How to Write an Effective Book Description

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’re 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.”

———-

 

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14 Responses to “How to Write an Effective Book Description”

  1. jumeirajames Says:

    I’m struggling like nobody’s business to get my book ‘blurb’ just right. It’s harder than writing the book but it’s so crucial.

    On your description – I would bring the ‘Vietnam Era’ to the front (because it establishes timeframe and Vietnam is an emotive word).

    I’d lose the first sentence are replace it with something more ‘immediate’ I think its too descriptive and sounds like the author talking.

    But hey, I’m really struggling with my own blurb.

    Like

    • Ron Herron Says:

      Thanks for your comments. As I pointed out, writing the book description is hard. Actually, I recently changed my own REICHOLD STREET book description again, this time to give it some reference to (what I’ve been told) are similar writing styles:

      A new kid in the neighborhood. Family dysfunction. Murder, suicide and madness.

      Imagine if J.D. Salinger, William Golding and Stephen King sat down to write a fast-paced coming-of-age story set in a working class American neighborhood in the turbulent Vietnam era. A place where neighborhood boys routinely played baseball in the street, but also a place where – with one new arrival – they discover the insignificance of their usual local intrigues compared to the realities and sometimes violent tribulations of life.

      You will find all that, and more, in REICHOLD STREET, by Ronald L. Herron, a 2012 Readers Favorite Gold Medal Winner.

      Albert Parker arrives in the neighborhood, bringing with him all the emotional scars and aggressive attitude a dysfunctional and abusive step-father could create. His struggle to fit in, and the stories of the other neighborhood children around him as he tries, create a fast-paced and powerful story about friendship, love and loss.

      Masterfully written, REICHOLD STREET comes to life on the pages and we become part of it all; from the whole gang’s coming-of-age to the searing tragedy, yet remarkable redemption of war.

      Like

  2. Micah McDaniel Says:

    Reblogged this on Micah McDaniel and commented:
    Boy oh boy, do I need help with this!

    Like

  3. Joshua Lisec Says:

    Reblogged this on Joshua Lisec.

    Like

  4. francisguenette Says:

    In my opinion, the second version is better – tighter – you’re making every single word count. Great post!

    Like

  5. selfpublish101 Says:

    Reblogged this on Self-Publish 101.

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  6. Anthony Ambrogio Says:

    Dear Ron,

    I think it’s an effective blurb, but — if I may go all English teacher on you for a sec — you have to fix the dangling modifier in “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.” WHO is coming of age is not indicated in the sentence as currently constructed. Can’t think of a good way to correct it, though.

    Best,
    Anthony (Ambrogio)
    anthonyambrogio@sbcglobal.net

    Like

    • Ron Herron Says:

      The whole blurb felt funny to me, too … but I couldn’t quite fix it (one of the reasons I asked for feedback) 😉

      I’ll take another look at it with my “dangling modifier” in mind.

      Thanks Anthony. 🙂

      Like

  7. Writing an Effective Book Description by Ron Herron « M.S. Fowle Says:

    […] Click Here to read his incredibly helpful article! […]

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