Thursday, 27 March 2014

The Dreaded Book Description - 15 Top Tips To Writing It

Magic Book
Bring the magic of your book to your description. (Photo courtesy of ostillac callisto at stock.xchng)
I have come to that time again. I've done the drafting and a bit of editing. I've spent hours playing with different cover designs and finally found one that I like. And now, in order to start the pre-launch GoodReads giveaway, I have to write the dreaded book description.

I know what the book is about, I wrote it. So why is it so hard for me to summarise it in 150-400 words?

Well, partly because it's not just about summarising the book. It's about creating a piece of writing that is more fantastic than the whole book put together. It is about creating the few words that will sell all my other words, that will justify and pay for all the hours of work I've put into writing this book.

And sadly, how much time do I usually put into writing these all important words? Usually about ten-twenty minutes while I'm loading it up onto Amazon (or making the back cover, or creating the GoodReads giveaway, or ... you get the idea).

So this time, a month before I hope to release my brand new historical romance, I've taken the time to do some research into what other authors suggest as the top tips for writing a selling book description (I've focused mainly on fiction books, as it is quite a different skill to sell a non-fiction book, though I did also apply these tips to my Online Dating guide.)

Top 15 Tips for Writing a Fiction Book Description:

1.     Read the descriptions of the top 10 books in your genre.
a.     I cannot recommend this one enough. I've just been putting this into practice and it's amazing how helpful this is. Remember that your audience probably has read these descriptions, and might be comparing you to them right now to see which one they want to buy. Use that! Differentiate yourself as well as copying their strong points.
2.     The first line needs to sum it all up.
a.     You need a hook here at the beginning. Don't be afraid to even separate out a tagline to draw someone in, the big guys do it.
3.     Make it clear.
a.     Best way to do this is to not include subplots Stick to the main story. 
4.     Write in genre.
a.     Your description writing should be a good indication of your book's style, and should meet the expectations of the reader.
5.     Don't be boring.
a.     Even if you think it is necessary to explain something, if it's boring, cut it.
6.     Play to your strengths as a writer.
a.     Great at building atmosphere? Good, do that. Superb at dialogue? Quote a bit of it.
7.     Recreate the atmosphere of the book in the description.
a.     Sprinkle your writing with power words, highly emotive words such as tormented, obsession, charismatic, etc., to build tone fast.
8.     Make your characters live.
a.     You want your reader to fall in love at first read with your characters.
9.     Don't be afraid to reference other books.
a.     Especially in the beginning or finishing lines. I've gone with 'The light hearted banter of Georgette Heyer with the fun and fashion of the Art Deco period' because it tells people exactly what to expect. Just don't say you are the next Tolkien.
10. Leave the reader wanting more.
a.     If in doubt, end on a cliffhanger. Or use open ended questions to make your reader need to know what happens next.
11. Err on the side of short.
a.     When in doubt, cut.
12. It doesn't have to be all one piece of writing.
a.     Mix it up with a quote from the book, your tag line, a description and some great reviews.
13. Write in the present tense, third person
a.     If writing fiction, non-fiction can break this rule.
14. Where possible, include reviews.
a.     No one needs to know that 'Amazon Review' was actually from your Aunt. If your Aunt happened to say something snappy and true, then use it.
15. [Optional] A call to action.
a.     This is not a necessary step, and more natural in a non-fiction book, but there is no reason not to have one with a fiction book. Something simple like: Pick up your copy of After The Winter to find out if a rake really can change his ways.

My Personal Hates In Desctipions:

Now that I've covered a few do's, I thought I would share a few of my most hated don't's as a reader.

1. Giving away the twist. Why, why would you do this?
2. Lying in the description, saying things that don't actually happen.
3. Not saying anything.
4. Talking only about the author, not the book.

Testing The Theory:

Now, I don't want you to think that I'm all talk. Not only did I apply all this to my historical romance, I thought I would test out the theory that it makes a big difference to sales by editing my Nice Guy's Guide To Online Dating Profiles description.

I will be completely honest and say I did a very last minute job doing the last description. I had totally forgotten about it and so when I came to load the book onto Amazon I suddenly had to put something together. So, I cut a bit out of the introduction which I thought gave the general vibe of my writing and described what I was going to be talking about. It wasn't bad, but it definitely wasn't following all of these rules.

Also, the sales of the book haven't been amazing. After the first few weeks, when I stopped promoting it and the buzz died down, I wasn't getting many sales at all. In fact, for all of March I haven't had a single sale of it.

I have to admit I was skeptical that changing the description would really make any difference to a book that was so low down on the sales list. The description can really only help if people are already finding it, right?

Well, I changed it, and within a few hours of it going live, I had my first sale for the month. Seriously.
Now, I know that's not the amazing story a lot of people tell, 'within the first day I was in the Top 10 best sellers on Amazon', but going from no sales to 1 in just a few hours is pretty amazing when you think about it. So I'll just have to see how it keeps going. And I might try playing around with my Five Day Writer's Retreat description.

But to finish off, I thought I would get your input into my description for my historical romance. I actually have two options for the main body and I don't know which one works best. What do you think?

Quote from book:

'You, sir, are a flirt.’ Miss Lucinda Hargraves held firmly onto her hat.
‘A flirt?’ The play of the smile around his mobile mouth was rather distracting.
‘Yes … I think. I have not had a lot of experience, but I think so.’
‘And are you not worried about being seen alone in a car with me, if I’m such a terrible flirt?’
‘Well, I have to admit I did consider it, but in all honesty, no one would ever think I was the type of woman a man like you would find interesting.’ She took a deep breath. ‘It is actually quite a liberating experience.’

Main body possibility 1:
At 27 Lucinda Hargraves is too old to believe that rakes will reform for the love of a good woman. It may work in books, but this is the roaring 20's where men just want a good time and girls are left broken hearted. So the more the charismatic Lord Everdale pulls out his usual tricks for winning over women, the more skeptical Lucinda becomes about his motives. But what if for once Lord Everdale is actually being serious? Is there anything he can do to prove to her that he really has changed? And can he do it before it's too late, or will she choose the upright American John Huntington the Third instead?  

Main body possibility 2:
It's the roaring 20's and Lord George Everdale has a reputation he wants to maintain; fast cars, fast women, good times. Lucinda Hargraves has a reputation she believes can't be damaged; spinster, modest and now in possession of a large fortune. So when Lord Everdale comes crashing into Miss Hargraves' life, it seems an unlikely pairing to everyone. But could Lord Everdale be correct, that opposites attract? Or is Miss Hargraves more on course when she predicts that a playboy never changes? 

Finish line:
The light hearted banter of Georgette Heyer with the fun and fashion of the Art Deco period. 

Any thoughts?
Also, I'm running a GoodReads giveaway for the book to mark its launch on the 25th of April. So why not enter or add it to your shelf?

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