How to Get Readers to Lust After Your Book

Book loveThe word lust in our language is usually limited to the sexual arena. But it was not always so. The Greek philosophers used the term epithumia to indicate an intense desire which can be directed toward good or ill. Whatever the end, the desire is more than intellectual curiosity. It’s a feeling of I really must have this!

Which is precisely the feeling you want to induce in browsers who come across your book. It’s not enough to make the novel look “interesting.” You’ve got to raise epithumia so the blood starts pumping a “buy” message to the head.

In addition to a quality, eye-pleasing cover, there are at least three essential factors for raising desire levels in potential customers. They are excitement, killer copy, and grabber sample.

  1. Excitement

If you are not jazzed about your own book as you write it, it’s going to be that much more difficult to excite a reader. The first order of business, then, is to make sure you are pumped about your own project.

Because writing a book is like a marriage. Your first idea, getting charged up about it, is like falling in love. Once you commit to the writing of a book, you’ve married it, and we all know marriage has its ups and downs. You’re not always going to be starry-eyed and ready to sing “In Your Eyes” at the drop of the hat.just-the-facts-ma'am

(By the way, we need to bring back the daily wearing of hats.)

So you work things out, recapture that magic feeling, because you’re dedicated to the marriage.

Editing, of course, is marriage counseling.

Try not to write any scene until something about it excites you. I brainstorm for the unexpected––in action, dialogue, setting, or new characters. One of those will set off a spark in me, and I know I’m ready to write. I want to sustain that feeling throughout the book. There’s an alchemy there connects reader an author.

  1. Killer Copy

Your book description is the next lust inducer. It’s like that perfect outfit that accentuates the positives. It’s Betty Grable’s legs.

GrableWhat would be the male analogue? This guy?

FabioBut I digress.

Book description copy (sometimes called “cover copy,” sometimes a “blurb,” though I usually reserve that term for someone’s endorsement) are those few lines that sum up the book in a way that increases the desire to buy. It is crucially important. There are people who have marketing degrees that specialize in this kind of writing.

But you can learn to do it. My formula is three sentences and a tagline.

Three Sentences

Sentence #1 – Character name, vocation, initial situation

Dorothy Gale is a farm girl who dreams of getting out of Kansas to a land far, far away, where she and her dog will be safe from the town busybody Miss Gulch.

Sentence #2 – “When” + Doorway of No Return

Note: The Doorway of No Return is my term for the initial turning point that thrusts the Lead into Act II. I describe it in detail in Super Structure.

When a twister hits the farm, Dorothy is carried away to a land of strange creatures and a wicked witch who wants to kill her.

Sentence #3 – “Now” + The Death Stakes

Note: Death can be physical, professional, or psychological

Now, with the help of three unlikely friends, Dorothy must find a way to destroy the wicked witch so the great wizard will send her back home.

You may have heard the term “elevator pitch.” That’s what this is, a short plot outline you can spout on a short elevator ride. You can now expand or revise each sentence as you see fit. Just remember this is the “sizzle” and not the “steak.” Don’t try to pack everything about your plot into the copy. Just enough to whet the appetite of the busy browser.


Sometimes wrongly called a “logline” (that’s a screenwriting term for how scripts are “logged” with a sentence describing the plot), the tagline is more of a teaser. It’s what you see on movie posters. Some famous taglines are:

In space, no one can hear you scream. – Alien
Don’t go in the water. – Jaws
Earth. It was fun while it lasted. – Armageddon
His story will touch you, even though he can’t. – Edward Scissorhands
Reality is a thing of the past. – The Matrix

Coming up with a great tagline is fun, but it takes some work. The best way to go at it is to write a bunch of them. Then choose the best ones and refine, rewrite, refine again. Get some help from friends. Brainstorm. Test them on a few people.

By the way, the two exercises above are a great thing to do before you ever write a word of your novel. Because if you can’t nail this much about your idea, and pack it with epithumia, it’s a pretty fair bet you need to shore up the foundation for the long building project ahead.

Here’s the tagline and copy I did for my thriller Don’t Leave Me:

When they came for him it was time to run. When they came for his brother it was time to fight.

Chuck Samson needs to heal. A former Navy chaplain who served with a Marine unit in Afghanistan, he’s come home to take care of his adult, autistic brother, Stan. But the trauma of Chuck’s capture and torture threatens to overtake him. Only the fifth graders he teaches give him reason to hope for the future.

But when an unseen enemy takes aim at Chuck, he finds himself running for his life. And from the cops, who think he’s a murderer. A secret buried deep in Chuck’s damaged soul may be the one thing that can save him. But can he unearth it?

Now, needing to protect his only brother from becoming collateral damage, Chuck Samson must face the dark fears embedded in his mind and find a way to save Stan . . . or die trying.


  1. Grabber Sample

The final touch in our lust generator is a great opening. That’s the free sample readers will see online, or on the first few pages when browsing in a bookstore (remember those days?).

I advise that any novel begin with a disturbance and an actual scene. In these days of short attention spans you simply must …


Want to learn what a grabber opening is? Just click on the button that says “First-page Critiques” on our blog masthead and you’ll get a list of the critiques we’ve done over the years. I’m telling you, spend a week studying these and you’ll be a sample monster, a grabber virtuoso, a hook hotshot.

All right, friends, now it’s your turn. What makes you lust after a book? What is something that would turn off your desire?

30 thoughts on “How to Get Readers to Lust After Your Book

  1. Jim, you are so right about the need for excitement when you write. I admit to being a damn fine procrastinator but when it came to revising my latest WIP I realized I wasn’t so much procrastinating as I was avoiding all together. After some feedback I figured out the problems (and don’t they seem obvious after the suggestions?), and I’m back to excited.

    I lust after complex characters with smarts, wit, and interesting interaction with secondary characters.

    Oh, and the picture of the male analogue? I think it’s Fabian? So not for me. Think more along the line of Jon Bon Jovi.

  2. Oh good, you blogged the back cover copy formula! I’ve been painstakingly copying it out of Make a Living As a Writer any time my friends needed copy help. It’s saved several books from dismal copy already. 🙂

    I find myself attracted to books that fit my tastes. Like an agent, I have broad categories that I like, but I’m picky about what I read in those categories. But ever since I encountered the Magic Bees mod in Minecraft, I’ve wanted to read a story about bees that harvest magic and store it in their honey. As I was unable to find any books like that, I was forced to write it, and Malevolent is due out at the end of May. Every single scene was a labor of love, so I hope readers enjoy it, too!

  3. Jim, thanks for a great post. I’ve read it before in your books, but I needed to read it again. It forced me to think through the book description for my WIP and to brain storm a tagline.

    I sat back and reflected on your question: “What makes you lust after a book?” I’ve been buying most new fiction online for Kindle. So there’s not quite the book cover appeal to cause me to pick up a book. But I came up with the following:

    1. Book description copy is still big.
    2. The author. I’m finding more and more that I enjoy reading books by authors I’ve met, heard about, read about, or who have craft books that have impressed me.
    3. Books from a series I’ve enjoyed. I’m going back and reading the entire series in those situations.

    Turn offs: overused plot lines and premises.

    Thanks for your continued teaching.

    • Thanks, Steve.

      On familiar plots: they are familiar, because they are popular. So the task is not to simply eschew the familiar, but to put in fresh angles, characters, voice. The hard boiled detective was already familiar to audiences when Chandler came along. But he made Marlowe unique, and his voice is the main attraction.

  4. To torture your metaphor a little:

    Sometimes you fall in lust with a story idea but then you think you were a sucker for a pretty face and you’re afraid it was all a mistake but you’re too invested in the relationship (you bought a sofa together) to get out. But then, time passes, and you realize you have fallen deeply madly in love with your story and just because it was complex and difficult, drove you nuts and made you lose sleep, doesn’t mean it wasn’t good. So you stick it out…and you realize it was the right story for you all along. It even made you a better writer.

    This was me and my new book. I am so glad I didn’t give up.

  5. I find the cover copy and taglines harder to write than the book. For my next release, I hired someone to write the initial cover copy. Then I refined this version until I was satisfied with the final result. It used to be my editor who wrote this stuff, but publishers seem to shift it onto authors these days.

    • That’s true, Nancy. It’s a good skill for a writer to develop for, as I said in the post, it helps solidify the concept before you set out writing the thing. Even pantsers can do with a little of that!

  6. I’ve always thought that the tag line to Alien, In space no one can hear you scream, was one of the best ever. Not so much for the followup, Femalien, In space, no one can hear you bitch.

  7. I love this analogy! I don’t think I would call this my process, but more times than not I seem to have a long phase of brainstorming and story developing before I acutally start writing.

    Usually it’s because I’m writing something else and can’t chase each shiny new idea, so I write it down and the reasons why I’m excited. I add to this document over time until I am pumped about the idea, but half way into the story it feels old and tired.

    Falling back on what made me love the idea in the first place is a great way to get back into the story!

  8. UGH! Fabio. Every woman’s dreamboat…not! I shudder every time I see a picture of him. We have an Aldi store ad currently running on TV that has “Fabio” lying on a lounge in front of a fireplace.
    Fabio says, “I love this shampoo…and I love this shampoo. But I love me more.”
    The fireplace replies, “And so you should, you’re beautiful.”
    Fabio: “Thank you fireplace.”
    Fireplace: “You’re welcome.”
    Crazy way to advertise shampoo…I think I’ll shave my head 😮

  9. This is also a great way to write a query letter, too, for those going traditional. Excellent post, as usual. Sharing widely for others to enjoy!

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