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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Creating a Highly Marketable Fiction Book

M. Louisa Locke, author of the Victorian San Francisco Mystery Series

Today we will examine the books of a highly successful fiction author to learn some valuable marketability tips.

Historical fiction author M. Louisa Locke has a popular series called the Victorian San Francisco Mystery Series. The first book in the series, Maids of Misfortune, has over 500 customer reviews on Amazon.

Click on the image to view this book’s detail page at Amazon.

You can learn some things about marketability just by visiting the detail page for Maids of Misfortune:

  • The cover fits the genre very distinctly. This is incredibly important for a book to be highly marketable. You want your target audience to see the book and instantly recognize that it’s a perfect fit for them. One glance at the cover and you know it’s historical fiction. Your book will be seen in your marketing, search results, customer also bought lists, and more. If you want a significant percentage of the people who see your book to buy your book, you need the cover to grab your target audience.
  • Not only that, but the cover is appealing, looks elegant, and the title and author name are easy to read in the thumbnail. The challenge is to make the font interesting, yet still very clear, and fit the genre. This book pulls it off very well. Don’t underestimate the effect that font issues have on sales.
  • Check out the other covers in the series. They all fit together, which helps greatly with branding, yet each is distinct.
  • The blurb is divided up into short paragraphs. Shoppers have a short attention span, and this blurb addresses that. If the blurb doesn’t interest the buyer immediately and continue to engage the shopper, the shopper will hit the back button of the browser.
  • The first sentence of the blurb describes trouble. Now the reader is concerned. The second paragraph starts with a secret, the third introduces a problem, and the last speaks of murder. Each paragraph begins with some way of engaging the reader. Everything reads well and clearly, and no paragraph is too long.
  • Look at the categories. Normally, having too many categories poses a problem, but upon closer inspection, each subcategory is very specific and actually is appropriate to the book. You want your book to get into specific categories that are highly relevant for your book, but not to get into categories that aren’t highly relevant (buyers see this, become confused, and back out). Check out this page to learn some Kindle keyword tricks (thanks to S.K. Nicholls and others for pointing this out to me). Check your detail page periodically and contact Author Central if your book gets into a category that isn’t highly relevant.
  • M. Louisa Locke’s author photo is a perfect fit for her profile—a Victorian author and retired professor of U.S. and women’s history. Her qualifications certainly help; although she is a fiction author, her expertise relates to the subject her novels.
  • The 500 reviews really stand out on the product page. Excellent marketability and effective marketing help to earn sales, and a fraction of those sales may result in customer reviews. One way to help improve this percentage is to encourage customers to contact you and to mention that you would appreciate a review on Amazon. Check out the second paragraph of M. Louisa Locke’s biography.
  • If you write fiction, Shelfari offers many book extras that you can add to your product page. Check out the book extras on this product page.
  • This book is available on Kindle, paperback, and as an audio book.
  • The cover grabs the attention of the target audience, the blurb draws interest, and the reviews lend credibility, but it isn’t a done deal yet. We still have the Look Inside. This Look Inside seals the deal. The cover looks great not only as a thumbnail, but also in the much larger Look Inside. The book comes right out and draws interest right off the bat. You want to develop your story slowly, but readers don’t have such patience for a new author. Come out swinging with your best stuff. Grab the reader’s attention and don’t let go. This book draws interest immediately, and each paragraph starts, like the blurb, with some word or phrase that will draw the reader’s curiosity. The Look Inside fits the genre well, which is highly important, reads well, and appears to be well-edited. These three points can make or break a sale, even when everything else is perfect.

There is more to success than just creating a highly marketable book and product page and throwing it out there. But it’s not a secret. Many popular authors reveal tips that made them successful.

If you visit M. Louisa Locke’s blog, you’ll see that you can learn a great deal there about marketability and marketing. Especially, read these two posts and study the details:

M. Louisa Locke’s paperback books will be participating in Read Tuesday, a Black Friday type of event just for books on December 10. All authors are welcome to participate (it’s free).

Learn more about M. Louisa Locke: website, author page.

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing), Facebook page, Twitter

Changing Your Book Up

Change Up

If you publish a book, chances are you will encounter a variety of reasons to consider making changes:

  • The blurb is quite challenging to write, so we often wonder if we should try to improve it.
  • It’s nearly impossible to edit a hundred thousand words and catch every single typo. Even if you edit extremely well, you usually encounter a couple of stragglers somewhere down the line.
  • As we’re human, occasionally we make a big oopsie. If so, you want to fix that as quickly as possible.
  • Nonfiction material can quickly become outdated. Revisions can help keep it up-to-date.
  • Reviews sometimes provide suggestions that have merit. You’re thinking about applying this helpful feedback.
  • An idea may occur to you, which you hadn’t thought of before. You’re wondering if it would make your book better.

Depending on the occasion, it might be best to make the change right away or it might be best to wait:

  • If you have an embarrassing or significant mistake, you need to take care of that promptly.
  • At Kindle, your present edition will remain available while you’re revised edition is in the process of publishing, so you don’t have to worry about losing sales in the meantime. So once your revision is ready, there is no reason to wait.
  • At CreateSpace, your book will be unavailable for about 12-24 hours while your file is being reviewed. So if the changes can wait, it would be a good idea to pick a day and time where sales may be relatively slow. Study your sales rank history at AuthorCentral for help planning this, and also consider what marketing you have going on and coming soon. Sometimes your book can be back online in less than 12 hours. However, even if you make a minor change to your interior file, your cover file can get changed for the worse (even if you don’t change your cover), and it can take several days to fully resolve this. Hope for the best, but plan for the worst-case scenario.
  • Most things, including your blurb, author photo, biography, and book files probably shouldn’t be changed when sales are going well. If sales start to drop off, that may be a better time to change things up and see if they help or hurt.

I’ve revised several of my books and blurbs in 2013 (and I’m still not finished with it). For me, it has been a year of revisions. I have a few projects that I wanted to complete in 2013, but which I have yet to begin, because I have spent so much time making revisions.

It started with one of my math workbooks. I had a request from a parent that would help one of my math workbooks better meet the needs of parents, so I devoted some time toward this. At about the same time, I also updated a couple of the covers of my math workbooks. Those I was able to improve without making the cover look significantly different. (I have a couple of other math workbooks that I’d like to give a makeover, but I haven’t because I don’t want anyone to accidentally buy the same book twice.)

Next, I made numerous revisions to my conceptual chemistry book. I completely revised thousands of symbols that were originally typeset as equations, realizing that they would format better as text with superscripts and subscripts. This was extremely time-consuming and took several edits. I have about 40 different versions of the eBook file, and dozens more of the paperback editions. I’ve never edited anything this much before, and hope to avoid such extensive editing in the future.

I’ve updated my self-publishing books a few times because every time I make a revision, something new seems to come out. My original (i.e. 2009) self-publishing book needs a major overhaul. I’ve been wanting to do this for a couple of years, but it needs so much work, I generally put it on the backburner and work on something else. I plan to finally do this by the year’s end.

Presently, I’m adding indexes to my new (i.e. 2012/2013) self-publishing books (i.e. Volumes 1 and 2 of the “Detailed Guide”). It’s amazing how much work is involved in making a thorough index. And it’s thorough; it may add another 20 pages (with two columns) to the book. I hope to have the index for Volume 1 finished today or tomorrow. Then I have a list of revisions to make, like mentioning the new Countdown Deal, but this should be quick and painless.

I’ll be combining Volumes 1 and 2 into an omnibus edition. I hope to have it out by Read Tuesday. Then I can get back to the major overhaul of my original self-publishing book.

I have some other minor revisions that I’ve made (correcting a few typos that I’ve discovered here and there), and a couple of covers that have some printing variations that could use a fix.

I’ve changed many of my blurbs extensively this year. In most cases, this had a very significant improvement on sales, often immediately. It’s amazing what boldface, italics, bulleted lists, and splitting a long paragraph up into shorter paragraphs can do.

How about you? Have you had any fun with revisions this year?

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing), Facebook page, Twitter

Check out Read Tuesday (a Black Friday event just for books): website, Facebook page, Twitter