Analyzing Book Description Copy

by James Scott Bell

One of the key elements of selling online these days is the ability to write book descriptions (also called “cover copy”) that sizzle and do the job in three paragraphs or so. In this age of short attention spans, you can’t afford to waste any space. You can read about one method of generating good cover copy here(h/t Jodie Renner).

For amusement recently, I randomly looked at some descriptions from bestselling authors. You ought to do the same. Go through Amazon and study the best books in your genre. See what professional marketing people have come up with. Figure out what works and doesn’t work for you. Then write your own copy accordingly.
Below are links to Amazon for three book descriptions (I didn’t want to overstep copyright concerns by producing them in full). Give each a quick read and then come back for my analysis.
Innocence by Dean Koontz

The first line is pretty good. Captures me and makes me want to read the next line (which is the whole secret of copywriting).
But that second line is a bit soft. I would change “do her harm” to “kill her.”
I would like to see more specificity in the third paragraph. What is it that creates the “bond”? What sort of “reckoning” are we talking about here? Why are these two people involved?
The last line, of course, is purely for the author. If you’re Dean Koontz, you deserve such praise. But my advice for us mere mortals: do not use over-the-top fluff. You can mention kudos, but only if you back it up with something like a nice blurb from a well-known writer, or a review from a trusted source. I don’t care how good your self-published thriller is, it is not going to “leave readers transformed forever and change the course of history for all mankind.”  
NYPD RED 2 by James Patterson & Marshall Karp

This copy starts with a “headline” style, which is often a good idea. But only if the headline is short and to the point. Here, I would take out the whole parenthetical statement and leave this: NYPD Red hunts a killer who is on an impossible mission.
The next two paragraphs are excellent. They are specific and to the point and tell me exactly what type of story this is. It has both outer plot (serial killer) and inner journey (Kylie has been acting strange recently). It’s all there.
The puffery about Patterson is, of course, also well-deserved. But notice that it is backed up with a clip from a trusted source.
Stand Up Guy by Stuart Woods
The headline focuses on the series character, which is fine. Readers of the series will want to know about it. “Edge-of-your-seat adventure” is a cliché, of course. I wonder if readers have a slightly negative reaction to such things, even subconsciously. Maybe it doesn’t matter. I’m not sure. What are your thoughts on it?
The first paragraph has some issues. What is a “well-deported” gentleman? I had to look up deported, and found out it’s an archaic word for “conduct.” Key copyrighting tip: Don’t make readers work hard! Write in such a way that a middle school student could read the copy and not get tripped up by any of it. 

Also, is there enough at stake? Does “keenly interested” indicate enough trouble? 
The second paragraph gets us a little closer to specifics and how they involve the lead character. I’m okay with that.
Now here’s one for a short story:
Sometimes, comedy can seem like death…
For Pete “The Harv” Harvey, stand up comedy is a serious business. At least, he wants it to be. But the struggle to make it in the glitter dome of L.A. hasn’t exactly been a smashing success.
One night, after bombing onstage at a local club, Pete wonders if his next stop is managing a car wash. Then a man sits next to him at the bar–a man with an almost unbelievable proposition. One that could mean a whole lot of money to Pete “The Harv” Harvey, who will soon learn that deals too good to be true are no laughing matter.
I think the author did okay with that. It’s brief and to the point, gives the set up and then gets out of the way.

And here’s more news: This story, “No Laughing Matter,” is FREE today through Wednesday on Kindle. The favor of a review is requested.
Go ahead and get the story now. I’ll wait.
Welcome back! Now dive in and leave a comment on book descriptions. What do you think works, or doesn’t work? What grabs you? What makes you shrug your shoulders and go “Meh”?