Writing an Effective Book Description

An effective description of your book is a powerful sales tool.  It will appear on the back cover of your book to pique a reader’s interest; in catalogue listings to entice new readers to add your book to their shopping cart; alongside your author biography on your website, blog, and social media; and it will appear as copy for personal appearances, press releases, brochures, flyers, and other promotional material.

Your book description is marketing.   In the same way that DVD descriptions compel you to rent one movie and not another, your book description should make your book stand out among thousands of other books competing for a reader’s attention.  Imagine a reader with enough money in her budget to buy one new book and she has thousands of books to choose from.  Why should she choose to buy yours?

A reader has a fairly accurate idea of the kind of book she wants to buy.  She will likely walk into a bookstore and head straight to the genre she wants.  The same reasoning is true for online sales.  If your book is in her genre, she is your target audience – and it is your sale to lose.  Write your book description for her.

As a preliminary step, you should read as many book descriptions in your genre as you can stomach.  Pay particular attention to the best-sellers.  What makes the descriptions effective?  Which ones pique your interest?  Why?

Here are some general guidelines:

  1. Summarize your book in a short paragraph.  What is it about?  What makes it unique or different from other books in your genre?  Concentrate on the main theme, or if your book is a collection of poetry or stories, what is the underlying theme that binds everything together?
  2. Write your book description in the third person narrative.  This will help you stay objective and keep you focused.  Readers want to know about the book so they can make an informed decision about whether or not to shell out their hard-earned money.  They don’t need to know about the author, the reasons why the author chose to write the book, the numerous drafts it took to get the book to print, or about how many publishers rejected the manuscript.  The only information they want is to know if your book is right for them.
  3. Write the book as a disinterested third party.  Imagine that you are the reader who just finished reading your book and now had to explain it to somebody else.  What would you say?  How would you summarize it?
  4. Ask others to read your book and have them write a description.  This will often lead to possibilities and avenues that you hadn’t considered.  Use points from their descriptions to help you formulate your own.
  5. Make your description interesting.  Engage your readers with clean, sharp prose.

Writing an effective book description is one of the hardest things for an author to do.  They have an emotional investment in the work.  The trick is to be objective and stay focused.  Your book description will probably go through several revisions before you get it right.  Keep all your drafts.  Save the best material and keep re-working until that state of crystal clarity is achieved.

Your book description is often the first thing potential customers read – and if it doesn’t engage them immediately, it will probably be the last thing by you that they will read.  This is your sales pitch.  Make it count!

– Wolfgang Carstens