Better Book Descriptions in 3 Easy Steps

By SUE COLETTA

Let’s be honest. Writing a book description isn’t fun. It’s grueling, mind-numbing work that I detest with every inch of my being. Mastering the art of back cover copy-writing is an important skill. Therefore, I’m always on the lookout for tips.

Saturday, I sat through yet another webinar on the topic, and a formula emerged, a formula that finally resonated with me (after 11 books, it’s about time). So, I figured I’d share my discovery with you, my beloved TKZers, in the hopes that it’ll work for you, as well.

I should preface this post with, do as I say, not as I do. After my Ah-ha! Moment, I now need to rewrite all my descriptions. Oy. I’d prefer a bullet to the brain.

A 3-Step Formula

Back cover copy follows a simple three-step formula, but we do have wiggle room to experiment. With readers’ short attention spans these days, the advice is to keep the entire description to roughly 150-200 words. If your description runs 25 words longer than the desired range, I wouldn’t sweat it too much.

Step 1: Headline/Hook

To find our hook we need to look at the main conflict of our story. We want readers to identify with said conflict, so don’t shy away from the emotional impact it causes the hero. Don’t dwell on it, either. Every word counts.

The following books sit on Amazon’s Top 10 Bestsellers List in Psychological Thrillers, and each description employs this exact formula. These authors worked hard on their hooks, and it shows.

What would it take to make you intervene? I Am Watching You by Teresa Driscoll 

It begins with a phone call. It ends with a missing child. Guilty by Laura Elliot

When family secrets are unearthed, a woman’s past can become a dangerous place to hide… Twist of Faith by Ellen J. Green

Every time Gwen closed her eyes, she saw him in her nightmares. Now her eyes are open, and he’s not going away. Killman Creek by Rachel Caine

They were all there the day your sister went missing. Who is lying? Who is next? The Reunion by Samantha Hayes

She’s a daughter he didn’t know he had. Until she calls him… from death row. 30 Days of Justis by John Ellsworth

What if you discovered your husband was a serial killer? Tell Me I’m Wrong by Adam Croft

Side note: Adam Croft is a master at hooking readers. This next book he wrote after he created the hook. What a doozy, too!

Could you murder your wife to save your daughter? Her Last Tomorrow by Adam Croft

Wow. Right? If that hook doesn’t grab fans of the genre, nothing will.

Step 2: Short Synopsis

The synopsis also follows a micro-formula…

  1. Introduce the protagonist by showing what defines their role in the story.
  2. What is that character up against?
  3. What’s standing in their way?
  4. Transition paragraph or as Kris called it in a 2014 post, “The Big But.”
  5. End with a cliffhanger.

Let’s go back to our examples to see if this micro-formula has merit. The red-bracketed numbers correspond to steps 1-5.

Synopsis of Her Last Tomorrow by Adam Croft

Nick and Tasha are a couple held together by their five-year-old daughter [1]. Until one ordinary morning, when Ellie vanishes amid the chaos of the school run [2].

Nick knows she can’t have gone far on her own, which can mean only one thing: she’s not on her own. Who would take his daughter, and why? With no motive and no leads, Nick is thrown into a tailspin of suspicion and guilt. Like Tasha, he doesn’t know what to think, or whom to trust… [3]

But then someone starts doing the thinking for him. Confronted with an impossible choice, Nick will have to make a decision, and both options will leave him with blood on his hands. But perhaps that’s to be expected. [4]

After all, Nick’s not quite as blameless as he seems. [5]

I Am Watching You by Teresa Driscoll

When Ella Longfield overhears two attractive young men flirting with teenage girls on a train, she thinks nothing of it—until she realises they are fresh out of prison and her maternal instinct is put on high alert.[1] But just as she’s decided to call for help, something stops her. The next day, she wakes up to the news that one of the girls—beautiful, green-eyed Anna Ballard—has disappeared. [2]

A year later, Anna is still missing. Ella is wracked with guilt over what she failed to do, and she’s not the only one who can’t forget. Someone is sending her threatening letters—letters that make her fear for her life. [3]

Then an anniversary appeal reveals that Anna’s friends and family might have something to hide. Anna’s best friend, Sarah, hasn’t been telling the whole truth about what really happened that night—and her parents have been keeping secrets of their own. [4]

Someone knows where Anna is—and they’re not telling. But they are watching Ella. [5]

Synopsis of Guilty by Laura Elliot

On a warm summer’s morning, thirteen-year-old school girl Constance Lawson is reported missing. [2]

A few days later, Constance’s uncle, Karl Lawson, suddenly finds himself swept up in a media frenzy created by journalist Amanda Bowe implying that he is the prime suspect. [1]

Six years later … [4]

Karl’s life is in ruins. His marriage is over, his family destroyed. But the woman who took everything away from him is thriving. With a successful career, husband and a gorgeous baby boy, Amanda’s world is complete. Until the day she receives a phone call and in a heartbeat, she is plunged into every mother’s worst nightmare. [3]

* * *

Even though Guilty played with the order, the description works. The formula still holds. Hence why I mentioned the wiggle room at the beginning of this post. *grin* Also note: some authors put their characters’ names and/or important details in bold, and the words catch the reader’s eye.

Step 3: Selling Paragraph

The selling paragraph answers two variations of the same question that readers ask themselves:

It sounds good, but how do I know it’s for me?

Sounds good, but will I like it?

There’s two ways we can go here, by showing similar books — if you enjoyed X, you will love Y — or by simply mentioning the genre.

A psychological thriller that keeps you guessing till the last chilling page.

If you like heart-hammering suspense, this book is for you!

A third option is to use clips of reader reviews or blurbs from authors in your genre.

CLEAVED by Sue Coletta

 

 

How far would you go to save your child?

CLICK HERE to look inside CLEAVED.

 

 

 

 

Over to you, TKZers. Do you use this formula for your book descriptions? If not, are you tempted to try it? Any tips of your own to share?

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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.

Tagline

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 …

Squirrel!

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?

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