How to Write a Damn Good Fiction Book Description | IBR Book Marketing Series (Part 5)
by Joe Walters
Your marketing strategy is only as good as your book description.
You can work tirelessly to get browsers to click on your product link. Newsletters, social media, advertising, article writing—you name the type of book promotion, you’re working hard at it.
But all that hard work won’t matter if your product page isn’t closing the deal.
Maybe the person who clicked on your link came from a Facebook ad. Maybe they liked the cover or the short tagline you shared, and they thought, Woah, this might be my next favorite book.
But then they get to the product description, and instead of hitting “Buy Now,” they leave.
You have lost the sale and the money you spent on the ad that got them there.
Do everything you can to not let this happen.
Your book description accompanies your book wherever it goes, and it ranks in importance right up there (or just behind) your book cover.
If you make it onto a book list of impressive books, the curator may use all or some of your book description to accompany the book. When you send your book out for review, the reviewer will take a look at the cover first and then lean heavily on the description to make their decision.
Does this book sound like it’s for me? Does the writing make me think this author is capable of executing a great plot? Does it seem like something incredible will happen?
You’re thinking, Okay, okay, I get it. Descriptions are important.
But how do I write a book description that closes the deal?
The short answer? With care, time, revision, editing, formatting, and testing.
The long answer?
Let’s get to it.
Here’s how to write a damn good book description for your fiction or narrative nonfiction book.
It all starts with the hook.
What’s a hook? Well…
A hook is a short, catchy phrase that utilizes the main selling point(s) of your novel, similar in concept to an elevator pitch. Often bolded at the very top of the description, it can read like a tagline related to the story like, “Don’t look under the bed,” or it can highlight things like blurbs and accomplishments.
Let’s think of the Amazon desktop when discussing how to write a good book description. We aren’t going to focus on your back cover yet because there’s more room for creativity there. On Amazon, it’s the bare bones of bold and italic.
On the Amazon desktop, a product description goes in the middle between the cover & the purchase information and directly beneath the book formats & number of ratings. All of these things are important. Know why?
Not everyone scrolls down. Some browsers just click in, then click out. Your job with a book description is to keep them there & to entice them enough to hit buy instead of the X.
Example Product Page
What you’ll notice in this screenshot is that the book description cuts off, that it only shows approximately 80 words and 500 characters of it before the browser must click “Read more” to read the full description.
You have their attention. They are on your page. Keep them there.
Ask yourself: What are your book’s biggest selling points?
Here are some possible options.
- Is it the twisty plot? Is it the monsters? Draft something catchy that includes your bestselling aspect.
- Is there a way to condense the story to its most important storyline while slyly and succinctly communicating its themes?
- Compare it to one-two currently popular book(s), tv show(s), or movie(s).
- Was it called “magnificent” by a recognizable author or expert (aka: a blurb)?
- Did it win a book award or get featured on a best books list?
- Does your book utilize or subvert a popular trope?
- Does your 1st person narrator have a memorable voice? Perhaps use an example to start it all off.
- Is there a short, punchy quote from within the book that encapsulates the tone and intrigue of the story?
You do not need to use all of the words & characters you are allowed to use. Remember, we’re considering the design of the paragraphs on Amazon. And you know what helps vision on digital screens?
One word two word three word punch.
Be concise with your available characters. Make the book sound incredible but don’t toot your own horn. Stay away from giving your book compliments. Either allow an author or expert to do that with a blurb, or show your reader why the book is worth buying with the storyline and execution of the prose itself.
Here are a few examples of hooks & the beginning of Amazon book descriptions that I particularly like:
- The Hawthorne Inheritance by Kate Blair (Historical Fiction)
- Wipe Out by Teresa Godfrey (Sci-Fi)
- Teaching the Teacher’s Pet by Sarah Sutton (YA Romance)
- Big Sky Murder by Sherilyn Decter (Mystery)
- Faces in a Window by Oliver Seneca (Horror)
I consider the hook to be the bolded part of all of these examples. Directly after the bolded part, I will call part 1. Note that I am not calling it paragraph 1.
Why is this broken into “parts” and not “paragraphs?”
Let’s make it easy on the browser’s eyes. I do not like big, meaty paragraphs in book descriptions. I love short, easy, and enticing ones.
Some publishers, like Joffe Books, one of UK’s leaders in mystery-thrillers, utilize single sentence and single word paragraphs with bold formatting to make the description exceptionally browsable. For some genres (like mystery-thriller, duh!), I think this is awesome. Romance too!
But if you want to think of visualizing your description as paragraph one before you get all nilly-willy with your paragraph breaks & designs, I think that’s a good idea.
Part 1: Establish the characters and introduce the primary conflict.
Your goal for part one of your book description should be to establish the character(s), the situation they were in at the opening of the book, and ending with the inciting incident that shakes them out of that situation and into the main conflict of the novel.
If you were thinking of it like your first paragraph, you can imagine that the final words of the description are kind of the “cliffhanger” that propels the reader to jump to part/paragraph 2. It’s the thing that gets the character & the reader moving.
Part 2: What does the character do to try to solve the primary conflict and who do they do it with?
When your character gets fired from their job but travels back in time to avoid it from happening, what do they do when they arrive in the past? What are their new goals? Who becomes important to them? Keep this as succinct as possible. Only mention characters when they are vital to the plot or add big-time fandom & intrigue, and limit the amount of names to around three-four. One of the most important aspects of sales writing is to make the reading smooth and easy. Too many names gives the browser the opportunity for confusion.
End part two with another cliffhanger. Make me wonder since office-person & his new bird-friend are now tasked with defeating the evil-boss-manager in a fantasy fencing match, will they make it out alive? Will he want to come back to work?
Don’t tell me the ending, don’t even get close. I’d recommend stopping the summary at around 50% of your novel, but of course, each story is different. I just find numbers to actually make a difference in helping authors visualize what’s most important here. And what’s most important? Giving them the promise of a climax without saying where, how, or when it will happen.
Part 3: Promise the reader what they will gain by reading this book.
If your browser has made it this far, you’re in good shape. But also, keep in mind that many browsers scan book descriptions these days—they don’t read the whole thing. Sometimes, they read the beginning of the description, some keywords in between, and then the final paragraph or pieces of the final paragraph.
This is why I like to get most or all of the summary out in part two so that we can focus on turning part three into a sort of closing hook.
My favorite part threes manage to include things like genre/subgenre, style, a keyword or two, perhaps another bolded blurb, and a catchy last line. If I’m thinking of the office-person story, I’d definitely make sure I’d talk about how office-person will learn something about themself and their coworkers along the way. I’d make it clear that it’s an office fantasy, a book about work that’s not about work, and written in the style of Winnie the Pooh.
The only requirement for the final sentence of your book description is that it is good. It can be longer than the sentences of parts 1 & 2 or it can be shorter, another punchy ending. If you’d like, you can even throw another blurb in here. The bold text at the bottom of the description helps close out the design, almost like the bottom bun of a hamburger.
- The Red-Headed Pilgrim by Kevin Maloney (Literary Fiction / Humor)
- I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself by Marisa Crane (Sci-Fi)
- Thyra by Steven Grier Williams (Fantasy)
- KGB Banker by William Burton McCormick & John Christmas (Mystery-Thriller)
Let’s address a few FAQs before we get out of here:
How long should my book description be?
I think the sweet spot can be anywhere between 115 and 200 words. But I could be talked into more or less…as long as it’s good!
How should I write a book description for a short story collection?
If you made it this far into the blog post and you knew the whole time that I wasn’t talking to you, then I love you. You’re nice and cool and I’m glad you came, thank you.
But also, you can kind of use the same tenets as a novel writer. You should have a hook. That hook should be bolded and enticing, and parts 2 & 3 are largely the same. You should mention some of the stories’ plots in part 2, and you should share the “promise” of what they’ll get from reading it in part 3. Part 1 is the main difference in my eyes. You can’t introduce just one character and conflict.
What I like to do is skip right to parts 2 & 3 after the hook, unless it is a linked story collection about one place or theme. If it’s linked, talk about the town/theme that brings them together in part 1. If they’re not, feel free to start telling one-line mini intros to the stories included. Start with your favorite, biggest-selling point ones. Don’t feel required to do all of them (or even nearly all of them). 3 to 5 is a nice sweet spot.
Here are some examples that I like: Training School for Negro Girls and I’m Not Hungry But I Could Eat.
How should I format my book description on the back cover of my book?
This process is definitely different from an Amazon book description, but I would say it starts in a fairly similar place: design.
Unlike Amazon where you can only use text and bullets, you can use color, photos, author info, and more on a back cover. The purpose of designing a beautiful back cover is that you hope an in-person book browser (whether they be at a bookstore, fair/festival, signing, library, etc.) picks up your book because they’re drawn to the front cover and then they flip it over to the back.
Here are some options for what you can put on your back cover:
- Book description
- Author bio
- Author photo
- Genre/category info
- Publisher info
- Images from within the book
You know what this means?
You probably have less room to use the “many small paragraphs” approach. My favorite back covers usually include a small category denomination at the top of the cover, a couple blurbs, a book description with approximately 2-3 paragraphs, and an author bio & author photo (if professional & good). Just take your current Amazon desktop description and start pushing some paragraphs together. It might help to cut some sentences too, if it can afford it.
Can I edit my book description after it goes live on Amazon?
Yup! You can do this through Amazon author central, or your publisher can do it for you. I recommend it actually! If you’ve gotten some new accolade that helps you sell books (like “Winner of the Pulitzer Prize”), put it up there. If you’re realizing the description isn’t doing its job, edit it.
What are some common mistakes people make when writing their book description?
- Overwriting. Stay succinct!
- Long, complicated sentences. Be clear!
- Too much self-praise. You might be able to afford one or two positive adjectives about your book in part 3, but I’d steer clear of it from the most part.
- Big bulky paragraphs.
- Bad formatting. Make sure the paragraphs actually use spaces on your Amazon page.
- Copy-editing & grammar mistakes
- Unnecessary characters or plot points
- Summary should use present tense
And…you’re all done! Get outta here.
Go write a book description. Get that book published. Then send it to IBR!
About the Author
Joe Walters is the founder and editor-in-chief of Independent Book Review, and he has been a book marketer for Sunbury Press, Inkwater Press, and Paper Raven Books. When he’s not doing editorial, promoting, or reviewing work, he’s working on his novel and trusting the process. Find him @joewalters13 on Twitter.
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