Over at the blog Indies Unlimited, Stephen Hise posted some good advice called “Book Description Epic Fail” that should be read by every author, not just those who self-publish.
Writing a boring or inept summary is by far the most damaging mistake authors make when their books are being published—and sometimes even earlier, when they’re still trying to interest literary agents or publishers in their manuscripts or proposals. Friends, family, agents, and editors often overlook bland or inane book descriptions and read whatever we think might be good because we happen to like the authors. Readers who don’t know the authors, not so much.
If a publisher—or in the case of self-publishing, a publishing platform—requires a brief summary or description of a book, whatever the author writes (often in response to a questionnaire or online form) will be used, perhaps tweaked, and reused for catalog copy, jacket copy, advertisements, websites, award submissions, and even metadata. Shirking the responsibility can have disastrous consequences.
It can never be assumed that a publisher, editor, or marketer will take the time to improve on what the author wrote. The person might be exceedingly reluctant to intervene if the author has been overly sensitive to criticism in the past.
Of course, self-published authors don’t necessarily have human filters between them and their readers, which is why some of them, like Hise, are much more acutely aware of the detrimental effects of poorly written book descriptions.
As a failsafe, after writing a brief description of a forthcoming book, an author can ask other people to read the summary and say whether it’s sufficiently enticing. Literary agents are helpful. We know that producing marketing copy usually is not a novelist’s forte, and we’re accustomed to being frank. Critique groups are especially generous with this sort of feedback throughout the publishing process. Some authors also test ideas on their blogs.
Writers’ conferences and workshops would be doing their participants a great favor by adding sessions devoted to the process of writing brief book descriptions and one-line summaries, sometimes referred to as elevator pitches and loglines, and explaining to writers their significance to booksellers and book buyers.
More good resources on this topic
Book Descriptions Front and Center on Amazon
by Morris Rosenthal, Foner Books
Keys to Understanding Amazon’s Algorithms
by Joel Friedlander, The Book Designer
White Paper: The Link Between Metadata and Sales
by Andre Breedt & David Walter, Nielsen BookData