[This post is part of a series on writing sales copy for your book—see the first piece in the series here: The Truth About the Back of your Book, and the 2nd post here: Compacting Your Whole Plot into Paragraphs]
What you choose to include in your Amazon product description will ultimately make or break your book sales, no matter how hard you've worked on the content of your novel. Last week I reviewed a few common strategies for teasing your book's interior using character driven summaries. Today, we'll cover two more options: the pyramid description and the bullet point description.
A Pyramid Description
As its namesake suggests, a pyramid description begins at a specific point and then widens as you move down, showing a wider and wider picture of the plot. It's a common choice for trilogies and series where there is information that needs to be communicated before you can tease the main story line (that is, where you have to share info on what happened in previous books). It can also be used for historically based novels, to set the scene and give the reader background information and I've even seen it occasionally just for general fiction. It works best when the primary conflict in the novel is an external one—when your characters are going on a physical journey or you have a well defined protagonist.
How you use this method changes slightly depending on which criteria your novel falls within. For series, begin with a paragraph that summaries the plot line of the book prior to this one.Begin with a sentence on where the characters were at the beginning of that book; then summarize the conflict they faced and briefly, mention the outcome or where that novel left off.
Begin the next paragraph with a segue into the conflict those characters will face in this book. Leave the reader wondering what will happen and how they can possibly hope to overcome what they will face. End with a final sentence or short paragraph on what the characters hope to accomplish over the course of the book (note: NOT what they actually accomplish, but what they are setting out to do). Be careful not to give too much away.
If your novel is historical in nature, instead of describing previous books, open with a description of the history that brought your characters to the point in time your novel is about. Again, keep it brief—your first paragraph should be no more than 4 sentences.
For an example, check out Robin Hobbs' City of Dragons. You'll notice that the first paragraph is the most in-depth and gradually the teaser becomes more and more vague. The first problem it notes—crossing the stream—is explained clearly, although we're still not provided with the outcome. The second problem—the voices and lights—is explained, but not in depth; there are any number of possible causes. The third problem—the entire last paragraph—is vague but hints at a dark evil that must be overcome.
Bullet Point Description
A bullet point description is most commonly used for non-fiction, how-to or business books. As Sean D'Souza talks about in this great post on Write to Done about the importance of curiosity, the key to writing strong bullet points in sales copy is to focus on WIIFM (What's In It For me?).
As Sean writes:
"...you tend to read the title, then the subtitle (on the front cover) and then flip the book to get a gist of the book. Yes there’s the yada, yada about the book on the back cover. Yes, there’s an index. Yes, there’s a contents page, but you ignore most of the yada, yada and head for the bullets.
And you do so, because bullets are like flashing Christmas lights."
Bullets grab a readers attention. We know they typically give us the information we want to know in a concise way; we can always go back and read the "written out" information, but bullets summarize, presenting the most important points.
Because of this, it's essential that, if you choose a bullet point description for your book, you make sure not to let your reader down. Your bullets should be concise; they should be poignant and they should be only the most important points. Each bullet should give the reader a reason why he or she should read your book.
That means most of them will likely start with: "How to ...." (ex. How to eat homegrown vegetables every day of the year) or "Why ..." (ex. Why benefits matter more than features when selling). Your reader should be able to ask: "What's it in for me , if i read this?" And you should be able to answer by reading each of those bullet points word for word. (Sean's got some great how-to advice and an example over at Write to Done; if you're considering this technique I highly recommend checking out his post).
Up Next: Author Bio
Stay tuned for the final post in this series, on why you need to include your author bio and how to write about yourself in a way that makes readers want to read your book.