Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Publicity: A Reader's View

I’ve been using my Wednesday posts to talk about marketing tactics, which are especially valuable for authors who are trying to self publish, but are useful for everyone trying to sell books. Today I want to talk about book descriptions – the text that is used on book jackets, websites, and sales sites like Amazon or B&N.

A small press recently had a giveaway of mystery novels, so I was browsing through their books. But I struggled to decide which ones I was most likely to enjoy. The factor missing? The tone of the book. Was it humorous? Cute/sweet? Gritty and gruesome? Sometimes I could guess from the description – serial killers are more likely to be gritty, while a crafty female heroine suggests something lighter. But sometimes I couldn’t tell at all. And if I wasn’t sure, I was less likely to pick up the book – even though they were free.

If you are writing a book description, whether for a query letter or for promotion, think about identifying the tone of your story. If it’s not clear from the description, say straight-out that this is, for example, "a witty, sophisticated romance" or "a gritty, thought-provoking thriller. I like to see this at the beginning, before the plot description, as often knowing the tone colors how I interpret the rest of the description. (On a side note, be careful about praising yourself. It’s one thing to say the book is “humorous” – that tells me it’s meant to be funny. But if you say it’s “hilarious,” it sounds like you are bragging and I’m going to be suspicious of your judgment.)

Here’s another thing I, as a reader, would like. When deciding which book to read next on my Kindle, I have only the title and author name to guide me, or maybe a cover if they included it inside the book. (The Kindle Fire shows the covers in your library list, but the plain Kindle does not. You only see the cover if it’s included with the text of the book, and then only when you click to “open” the book.)

I have started using categories to organize the titles, but I’d still like to know something about the book when deciding what to read next. I have a printed list of notes I keep with my Kindle, but it would be nice if every book included the book’s description on the opening page of the electronic version – essentially the back blurb, but at the very front. Then I could quickly check the description to figure out what I feel like reading next.

There’s a danger in assuming that all other readers are like us. Some people love e-readers, some hate them. Some people read reviews carefully, others don’t even glance at them. Some people think cheap books must be bad, while others won’t pay more than $3 for an e-book. It’s important to take differences like these into account. That said, it’s also helpful to consider your own experiences as a reader, and what you’d like to see, when deciding how to write, publish, and promote your books.


  1. About the "a witty, sophisticated romance" or "a gritty, thought-provoking thriller" - I do like to see that in the book description. Most descriptions are rather blah, they don't give it enough umph to be interesting. Some descriptions are so "big" and flowery that they turn me off. I still judge many a book by its cover. If the cover is intriguing, I'm more apt to read the description.

  2. Hi Chris:
    Thank you for the great information. Filing it in my marketing materials.