Bryan Cohen is the CEO of Best Page Forward — a book description company — and a person who has seen and written thousands of book descriptions. He also helps writers to get the maximum out of their Amazon Ads. We’ve asked Bryan to answer some of the most relevant questions concerning book descriptions that help sell more.
Bryan, could you please name 3 main mistakes authors make when writing their book descriptions?
I think the main mistake authors make is trying to include too much information in the book description.
A lot of things happen in an 80,000-word book. If you try to pack every single plot and every single character into a book description, it will be bloated and confusing. To create an effective description, focus on the most important plot points that are essential to the protagonist’s journey.
Another mistake I see is that authors are trying too hard to avoid spoilers, and the descriptions fail to intrigue the readers.
You have to keep the stakes high.
Perhaps, you can hint at a big thing that’s going to happen in the third act to get people really excited about the book. For example, if it’s a thriller book, you can make it very clear that the character could die. Or, if it’s a romance story, you could hint that there’s a chance the couple may fall apart. In any case, you should include intrigue in a book description to make the reader want to know more.
Lastly, there’s the failure to hook a reader at the very start of the description. Some authors lose sight of the central conflict, problem, or character and don’t introduce them properly right away.
In fiction, the reader wants to know, what is the main conflict? What is this character dealing with? Who’s the character?
In nonfiction, the reader wants to know the problem your book helps to solve. Whether it’s about getting out of debt or increasing productivity, be sure to state it clearly right away.
And tiny bonus advice: no more than three sentences in a paragraph of your description, or you’re going to have a big wall of text. Ensure you have short, snappy paragraphs.
In your opinion, what should a good book description include?
The description must, must, must have a hook right at the beginning. A lot of people will not make it past the first line of your description. You should not go straight into the plot of your book: you need to really hook the reader right away. And this goes back to properly introducing the problem, conflict, or character.
In nonfiction, you need to talk about the problem your book addresses right away. I see too many book descriptions that say, “Hey, this subject is very, very important. You should know more about this subject.” But the readers who are looking for this book already know it’s important; they already care about it. Don’t waste precious space.
And in my opinion, at the end of a nonfiction book description, you need a call to action, something that urges the reader to go and buy this book. For example, here’s the ending line from the blurb of Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport:
“Take back control from your devices and find calm amongst the chaos with Digital Minimalism.”
As we know, Amazon displays only the first few lines of the book description, so the main task of the description headline is to catch the reader’s interest immediately. Could you please advise on how authors can hook readers with the headline?
In order to catch a reader’s attention right away, you need to make sure that you put your best foot forward. If your book is about a giant alien that’s going to take over the planet, don’t save that for three-quarters through the description. If your book has an incredible system for getting out of debt, you need to have that first.
You need to think about what your reader is actually looking for and cares about. You could write a whole book on the art of description headline, but the main advice is — don’t delay. Get the reader’s attention right away with the most intriguing bits of your story.
How can an author establish an emotional connection with the reader with the help of the book description?
To establish an emotional connection with the reader, you should be clear about the emotions your character experiences. Considering that a book description is not a plot summary but a story-based marketing piece, you should show, not tell. If you manage to show what the character is going through emotionally, and your reader relates to that, you will sell more copies.
What do you think of book description generators? Can they substitute a description written by a real person?
Now, book description generators: we have seen these out and about. I think what they miss is the heart.
Can a book description generator provide good search engine optimization? I have no doubt. But can it give the description the heart that your readers want?
This issue is relevant to both fiction and nonfiction genres because people buy on emotion and then justify it with logic.
You can use a description generator to get ideas. But be sure to touch them up afterward: give them the heart and personality. If your description is too formal and “mechanical,” it wouldn’t appeal to your readers.
Writing effective book descriptions that help sell more is both art and craft. We thank Bryan Cohen for the actionable advice and hope they will help you get the most out of your blurbs.