Sunday, February 10, 2013

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:


NOTE: If you subscribed to get updates of HOW TO BE A WRITER IN THE E-AGE and haven't received them, just email Mark Williams international Digital Publishing and put "SUBSCRIBE TO HOW TO BE" in the header. Send it to markwilliamsauthor at gmail dot com. Let them know if you need mobi-Kindle, epub, PDF or some other format. If you bought the book but didn't subscribe--or you bought the paper book--state that and you can still get an updated ebook.

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.


  1. I just spent the last five weeks on the back cover synopsis for my next book and now I feel I still got it wrong.

  2. The blurb is one of the first things I look at when book-shopping. If it's too OTT, or only shows reviews by fellow authors, I don't buy it. I never read the professional reviews. I want to know what the STORY is about.

    Very good points. Enjoyed this post.

  3. Anne - I couldn't find any links to Mark. Did you forget to add them, or is my computer acting up?

  4. Alex-I know the feeling...

    DG--I'm wary of those OTT blurbs, too. Random hyperbole doesn't make me buy a book. I need to know why they think it's good. If it's the greatest serial killer thriller in the world, I still won't buy it because I'm bored to death with serial killers.

    Stacy--It's an email address. It's not live. You have to type it into your own email program. Here it is again: put "SUBSCRIBE TO HOW TO BE" in the header. Send it to markwilliamsauthor at gmail dot com.

  5. As a former Big 6 editor/publisher who spent a lot of her life writing blurbs, I second Mark's on-target advice. Blurb-writing is a combo art + craft. It requires an ability to condense the bones of the plot + the emotional payoff in as few words as possible.

    The writer must be succinct, use powerful language, get to the point, then come in for the kill quickly. You have only a few seconds to grab the potential reader.

    Twitter can actually help you learn effective blurb-writing. Every time you cut your tweet, replace a meh word with a strong word, you see how much expressive your tweet becomes & you can transfer that experience to writing your blurb.

    I will also add that, even tho I spent years writing blurbs, I still constantly edit & revise my own blurbs. Even did some tweaking today. That's one of the great advantages of e-pub...if I got a better idea back when I was working in legacy publishing, there was nothing I could do about. Today, I can just go back and make the revisions.

    As Mark says, the right blurb is a potent sales tool. That's why no book except the Bible is ever published without one

  6. I find book blurbs very tough. I usually just want to put 'read the first line', because I feel like that's where I know how to hook a reader.

  7. Excellent suggestions. Now if I can just force myself to pull the darned book together!

  8. Thanks for the great advice, excellent suggestions, and helpful links.

  9. This is EXCELLENT advice...

    Thanks so much for giving us the head's up!

  10. Thanks for the great tips. I especially liked the step-by-step instructions.

  11. One more great Sunday post for us to add to our arsenal of resources. Thanks so much, Anne. This is just but one reason you are among the top blogs people want to read each week :)

  12. Hi - thanks everyone for your comments. I just noticed that the link to my free guide is missing. It's:

    If anyone wants me to write a description for them, I'm accepting a few clients at the moment. Email me on

    Thank you :)

  13. Stacy--Silly me. We have a surfeit of Mark's. Mark Edwards link WAS missing. Now it's live. So sorry.

    Ruth--That's a great tip about Twitter. Twitter has taught me a lot about how to write headers, too!

    Alex--It's so hard to take off the fiction writer hat and put on a marketing hat. They're really different skills entirely.

    Donnna, Michael, Natalie and Fois--Thank YOU for being loyal readers and commenters.

    Mark--I just fixed the link. It got unstuck when I transferred the text into Blogger. I should have checked.

  14. Thank you, Mark, for this sage advise. Well timed as I'm trying to put together my blurb now. Thanks for giving me a structure and something to shoot for.

  15. This is GREAT advice! Love these points. Especially selling the sizzle, not necessarily the steak. Very wise and effective. :)

  16. Thanks for the terrific advise. Writing a top-notch blurb sounds like an effective tool to generate the interest we want. Easier said than done, though.

  17. What a great article by Mark Edwards! Thanks a lot! :-)

  18. CS (aka the Wordmonger)--sorry I missed you up there. Blogger seems to manifest comments in unusual order sometimes. Yes--put the book together! Get it out there :-)

    James--Oh, good. This hit at the right moment! Great advice, isn't it?

    Carol--I think authors get too caught up in the details of the story and forget how to stand back and give an overview of the "sizzle."

    Susan--You said it: easier said than done. But this gives us a good leg up.

    Lexa--And the book provides even more help. Do download it. Full of great advice.

  19. A friend of a friend told me she bought my book because the blurb was so interesting. That made me feel great, because I want random strangers to buy my book and not just people I know. It took lots of attempts to get the blurb as it is now, and I'm still tweaking it. And I'll probably go back to it again based on these great tips. Thanks!

  20. The problem is when you, as an reader, buy a book because the cover is great and blurb is compelling ... only to find that it's a dreadful book. I feel the author has lied to me then.

  21. I find it easier to write a novel than a blurb. How oh how do I shrink all of my beautiful words and concepts down to a few sentences? Ha! Truthfully, I always read blurbs and greatly appreciate a well composed one. It does give me hope that the novel will be equally well composed. Thanks for the great advice, Mark.

  22. ED--Those are the best moments for a new writer, aren't they? When you hear that a complete stranger bought your book on its own merits. Sounds as if you've got a pretty good blurb.

    Fiona--That's one thing about self-publishing: When the blurb and book are written by the same person, we're more likely to find they match. In trad publishing, especially with "supermarket paperbacks" the cover and blurb sometimes don't seem to have anything to do with the content.


    Christine--I know the feeling. A blurb is basically a synopsis with sizzle--one of the hardest things to write. I think it's especially hard for the author because we can't distance ourselves from the book enough.

  23. Thanks so much. I'll keep this post tucked away so I can refer to it on the distant day when I'm ready to write my first novel blurb. It always kills me to see descriptions on Amazon that are WAY too long.

  24. Jeri--Great point. Many indie book descriptions are way too long. Trad publishers can write descriptions that are sketchy or just plain misleading, but some indies blurbs tend to be like old-fashioned synopses--those ones agents tossed in the trash when we sent them along with our queries :-) A good book description has to deliver the plot, the sizzle AND be brief.

  25. Yeah it is. You need a lot of hats in this business. That's half the fun though. :)

  26. Ehehehe, I can't write blurbs for the life of me - too afraid of giving away spoilers - but this post is SO helpful! Some nice objective lines to follow might coax me out of my paroxysm of being unable to write a blurb that's not half a page of drivel :P

  27. Alex--You're right. It's all about the hats :-)

    Charley--Gotta watch those paroxysms! Try Mark's formula. It really does help.

  28. Hey Anne, I don't know if you ever enter writing contests, but I'd be delighted if you wanted to enter mine.

  29. Aidyl--This isn't the right spot to pimp a writing contest--it looks like spam. But contests can be good stepping-stones for beginning writers. In the future if you have a contest you'd like to promote, send an email to me (via the "contact us" page) and I'll consider it for our "opportunity alerts" section.

  30. Thanks Mark. You provided a super recipe for a blurb. I found writing the blurb for my book so difficult because the plot was so twisted and I didn't want to give away the important plot points.

  31. Gloria--You're right about the importance of avoiding spoilers. I have intricate plots, too, so for a long time it was hard for me to write blurbs and synopses. We want to convey the "sizzle" without giving it all away. I think using Mark's formula helps.

    Mark--Thanks so much for visiting us this week!

  32. Thanks for your most informative info as always Anne as I am currently battling the blurb dilemma. Thanks to Mark for his wisdom!


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