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Let’s review the five things you have learned about creating book descriptions that sell:
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
As we go through the step-by-step process, you’ll want to keep the first four of these top-of-mind. And even if you decide to outsource your book description, this process will help you and your copywriter stay on the same page.
Step 1: Determine Your Keywords
In Chapter One you learned about metadata and the fact that Amazon’s robots will parse your book description and other metadata and pull out keywords which will be used by Amazon’s search engine to match your book with appropriate searches.
Here’s an important point: if those keywords don’t exist in your book description, Amazon won’t do a good job suggesting your book as part of its search results. In other words, Amazon’s robots need your help. You need to give them something to use in order to match your book with the people looking for it. What you give them are keywords.
Amazon explicitly asks for seven keywords when you submit your book for sale. And if you want your book listed in certain subcategories of Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Erotica, Mystery/Thriller/Suspense, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Teen & Young Adult, you need to include the appropriate keywords. Amazon lists those keywords here: https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=A200PDGPEIQX41 Note that this only applies to certain specific subcategories (like “Fantasy: Arthurian”). Most categories and subcategories do not have keyword requirements.
How do you determine which keywords to use? You need to brainstorm a list of 10-15 keywords that best describe your novel.
Ask yourself the following questions?
- What is my novel’s setting or time period? (Old West, 1940s Europe, Depression-Era Manhattan)
- Who are some of the character types in my novel? (geeky teen, rebellious space smuggler, haughty princess, by-the-book cop)
- What are some plot elements present in my novel? (locked-room mystery, fish-out-of-water tale, treasure hunt)
- What is my novel’s tone or approach? ( richly-drawn saga, gritty cyberpunk, flirty romantic comedy)
Remember, keywords don’t have to be just a single word. “Treasure hunt” is a keyword.
Another great source of keyword ideas is Amazon itself. When you browse in certain genre categories (like Mystery/Thriller/Suspense), Amazon allows you to filter your search results by moods & themes, characters, and setting. To see for yourself, go to the Kindle ebook section of Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Kindle-eBooks
Next browse to the Mystery section (using the Mystery/Thriller/Suspense link in the left sidebar).
In the Mystery section, look on the left sidebar for “Refine by…” section. You’ll see options to refine by:
- Moods & Themes
- Racy & Risque
- Amateur Sleuth
- British Detectives
- Gay/Lesbian Protagonists
- FBI Agents
- Female Protagonists
- Police Officers
- Private Investigators
- Outer Space
- Small Towns
For Romance, you’ll see the following options for “Refine by…”:
- Romantic Themes
- Love Triangle
- Second Chances
- Secret Baby
- Romantic Heroes
- Royalty & Aristocrats
Amazon also displays the number of titles next to each of these options, so you can get an idea about the relative popularity of these keyword ideas.
Keyword stuffing is the practice of including as many keywords as possible in a book’s title or description. It focuses more on the robot readers than the human readers.
A few years ago Nick Stephenson wrote a popular book marketing how-to guide Supercharge Your Kindle Sales in which he detailed how he and some other authors found success through optimizing keywords to maximize their books’ visibility on Amazon.
One of the examples cited in his book is a legal thriller by Kenneth Eade with the official title of “Legal Thriller: Predatory Kill (courtroom drama, pulp thrillers, financial thrillers, political thrillers, crime fiction noir) (Brent Marks Legal Thrillers Book 2).” Yes, that is the actual title.
A section of Eade’s book description reads:
Searing, exhilarating and topical, Predatory Kill puts a new spin on the greatest financial crisis of the age
#1 Financial Thriller
#1 Political Thriller
#1 Pulp Thriller
#1 Legal Thriller
#1 Crime Noir Thriller
No offense to Mr. Stephenson or Mr. Eade, but to me this is an example of keyword stuffing. Eade identified the following keywords for his book:
- Legal thriller
- Courtroom drama
- Pulp thriller
- Financial thriller
- Political thriller
- Crime fiction noir
He then “stuffed” these keywords multiple times throughout the title, subtitle, description, and even in his author’s bio. The result is a title and description that can look odd and awkward to readers. But does it work? Eade’s novel is in the top 10,000 on Amazon, but other authors have reported mixed results using this technique. Should you stuff your description and title with keywords? This is your decision, but here are a few reasons not to:
- Amazon frowns on authors and publishers who try to manipulate Amazon’s search algorithm and may penalize authors for attempting to do so by keyword stuffing
- It is against Amazon’s terms of service to include title information that is not actually on the cover of the book. They could remove your book from their store
- As we mentioned, it looks odd to readers
What’s the alternative to keyword stuffing? Use keywords as part of your normal product description and use a variety of keywords–not just the keywords you think tie to Amazon categories.
For example, in sample novel “Built to Kill” we might use the following keywords:
- South Beach
- Retired detective
- Russian mafia
Amazon only allows us to directly add seven keywords into the metadata when we submit the book for sale, but there is no reason not to add the others if we can work them into our description naturally. And one of the best places to do that is within the Introduction. Let’s tackle that next.
Step 2: Create Your Introduction
The Introduction is marketing copy used to get the reader excited about the author and/or genre of the book. It usually is made up of these elements:
- About the Author: author accolade (“New York Times bestselling author”) and/or author’s previous book(s)
- Genre Hooks: clues as to which genre the book is
- Payoff: what the book is about or what effect it will have on the reader
Not all Introductions contain all the elements. Here’s the Introduction for Area 7, a thriller by Matthew Reilly (published by St. Martin’s):
Matthew Reilly dazzled the world with his electrifying thrillers ICE STATION and TEMPLE. And now Shane “Scarecrow” Schofield returns with his most harrowing and explosive adventure yet.
Notice that this Introduction only has two elements:
• About the Author: “Matthew Reilly dazzled the world with his electrifying thrillers ICE STATION and TEMPLE.”
• Genre Hooks: “electrifying thrillers” and “harrowing and explosive adventure.”
Here’s another example:
The breakout author of The Forgotten Girl and Cemetery Girl, “one of the brightest and best crime fiction writers of our time” (Suspense Magazine) delivers a new novel about a man who is haunted by a face from his past….
That’s the Introduction to Somebody I Used to Know by David Bell (Penguin). It has two elements:
• About the Author: “The breakout author of The Forgotten Girl and Cemetery Girl, ‘one of the brightest and best crime fiction writers of our time’ (Suspense Magazine)
• Payoff: “about a man who is haunted by a face from his past….”
Here’s the Introduction to Stepbrother, Mine by Opal Carew (Macmillan):
From New York Times bestselling author Opal Carew comes an erotic new serial about the lengths to which one woman will go to live the life of her dreams.
This Introduction has all three elements:
• About the Author: “From New York Times bestselling author Opal Carew”
• Genre Hooks: “an erotic new serial”
• Payoff: “about the lengths to which one woman will go to live the life of her dreams”
And here’s the Introduction to Homecoming Ranch by Julia London (Montlake Romance):
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Julia London launches a triumphant, emotional, heartwarming story about finding love, family and home.
• About the Author: “New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Julia London”
• Genre Hooks: “launches a triumphant, emotional, heartwarming story”
• Payoff: “about finding love, family and home”
From the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of The Secret Keeper and The Distant Hours, an intricately plotted, spellbinding new novel of heart-stopping suspense and uncovered secrets.
That’s from The Lake House by Kate Morton (Simon & Schuster). It breaks down like this:
• About the Author: “From the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of The Secret Keeper and The Distant Hours”
• Genre Hooks: “spellbinding new novel of heart-stopping suspense and uncovered secrets”
To write your own Introduction, first collect author information, including accolades and previous books. If this is your first book, you can either acknowledge that fact (like the Introduction to The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins: “A debut psychological thriller that will forever change the way you look at other people’s lives.”) or just omit this element.
Next consult your list of relevant genre keywords to come up with a description of your novel:
- electrifying thriller
- a harrowing and explosive adventure
- psychological thriller
- erotic new serial
- an intricately plotted, spellbinding new novel of heartstopping suspense and uncovered secrets
Finally, wrap things up with a Payoff, which can either be:
- What the book is about
- “about finding love, family and home”
- “about the lengths to which one woman will go to live the life of her dreams”
- “about a man who is haunted by a face from his past”
- Or what effect it will have on the reader
- “(it) will forever change the way you look at other people’s lives”
An Alternate to the Introduction: The Tagline
Some authors prefer to begin their book description with a tagline (similar to the tagline you might see on a movie poster). These are usually very short, one-to-two sentences, and designed to be intriguing and memorable.
Here are some famous movie taglines:
- An adventure 65 million years in the making. (Jurassic Park)
- In a galaxy, far, far away (Star Wars)
- In space, no one can hear you scream (Alien)
- She brought a small town to its feet and a huge corporation to its knees. (Erin Brockovich)
- The first casualty of war is innocence. (Platoon)
- The true story of a real fake. (Catch Me If You Can)
- You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies (The Social Network)
And some current book taglines:
- In love we find out who we want to be. In war we find out who we are. –The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
- Two sisters. One disaster. –Double Trouble by Deborah Cooke
- Forget prophecy. Make your own destiny. –Anathema by Megg Jensen
- Justice isn’t always black or white. Sometimes it’s cold and dark. –A Cold Dark Place by Toni Anderson
Note that taglines usually include a clever turn of phrase to make them memorable. If you choose this direction, be prepared to extensively wordsmith your tagline.
Step 3: Craft Your Teaser
The Teaser is the meat of your book description. It’s what appears on the back of paperbacks and on the inner flap of hardcovers. But don’t make the mistake of thinking this section should be a synopsis. Far from it. As its name implies, the Teaser is supposed to set-up the story and give a flavor of what the reader can expect. If written correctly, the Teaser will suck the reader in and cause him or her to hit the BUY button in order to find out what happens next.
Teasers usually are made up of four elements:
- Main Character
- The Setting
- The Opponent
- The Conflict
This might remind you of the outline you used when writing your novel–with the notable omission of an ending or resolution. That’s absolutely correct and intentional. You don’t want to mention the ending in your Teaser. That’s why it’s called a “Teaser.” People should read it and then buy the book to find out what happens.
Here’s the Teaser for Area 7. See if you can identify the four elements in this Teaser.
AREA 7: It is America’s most secret base, hidden deep in the Utah desert, an Air Force installation known only as Area 7. And today, it has a visitor – the President of the United States. He has come to inspect Area 7, to examine its secrets for himself. But he’s going to get more than he bargained for on this trip. Because hostile forces are waiting inside.
Among the President’s helicopter crew, however, is a young Marine. He is quiet, enigmatic, and he hides his eyes behind a pair of silver sunglasses. His name is Schofield. Call-sign: Scarecrow. Rumor has it, he’s a good man in a storm. Judging by what the President has just walked into, he’d better be. . .
And switching genres for a second, here’s the Teaser for Mistress of Pleasure a historical romance by Delilah Marvelle:
Granddaughter of a renowned courtesan, Maybelle Maitenon has no interest in her grandmother’s school in London where gentlemen receive instruction–in the art of seduction. Her only desire in life is to remain independent and free from men and their overbearing expectations. But when Maybelle lays eyes on the Duke of Rutherford, who is well-known for his gentlemanly ways, she can’t resist. Neither she or the duke are prepared for what their attraction is about to do not only to their sanity but their hearts.
Even though these two Teasers are for novels in completely different genres, they contain the same elements. Let’s break them down.
The Main Character
- Area 7: Schofield: a young Marine. He is quiet, enigmatic, and he hides his eyes behind a pair of silver sunglasses. Rumor has it, he’s a good man in a storm
- Mistress of Pleasure: Maybelle Maitenon, granddaughter of a renowned courtesan. Her only desire in life is to remain independent and free from men and their overbearing expectations.
- Area 7: It is America’s most secret base, hidden deep in the Utah desert, an Air Force installation known only as Area 7
- Mistress of Pleasure: Her grandmother’s school in London where gentlemen receive instruction–in the art of seduction
- Area 7: Hostile forces are waiting inside
- Mistress of Pleasure: The Duke of Rutherford, who is well-known for his gentlemanly ways
- Area 7: The President of the United States…has come to inspect Area 7, to examine its secrets for himself. But he’s going to get more than he bargained for on this trip
- Mistress of Pleasure: Neither she or the duke are prepared for what their attraction is about to do not only to their sanity but their hearts
Now it’s your turn.
- Start with your Main Character. Use his or her name and describe the Main Character’s profession, personality, or initial goal.
- Next tackle the Setting or initial situation. Use the Setting to signal the genre of your novel. Readers are looking for genre cues like “secret base,” “Air Force installation,” and “the art of seduction.”
- After the Setting, write a few sentences about your Opponent. Remember in Romance and its subgenres, the Opponent is often the love interest.
- Finally, set up the Conflict. This might be the most important element of your Teaser and the crux of your story. Let the reader know what will happen if thing go badly for the Main Character.
Wordsmith these four elements until you have a gripping Teaser. Feel free to play around with the order of the elements.
Area 7 uses this order:
- Main Character
Mistress of Pleasure uses this order:
- Main Character
With your Teaser nailed down, it’s time to move on to your Social Proof statements.
Step 4: Add Social Proof Statements
As a new author you might not have collected any accolades that you can use as social proof statements…yet. That’s fine. One of the good things about your Amazon book description is that you can update it at any time. But if you have social proof statements you can add them into either the Editorial Reviews section of your metadata (using Author Central) or just append them to the end of your description.
Remember, social proof statements include:
- Blurbs from other authors
- Blurbs from publications
- Awards (especially genre-specific awards)
- Numerical social proof (“Over 150 five-star reviews” or “#1 seller in Crime Fiction”)
According to BookBub’s research, blurbs from authors were 30% more effective than blurbs from publications. They also found that including social proof statements which mention 150 or more five star reviews on Amazon or Goodreads increased response rate by 14%. And finally, their data suggests that including an author award can increase response rate by nearly 7%.
Step 5: Other Elements
Sometimes authors add an “Author Q&A” at the end of their book description. This is one way to incorporate more keywords into your description. Check out the book description for Hard Duty by Mark E. Cooper as an example.
You could also add some handpicked reader reviews to fill out your book description.
Step 6: Don’t Forget Your Call-to-Action
The final step in your book description is a call-to-action. As mentioned earlier, this might seem unnecessary, but don’t make the mistake of assuming readers won’t need an extra nudge to download your book. While the meat of the call-to-action is some sort of command (click, download, scroll up, hit the buy button, get it, etc.), you can use the call-to-action as one more reminder of your novel’s genre by appending a description to the call-to-action (Download the sample to start reading this steamy romance with heart).
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If you’ve followed the steps outlined above, you should be well on your way to a powerful, compelling book description. But you are not done yet. Share your draft with 5-10 people who will give you honest feedback. Ask them if anything seems confusing in your book description and revise as necessary. Reader confusion is your enemy.
I wish you the best of luck with your book description and all facets of your publishing career. If you have any questions or suggestions, about this book, please feel free to contact us. We’d love to hear from you.
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