How to Write a Book Description That Doesn’t Suck

2 Jul

The most important thing you write won’t be your novel; it will be the description summarizing it.how to write a book description

This description is what makes book bloggers interested enough to review your book, impels readers to download samples from Amazon, and it will probably show up everywhere from your website to your Goodreads page. Your book description can’t suck.

And I know it’s hard. You probably spent so long writing your book that now, when it’s finally done, you can’t think of a compelling way to describe it. It’s really hard to summarize something that you are so proud of and attached to in a few hundred pithy words.

But these are really important words.

You have to learn how to do this.

 

 1. Know Your Audience

Most likely your book fits into some genre. Is it a cozy mystery for knitters? A sci-fi novel about cyborg dogs? Whatever it is—your description should speak to that audience. Read descriptions for other books in your genre (particularly those from traditional publishers) and mimic their language.

2. Keep it Short

Your book description is a summary, not a synopsis.  It only needs to be a few hundred words. A quick check of the Top 100 Kindle books on Amazon revealed that most book descriptions range between 150 and 300 words (this count excludes headlines, gushing review quotes, or blurbs from other authors).  I think 200(ish) words is the sweet spot—not too short and not too long. Remember, the purpose of the description is to get people to take action; it shouldn’t describe every single thing that happens in your book.

 3. Write a Headline

A headline is a smart way to attract attention and lure potential readers into reading the rest of your plot summary. Not all descriptions use headlines but they probably should.

All marriages have a breaking point. All families have wounds. All wars have a cost. . .

4.  Introduce Your Main Character(s)

Your first sentences should tell potential readers who your book is about and why they are interesting. Often, you can work a bit about the setting in. Don’t go crazy describing the setting, you only want to provide enough information to set your characters in the right context. Your readers may need to know that “Betty” is an automaton housewife in 2109 Cleveland as opposed to a sixties era ex model turned Connecticut housewife. Those are two very different stories.

Like many couples, Michael and Jolene Zarkades have to face the pressures of everyday life—children, careers, bills, chores—even as their twelve-year marriage is falling apart.

5. Describe the inciting incident

Your inciting incident is the moment of change that sets the rest of the story in motion.

-someone dies

-a secret is discovered

-a ufo crashes

-a deadly virus escapes from a lab

You get the idea.

Back to Michael and Jolene

-An unexpected deployment (that’s the inciting incident) sends Jolene deep into harm’s way and leaves defense attorney Michael at home, unaccustomed to being a single parent to their two girls.

6. Briefly sketch out what happens next

Cover a few of your main plot points in two or three strong sentences. This part of the description is tricky because you need to include enough detail to interest the reader without spelling out every single thing that happens. It is important to stay fuzzy on the specifics so readers can’t resist the urge to find out more.

More Michael and Jolene…

As a mother, it agonizes Jolene to leave her family, but as a solider she has always understood the true meaning of duty. In her letters home, she paints a rose-colored version of her life on the front lines, shielding her family from the truth.

7. Raise the Stakes

Everything your character wants or is working towards will be threatened at some point in your book (if this isn’t happening in your book then you probably don’t have much of a story).  Your description should allude to this without describing the danger. Hint at it. Tantalize your readers with it.

…but war will change Jolene in ways that none of them could have foreseen. When tragedy strikes, Michael must face his darkest fear and fight a battle of his own—for everything that matters to his family.

8. End with a bang

The last sentences of your book description should build up hype and get readers to beg for more. You can do this by zooming out and tying your book to universal themes that your readers care about.

At once a profoundly honest look at modern marriage and a dramatic exploration of the toll war takes on an ordinary American family, Home Front is a story of love, loss, heroism, honor, and ultimately, hope.

9. Praise You (Bonus Tip)

The very first or last thing you can do in your book description is toot your own horn. Are you a bestseller? Remarkably prolific? Neil Gaiman blurb your book? Win an award? This is all good information to include in your book description. It proves to readers that you are worth taking a risk on. I mean, if Neil Gaiman likes your book…

In her bestselling novels Kristin Hannah has plumbed the depths of friendship, the loyalty of sisters, and the secrets mothers keep. Now, in her most emotionally powerful story yet, she explores the intimate landscape of a troubled marriage with this provocative and timely portrait of a husband and wife, in love and at war.

The completed book description

Praise

In her bestselling novels Kristin Hannah has plumbed the depths of friendship, the loyalty of sisters, and the secrets mothers keep. Now, in her most emotionally powerful story yet, she explores the intimate landscape of a troubled marriage with this provocative and timely portrait of a husband and wife, in love and at war.

Headline

All marriages have a breaking point. All families have wounds. All wars have a cost. . . .

Body

Like many couples, Michael and Jolene Zarkades have to face the pressures of everyday life—children, careers, bills, chores—even as their twelve-year marriage is falling apart. Then an unexpected deployment sends Jolene deep into harm’s way and leaves defense attorney Michael at home, unaccustomed to being a single parent to their two girls. As a mother, it agonizes Jolene to leave her family, but as a solider she has always understood the true meaning of duty. In her letters home, she paints a rose-colored version of her life on the front lines, shielding her family from the truth. But war will change Jolene in ways that none of them could have foreseen. When tragedy strikes, Michael must face his darkest fear and fight a battle of his own—for everything that matters to his family.At once a profoundly honest look at modern marriage and a dramatic exploration of the toll war takes on an ordinary American family, Home Front is a story of love, loss, heroism, honor, and ultimately, hope.

I used the book description from Kristen Hannah’s Home Front for illustrative purposes. I have no idea if this is a good book or not—I would never in a million years read this book. Why? I am nowhere close to being in this authors target audience. But if you would like to buy it, here’s the link.

If you end up using these tips to write your book description I would love publish the results in a future post—don’t forget to include a link to your book.

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8 Responses to “How to Write a Book Description That Doesn’t Suck”

  1. Tessa Sheppard July 2, 2012 at 9:48 pm #

    I love this!

    • indiewritingblog July 3, 2012 at 5:10 pm #

      Thanks! I couldn’t figure out why I kept seeing so many terrible descriptions for indie books. After Googling for an hour, I couldn’t find much on the topic and realized that it is one of those things that nobody talks about much, probably because it’s not a terribly sexy topic and it seems like such an easy thing to write. Except, it’s hard– like writing sales copy (also seemingly simple but very hard).

  2. Bek Harrington July 3, 2012 at 3:18 pm #

    Doh! Where was this post two books ago. Oh well, maybe when my brain is eventually recovered I can revisit and revise.

  3. rmactsc October 15, 2012 at 9:27 pm #

    I learned a lot by reading this. Feel free to check out the description and my book over at Amazon.com entitled American Rebellion Book 1 of the Revolution and if you’d like, let me know what you think. I found writing the book description harder than writing the actual book lol :)

  4. Robert Alderman December 27, 2012 at 11:06 pm #

    This is the single best advice a newbie could get. Your comment about being so close to the story was dead on, you know like one of those can’t see the forest for the trees scenarios. Thank you for this. I immediately revised my description and will keep reviewing it as the days pass for potential tweeks!

  5. Behind the Story May 12, 2014 at 4:55 pm #

    An excellent post–all the essential points and well illustrated. Today I’m gathering information before writing to ask for reviews. After reading your post, I think I know how to start. Thanks a lot. My book comes out next month, so I’m eager to start.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. How to Ask (Nicely) for a Book Review « Indie Writing Blog - July 17, 2012

    [...] Four: Make sure the book description doesn’t suck (here’s a post explaining how to do this), and actually makes your book sound interesting. If you can’t hold my attention for the 200-500 [...]

  2. How to Write a Good Book Description | A. B. Betancourt - April 24, 2013

    [...] Indie Writing Blog (also includes examples): http://indiewritingblog.com/2012/07/02/how-to-write-a-book-description-that-doesnt-suck/ [...]

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