How to Write an Effective Book Description
When readers search for their next book, the first thing that catches their eye is the cover’s design. That old saying, “never judge a book by its cover” doesn’t apply to actual books. The second attraction is the blurb or the description of the story.
The words blurb and synopsis, although used interchangeably, are not the same. A synopsis or summary is not a blurb, and a blurb is not a cut-down version of a synopsis with the ending chopped off to create mystery.
A synopsis is a professional tool used to attract an agent, editor, or publisher to the plot and story. A synopsis consists of the beginning, the middle, and the end of a story. We’ll cover writing a synopsis in an upcoming class.
A descriptive blurb is a sales pitch or advertising copy, designed to attract a reader and convince them to buy your book. The blurb isn’t there to tell the reader everything that happens in the story. All it must do is convince the reader to consider buying the book. While it’s essential to create a solid novel with well-rounded characters, strong goals, and a great plot, a polished blurb is what will sell your book.
Writing a blurb isn’t easy. It is often much harder than drafting the novel it describes. The blurb should be 100 to 150 words long and shouldn’t be over 200 words. The format should be 1 to 4 paragraphs long, with each paragraph consisting of 2 to 3 brief sentences. There should be a space between each section. No one wants to read a solid block of type. Don’t worry about character development and sub-plots.
In the simplest of terms, a blurb hooks a reader’s attention to create a sale. The focus of the blurb should be on the first chapters of your story where you introduce the main character, have an inciting incident, and establish the MC’s goal, and it should end with questions related to reaching that goal.
“A hundred and fifty words? Yikes!” The key is to use as few words as possible. One way to achieve this goal is to write the blurb and then take out all the unnecessary words. Judge each word, and ask, is it strong enough, and is it needed? Are you being wordy and using three or four words where one or two will do? Can you say the same thing with fewer words, or are there better, stronger words you could use? Keep it simple, keep it short, and make sure every word counts.
Each paragraph must end in a way that pulls the reader on to the next paragraph. How do you do that? See what I did there? I finished with a question. That’s a psychological technique that leaves the reader with a powerful desire to learn the answer. Remember from an earlier class that this is how to end a chapter with a cliff hanger? Just as a question works at the end of a chapter, it works in a blurb.
The following is true of Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and other major online retailers. A blurb has a tiny space above the read more tab with more room below to continue the blurb. The hook of your blurb must be in the first few lines. Readers scan hundreds of books, checking out covers, and reading many blurbs. and they don’t have unlimited time to find their next book. If there isn’t a hook in the first short paragraph, their search will move on. Adam Croft, a British author of crime and thrillers, uses the phrase “keep the gold above the fold” that’s sound advice.
You might have received words of praise or complimentary reviews from an editor or review group that you want to include. Great. Good for you, but don’t put that praise before the blurb; add it after. Readers on the hunt have short attention spans. Yours might be the fifteenth or fiftieth book they’ve checked out, and, again, their time is precious. Are they going to be interested in what someone else says or what the book is about? Don’t assume they will read the whole blurb because they won’t if you haven’t grabbed their attention above that dreaded read more line.
Write the blurb in the third person, present tense, even if you’ve used the first person, past tense in the book. Describe the story as if you were sitting across the table from the reader. You wouldn’t use the past tense in a face-to-face situation.
Don’t write the blurb as the author of the book. This is the time to put on your marketing hat because your one concern is to sell the book, and the blurb is advertising material aimed at the reader/buyer. Go to Amazon or Goodreads and read book descriptions. Which work, and which don’t?
Keep in mind that you are struggling with writing a blurb not only for the back cover of your book but for your social media network, Facebook, blogs, Goodreads, and anywhere else you can think of using it. A short, concise book description has a better chance of getting copied and e-mailed to other people with a “buy this” recommendation.
Trigger words. Use expressive power words to create emotion in the blurb. Power words are words such as tormented, charismatic, obsession, passion, terrifying, frantic, or ruthless. There are many more than I can list here. Enter power words in your browser and you’ll have hundreds to choose from. Use power words sparingly. After all, you only have 150 words to use.
Blurbs for different genres won’t read the same. If you’re writing a thriller, the blurb should be short and snappy, the words will be explosive, and the stakes will be higher—the fall of a government or world destruction. In literary fiction, the sentences will be long and flowing and give the reader a glimpse of the style of writing. A romantic story will express passion, and the emotions will run high. Family, love, the future, and everything else is at stake. Power words are trope words on steroids and will give the reader a fast overview of the book.
Taglines or subtitles are another asset to use and are on the cover of a book and as a header for the blurb. They are catchy phrases or slogans and give the reader an idea of what the book is about or the book’s theme. The tagline of The Hunger Games is, “Winning will make you famous. Losing means certain death.” Adam Croft’s tagline for his book Her Last Tomorrow is, “Could you murder your wife to save your daughter?”
If you use a tagline, be sure it isn’t generic and meaningless. Make it eye-catching, shocking, or reflective of the core conflict or goal of the story.
Don’t use clichés.
If you use a significant quotation from the book, it should be clever and meaningful. You won’t be able to include all of those suggestions in one tagline, but using some of them will make it better.
Use short, contrasting words or alliteration.
Taglines should be 12 words or fewer.
Use the present tense.
Stay within the context of the book.
Use a question or twist the meanings of repeated words.
Tropes are significant or recurring themes or motifs, and are everywhere, from the covers to the characters to the storylines. Tropes are great. For instance, if the main character is Knaargard the Viking, you’d know you will not be reading a police procedural. Tropes act as a filtering system and let the reader recognize the genre, allowing them to avoid getting a romance when they wanted a dystopian mystery.
Tropes in blurbs? Not so much. But tropes give us trigger words (keywords) for most genres. Some of the more often used words in best-selling blurbs are:
- Crime: dead, investigate, suspicion, murdered, discovers, killer, dangerous, secrets;
- Science Fiction: space, stars, planets, time, aliens;
- Epic Fantasy: empire, strangers, fortune, honor, enemy, revenge, betrayal, fate, magic;
- Western: saloon, family, war, brothers, ranch, Indians, soldiers, rustlers, outlaws, posse;
- Erotica: sex, passion, lust, fantasy, desire, seduction, dominance, submission;
- Military: war, mission, technology, weaponry, enemy, victory.
Those words tell a reader what the book genre is, so you don’t have to waste words saying, “This is a psychological thriller.” For more words, check out the tropes for whatever genre you’re writing. For example, enter romance tropes, mystery tropes, science fiction tropes, or whatever genre you’re writing in your browser. You will have many words to choose from.
The Elements of a Blurb
- Introduce your male protagonist in one paragraph and your female protagonist in the second paragraph. Use adjectives instead of examples. What’s his or her profession or role? Are they an intimidating bodyguard, a brilliant scientist, or a beautiful dancer? What makes them interesting? The Antagonist, if known, will be in the third paragraph with the same information. Don’t include secondary characters. Once you introduce your character by name, try not to use the name again, use a pronoun.
- Where and when does the story begin? Setting and time.
- Reference the genre and central theme by using keywords, power words, or trope words. Give it an atmosphere with the words you use. Is it a cheerful story, or a dark thriller?
- Reveal the core of the conflict that gives the character a goal? What is at stake if he doesn’t reach his goal?
- Remind the reader what the goal is and question whether the protagonist will reach it by ending with a question that will arouse their curiosity. Instead of “can they do it?” or “will they succeed?” which asks the reader to decide, use “what will happen?” “How can he win?” “Who will help him?” Curiosity is powerful.
- Make it short and snappy. Don’t include too much information. Don’t explain the entire book. The first one or two chapters set the story in motion, and you should use only those chapters in the blurb. Remember: Less is more.
- Don’t introduce subplots. You only have so many words, don’t waste them.
- If you use a scene, make sure it’s from the front of the book. Make it brief and make sure it doesn’t give away spoilers.
A Bare Bones Approach
Use the elements of a blurb with the process below and knock out your first attempt.
- List the who, what, where, when, and why of the story across a page to form columns. These are the guidelines for every story. The lists under each heading will help you focus when writing the blurb.
- In each column, jot down a list of the basics. Under “who,” write the main character’s names, profession, and add relevant secondary characters. Include the antagonist as well.
- Under “what,” write a sentence of what the story is about—don’t give away plot points or the climax.
- “Where” is the location of the story. If there are several locations, choose where the characters have the most scenes. Again, don’t mention major plot points.
- “Why” is about the Main Character’s major motive. What drives them to do what they do? Don’t tell the entire motivation. Surprise the reader.
- Organize the sentences into tightly summarized paragraphs. Keep it provocative and tantalizing.
When writing the sentences, be sure you’re not just setting down dry facts. Connect with the reader with curiosity, mystery, suspense, romance, or some other emotion. Connect the reader to the story and make him want to find out what happens. Use trigger, emotional, and power words.
Once most of the blurb is written, how do you finish it? End it with emotionally charged questions to create curiosity.
If this is a series but is a stand-alone, add a sentence such as “this is book three in the (whatever) series and can be read on its own.” If it isn’t a stand-alone, make it clear they should read the earlier books for more enjoyment.
When the book needs a warning, add that at the end. Caution: profane language … erotic or explicit scenes … extreme violence … abuse, or anything that might be a trigger. Also, note if it is or isn’t suitable for readers under 18.
Question. Can you change the blurb after it’s available for sale? With e-books, changing the blurb is easy. Find the place in the publisher’s program where you uploaded the original blurb and upload the rewritten blurb, then continue through until you reach the publish button. That’s it. It will take about 72 hours to become active. With paperbacks, unless you made the cover, you must deal with whoever did, pay for the change, and upload the cover and the new blurb in the same manner as the e-book.
If you have an author’s page on Amazon, sign in at https://authorcentral.amazon.com/. Select the ‘Books’ tab at the top of the page. Find the book you want to change and click on it. You’ll see ‘Product Description’ click the ‘Edit’ button, hit ‘Edit HTML’ and paste in your new blurb. Hit ‘Preview.’ Look the new blurb over and if it’s good, hit ‘Save Changes’ KDP will update and present the new version within 72 hours.
The Elements of Nonfiction How-To Blurbs
Write a hook that discusses who the book is for and what the results will be from reading the book. Remember, this is one short sentence.
- Use lists, they help.
- List the benefits, but don’t just say what the benefits are, add how that benefits them. For example, “You’ll gain methods of reading faster, so you can read more books faster.”
- Come up with another short list of things to include that will sound like bonuses.
- Why are you the person who will solve the problem? If you have professional status, life experiences, licenses in the subject, or anything else that would recommend you, tell it before the CTA.
- Give the call to action, CTA phrase. For example, “Start living your best life by clicking the BUY NOW button at the top before the price changes.”
Use bold, or a larger font, or underling for the most important points. Be careful not to overdo it or the special effects will lose their value.
Find the trigger words and use them. Those words or phrases will have a big impact in the marketing of your book.
Writing a Blurb Summary
Write in third person present tense.
- Keep it between 100 and 150 words.
- Use spaces between paragraphs.
- Use bold and italics for awards such as “#1 Best Seller”
- Add genre keywords such as mystery, thriller, dystopia, or science fiction. Don’t overdo it. You only have so many words to use.
- Use adjectives in describing and introducing the main characters. (See # 1 in Elements of a Blurb.)
- Condense the plot to feelings rather than retelling actions.
- Make sure the blurb tells what the book is about. Don’t exaggerate or insert things that don’t happen in the novel just to make a sale.
- Edit, revise, edit again, and proofread. The blurb stands for your work, so make it as well-written as possible.
- Watch for passive phrases. Get rid of is, was, has, has been, and the rest of the to be family of verbs.
- Again, the blurb tells of the character, conflict, goal, or stakes, and uses tropes to convince a reader to buy.
- Good luck!
Writing a blurb is difficult. There are talented people in the online world who will write your blurb for you—for a price. They will ask you for a synopsis and after they’ve submitted what they’ve written, will give you a free chance or two to change things. It’s a service that might come in handy if you try but can’t write a decent blurb.
Back Cover Sins
- Don’t give away spoilers or excessive information.
- Make sure the tagline isn’t weak, not above the blurb, or too random or cliché.
- Don’t say how amazing your book is or compare your writing to a popular author’s work.
- If the blurb isn’t smooth. Read it aloud and then adjust.
- Don’t write in one block of text. Use brief sentences in 1 to 4 paragraphs, with space between each section.
- Avoid repetition, no repeated words, including names and places.
- Keep it short. Less is more.
- Don’t include subplots. The only thing that matters is the main plot or theme.
- Make sure you’ve emphasized the conflict of the story.