Making Digital Books: Writing Great Descriptions for Your Ebooks

Making Digital Books: Add your ebook to the top of the stack!

This is the back cover copy, but much more concise and snappy–it’s marketing material, not creative material. It’s a call to action, and that action is to get the reader of the description to buy your book.

Descriptions are tough. You’ve just written 90,000 words of a novel, so boiling it down to just a couple sentences seems quite impossible. So many characters and plotlines to cover here.

The trick is to find the heart of the story. What’s it really about? This is actually a really great exercise for looking at your novel with a more critical eye — think as a book seller now, and not as an author. How would you describe your book to a potential customer who has maybe 10 seconds of your time?

As a challenge, try to distill your book into one line if you can: “Some family curses are worth passing on.” (I have writer Loren Coleman to thank for that excellent tagline to my werewolf novel Family, Pack.)

Let’s dive deeper into these tricky ebook descriptions.

Sell It in 150 Words (or More. Or Less.)

Just start writing — you can chop out the extraneous sentences later. Write it in third person, present tense: Former slave George Grunion fights to keep his mixed-race team of baseball players together and alive in the early years of World War I (for my novel The All Nations Team)

Keep your description active, snappy, and fun.  You’re trying to get folks to read your book, and pay for it. Just like you did when thinking about book covers, grab a bunch of your favorite books from the shelves and read their back cover copy. Learn from what the professional copywriters at publishers are doing.

Or better yet, go to Amazon or the Nookbook store and read the short descriptions for the bestselling ebooks there.

Everyone Has an Opinion on This

You can find all sorts of advice about writing your book description (also called synopses, overviews, even log lines). Do a quick Google search to get some ideas, and remember there’s no one way to do it.

Here are some tips from the CreateSpace experts: “How to Write an Effective Ebook Description.” The writer of this article gives us important rules of writing a description, like using third-person, present tense, and focusing on the emotional powerful words.

I also like the 150-word challenge there — can you distill your 90,000-word ebook into 150 words or less? Yikes! Like I said, it’s a great exercise, so try it!

This article has some great examples of descriptions and blurbs: “How to Write a Killer Blurb,” including a nice list of what a description ought to contain to make it a killer.

Another good blog post is this Guest Post by Rob Siders of 52 Novels over at J.A. Konrath’s bog. Here’s what Rob says about ebook descriptions — and note that he says the exact opposite about using 150 words or less:

5. Finally, make sure your product description — the copy that appears on your product page–is working on your book’s behalf.

This also seems elementary, but I find a lot of books whose covers appeal to methat fail to convert me to a buyer because the product description falls flat. Amazon gives you 4,000 characters to write your sales copy. Use every last one of them! A two sentence plot synopsis and a nugget from your About the Author copy might be all you can come up with… and it might not be enough to sell someone who’s on the fence about sampling your book, let alone on the fence about buying it.

These days, I buy ebooks almost exclusively. As a result, I don’t spend a lot of time in book stores like I used to, combing the stacks reading jacket copy.

In a digital store, your Web site product description is your jacket copy.

With ebooks, I’ll take a chance on an author I’ve never read if they can sell me from their product description page. I don’t care where they were born or where they live or that they used to sell Pop-Tarts door-to-door before they started writing. Sell me on your story. Convert me to a sale. Convince me I should spend $3 on you, Unknown Author.

Some Examples, Please

Here’s a description I recently came across that made me want to read this story and the novels related to it:

Nora Barr’s struggling law practice gets a boost when she meets a tall, dark, and handsome stranger who has a snake wrapped around his arm and a short sidekick with a mean mouth. The stranger claims he’s got custody of Sleeping Beauty, and he needs Nora’s help to protect her. Against her better judgment, Nora helps—and her life changes forever.

That’s from Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s “The Strangeness of the Day,” a story that started her series of “fractured fairy tale” novels under her Kristine Grayson pen name. I was all “meh” when I read the handsome stranger part, but I perked up with the snake on his arm and interesting sidekick. Then the Sleeping Beauty part hooked me — I’m a sucker for stuff like that.

Here are a couple other product descriptions that got me itching to read a book, from the Kindle Best Sellers list and the Nook Book Best Sellers lists (I took out the marketing stuff to focus on the actual story description):

 Everything starts somewhere. . . .

For elite military cop Jack Reacher, that somewhere was Carter Crossing, Mississippi, way back in 1997. A lonely railroad track. A crime scene. A coverup.

A young woman is dead, and solid evidence points to a soldier at a nearby military base. But that soldier has powerful friends in Washington.

Reacher is ordered undercoverto find out everything he can, to control the local police, and then to vanish. Reacher is a good soldier. But when he gets to Carter Crossing, he finds layers no one saw coming, and the investigation spins out of control.

Local sheriff Elizabeth Deveraux has a thirst for justiceand an appetite for secrets. Uncertain they can trust one another, Reacher and Deveraux reluctantly join forces. Reacher works to uncover the truth, while others try to bury it forever. The conspiracy threatens to shatter his faith in his mission, and turn him into a man to be feared.

A novel of unrelenting suspense that could only come from the pen of #1 New York Times bestselling author Lee Child, The Affair is the start of the Reacher saga, a thriller that takes Reacher—and his readers—right to the edge . . . and beyond.

The Affair by Lee Child

I like how this one uses short, punchy sentences that match the novel’s thriller, fast-paced format. This is a longer description, but it keeps your attention with the mysterious details and the way they describe the two main characters. Note to self: read more Lee Child novels!

And another sample:

Magazine journalist Seneca Hunt is reporting on the opening of Montezuma’s tomb in Mexico City when the dig team, led by her fiancé Daniel Bernal, learns that the remains of the Aztec emperor are missing. Within moments of the discovery, an apparent terrorist attack kills everyone at the site—including Daniel. Seneca barely escapes the carnage.

Determined to get answers, Seneca starts investigating. She finds out that someone is stealing the remains of the most infamous mass murderers in history—and plotting to slaughter millions in the name of an ancient cult. Teaming up with bestselling novelist Matt Everhart, Seneca tries to stay one step ahead of those who want her dead as she and Matt follow a deadly 2000-year-old trail that leads back to the death of Jesus Christ.

The Phoenix Apostles by Lynn Sholes and Joe Moore

Here you’ve got an exotic location, a damaged main character caught up in a violent, supernatural conflict. Feels like a DaVinci Code kind of story without being derivative. I’d download a sample of this book to my iPhone to read and possibly purchase later.

If you’ve found a great description for an ebook, share it in the comments, below! Or share your descriptions for your own ebooks. I’m always curious about how other writers create these.

So when you’re writing your ebook descriptions, just remember: Character, setting, conflict, and genre. Add a hook, a sense of mystery. Whet the reader’s appetite.

More Examples, More!

And finally, here are some samples of mine, well, because it’s my blog and I worked hard on these descriptions… 🙂

1. For The All Nations Team (the short version from the Pub-It version)

The All Nations Team tells the story of the first fully integrated, “post-racial” baseball team, very loosely based on an actual team that played in the years before World War I.

In his first season as head coach of the All Nations team, former slave George Grunion must contend with racist crowds, flagging team morale, his own loneliness, and even the ghost of the previous head coach. His players are now the only family he has left, ever since his wife walked out on him two decades ago.

And if George can’t hold the All Nations together, he loses more than his job. He’ll miss his chance to fulfill the prophecy made by his prescient centerfielder Mack — that he will be reunited with his estranged family before the 1918 season ends.

If George doesn’t score this final run, he loses everything.

2. For Family, Pack (the short version from the Smashwords edition):

Some family curses are worth passing on…

Tommy Roling does everything humanly possible to raise his infant daughter Corinne the right way. But when you’re half a year out of high school, you’re flat broke, and you have to deal with losing control of yourself every full moon — well, being a perfect dad becomes quite a struggle.

3. For A Sudden Outbreak of Magic (shorter version for the PoD edition)

A Sudden Outbreak of Magic stars Kelley and Jeroan Strickland, twin teenagers whose family just moved to Dubuque, Iowa. One cold morning in November, Kelley gets “infected” by magic after reading aloud from a small leatherbound book she finds. She also blows up the family home in the process. Soon Kelley and Jeroan must face up to a power-hungry, centuries-old Sorcerer who wants to rid the world of what he calls “renegade” magic-users. Only Kelley’s new way of using magic will save their new city and their magically infected friends, though she may lose her brother in the process. A Sudden Outbreak of Magic is a novel about ancient power, growing up, and finding your place within those two very different realms.

Okay, that’s enough self-indulgence. I’m not 100% sure my descriptions are the best, but they’re as good as I can get them right now. I’ll wait a bit and see if I need to tweak them in a couple months or so.

Now, get to writing those ebook descriptions!

If you have any tips or questions, feel free to share in the comments or via Facebook or Twitter! And thanks for reading.

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