A succinct, compelling book description is a crucial element in any book marketing campaign. Yet, for many authors, penning a well-constructed description of their work is easier said than done. This is understandable. Who wants to see the fruits of their labor crammed into the space of a couple of paragraphs? No one wants to force their baby into such a little box.
As difficult as it may be, it’s important when writing a book description to think about your book from the perspective of a total stranger. Why should they be interested in you or your beloved book? What are the five main points you think will stand out to them, and why are they important? If you can condense your book to an easily digestible, compelling description, you will have much more luck convincing editors, bloggers, publishers and book reviewers to give it a chance. Try to use brevity to your advantage and give your audience just enough information to get them hooked.
Sure, writing a book blurb can feel like a ruthless, editorial bloodbath. But cutting your book down to the most vital or tantalizing points will give you a new understanding of your work, and your book will be better for it. If you’re feeling uncertain, here are some common book blurb pitfalls to avoid.
1. Don’t over explain the plot.
One of the most common problems we see with book blurbs is when an author can’t decide when to stop describing elements of the plot. The result is usually an overly long book blurb, bloated with plot points, yet short on why we should read the book. While it’s important to give readers an idea of the story they’re about to read, there’s no point in giving away all the twists and turns before they’re even invested in the main character. Try to focus on summing up the main plot and its themes in a single sentence, two at the most. That should be enough for readers to get an idea whether they’re interested.
2. Don’t oversell your book with “filler” adjectives.
Another dubious feature of many book descriptions is when the author appears to be reviewing, rather than describing, their own book. Sure, maybe your book really is a “compelling,” “heart-rending,” story, “perfect for readers of all ages,” but why should anyone take your word for it? Too many superlative descriptions act as filler and, unless they can be attributed to an actual reviewer, often make the author look specious. Rather than wasting your word count, try to focus on why your book is compelling or heart-rending and tell that to the reader.
3. Highlight your book’s primary conflict.
Something we often see with book descriptions is that authors will get so overwhelmed with information that they forget to outline the main conflict of their book. It should go without saying that conflict is an essential element to every good story, and since it’s likely the thrust of your narrative, it’s good to make the central conflict of your story clear from the outset. Is your protagonist struggling with illness? Social oppression? Evil god-like forces? The conflict of your narrative is more often than not what will draw your readers in, so why not make it clear from the outset?
4. Avoid clichés and overused descriptors.
By trying to be thoughtful about outlining the details of your main plot, themes, and central conflict, you’re also telling the readers about why your book is unique. Yes, at the end of the day, your story may be a classic tale of a protagonist’s struggle between the forces of good and evil. But should you describe it that way? Surely, it’s not as generic as that, right? Try as much as possible to avoid these clichés and describe your book with language its unique qualities and highlights your individuality as an author. Don’t let your book blurb sell your book short!
One rule of thumb: think of your book blurb less as a description of your book and more as an adaptation. Rather than just telling readers about your book, imagine you’re adapting your book into a new poetic format, that gives its complexities in miniature condensations of narrative description. And, as always, consider cutting a sentence or two when you’re done!
Rhodes Murphy is Books Forward’s resident academic. With two degrees in English (a master’s and bachelor’s), Rhodes approaches subjects through the eyes of a cultural critic and archivist, with particular interest in ideas of selfhood expressed in literature. But Rhodes doesn’t just spend his spare time unpacking dense texts––he was also the frontman for the performance Art Punk band “Babes” and has written for both national and local publications with a particular focus on covering the LGBTQ community. While at Tulane pursuing his master’s, he helped organized the university’s archive of Gay Mardi Gras in his hometown of New Orleans.