2015/12/03

How to Write an Effective Amazon Book Description

Over the past week or so, my friends and colleagues have been helping me to refine the product description for Souldancer.

I'm glad for the help, because as I've said here before, a good product description is one of the most vital elements of successful indie publishing.

Like all aspects of self-publishing, my knowledge  and opinions are continually growing and changing. This recent collaboration with a whole bunch of really smart people has greatly expanded my thinking about Amazon product descriptions.

Here is where my eBook product description philosophy currently stands.

Good product descriptions are multitaskers
A book's product description should accomplish multiple tasks, including:

  • Remind the reader which book this is and what it's about. That's why the "About" page should appear right after the eBook's cover.
  • Introduce and briefly describe the main protagonist, his primary goal, the major obstacle in his way, and the stakes/consequences of failure.
  • Clearly convey the book's mood and genre.
  • Ask a compelling question that entices prospective readers to pull the trigger on the sale.

How to design an effective product description
Effective structure
To structure your book's product description for maximum effect, follow the sage advice of my esteemed colleague David Hallquist.
You want to get all the ideas you want to communicate into into a stranger's brain before his attention wanders. My recommendation: Paragraph one: basic recap, what the problem is. Paragraph two: the adversaries and problems in the way in the book. Paragraph three: ominous foreshadowing and the epic stakes involved (can someone walk away after reading that? How? How can they not know how it ends? How will they sleep without the answer?)
Need ideas? Look to proven winners for inspiration.
If you're at a loss for how to begin writing a product description for your book, here's a fun and easy exercise that I found highly useful.

Go to your personal library and grab at least five books in the same genre as yours off the shelf. If you don't have a physical book collection, select appropriate titles from your eBook library. If you have no books of either the physical or the electronic variety, pay a visit to your local public library and check the books out there.

What's important is to pick out books that a) share a genre and mood with yours, b) you've read and liked  (books that influenced yours work best), and c) were successful with your target audience.

If you haven't read at least five books that meet these criteria, stop reading this post, put all authorial aspirations on hold, and come back when you've read at least 200 novels in your genre. Hopefully SFF will still be here when you get back.

Got your (at minimum) five books? Good. Turn to the back cover of each and read the jacket copy/synopsis. Read critically, paying attention to the elements of character, conflict, and foreshadowing mentioned above.

When you're done perusing the back jacket copy, open up your word processor and manually transcribe the synopsis of each book. That's right. Type all of them out. Doing so will really help drum the pertinent content into your brain.

Now that you've copied down all of these book descriptions, examine them again and find the recurring patterns that emerge. Trust me. They'll be there. Once you've identified the paragraph structures, word choices, and hooks that big publishers' marketing departments use, you can create a basic product description template.

Fill in this template with characters and situations from your book to create a product description prototype.

Keep it short and sweet.
The consensus among my learned collaborators is that the best length for book descriptions is three paragraphs. Paragraph one should give a basic introduction of the main characters and their goals. Paragraph two should mention the story's major problem and the stakes, and paragraph three is where you set the foreshadowing that hooks the reader.

One addition that a lot of successful books use, and that I personally like, is a short blurb that appears in bold above the description proper. Here you can include a super condensed "elevator pitch" style synopsis, mention author accolades like best seller status, and in the case of sequels (which Souldancer is), remind readers of past books and inform them where this volume goes in the series.

Besides the three paragraph limit, efficient word choice is vital. You want the reader to get as much information out of the description with as little effort as possible.

Minimize adverb-verb and adjective-noun pairs. Strong verbs and nouns pack more emotional punch and take up less space. Use secondary world-specific proper nouns with care. You don't want to confuse new readers by front-loading a bunch of alien terms or by trying to hide the fact that your book is genre fiction. Ride the line between proudly flying your geek flag and alienating audiences.

If you follow these guidelines, you'll be well on your way to creating a product description that will tantalize potential buyers into reading your sample chapters and--if you've done your job writing the book correctly--closing the sale.

Example
Here's the product description for Souldancer that emerged from the Facebook collaboration.

About Souldancer
Thanks to L. Jagi Lamplighter, David Hallquist, Josh Young, JJ Kaze, and Nick Brown.
I'd buy that book. How about you?

The product description for the first Soul Cycle book, Nethereal, can be found here. In hindsight, I think there's room for improvement. It's too long, for one thing. Refining the description for Nethereal with my social media friends is next on my agenda.

In the meantime, I'm always open to suggestions.

2 comments:

  1. I like the blurb for Souldancer.

    Xander's companions, as well as the antagonist, seem like interesting characters I'd like to read about, particularly the antagonist whose motivations seem complex by being tormented. Zander's strange abilities are also interesting, especially because I loved the cool abilities in Nethereal.

    At first I thought blurbs were the same thing as synopses, but there's a definite distinction between them. My first attempt at a proper blurb took my at least 3 hours. The most time I've ever put into less than 100 words!

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    Replies
    1. "My first attempt at a proper blurb took my at least 3 hours. The most time I've ever put into less than 100 words!"

      You're not alone. For some reason, blurbs and synopses are the bane of authors. Write 90 kilowords of fiction? No problem! Condense that into 100 words for promotional purposes? Put on some coffee. This'll be a long night.

      Regarding the Souldancer blurb, I'm pleased you like it. Since that makes five serious writers who approve this version (which I've actually tweaked slightly since), it's safe to say we've got a winner.

      Also, thanks for sharing which elements caught your attention. It tells me that the hooks are set in all the right places.

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