“Anyone who tries to make a distinction between education and entertainment doesn’t know the first thing about either.”
After the title and the cover, the most important marketing material for your book is the description.
The book description goes on the back cover and right below the price (on Amazon). It’s crucial that this short paragraph be right.
In this Scribe Guide, we will walk you through how to write and create a book description, and include some examples of authors who did it well, and those who didn’t.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
Why Your Book Description Matters
The book description is the pitch to the reader about why they should buy your book. It is sales copy to get them to see that the book is for them (or not), and then make the purchase.
There are so many examples of book descriptions leading to huge changes in sales. One of my favorite stories is for JT McCormick’s book, I Got There.
Despite a nice cover and good reviews, it wasn’t selling as many copies as it should have. So we dove into the book description, figured out the flaws, and completely revamped it.
Sales doubled – within an hour.
This isn’t uncommon. In many cases, the description is the factor that solidifies in the reader’s mind whether the book is for them or not. If you get it right, the purchase is almost automatic. If you get it wrong, very little else can really save you (except a recommendation from the right source).
Remember, people are looking for a reason to not buy your book, so having a good book description is key to keeping them on the purchasing track.
How to Write Your Book Description
At Scribe, our copywriters use the Hook, Pain, Pleasure, Legitimacy, Open Loop Format
The first sentence should be something that will grab your desired reader and make them take notice. If that isn’t right–or worse, if it’s wrong–you can lose the reader immediately, and then it doesn’t matter what the rest of the description says.
People are always looking for a reason to move on to the next thing. Don’t give it to them. Make the first sentence something that forces them to read the rest of the description. Every good book description you see is interesting from the first sentence.
Generally speaking this means focusing on the boldest claim in the book, or the most sensational fact, or the most compelling idea.
Once you have their attention, then clearly describe the current pain they are in. If you can accurately and realistically describe the pain of the reader, you will have them fully engaged in the description and seriously entertaining the idea of buying the book.
You don’t need to be gratuitous here, all you need to do is be accurate: what pain is in their life? What unsolved problems do they have? Or, perhaps what unachieved aspirations and goals do they have? Clearly and directly articulate these, in plain and simple language.
Then tell them what the book does to help them solve for this pain. Done right, this creates an emotional connection by describing how the book will make the potential reader feel after reading it. Or even better, what the reader will get out of reading the book.
Will it make them happy or rich? Will it help them lose weight or have more friends? What do they get once they read this book?
Be clear about the benefits, don’t insinuate them. You are selling a result to the reader, not a process (even though your book is the process). Explain exactly what the book is about, in clear, obvious terms.
This is simply about letting the reader know why they should listen to you, why you are the authority and the expert that they need to hear from. This can be very short and should not be a focus of the book description. You want just enough social proof to make them keep reading.
This can also go in the hook. If there is an impressive fact to mention (e.g. NYT Bestseller), that should be bolded in the first sentence. Or if there is one salient and amazing thing about you or the book, that can go in the book description, something like, “From the author of [INSERT WELL KNOWN BESTSELLING BOOK.]” Or perhaps “From the world’s most highly decorated Marine sniper, this is the definitive book on shooting.”
5. Open Loop
You state the problem or question your book addresses, you show that you solve or answer it, but you also leave a small key piece out. This piques the interest of the reader and leaves them wanting more.
You do want to be very explicit about what they will learn, but you don’t have to go deep into the “how.” This is to create an “open loop” so to speak; you are keeping back the secret sauce that is actually in the book.
This being said, do not make the reader struggle to understand what your point is, or how to get the reader there. This is especially true for prescriptive books (how-to, self-help, motivational, etc.). People like to understand the basics of the “how” (as well as the “what”), especially if it’s something new or novel. This is a balance that our examples will show you how to hit.
Examples of Good Book Descriptions
Tim Ferriss’s 4 Hour Work Week
Forget the old concept of retirement and the rest of the deferred-life plan–there is no need to wait and every reason not to, especially in unpredictable economic times.
Whether your dream is escaping the rat race, experiencing high-end world travel, earning a monthly five-figure income with zero management, or just living more and working less, The 4-Hour Workweek is the blueprint.
This step-by-step guide to luxury lifestyle design teaches:
- How Tim went from $40,000 per year and 80 hours per week to $40,000 per month and 4 hours per week
- How to outsource your life to overseas virtual assistants for $5 per hour and do whatever you want
- How blue-chip escape artists travel the world without quitting their jobs
- How to eliminate 50% of your work in 48 hours using the principles of a forgotten Italian economist
- How to trade a long-haul career for short work bursts and frequent “mini-retirements
What Makes It Good?
There are three things that make this good.
- It has a great first sentence: Tim immediately tells you why this book matters to you—because you can stop waiting for retirement. Who doesn’t want to retire now? OK, I’m interested, tell me more…
- It has bulleted, specific info: A vague promise is no good if it doesn’t deliver. Tim then makes specific promises about the information in the book, both about things that have happened, and things it will teach you.
- It makes you want to read more: After the contrast of the big broad goal and the specific information, at the very least, any reader is going to keep going into the reviews and other information. You’re hooked—you want to know how he teaches this.
Cameron Herold’s Vivid Vision
Many corporations have slick, flashy mission statements that ultimately do little to motivate employees and less to impress customers, investors, and partners.
But there is a way to share your excitement for the future of your company in a clear, compelling, and powerful way and entrepreneur and business growth expert Cameron Herold can show you how.
Vivid Vision is a revolutionary tool that will help owners, CEOs, and senior managers create inspirational, detailed, and actionable three-year mission statements for their companies. In this easy-to-follow guide, Herold walks organization leaders through the simple steps to creating their own Vivid Vision, from brainstorming to sharing the ideas to using the document to drive progress in the years to come.
By focusing on mapping out how you see your company looking and feeling in every category of business, without getting bogged down by data and numbers, Vivid Vision creates a holistic road map to success that will get all of your teammates passionate about the big picture.
Your company is your dream, one that you want to share with your staff, clients, and stakeholders. Vivid Vision is the tool you need to make that dream a reality.
What Makes It Good?
Three things make this good:
- Engaging hook: Everyone knows that mission statements are BS, but how many people say this out loud? By doing so it takes a stand and engages the potential reader immediately.
- Important key words: We tend to advocate staying away from buzzwords in your book description, but in some cases—especially business books—the right use of them can work. This is an example of where they work. Words and phrases like “easy to follow” and “simple steps” and “drive progress” actually work.
- Clear pain and benefit: This book is not appealing to everyone–but to the perfect reader, it’s very appealing because it clearly articulates a real problem (“slick, flashy mission statements that ultimately do little”) and then tells you the result it delivers (“detailed, actionable three-year mission statements for their companies“) and basically how it gets you there (“mapping out how you see your company looking and feeling in every category of business”).
Tyler Cowen’s Average Is Over
“Widely acclaimed as one of the world’s most influential economists, Tyler Cowen returns with his groundbreaking follow-up to the New York Times bestseller The Great Stagnation.
The widening gap between rich and poor means dealing with one big, uncomfortable truth: If you’re not at the top, you’re at the bottom.
The global labor market is changing radically thanks to growth at the high end—and the low. About three quarters of the jobs created in the United States since the great recession pay only a bit more than minimum wage. Still, the United States has more millionaires and billionaires than any country ever, and we continue to mint them.
In this eye-opening book, renowned economist and bestselling author Tyler Cowen explains that phenomenon: High earners are taking ever more advantage of machine intelligence in data analysis and achieving ever-better results. Meanwhile, low earners who haven’t committed to learning, to making the most of new technologies, have poor prospects. Nearly every business sector relies less and less on manual labor, and this fact is forever changing the world of work and wages. A steady, secure life somewhere in the middle—average—is over.
With The Great Stagnation, Cowen explained why median wages stagnated over the last four decades; in Average Is Over he reveals the essential nature of the new economy, identifies the best path forward for workers and entrepreneurs, and provides readers with actionable advice to make the most of the new economic landscape. It is a challenging and sober must-read but ultimately exciting, good news. In debates about our nation’s economic future, it will be impossible to ignore.”
What Makes It Good?
This book description does almost everything right. It quickly establishes the author credentials, it immediately states the huge social question it addresses, and it does so in a way that creates an emotional reaction from the reader—questions of equality are highly emotionally charged.
It then spends two short paragraphs laying out the context of the debate over economic equality, and then tells you exactly what the book will tell you, without giving its thesis away. This description almost forces you to read this book.
Examples of Bad Book Descriptions
Ben Horowitz’s, The Hard Thing About Hard Things
“Ben Horowitz, co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz and one of Silicon Valley’s most respected and experienced entrepreneurs, offers essential advice on building and running a startup—practical wisdom for managing the toughest problems business school doesn’t cover, based on his popular ben’s blog.
While many people talk about how great it is to start a business, very few are honest about how difficult it is to run one. Ben Horowitz analyzes the problems that confront leaders every day, sharing the insights he’s gained developing, managing, selling, buying, investing in, and supervising technology companies. A lifelong rap fanatic, he amplifies business lessons with lyrics from his favorite songs, telling it straight about everything from firing friends to poaching competitors, cultivating and sustaining a CEO mentality to knowing the right time to cash in.
Filled with his trademark humor and straight talk, The Hard Thing About Hard Things is invaluable for veteran entrepreneurs as well as those aspiring to their own new ventures, drawing from Horowitz’s personal and often humbling experiences.”
What’s Wrong With It
This description is bad because–based just on this description–the book seems somewhat bland and boring. If I don’t know anything about Horowitz before I read that description, what in there makes me want to know more? Nor does it really tell me anything about the substance of what he says in the book, and it substantially undersells both Horowitz’s prominence and the resonance and importance of the book’s message. And who cares that he likes rap? What does that matter to me, the reader?
Compare this with the description for Tyler Cowen’s book above; it explains who Cowen is and why I should care, it tells me what he says, applies the book to my life, and shows me exactly why I need to care about what he wrote.
The irony is that having read both books, I can tell you that Horowitz’s is just as good, if not better than Cowen’s. But you would never know this from comparing the descriptions.
Coercion: Why We Listen to What “They” Say
by Douglas Rushkoff
“Noted media pundit and author of Playing the Future Douglas Rushkoff gives a devastating critique of the influence techniques behind our culture of rampant consumerism. With a skilled analysis of how experts in the fields of marketing, advertising, retail atmospherics, and hand-selling attempt to take away our ability to make rational decisions, Rushkoff delivers a bracing account of media ecology today, consumerism in America, and why we buy what we buy, helping us recognize when we’re being treated like consumers instead of human beings.”
What’s Wrong With It
Short descriptions are great, but this is too short to even tell me what the book says. This is an example of overselling, without doing it right. Look at the descriptions, “devastating” “skilled analysis” and “bracing account”—this description sounds like he’s doing what he says he’s warning us about: selling without substance. In no place does this description connect the reader to the issues in the book in a way that is engaging or compelling.
More Book Description Best Practices To Get Right
1. Mindset Shift: It’s an Ad, Not a Summary
Don’t think of the book description as a synopsis. It is not meant to summarize your book. So many authors want to put everything about their book in this section. Resist that urge.
It is an advertisement. Think of it like a trailer for your book. It is designed to make people want to read your book. You want them to take action and buy it.
2. Use Compelling Keywords
It’s not enough to be accurate, you need to use high traffic keywords that increase the likelihood your book will get picked up in search. For example, if Sports Illustrated does a book you’d want to not only say Sports Illustrated Magazine but also mention the names of the A-list athletes in the book. Even better, use words that evoke an emotion on the part of the reader. Don’t use “jerk” when “asshole” will work.
3. Keep It Short
On average, Amazon Bestsellers have descriptions that are about 200 words long. Most descriptions are broken up into two paragraphs, but some are kept at one, and some run to three.
4. Simple Writing
Keep the writing simple. Use short, clear sentences. You don’t want anyone to struggle to comprehend what you’re trying to convey because you’ve strung too many ideas together in one long run-on sentence.
5. Write as the Publisher, Not the Author
This will probably be obvious to you, but the book description should always be in a third person objective voice, and never your author voice. It is always written as someone else describing your book.
6. No Insecurity
Don’t compare your book to other books. I see this all the time, and all it does is make the book (and the author) immediately look inferior. Plus, a reader may hate the book you are comparing yourself to and you’ll lose them.
The only place a comparison makes sense is if you are quoting a very reputable source that makes the comparison itself.
7. Don’t Insist on Doing it Yourself
I can’t tell you how many amazing authors I’ve had come to me utterly befuddled because they couldn’t write their own book description. This is normal. The reality is that the author is often the worst person to write their own book description. They’re too close to the material and too emotionally invested. If this is the case, we recommend either asking a friend to help, or going to a professional editor or even better–a professional copywriter–for assistance.