We’re all basically suckers for good packaging, aren’t we?
And in the world of book-publishing and bookselling, nobody, agents and publicists included, actually reads much of anything. The sooner that writers accept this fact — and it is a difficult fact for writers to accept — the sooner writers will get serious about the whole process.
How does the process work, then?
Something like this:
“Sales reps convince store buyers with covers and a few paragraphs of catalog copy. Same with wholesalers and distributors. Consumers don’t read much of the books they buy, either. They base most of their decision on cover, title, subject matter, author, jacket copy and a few glances at the actual content. Almost all buying decisions, up and down the line, are made on the title, cover design and the accompanying sales copy” (Michael Alvear).
Ask yourself: How and why do you buy?
Does the cover catch your eye? The title?
Do you then read the back-of-the-book description first, or do you look inside?
Statistically, the overwhelming majority of people read the book description first, but I do not. Almost never. I open the book and read the first few paragraphs, and then maybe the description. Very often, though, if I like what I’ve read, I don’t read the description at all. I buy the book.
And that is the publisher’s total goal: getting readers to buy the book.
It’s been said that all you really need to do to become a bestselling Amazon author is this:
1. Get people to look at your book page
2. Convert them into a paying customer
3. Keep them coming back for more
Here’s what English author Mark Edward has to say about that:
There is no magic formula for making this happen. But you can give yourself a much better chance of breaking into the upper reaches of the Kindle chart by making sure you get the important things right. One of the most vital of these is your book description – which comes under the conversion point above. When you have that potential reader on your page, their mouse hovering tantalizingly-close to that ‘Buy’ button, they will be looking at a few elements: the cover, the reviews, the sample…and the description.
If your book description doesn’t grab them and make them feel ‘the need – the need to read’ then you’ve just lost a customer. When my co-written book, Killing Cupid, was stuck just outside the top 100 last year, I couldn’t work out why it was selling fewer than some of the books above it. At that time, Amazon used to handily give you the percentage of page viewers who bought the book. Killing Cupid’s conversion rate was relatively weak. The reviews were good, the cover was strong – so was it the description?
I spent days studying and analyzing the books with higher conversion rates. What was it about their descriptions that made them sell more? Once I’d come up with some theories I put them to the test, re-writing the description.
Sales doubled within an hour
Here are my 11 ingredients that will make that blurb sizzle.
1. Make it clear. Your potential reader needs to know with a quick skim read what kind of book this is, what it’s about and what the story is. The story is the most important element here – if you’ve written an erotic romance that will give Fifty Shades a run for its money, make sure people know that. Though remember, it’s the relationship at the heart of Fifty Shades that made it such a smash. You need to get that across in a very lucid way.
2. Write in your genre. There are certain rules that apply to every genre. Find some popular books in your genre and study the description. The backs of paperbacks can be better to study than self-published books, and first novels that were big hits are the best of all.
3. Don’t be afraid to reference other books or writers. Your potential readers are looking for hooks that will tell them quickly what kind of book this is. If you’ve written a grown-up vampire novel you could do a lot worse than say that it’s for fans of Anne Rice.
4. The book is more important than you. There can be a temptation to boast about your own achievements or credentials. Unless you’re an Olympic coach and you’ve written a guide to strength training, readers won’t care. Most of them won’t even notice or remember who wrote it.
5. The first line is the most important. If you don’t get the first line right, they won’t read on (this applies to the book itself too). Your first line needs to encapsulate the whole book. It needs to draw people in, hit them where it feels good and make the hairs on the back of their neck stand up. Not easy – but worth spending time on.
6. It should be as long as it needs to be. There is no hard-and-fast rule about length. Maybe you can summarise your mieisterwerk in a few sentences. Maybe you need to write four paragraphs to really draw people in and get them involved. Size doesn’t matter. That’s what my girlfriend tells me anyway.
7. Don’t be boring. The moment your potential reader feels bored, they’re gone, clicking on to the next book on the also-bought bar. Every line has to be compelling and move the story on. Just like your book, in fact.
8. Make them laugh, cry, cower. It’s all about emotions. How is your book going to make people feel? Is it heartbreaking or hilarious? Chilling or hotter than Angelina Jolie sunbathing in Death Valley? Again, look at the words most used in your genre. They are clichés for a reason. They work.
9. Use testimonials. If you have some quotes from well-known writers or experts, use them. These are generally best in a block rather than scattered through the text. If you’ve got a quote from your Auntie Maureen, you might as well use that too. Just don’t reference her as your auntie.
10. Make your characters live. As well as the story, it’s vital to get a good sense of your characters across – and, most importantly, their big problem. What terrible dilemma do they have to resolve? What personal demon do they need to conquer? You need characters and problems people will identify with – but they have to be big problems. Having a broken dishwasher just isn’t exciting enough.
11. Make the reader desperate to know what happens. You have to end your description with a cliffhanger. You need to lead the reader to the point where they are so curious that, were they a cat, it would kill them. Make sure you don’t give too much away. Be intriguing.
Here is a book description that would most likely make me buy:
In 1903 a mysterious young woman flees alone across the West, one heart-pounding step ahead of the law. At nineteen, Mary Boulton has just become a widow—and her husband’s killer. As bloodhounds track her frantic race toward the mountains, she is tormented by mad visions and by the knowledge that her two ruthless brothers-in-law are in pursuit, determined to avenge their younger brother’s death. Responding to little more than the primitive fight for life, the widow retreats ever deeper into the wilderness—and into the wilds of her own mind—encountering an unforgettable cast of eccentrics along the way.
The Outlander LP, by Gil Adamson