Why You Must Create a Compelling Book Description


Question: What’s the most important piece of writing you’ll do once your book is complete?

Answer: The description of your book. No matter how well written your book is, no matter how great your author platform is, no matter how great your marketing plan is, if your promotional copy puts readers to sleep, you just lost a potential sale.

What you say about your book can be as important (and arguably even more important) that what you say inside your book.

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The product description you write for Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other product pages—even your own website—needs to be the best sales copy you can create. Whether readers are just browsing for a book to read or they’re looking for yours specifically (yay!), the interest and excitement you create in that product description will influence whether you gain another reader or not.

Think of your book’s description as your personal stand-in. If you could speak one-on-one with someone who was considering your book, you’d close the sale every time, wouldn’t you? Of course you would, because your passion would come through as you excitedly described your book. That same passion needs to come through in your writing, and when it does, you will sell books.

There are two elements to your description: the one-line headline and the several-line description that follows, which should give enough information about the book to pique the reader’s curiosity. I’d like to focus on the headline, first showing you two examples of headlines for books that were recently published:

  • From Her: A Memoir:

“A blazingly passionate memoir of identity and love: when a charismatic and troubled young woman dies tragically, her identical twin must struggle to survive.”

  • From Memoir of Love and Art. Honey in the Blood:

“Memoir of Love And Art. Honey In The Blood is a reflective memoir sensually charged with passages of exquisite prose.”

Assuming you know nothing else about either book, which one would you most likely buy?

Update May 2013: On  How To Sell Loads of Books – My Approach, blakebooks wrote: “Make sure your product description rocks, is short and compelling, and sucks the reader in. After your cover, the product description has to sell the book. Don’t give too much info, don’t spell out the plot like it’s a test. Give the high points that will interest a reader in knowing more. And make sure it’s coherent and there are no typos or bad grammar, as that will kill most of your sales out of the gate.”

As you craft your headline, think Twitter—crafting a 140-character pitch is a great exercise because it forces you to focus on the bare essentials and the absolute strongest elements of your pitch. Thanks to Amsterdamprinting.com for this great idea.

A final note: Resist the urge to unveil the entire plot in your description. As author Robert Bidinotto writes, “Promotional copy is supposed to be only a teaser—not an exhaustive presentation of the story. Its job is to build curiosity, not to satisfy it. You build intense curiosity not by revealing everything, but by what you don’t reveal.”

Happy Writing!


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9 thoughts on “Why You Must Create a Compelling Book Description”

  1. Candace, I think the first one is the one I’d more likely pick up and take a look at, from the descriptions provided. What you’re saying about the promotional copy is the same as the first sentences of the “about the book” section of the proposal that you send to publishers… or what you’d say in an email to a potential publisher to whom you’re sending a query. Yes?
    As I’m trying to get a publisher right now, I’ll share my promotional sentences and it might be interesting to have a handful of your readers share theirs, and we can all get feedback! Mine is:
    “After a near death illness and a divorce I set out to walk the historic Via
    Francigena in Italy, equipped with a 19-pound pack, two walking poles, four
    sheets of moleskin, two journals and three pens.”
    (On the promotional copy the “I” would be changed to my name.)

      1. Hi Candace,
        Would you say this is mostly the same thing:
        The promotional copy versus the first sentences of the “about the book” section of the proposal that you send to publishers… or what you’d say in an email to a potential publisher to whom you’re sending a query?

  2. I thought the first description was more compelling. These tips are really helpful, Candace. Thinking about what you’d say face-to-face and keeping it short like a Twitter post make a lot of sense to me.

  3. Thanks for stopping by, C.W., and yes, your one-liner should be strong enough to use as the headline for promotional copy, the first sentence of a query, or the beginning of your book description. If properly constructed, it is a powerful sentence that makes the reader (publisher, agent, etc.) keep reading. You’ll usually have the opportunity to write more, such as a book description (About the Book) or the rest of your query letter, but that one sentence sets the tone, and you don’t want it to be the reason someone stops reading.

  4. Reblogged this on Self Publishing Advocate and commented:
    I totally agree with you about the importance of descriptions or promotional ad copy. This is one of the key aspects that a potential buyer of your book is going to buy or not. Descriptions should be enticing and if possible includes call to action for your prospects. ^_^

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