Here are five simple guidelines for writing great book descriptions.
1. Write to Sell
Remember that you’re writing an ad, not a book report. Better yet, think of your book description as a movie trailer. (Indeed, that medium is so powerful some authors have tried making trailers to promote their books.) Instead of drily summarizing the details, focus on the hook that distinguishes your story from others in the genre. Or conversely, play up a beloved trope that you know fans of your genre will appreciate.
In a paragraph or two, establish the basic setup: main characters, setting, main internal and external conflict, and the stakes for your hero or heroine. If something seems extraneous or off-topic, it probably is. Don’t cram in too many character names and traits. Mention by name only the major players in the primary plot thread—two to three people max. If your story has a lot of characters, it’s OK to use shorthand. (“Four friendsreunite when a mysterious benefactor names them in her will.”)
And avoid spoilers! You want readers to become intensely curious about the identity of the murderer or the outcome of your main character’s love affair.
2. Open Big
Even when reading news articles, most people don’t make it past the headlines. Your book description must have a punchy tagline and opening sentence. If you’ve got one good pun in you, this is probably the place to use it. That said, don’t mistake “punchy” to mean that your tagline must be snarky, ironic, or irreverent, because you also need to…
3. Stay on Brand
The tone of your descriptive copy should match the tone of your book. If you’ve written a dark thriller set in a dystopian future, don’t emphasize the romantic subplot between two minor characters. If you’ve written an inspirational memoir about your struggle with addiction, don’t try to dazzle the reader with puns and jokes that undermine the serious nature of your subject.
Keep in mind, too, that some genres may need to be marketed differently depending on the buyer. For example, children’s books may be purchased by parents or educators—or by the kids themselves (in the YA age range). Which group are you “talking” to in your book description?
4. Keep It Short
Traditionally, back cover copy is around 300 words. If publishers can condense a Harry Potter or Game of Thrones plot into that small space, you can follow suit. Keep your sentences short (though don’t travel too far in the opposite direction and write entirely in sentence fragments).
Break up long paragraphs and be mindful of how much copy shows up on the average Amazon or Goodreads page before the customer has to click “Read More.” If your paragraphs are longer than two to three sentences, your description may end up breaking awkwardly online.
5. Use Keywords Wisely
The use of high-traffic keywords increases the likelihood of your book getting picked up in an online search. To get a sense of which keywords to use for your book, visit one of the major online booksellers and look at book descriptions for similar titles. Pick out two or three keywords or key phrases that those descriptions have in common. You’re bound to see words like “diet” and “weight loss” in descriptions for books on low-cal cooking. “Elves” and “dragons” might pull in fans of fantasy saga. Find a way to elegantly thread these keywords into your description (or better yet, your tagline). There are a number of great keyword guides available online. Just note that keyword rules change from time to time (Google occasionally flips the script on everyone), so make sure any guides you consult are current.