The book description, one of the most crucial elements in selling a book, is often also the most difficult element for many self-published authors to create.
The main reason…they don’t want to leave anything out. As the work’s creator, their natural instinct is to cram as much of it as possible into the synopsis. But too many details can render their description confusing and ineffective.
Here’s what I’ve learned through my personal trial-and-error efforts (and I’m by no means sure I have it right yet)…but these are the five main points to consider when writing a book description.
1. Don’t Include Subplots. When it comes to the book description, the only thing that matters is the main theme. That’s all you need to focus on. What is the primary action that drives your book?
2. Keep It Under 150 Words. Summarizing tens of thousands of words in less than 150 seems impossible, right? But here’s the rub…it isn’t (notice, however, I’m barely there yet with my own). Best advice: say in the simplest terms possible what your book is about and what will interest readers.
3. Write in Third Person, Present Tense. Describe your book as if you’re sitting face-to-face with the reader and they’ve just asked you what it’s about.
4. Use Emotional Power Words. You are trying to portray the same emotions with your description that your book evokes. To convey these feelings, you need to use emotional power words like tormented, charismatic, passion, terrifying, etc.
5. You are Not the Author. Don’t write your book description as the author; write it as the publisher. Write with your head, not your heart. Remember, the book description is marketing material – not literature. It isn’t for you, it’s for your fans. Making a quick impact that will move the reader to want to buy your book is your principal concern.
Here’s an example of the latest iteration of the book description I’ve been kicking around for my award-winning self-published book “Reichold Street.” It has yet to appear on the book (or anywhere else for that matter), so consider this an exclusive:
“In 1964 Albert Parker, a distressed and troubled teen, arrives on Reichold Street. At fourteen, he has already endured the heartbreak of losing a parent and the anguish of living with a step-father tormented by mad visions. Responding in the only way he knows, Albert retreats ever deeper into himself, building a shell of aggression. On Reichold Street his only real friends are his step-sister Janice and Paul Barrett, the boy across the street. Coming-of-age in the turbulent Vietnam era of the 1960s, the story of how the neighborhood – and the rest of the world – reacts to him becomes a heart-pounding microcosm of life and death.”
I think this finally begins to get the description right. It is roughly 110 words. It’s told in third-person, present tense, and I count eight emotional power words (“distressed,” “troubled,” “heartbreak,” “mad,” “anguish,” “tormented,” “heart-pounding,” and “turbulent”).
It only tells you the main plot, but my hope is that people will open the book because of this description and want to own it.
What do you think?
**01-05-2013 edit – version 2**
Based on some of the feedback I’ve already received, here’s a re-write of my “Reichold Street” book description. Is it stronger now?
“In 1964 Albert Parker, a distressed and troubled teen, arrives on Reichold Street. At fourteen, he has already endured the heartbreak of losing a parent and the anguish of living with a step-father tormented by mad visions. Albert retreats ever deeper into himself, building a shell of aggression. Coming-of-age in the turbulent Vietnam era, Albert’s only real friends are his step-sister Janice and Paul Barrett, the boy across the street. The story of how the gang of neighborhood kids, and the rest of the world, react to Albert…and adapt to each other…evolves into a heart-pounding microcosm of life and death.”