How to write compelling book descriptions

I MUST read that story… NOW.

That’s what we want our book descriptions to do—elicit an emotional response from a potential reader, where that person realises in a heartbeat how much poorer their lives will be unless they buy our book.

But how do you grab people’s attention in a saturated, noisy market?

Ask any writer and they shudder when you say the words, ‘book description’. But oh wise one, you pipe up, surprised at this strength of feeling. Haven’t you just slogged your way to 80,000 or so words? Coming up with a measly 300 is like walking to the car after you’ve finished running a marathon, surely?

Highland Wedding by Emma BairdOh no, it’s as flat as a pancake…

Yet many writers end up with a ‘flat’ description. It ends up a chronological catalogue of the main bits that happen and it is dull, dull, dull. The paragraphs don’t hook a reader straight away and that potential customer’s attention is grabbed instead by another book.

Nowadays, Amazon product pages are hyper-busy. It’s what they call multiple points of entry. Amazon wants to sell your book—hey, 30 percent plus the delivery fee, thanks very much!—but the sale of anything is its first and foremost goal.

If there is something else on your page that a customer clicks on instead (those sponsored ads, the also boughts, etc) then brilliant. More money in the tin for the mighty behemoth.

Above the fold line

Depending on what country you are in, the product page for your book often has a fold line. ‘Fold line’ is an old newspaper term where what editors determined were the most important stories stayed above.

Picture those newspapers in a shop folded over for display purposes. A customer with no loyalty to a particular paper comes in, sees the headline, photo and the sensationalist first few paragraphs on one and picks it up.

In digital terms, this is the read more button. On for instance, the fold line cuts off after about four or five lines. In other countries, the allowance is more generous but still. All the more reason for a book description that hooks your reader right from the offset.

The best descriptions personalise the book—often asking the reader to place themselves in the main character’s shoes. Or they will use three elements to the story, bung them together and ask the reader to think how that might work.

Seven tips for writing a brilliant book description

Here are some general ways to make your book descriptions sing for their supper:

  1. Start with a hook. One sentence that sums up the premise of your book. A boy, a girl, a dating guru. What can possibly go wrong?! My fishing line for my romcom, Highland Fling.
  2. Use the active voice. It makes your language stronger and far more interesting to read.
  3. Follow the journalism rule of the inverted triangle. The most important info goes at the top. From there on, it descends in interest. So, hook, introduction of characters, small teaser for what is going to happen and then the additional stuff that makes your book an attractive prospect.
  4. Ask questions. But just who is the girl at the window? And why is everyone in the house so determined not to talk about her?
  5. Use short sentences and paragraphs. This is not the place for showing off your literary credentials with big words, endless clauses and semi-colons.
  6. Use punchy words. Think of fight/action scenes in novels and the way they are written (if they are written well!).
  7. Use formatting, either html or what the e-retailer allows. Bold your first line and make the font a little bigger than the rest.

Outsource the job. Obviously, I can’t count… that’s tip number eight. But yes, those 80,000 words ended up on the page after months of blood, sweat and tears. Every one of them is precious to you. How can you possibly distil them into 300?

Easy! Ask someone else. An outsider has no emotional attachment to your book. I’ll let you into a secret. A good copywriter doesn’t even need to read the whole thing to come up with a description that will make you weep, it’s so apt. They read your synopsis, ask for the first two or three chapters and take it from there.

And here is the bit where I plug my own services as a humble copywriter… Send me your synopsis, your first 6,000 words and I’ll come up with a description that rivets and compels. You can email me at to find out more.