Fighting the Blurb

Blurb Fight

BOOK BLURB

In modern times, the book’s blurb is dynamic—it isn’t etched in stone. You can change it as often as you like.

  • If you’re getting regular sales, don’t touch your blurb with a 12-ft. pole!
  • Otherwise, keep fighting your blurb until you finally get it right.

It would be ideal to perfect that blurb before you publish, and you should strive to do this:

  • Browse top-selling books similar to yours and search for successful books where the blurb likely played a strong role. Big-name authors and publishers can sell books without the best blurb, so you can learn more by studying effective blurbs from lesser-known authors.

But, try as we might, it’s really hard to nail that blurb. Thus, those of us who are merely human must keep trying (except while sales are good—”if it ain’t broke…”).

And even if the book description was perfect, external factors may prompt a revision. For example, a slight change can sometimes offset a potentially harmful review (we’ll return to this point later).

I fight my book descriptions all the time, and I recommend that you do the same (except when sales are fine, of course—wait for one of those inevitable valleys to experiment).

Here is how this article is organized:

  1. Fiction Blurb Tips
  2. Nonfiction Blurb Tips
  3. Revision Tips

FICTION BLURB TIPS

Note that the goal of the blurb is NOT to summarize the book. Rather, the goals are to:

  • Implicitly reveal the genre or subject. This should reinforce the message conveyed through the title and visually by the cover.
  • Entice the reader to look inside.

That’s it!

Think about it: You really DON’T want the shopper to read your blurb. You want the shopper to read your book, NOT your blurb. The blurb’s job is to make the shopper read the book. If the customer stops reading your blurb to look inside the book, even better.

Because the longer the customer spends reading your blurb, the more likely the customer will find some aspect of the blurb that he or she doesn’t like, and the more likely the impulse to buy will wear off.

This is why many highly effective blurbs are very CONCISE.

Blurb’s over already. Gee, what do I do now if I want to find out more. Duh! Look inside. (Then it’s your Look Inside’s job to close the deal. The Look Inside is another salesperson just like the blurb. The Look Inside needs to make the customer want to read more, creating a sale.)

There is more to do than just be concise. The blurb must also arouse the buyer’s CURIOSITY.

Otherwise, the buyer finishes reading the blurb, but doesn’t feel interested in the story.

That’s why a blurb isn’t a summary. A summary gives the story away. There is NO curiosity in a summary.

An effective blurb doesn’t give answers, it creates questions. The questions may be implicit, but it’s those unanswered questions that may make a reader want to read more.

Here is a fiction blurb checklist:

  • Be concise. Did you say anything that was unnecessary?
  • Arouse curiosity. Did you give anything away? Does it read like a summary?
  • Genre. If strangers can’t read the blurb and guess the precise sub-genre or have some idea as to the content, your blurb has miserably and utterly failed to be an effective sales tool.
  • Engage. You need to draw interest immediately; most customers won’t be patient and let you build things up (true of your Look Inside, too). Come out swinging with your best stuff, but also pack enough punches so that you can engage interest throughout. When you run out of punches, stop writing your blurb.
  • Flow. Check that it flows well. A hiccup, such as when a reader has to stop and figure out how to correctly parse a long idea, is like stumbling on your way to the cash register.
  • Spellcheck, aisle three. If you can’t get the spelling and grammar right in a hundred words or so… Look, it’s not an option. You have to get it right.
  • Vocabulary. It needs to match your target audience. Words they don’t understand can scare them away (but if such words are common in the prose, you also don’t want to create false expectations).
  • Research. Do your homework. Check out blurbs of successful books similar to yours.
  • Feedback. Ask for opinions on your blurb. Before you publish, this can help you generate buzz.

NONFICTION BLURB TIPS

There are different kinds of nonfiction books.

Do you have a memoir or any other kind of nonfiction book that customers will read for entertainment? If so, you should follow the FICTION BLURB TIPS. You want a concise book description that arouses curiosity.

Do you have a nonfiction book that provides handy information? If so, then your book description will be different from a fiction blurb.

In this case, you want to show customers what information is in your book. The sale may very well depend on customers developing confidence that your book will answer a very specific question.

Therefore, a nonfiction book description may be long, yet still be effective.

The trick is to break a long nonfiction book description up into paragraphs—or even better, use bullets to highlight important points.

You can create paragraph breaks, bullet points, boldface, and italics through Author Central, for example. If so, be sure to copy your description and save it on your computer. If you republish your Kindle e-book (e.g. to change your list price or category), check your Amazon blurb afterward—presently, the KDP description overrides the Author Central description.

Think about what information your book has that customers are likely to be searching for. You want to make this clear in your book description.

Customers buy informative nonfiction books for three common reasons:

  • specific knowledge they seek
  • author has relevant expertise or experience
  • author can communicate clearly

So it may also be relevant to mention relevant expertise and experience in your blurb. However, you probably also have a biography on your Amazon product page. You don’t want to be repetitive, but it may be worth mentioning key points from your resume in your blurb—as not every customer will read your biography.

The way to show that you can communicate clearly is to have a well-written, clear blurb (followed up by a well-written, clear Look Inside).

Here is a nonfiction blurb checklist:

  • Be concise OR break up a long blurb into paragraphs with bullet points. Still, don’t say anything that’s unnecessary.
  • Inform. Make it clear what information will be found in your book. If they aren’t sure that your book will answer their questions, they either (A) won’t buy or (B) will be quite frustrated if they don’t get their questions answered (leading to returns or bad reviews).
  • Subject. If strangers can’t read the blurb and guess the precise subject or have some idea as to the content, your blurb has miserably and utterly failed to be an effective sales tool.
  • Expertise. Briefly mention relevant expertise and experience (you can put more detail in your biography, if necessary).
  • Communication. Show, by example, in your book description, that you can communicate ideas effectively. The jargon used—and how you use it—needs to be a good fit for your specific target audience.
  • Engage. You need to draw interest immediately; most customers won’t be patient and let you build things up (true of your Look Inside, too). Come out swinging with your best stuff, but also pack enough punches so that you can engage interest throughout. When you run out of punches, stop writing your blurb.
  • Recommendations. You can seek editorial reviews from other experts in the field, or quotes from relevant media, and insert these in the Editorial Reviews section through Author Central.
  • Flow. Check that it flows well. A hiccup, such as when a reader has to stop and figure out how to correctly parse a long idea, is like stumbling on your way to the cash register.
  • Spellcheck, aisle three. If you can’t get the spelling and grammar right in a hundred words or so… Look, it’s not an option. You have to get it right.
  • Research. Do your homework. Check out blurbs of successful books similar to yours.
  • Feedback. Ask for opinions on your blurb. Before you publish, this can help you generate buzz.

REVISION TIPS

First of all, if your book is selling regularly, wait for a sales valley before you experiment with your blurb. The last thing you want to do is inadvertently hurt your sales.

Most blurbs are long enough that only the first part of the description appears on the Amazon product page, followed by a Read More link.

Customers are quite reluctant to click that Read More link.

Therefore, you want to make sure that your most effective points—i.e. what will arouse curiosity and make the customer look inside?—appear before the Read More link. If they don’t, move things around.

I recently added a note to four of my books, indicating that the cover had been updated. When I checked the Amazon product pages later, I discovered that another important point had been pushed beyond the Read More link. So I moved the cover update note further down, as it was less important than the other points.

There are good reasons to keep fighting your blurb:

  1. If your book isn’t selling, it’s probably the cover, blurb, Look Inside, or book idea. The blurb is the easiest of these to experiment with.
  2. Almost all product pages do get discovered at Amazon (though, obviously, some much more frequently than others). The blurb and Look Inside are the only salespeople on the product page. They make or break the sale (of course, customer and editorial reviews also have some sway). So if your book is hardly selling, it could be because most customers checking our your product page aren’t sold on the book from reading the blurb.
  3. It’s really hard to perfect the blurb. Some trial and error can help you gauge which parts of the blurb seem to be working.
  4. Search engine optimization is impacted by activity on the webpage (that’s an advantage of having a blog or discussion forum on a website). During a sales valley, a change-up might help a little with Google or even Amazon. During a sales valley, it doesn’t hurt to try.
  5. It may be worth announcing a book update.
  6. Occasionally, a revision to the blurb can help to offset a potentially harmful review.

It’s unreasonable to expect instant results. Also, there are other factors affecting your sales (like falling off the 90-day new releases list), many of which you may not even know about (like changes in customers-also-bought lists). Waiting a couple of weeks is more likely to give you useful data than waiting a day or two.

If you get a bad review:

  • Most likely, it won’t hurt your sales. They can help by adding balance. They definitely increase your review tally. It’s irrational to expect every bad review to hurt your sales. In fact, every hot seller has many bad reviews (and also many good ones). Think about this.
  • Don’t do anything immediate. Give it a week or two to truly see if the review seems to be making a significant impact. If it’s not hurting sales, definitely the best advice is to IGNORE it.
  • Don’t comment on the review. There are too many things that can go WAY WRONG, with very little chance of your comment helping in any way. The majority of customers seem to view comments by the author as unprofessional, so most likely the comment will deter sales even more.
  • Occasionally, however, a critical review does adversely affect sales. In this case, first wait two weeks to cool down and to get more valuable data (you have to wait to find out what effect, if any, that review might have). This also gives the reviewer a chance to cool down, perhaps even forget about your book.

Sometimes, if a review is having an adverse impact on sales, it’s possible to make a revision to the book’s blurb that will offset the review’s effectiveness.

What you’re striving for is:

  1. New customers read your description.
  2. New customers read that bad review.
  3. New customers think, “This doesn’t seem to be an issue now.” New customers disregard that bad review.

Here are a few examples:

  • A customer left a bad review because the customer had unrealistic expectations about your book. If the description already makes this clear, don’t change anything. But if a simple note in your description would clarify this misunderstanding, then future customers will think to themselves, “The description already made that point clear.”
  • A customer left a bad review about editing. Ideally, you would perfect the editing before you publish. However, you could hire an editor, then after the book is edited, include a note in the description that the book was edited on such and such date. Future customers will read the description and review, and may think, “Well, this appears no longer to be an issue.” (They will certainly check out the Look Inside for confirmation.)
  • A customer left a bad review that requests a new feature, like a glossary. You might decide that a glossary really isn’t a good fit for your book, or that most customers won’t care about a glossary. If so, don’t change anything. But if it appears that a glossary (or whatever other feature) is, in fact, in demand, you could add this feature and include a note in your product description. Then that bad review helps you, rather than hurts you.

DON’T revise your description based on EVERY bad review you receive. The vast majority aren’t worth addressing.

DON’T make it seem like your description was revised in response to the review.

DO revise your description in such a way that it still appears to have a very natural progression.

Sometimes, it’s better to do NOTHING at all. If the review isn’t nearly as bad as you think it is, i.e. it wouldn’t sway opinion as much as you fear, then it may actually be a MISTAKE to give the reviewer CREDIBILITY by changing your description to address the review.

For example, suppose you wrote a book for teenagers and a review says that many of the expressions used are outdated. Mentioning in the blurb that the book was updated to make the expressions appear more modern may actually be a mistake in this case, as it makes the reviewer’s comment appear valid. Whether or not they are dated is a matter of opinion, which could be checked by examining the Look Inside. Chances are that such a review wouldn’t impact sales, but revising the book description to address a harmless review could have an adverse effect.

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing

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9 comments on “Fighting the Blurb

  1. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    A comprehensive guide to making your ‘blurb’ work for you rather than against you. Think about how you buy a choose a book off the shelf – Title catches your eye and you turn the book over to read what is inside – how many times have you put the book back without even turning to the first page because after the title caught you eye you lost interest. Here you go – you have read the blurb now read the post…..

  2. I read somewhere that descriptions which are TOO SHORT are not properly processed by search engines, so I would add to your wonderfully comprehensive advice: don’t make it TOO short.

    I also got an idea while reading your post: ASK the reader to continue to the Look Inside the Book feature. Maybe not overtly. Any ideas how to word that? Most users know that – but even they might respond to being asked nicely.

    Post bookmarked: I’m in the process of finalizing mine. Very useful.

    I tell you, getting it right IS daunting. Much easier to try to get published traditionally, and trust the professionals to do a better job of what is, essentially, copywriting. Except I don’t – have seen too many bad descriptions and cover copy examples to trust anyone by default. At least in SP, you have the option of tinkering with it if you hate it or nobody seems to be biting.

    Alicia

    • I guess a blurb can be too short, though I’ve seen many (including my own!) that were too long.

      Absolutely, we want that reader to Look Inside. The whole blurb is basically designed to beg for this, but without seeming like we’re begging. It seems, to me, one of those funny things where if you make the request explicit, the answer is automatically No. (But if I get any ideas…)

      I’m not pleased with many of the traditionally published blurbs I’ve read. Sometimes, I think they expect to sell books just because (they seem reluctant to change, or to fully utilize opportunities in this dynamic market, which works to the favor of indie authors and publishers, who in fact are collectively taking a greater market share). Other times, I think they intentionally leave important things out, begging the reader to buy to find out anything (even, sometimes, not activating the Search Inside feature), even though that may lead to frustration and a bad review (though they will often get hundreds of reviews, so this might seem inconsequential).

      But that author might very well have preferred the most effective blurb possible.

      • I think the process of getting the best blurb may be a diagnosis by exclusion: no not that one. No, not that one, either. Nah, you still don’t have it right. I don’t like that one because…

        Until is is better.

        I don’t like most of the formulas I’ve seen. I rewrite mine – and also bear in mine that I may need different ones for different audiences! – periodically.

        Each time someone asks for a little bit of Pride’s Children – to put it up on TuesdaySerial, or VentureGalleries or WAttpad (places it’s being serialized right now) – I redo the description.

        But I’m not perfectly satisfied with it yet – and I still need to go see books I consider my audience might like, and see their blurbs – and all that takes time and energy.

        I love that I don’t have to wait forever for agents to respond to queries (and that I’m not trying to find the RIGHT query for the ONE agent), but I still have the same problem: how to get someone to read. Only here it is possible that, since many people may read, the blurb/description will at least be right for some of them – instead of having a quick chance at ONE person looking for reasons to reject.

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