Creating a Fiction Book Description That Sells

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In this short book we are going to discuss these five recommendations about creating fiction book descriptions:

  1. Your description needs to appeal to humans and robots
  2. Social proof is important 
  3. Use emotional and genre hooks
  4. You need to include a call-to-action
  5. You might want to outsource this task

In the final chapter, we’ll help you pull everything together and create a powerful book description using a simple, step-by-step blueprint. This will help you create a book description from scratch or improve your existing book description.

Ready to dive in?

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Book Shopping Then & Now

Our topic is book descriptions, but what is a book description, anyway? To answer that question, we’ll look at how people buy books. And we’ll need some historical perspective.

Way back, in the olden times before the Internet, shoppers would have to venture into physical stores to peruse books that they might want to purchase. So let’s set the stage. 

It’s the year 1999. Our book shopper, Madeline, has just pulled her Chevy Cavalier into the parking lot of her local Borders. A few times a month, she likes to browse through Borders on her lunch hour. Sometimes Madeline is looking for something specific (the new Nicholas Sparks book, for instance), but often she just browses the shelves for a book that looks interesting. 

Customers like Madeline most often browse within a particular genre. So if she was in the mood for a romance, she’d go directly to the romance section of Borders. A cover would catch her eye and she’d pick up the novel for a closer look. If it was a hardcover, Madeline would look at the inner flap of the dustjacket. If the book was a paperback, she’d flip it over and read the back cover. But what exactly would Madeline be seeing? Usually some combination of the following:

  • Social proof in the form of blurbs (testimonials) from well-known authors in the same genre and/or review excerpts from publications like Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, etc.
  • An Introduction that’s 1-2 sentences long
  • A Teaser that’s 1-3 paragraphs long

That’s what made up what we now call a book description. 

Let’s fast forward to the present. Not only is Madeline driving a new car (a Subaru Crosstrek), but all the physical bookstores in her town have closed and it’s a 90 minute drive to the nearest Barnes & Noble in the next town over. Last time she was there (last November), it struck her that Barnes & Noble seemed like it had more toys, games, gadgets, and magazines than actual books. But we digress. 

Today, Madeline does nearly all of her book buying on Amazon. And she buys mostly ebooks which she reads with the Kindle app on her iPad. 

Back in 1999, all the novels that Madeline purchased were published by the big publishing houses like Random House, Penguin, Time Warner, Simon and Schuster, Harper, Avon, William Morrow, and Macmillan. And these novels cost seven or eight bucks for the paperback. 

Now a paperback costs between $10 and $20 and an ebook from one of the big publishers costs between $10 and $15. But the good news is that today there are millions of independently-published novels that cost between $0 on the low end and usually $5-$6 on the high end.

While the more affordable prices and massive selection online are a huge boon to readers, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Very easy. So Madeline clicks and skims through Amazon’s virtual stacks. She narrows down her selection by category, scrolls through Bestseller and New Release lists, and looks at Amazon’s recommendations and “Also Boughts.”

As Madeline scans through Amazon, she spends a second or less looking at book covers. What she’s looking for is a reason to reject that book. If a cover doesn’t look professional or it seems not to fit the genre that she is interested in, Madeline goes on to the next one. With so many options, Madeline needs to be picky.

But let’s say a book has a professionally-designed book cover which looks like it belongs alongside the bestselling books in its genre. It passes Madeline’s one second test. What happens next?

Madeline clicks on the cover or title and lands on the book’s Product Detail Page. This is the page which contains a larger version of the cover, the price, the book description, rating, reviews, and more.

Next Madeline will do some combination of the following:

● Check the price (again)

● Check the book description

● Check the ratings/reviews

She will have her own order for these quick tasks. But she is still involved in the winnowing process. If the book description isn’t compelling, or the rating is low, or few people have bothered to review the book, or it is too expensive (or too cheap), Madeline might give it a ‘pass.’

But if everything looks good on this book’s Product Detail Page, Madeline is either going to buy the book on the spot, save it to her Wishlist, or download a sample. With any of those outcomes, the author has done his or her job in terms of marketing and now it’s up to the quality of the novel itself.

The Four Ps

When I studied marketing in college, our professors taught us “The Four Ps of Marketing.” You can look it up on Wikipedia, but essentially The Four Ps is a marketing framework to help marketers make smarter decisions.

The Four Ps are:

  • Product: how well the product fits the target customer’s needs and wants
  • Price: how much the product costs and what its value/worth is to the target customer
  • Promotion: how the target customer learns about the product
  • Place: where and how the product is sold

As an indie author, you can control several of these elements:

  • You can write a good book and hire a professional editor to make sure that book is free of spelling and grammatical errors (Product)
  • You can decide the selling price of the book. As we mentioned, a lower price is a competitive advantage for indies. Data from Amazon itself as well as book distributor Smashwords suggests that there are a few pricing “sweet spots” for maximizing revenue (depending on word count and genre). In a 2014 post on their blog, Amazon asserts that, compared to a $15 ebook, a $10 ebook will result in 74% more sales and 16% more revenue. They don’t share the sales and revenue difference between a $5 dollar book and a $10 book, but I am guessing that the numbers are even more dramatic (Price)
  • You can advertise your book on Goodreads, Facebook, Bookbub, and many other places (Promotion)
  • You can offer your book for sale on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, and other retailers and you can optimize your presence in those stores (Place)

You might be wondering what exactly ‘optimize your presence’ means. Don’t worry. We’ll begin to answer that in the next chapter.

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