Are You Neglecting This Important Book Sales Tool? 5 Steps to a Great Product Description

Today we have some valuable advice from Mark Edwards, one of the superstar authors who made indie publishing the powerful movement it has become. He and Louise Voss made history when their self-pubbed books soared to the top of the UK bestseller lists and got them a big-money deal with HarperCollins. 

One of the secrets to their success is their savvy use of the Amazon "product description" that goes on the Amazon buy page of your book. Here's Mark's advice on how to write brilliant book descriptions of your own.

by Mark Edwards

When you’re trying to sell your masterpiece on Amazon or any of the other ebook platforms, you face two major challenges. The first is visibility. This is the big one. With all those millions of books, with many more being added every day, how do you even let people know your book exists?

The second challenge – and the one I’m going to address here – is how to hook readers who catch a glimpse of your novel, or hear about it, and take a look to see if it’s something they want to read. They will look at the cover, look through the reviews and read the description – sometimes called the blurb.

The description is, in my opinion, an underrated sales tool. Back in 2011, when my co-written novel Killing Cupid was hovering just outside the top 100, Amazon showed you what percentage of visitors to your book page had bought it. I was able to hugely increase this percentage – and double sales – instantly by rewriting the description. I did this after spending a few weeks analyzing the descriptions of the books in the top ten. I realized my original description was too messy, unfocused, as much about the authors as the book.

With its new description, Killing Cupid eventually reached No.2 on (and our second novel hit No.1 at the same time), helped us get a traditional book deal with HarperCollins, and a few weeks ago, Peter James, one of the UK’s most popular crime writers, named Killing Cupid as his book of the year. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t rewritten that description.

So how do you write a good one?

Decide who’s going to want to read the damn thing.

From the moment you conceive your book, unless you are writing for yourself (and if anyone else likes it, it’s a bonus) you need to think ‘Why would anyone want to read this?’ What’s the concept, the hook? What makes it different – or similar – to other books? Imagine you have to elevator pitch your novel – as you describe it, do you picture gasps of excitement or eyes glazing over? For every writer, this is an important step – before you spend months of your life working on this novel, think about who would want to read it, and why.

This will not only help you write a great description when it comes to it, but will help you write something lots of people will want to read!

Make it sizzle

There’s an old saying in advertising: sell the sizzle, not the steak. That means you need to tell your prospective customer how you are going to make them feel – excited, scared, heartbroken, stimulated (intellectually or otherwise!) But with book descriptions, you need to serve up some steak too – you have to set up the story, hook the potential reader and make them feel not only that this book is worthy of their precious time and money but that they are desperate to find out what happens.

My advice is to study the blurbs of successful books in your genre. Look at both self-published books and traditionally-published books. Study the bestsellers, and in particular look at first novels, or breakout books. Work out what it was about this book that made it a hit. What made Colleen Hoover and Hugh Howey break free of the pack and have monster hits?

Structure your blurb

When I write a description I break it down into five steps:

1. Intro sentence – sum up the book in one sentence.

This can be a tagline like you might see on the cover of a book, eg ‘Memories define us. So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep?’ (Before I Go To Sleep). Or it could be a more straightforward description of the book: ‘Imagine if Dan Brown and Stieg Larsson sat down together to write a fast-paced medical conspiracy thriller, featuring rogue scientists, a deadly virus and a beautiful but vulnerable Harvard professor.’ (Catch Your Death)

Yes, namechecking similar authors is fine. Publishers do it all the time.

2. Set the scene – who is the main character and what is their situation at the start of the book?

The first sentence needs to set up the main character and where they are at the start. What is it about them that makes them interesting?  Are they a spy, a frustrated housewife, a lonely orphan whose family lock him in a cupboard under the stairs?

Don’t make this too long, because you quickly need to get to the…

3. Call to action and initial problems – what sets the story moving, what is the initial problem our main character faces, introduce one or two other major characters (not too many or it will get confusing).

What happens straight away to get the story moving? In your book, the call to action, or inciting incident, needs to happen in the first couple of pages or the reader will quickly get bored.

Is a body found in the Louvre? Does someone from the past turn up? Does the virginal student meet a handsome billionaire? Tell us what happens in two or three sentences. You need to get people hooked into the story; it needs to be familiar but also original – why is this story the one that your reader should buy next?

4. Cliffhanger – what happens next, and what is the big problem/dilemma/danger that will hook the reader in and make them want to read on?

You can’t give too much away – you need to lead the reader up to the point where the protagonist is on the cusp of something exciting or dangerous or life-changing. You need to be intriguing and hint at gripping events, painful dilemmas, mind-bending puzzles or a life-changing journey.

5. Summary – seal the deal; tell the reader why this book is so great and why they should read it. What kind of book is it. Make them excited!

The final paragraph can be more factual: “CATCH YOUR DEATH is a fun, page-turning thriller that also asks serious questions about how much we can rely on the people we entrust with our lives.”

If you didn’t compare yourself to another author in the first line, you can do it here.

Now all you need to do is sit back and watch your book shoot up the bestseller lists…with a little luck!

Mark Edwards is the co-author of Killing Cupid, Catch Your Death and All Fall Down. As well as being a novelist, he is a freelance marketer and copywriter. Download his FREE guide, Write the Perfect Book Description and Watch Sales Soar. You can find Mark on Twitter @mredwards. He is currently accepting new clients who want him to write their book description. To find out more, contact him here.

More on blurbifying in the archives here in Anne's post HOOKS, LOGLINES AND PITCHES.

What about you, Scriveners? How are your book describing skills? Mine could use an overhaul. I'm definitely going to work on mine using Mark's tips. 

NEWS: Anne is all over the Interwebz this week:


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Opportunity Alerts:

1) Free Online Calendar for Your Book Events. Popular Soda—a watchdog site for indies—Is providing some great services for indie and small press authors.  This free online calendar is open to any indie author events and contests, giveaways, and promotions that benefit the self-publishing community as well as ebook readers. If you are hosting a Goodreads event, a giveaway on your blog, or a writing contest, email admin[at]popularsoda[dot]com to have your event listed.

2) Worldwide Online Writers Conference. Kristen Lamb’s group my WANA (We Are Not Alone) is offering an online writers conference on February 22 and 23. (No I won’t be there. It’s my birthday weekend and I’m planning to take some time off from Cyberia.) But it looks great!

3)  Workshop with Anne and Catherine Ryan Hyde: If you live on the Central Coast of California and you’re interested in learning about blogging, building platform and everything a 21st Century author needs to know, Anne will be teaching at a seminar called THE TECH SAVVY AUTHOR with Catherine Ryan Hyde, screenwriter and radio personality Dave Congalton and a whole crew of smart techie folks on March 2nd. (And it includes a great free lunch.)

4)  Cash prizes for flash fiction. The San Luis Obispo NIGHTWRITERS are holding their annual 500-word story contest. Anybody from anywhere in the world is welcome to enter. Prizes are $200, $150 and $75. This is a fantastic organization that boasts a number of bestselling authors among their members, including Jay Asher, Jeff Carlson, and moi. (Well, some sell better than others :-) ) Deadline is March 31st

5) Learn to be a Ghostwriter! The only ghostwriting course in the world--via Cal State Long Beach extension ed. The term starts on Sat, Feb 16, 9-noon Pacific time. It's a live online class; i.e., they're on the phone and on a web interface every week for 15 weeks. The classes are seriously small, the information cannot be found anywhere else, and they say they have a blast every semester.

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