Arcana culture, despite repeated efforts to exterminate them from the planet. It’s a world where torture is still used to extract confessions from those suspected of using the the ancient arts, and Callum McGuire is an orphan who bears a hatred for the magick communities responsible for the terrorist attack that left him alone, to be raised in an orphanage with a brutal matron. As a young M-forcer, dedicated to stopping Arcana after a recent series of terrorist attacks carried out by the group. The viciousness and brutality against Arcana is broadly directed, and as Callum watches innocent children fall prey to it, his own morality tells him that something isn’t right. When he guesses that his friend and neighbor is secretly Arcana, he is swept into the Arcana culture as he tries to protect her from being apprehended by his fellow M-forcers. This tale is cleverly crafted to let the story unfold in a series of discoveries which lead Callum to think that things are not the way he’d been lead to believe, even as more terrorist attacks take place, and his friends in Aracana try to convince him that he is the savior of their prophecy. Savior or destroyer? The power is in Callum’s hands and only he can decide.
Arcana takes readers on a hero’s journey beyond death and back in a world where anything is possible. That, my friends, can be a very scary journey. I give it five quills.
In Cold Black Hearts, by Jeffrey J. Mariotte, evil stirs the ancient legends into reality. When Annie O’Brian is caught in a bust gone bad and the resulting explosion, she loses both her hearing and her job, but she gains an uncanny sense of empathy for the people around her. So, there’s nothing to stop her from taking a job investigating a four year old murder where the original investigation was botched, and working to free the convicted man, even though he gives her the creeps and is probably guilty of numerous crimes, if not this one. Her investigation uncovers not only the evidence needed to free Johnny Ortega from prison, but also evidence that there is something much more sinister going on in Hildalgo County than a simple cover-up, but when Annie manages to put all the pieces together and tries to stop the return of an ancient demon, it could cost her her life, or worse.
Filled with sacrifice and betrayal, Cold Black Hearts will chill you to the core of your soul. Lots of unexpected twists and turns to this story. I give it four quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.