Regardless of the site you’re using to sell your books, book descriptions are more important to sales than most authors realize. Many times I’ll see blocks of text pulled from the back of the book and while, in theory, that’s not a bad idea, you’ll want to make sure that your book description is powerful, and keep an eye on formatting – things like spacing, bulleting, and bolding.
Since my largest focus is on Amazon, this article is going to focus on how to maximize your book description efforts specifically on that e-tailer, but you’ll likely find many of the ideas relate to other e-tailers as well.
Is it Meaningful Whether Scanned or Read Word for Word?
Most people don’t read websites, they scan. So the same is true for your book description. If you have huge blocks of text without any consideration for spacing, bolding, bullets or some other form of highlighting that helps the reader scan. It’s much more visually appealing if you employ strategic formatting to highlight certain points and ideas –and, psychologically it invites the reader to delve in, instead of navigating away.
Our minds are image processors, not text processors so huge pieces of text that fill a page overwhelm the mind and in fact, considerably slow down absorption time. When you’re looking at websites, our attention span is even shorter than it is while reading a book. Even sites like Amazon where consumers go to buy and often spend a lot of time comparing products and reading reviews – it’s important to keep in mind that most potential readers will move on if your text is too cumbersome.
So how can you make your description more scan-friendly?
• Headlines: the first sentence in the description should be a grabber, so something that really pulls the reader in. This text could also be a stunning blurb or some other kind of endorsement but regardless, it should be bolded. If you’re looking at your Amazon book page, you could also use the “Amazon Orange” to set it apart from the rest of the text.
• Paragraphs: Keep paragraphs short, 2-3 sentences max.
• Bolding: You can bold key text throughout the description, in fact I recommend it. Just be sure you aren’t bolding too much – so don’t grab 2-3 sentences to bold, because it’ll have more impact if you just do one or just a few key words.
• Bullets: If your book is non-fiction, it’s not a bad idea to bullet your information as much as you can. Take key points and the “here’s what you’ll learn” elements and put them into a bullet point section that’s easy to scan and visually appealing.
Here are some of the coding enhancers available from within Amazon’s Author Central that you can use to add emphasis to text:
• Bolding: <b>The text you want bolded</b>
• Italics: <i>The text you want italicized</i>
• Headline: <h1>The text you want for a headline</h1>
• Amazon Orange Headline: <h2>The text you want bolded</h2>
You can add in numbered lists and bullet points, too.
Answering Readers’ Biggest Question “What’s In It For Me?” – Fiction vs. Non-Fiction
The biggest challenge authors face is writing a compelling book description that shows readers why the book will benefit them. This is a critical part of any book description, whether you’ve written fiction or non-fiction. Remember with 4,500 books published every day in this country, you can’t afford to have some vague book description, you must state clearly why this book is the best one they can buy. Here are some things to consider:
• Non-Fiction: Your target audience likely already has 10 or more titles similar to yours. As you’re crafting your book description, keep in mind that you should hook the reader from the first sentence and remember to make a personal connection with them. If your bio is compelling, you can add a brief statement that you lead research on XYZ topic, but keep it brief, because you’ll have a chance to elaborate on it later.
• Fiction: Here it’s best focus on the elevator pitch because that’s going to be your cliffhanger, or your key interest point in the book, and every other piece of the story anchors to that. When it comes to fiction buyers have a lot of options so be clear on what your book is about and lead with the hook without revealing too much of the story.
• Children’s and/or Young Adult Titles: Make sure to include the intended age range. Even though you can add it in the Amazon details, parents (and teachers) say that seeing it in the book description is incredibly helpful.
Don’t Market to Your Own Ego
The second prong of showing readers what’s in it for them is not appealing to your own interest. I often tell authors that no one cares that you wrote a book. And while family and friends may care, they aren’t your intended audience. This is partially why I never recommend that authors write their own book descriptions. I often hire someone to do this for me because I’m just too close to it to see what may really matter to my reader.
Developing Your Elevator Pitch – what is it, and why do you need one?
It’s a short one- to two-sentence description about the book. With our ever-shrinking attention span, you’ll need to capture someone's attention in a very short, succinct pitch. Including this short blurb in your book description is an excellent way to start building your pitch outward from the one element that your book could not be without – and that will be the biggest piece that matters to your reader.
Keep Your Verbiage Simple
Save your five-dollar words for another time. The best book descriptions use simple language that any layperson can understand. If you make someone think about a word, you'll lose them.
How Excited Are You? And How Excited Will Your Readers Be?
Have you ever seen a book description with a ton of exclamation points or caps? Much like in email, it feels like someone is screaming at you. While exclamation points can be included in a book description, they should be used sparingly. In terms of caps, don’t even bother. Caps in a book description makes you look like an amateur.
It goes without saying and still I’ve seen it enough that I feel like I need to say it. Please don’t put up a book description full of typos, even one is too many.
Is Your Book Part of A Series?
If your book is a series, make it obvious in the headline. I also recommend that you make it part of the title, too. So, for example you might word your book title like this: Deadly Heat: Heat Series Book 4 of 7.
Here’s an example of Dan Silva’s book – in terms of putting it in the actual book title:
The reason for this is that readers (especially fiction readers) love a series, so tell them right up front that your book is part of the same or similar story.
Include Top Keywords
Keywords are as important to your Amazon book page as almost anything else. I’ve written a lot on Amazon-specific keywords that you can see here (Demystifying Amazon Categories, Themes, and Keywords – Part 1 and Part 2), but here is a quick overview:
The term “keyword” is actually inaccurate because readers don’t search based on a single keyword. Think instead of keyword strings. So, for example, romance about second chances has been a popular search string on Amazon for a while now. However, by taking that sentence and inserting it into your book description, you can really help boost your visibility on the site as well as keying into your readers’ direct interest. So if they’re searching for romance second chances, and they see it in the book description, they are going to be more excited about your book. That said, it’s a good idea to avoid overstuffing your book description with keywords. I recommend finding six or seven strings and using them sparingly throughout.
Tailor Your Bio to Your Book
One of things that I see a lot is author bio information that really has nothing to do with the book. So, for example, let’s say you wrote a book about marriage but your bio talks about how you live in Maine with your wife and three dogs. That doesn’t really help substantiate your expertise for writing this book. The same is true for fiction actually. If you have multiple books, mention that – if you have a fun or quirky writing habit, mention that, too. It’s a good idea to personalize this to your audience and the market. List any credentials as they may matter to the book topic and/or any research you’ve done. Most of all, make it interesting and keep it short. Long, boring author bios don’t sell books.
Include Quotes and Reviews
When authors share reviews, you’ll often see quotes like “This is the best mystery book I’ve read in ages!” However, the name of the person that is omitted. Reviews and quotes/blurbs are fantastic to use in your book description but only if they are cited appropriately. If you feel the name won’t lend the kind of credibility that they want from the blurb, consider asking the person to review the book instead.
Update Your Page Often
Here’s something you may not have considered – your page doesn’t have to be static. In fact, ideally it shouldn’t be. As you get blurbs and awards update your book page with them. And here’s an idea – if you’re doing a special promotion, book promo, discount whatever, why not mention that in your book description? (see screenshot below)
Finally, take a look at this book description from Dan Silva – it’s a great example of a book that combines great blurbs with a book description that pulls you in from the first sentence. Book blurbs are eye candy i.e. people like what other people like. Even if you don’t have blurbs by highly recognizable names such as Booklist and Publishers Weekly, you should still add them (just be sure to cite them correctly). Notice how they are bolded to draw attention to them? And check out the second paragraph, whoever wrote this book description inserted a review to help bolster the character description, which is another great idea.
Book descriptions, whether on Amazon, iTunes, or Barnes & Noble – are your sales page. Ultimately, they are what will, or won’t, help sell your book, so make sure it’s tightly written, exceptionally engaging, and most of all, turns a browse into a buy.
Penny C. Sansevieri, Founder and CEO Author Marketing Experts, Inc., is a best-selling author and internationally recognized book marketing and media relations expert. She is an Adjunct Professor teaching Self-Publishing for NYU.
Her company is one of the leaders in the publishing industry and has developed some of the most innovative Social Media/Internet book marketing campaigns. She is the author of twelve books, including How to Sell Your Books by the Truckload on Amazon and Red Hot Internet Publicity, which has been called the "leading guide to everything Internet."
To learn more about Penny’s books or her promotional services, you can visit her web site at www.amarketingexpert.com.