Have I Got a Book for You! Compelling Book Descriptions – Part 2

By David Kudler

In Part 1, we discussed how to hook your readers with book descriptions. Now, let’s talk about how to tease your readers once they’re hooked.

Tease and Pay-off

Once you’ve hooked them — once you’ve piqued their interest and gotten them hyped about checking out your book — you need to tease them. The tease is a sentence or two that drops them right into the meat of the book. Gives them a taste of what makes your book exciting.

In the case of a piece of fiction, you probably want to establish the central conflict — or at least, the establishing event. In my description above, I set the scene and introduced the central character.

Here’s the hook and tease for the recent bestselling mystery The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling):

“After losing his leg to a land mine in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike is barely scraping by as a private investigator.” Immediately, I get a sense of who the protagonist is and what he’s struggling with; if I like hard-boiled detective stories (which I happen to), then that tease is definitely going to pull me in.

If you’re working on selling a piece of non-fiction, the tease is where you establish the problem that your book is going to solve. Here’s the hook and tease for Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind:

Note two things: first of all, New York Times Bestseller is a pretty good hook; and second, the whole tease does a good job of establishing just what the book is about.

In either case, the tease should be quick and pithy. A powerful, evocative statement of what your book is going to be dealing with.

Once you’ve teased them, you can’t exactly leave them hanging — you’ve got to have a pay-off.

For fiction, you should give the reader a taste of how the protagonist(s) will be dealing with the challenge you established in the tease. Here’s the payoff for The Cuckoo’s Calling:

It does my heart good to see the typo in that description, by the way. Did you spot it?

For non-fiction, give an overview of how you are going to solve the reader’s greatest problem — the one that drove them to look for your book in the first place. This is your opportunity to show that your book is exactly the answer they need.

Now, that doesn’t mean you should give everything away! This isn’t a plot synopsis or an outline. Remember, you’re not satisfying them here, you’re promising them that the book will deliver satisfaction. If the hook and the tease were selling the sizzle, this is the picture of the juicy steak. Not the steak itself — but doesn’t that look delicious?

But Wait, There’s More!

So you’ve gotten their attention with the hook, the tease, and the pay-off.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re done.

Here’s the thing: if they want to click BUY NOW at this point, they will. But if they’re still on the fence, can you find more ways of drawing them in?

Sure. Remember the inverted pyramid we talked about at the top? Well, this can be an opportunity to add some of the material that wasn’t quite as essential or as sexy as what you’ve already dropped in, but that might still catch the reader’s interest and make them want to read the book. The sorts of thing we’re talking about:

  • Blurbs by other authors in the genre
  • Any editorial or even customer reviews that you think will give the potential reader a taste of what makes your book so great
  • “Perfect for…”
  • A short excerpt
  • A short list of highly pertinent keywords

Now, Amazon offers you 4000 characters of space in your description — and it makes sense to use it. However, not every retailer is as generous. So it’s a good thing that you are working with an inverted pyramid. You can always cut from the bottom!

Blurbs & Reviews

Along with editorial reviews, blurbs can offer the potential reader a kind of social proof — “See! These other people, some of whom you admire, really think you should buy this book!”

Now, you can in fact add both blurbs and editorial reviews to your book’s Amazon listing through Author Central. However, those show up way down at the bottom of the page, far, far away from the BUY NOW button; why not list them twice? The reader is only likely to notice them in one place or the other, not both.

Also, other retailers don’t necessarily give you the opportunity to include them as a separate piece of metadata. So why not take the opportunity to drop them in here?

(If your blurb comes from an internationally renowned author or world-famous celebrity, or if you’ve got a glowing review from The New York Times, 1 consider using it as part of your hook. Otherwise? It belongs down here.)

“Perfect for…”

I’m not a huge fan of these, but some folks absolutely swear by them: “Perfect for fans of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers!” “If you loved Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, you’ll love XXXX! ” “La Femme Nikita meets Orphan Annie in feudal Japan!” 2

Try it out. See if it works for you.

But make sure that the comparisons are really apt. You don’t want to promise Jane Austen and deliver James Patterson. Or vice versa.

Excerpt

“Why add an excerpt? They already have the Look Inside/Sample feature!”

Because they’re still reading your description. Don’t make them click or download and look somewhere else. You’re trying to get them to BUY NOW — now!

The excerpt should be short, and it should be chosen to entice and intrigue. A friend of mine who writes steamy novels says she always chooses a brief scene “just before the clothes come off.” Your book has just such a scene — even if the clothes always stay on: a scene where things are really about to get exciting. Choose a hundred words or so that will lead them right up to the edge… And leave them wanting to jump.

If you’re writing non-fiction, it might be good to share a brief section where you lay out the central problem that your book is going to tackle — again, you want to leave them wanting more. Or perhaps you can share a short how-to or recipe that will whet the reader’s appetite.

Keywords

You should be using carefully chosen keywords throughout your description as clues to both your readers and to the search engine that runs the online store. 3 If your book is a science fiction western or a home-repair how-to or a silly alphabet book for toddlers, it’s a really good idea to drop the appropriate phrase in somewhere. But only if it actually works. 4 Keyword stuffing — dropping as many synonyms for search phrases as you can into a chunk of text — is ugly, it turns off readers, and a lot of search engines penalize that kind of bad behavior.

So if you can work your keywords into your text organically, great!

But if you can’t — if you’ve put your whole description together, and there’s no elegant way to add steampunk mystery or YA paranormal shifter thriller into it — consider dropping a short — SHORT — list in brackets or parentheses at the end. Often, I’ll add the length and any specific piece of information I haven’t been able to mention elsewhere:

(60,000 words, clean lesbian romance, HEA5)

Or perhaps:

(120,000 words, American Civil War historical fiction; book 1 of 3)

By adding this kind of listing at the very bottom, you’re doing two things:

  1. Including keywords for search engines — both inside and outside the retailer site
  2. Giving the reader a very clear idea what they’re going to get

When in Doubt, Change, Change Away

Remember, everything on a book’s retail page should be designed to entice exactly the kind of reader who will get the most out of the book. You should at this point have compiled an interesting, intriguing Venus fly trap custom-made for your ideal reader: your book description.

Once you’ve posted the description, see what kind of response it generates.

And then, once you get some sense of whether it’s working or not, you can always change it! You can change any part of a book’s metadata except the ISBN as often as you like: Title/subtitle, 6 price, description, cover — you can even change the author name, if you insist. 7

Experiment. Test. Improve. Keep what seems to work, change what doesn’t. There’s no such thing as a perfect book description — or cover, or…. — so feel to keep striving to make it better.


1 Or at least a sentence that can be construed as a glowing review from The New York Times.
2 This last was, believe it or not, a blurb suggested by an agent who wanted to represent Risuko. Never liked it. But it sure catches the eye!
3 And also Google, which indexes all of these retail sites.
4 You can also consider using these sorts of phrases in the sub-title — in fact, you really should put them in both places.
5 As any fan of romances would know, HEA = “happily ever after” — a must-have for many romance readers.
6 I recently changed a book’s title. Twice. The final version works much better — and fits the series better.
7 The author name, however, is a part of the brand that you’re trying to build up. You probably don’t want to change it if you don’t have to.
 
Photo: BigStockPhoto

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