Tag Archives: writerproblems

The Blurb Factor: 3 Crucial Steps to Optimize Your Book Description | Guest Post

I am honored to be able to share this next guest blog post with you all. Writer Greg Josselyn from Reedsy has reached out with a brand new post on the Blurb Factor to share with aspiring authors and writers out there. Enjoy and be sure to follow Greg’s work on Reedsy.


From botched to bestselling

When romance writer Alessandra Torre uploaded her first book on Amazon eight years ago, she only sold three on the first day. And for the next few months, she averaged a still-disappointing 15 – until one night, she looked at her book description and said: “I’m going to re-write this.” 

That re-write sparked a renaissance. First, it was 100 books sold in one day. Then 300. Then 2,000. That’s when she started ranking as a top seller in the Romance category, and offers from agents and publishers came flooding in. Now, Torre is an Amazon International bestselling novelist, with over a dozen books to her name. 

We can’t pin Torre’s success entirely on a book blurb – she is a good writer, after all! But we would be remiss not to poke around the subject, especially since this is a great Amazon self-publishing success story. The fact is, without the social credit and marketing budget of a big publishing house, the seemingly small things we usually save for last – like book descriptions – will make or break you. 

If you’re a writer who’s planning to self-publish, this post will help improve your book description (or back cover text) and grow your profitability on Amazon. But even if you aren’t quite at that stage yet, you can apply these techniques to query letters and pitches for your book. After all, it’s never too early to start selling people on your ideas.

Step 1: Get a hook and bait

Hook, hook, hook. That seems to be all writers and editors ever talk about, and yet, most of us still wonder what it really means. When we say “hook”, we mean like a fish hook, with – you you guessed it – bait. This is particularly important in the sea of distractions that is Amazon.com. But what are the raw materials that will make up your hook and bait? You’ll require: 

  1. A brief – we cannot stress this enough – summary of the story (no spoilers, please!) 
  2. A question that the story poses (which, of course, makes the reader want to find the answer so much that they’re willing to pay $9.99 for it). What’s going to compel Suzie So-And-So to forgo her mocha lattes this week for your book? 
  3. A little typography dress-up. You don’t have to go to coding boot camp to try on bolds, italics, and colors when setting up your product page. For example, on Amazon, you can:
    • Make things bold: <b>Be Bold My Friend, Be Bold</b>
    • Italicize Things <i>don’t go overboard though here because sometimes readers breeze over italics </i> 
    • Headline: <h1>This is a classier way to do all caps</h1>
    • Amazon Colors: <h2>Jeff Bezos will approve.</h2>
    • Indent: <blockquote>for anyone who likes a good old indent, you’re welcome. </blockquote>

Step 2: Blurb it out

Try to think of your book description in the most succinct terms possible. This isn’t a school book report; it’s like more like an elevator pitch. In other words, don’t blurt it out – blurb it out!

And when it comes to blurbs, our friend Torre is the master. If she didn’t revise the blurb for her first book, she may have switched careers instead of rising to the New York Times best seller list, which is why we always refer aspiring writers to her video tips on the subject. But in brief, she stresses these two essential facts: 

  1. The first three sentences of the blurb matter most. It’s like a teaser trailer – after those three sentences, users are going to have to click “Read More” to well, read more. To keep them scrolling, or get them to move onto the “full trailer,” as it were, those three sentences should stand out by utilizing the problem/question structure mentioned above.

One strong way to do that is to employ the classic proposition “but.” For example: “Will Byers lived a normal life in a boring suburban town. But when a mysterious alien creature shows up, his life turns upside down. Will it ever turn right side up again?” (Read More…)

  1. Leave out unnecessary details. All too often, authors use their blurbs to share irrelevant details like character surnames, where they live, their professions, or other excess exposition to no end. Cut all of that out – just set up the problem and the stakes of the story. You can always go full-on Charles Dickens in the actual book. But don’t make your blurb into Bleak House, or you’ll send readers running for the hills. 

Step 3: Demonstrate (and prove!) a social benefit

You’ve done it all so far: The blurb is short enough for a social media share. Your first three sentences set up a key question and further dilemma. You’ve omitted unnecessary details, like your character’s middle name or their township’s population.

And yet, potential readers are still scrolling to click on other book titles in your category. Yes, it could be other factors like book cover design and reviews, but still – there’s one last ingredient needed to seal the deal on your blurb. This is, of course, why the book matters to the potential buyer. What does your book provide for them? How will it make an impact on their life? Advertisements do it all the time, so why not utilize this technique to sell your book?  

For example, if your book is self-help, be sure to mention that they’ll never think the same way about X problem ever again. Or if it’s fiction, show how your main character is relatable to readers, and how they overcome problems that many of us experience in our own lives.

If you have reviews or testimonials to prove this, even better: up the social proof to the max. And if you’re new to self-publishing, drawing comparisons to pre-existing works is one great way to do it (e.g. “This Gender Bending Historial Fantasy is Games of Thrones meets Queer Eye), or just stress how it’ll change the reader’s way of looking at the world (“fantasy fans and fashionistas will never be the same again…”). 

Takeways

In order to make a successful book blurb, be sure to include:

  1. An enticing lead to grab readers
  2. A question that a reader can only answer by actually reading your book
  3. Proof that the story will benefit the reader’s life – this might be pure entertainment, or genuine self-improvement

There are endless ways to play around with these elements. Try out different options – at least three – and test them with friends and family, as well as pro beta readers. Ask: which description pulls you in? Which one doesn’t do it for you? And why? Or, do an A/B test in Amazon: swap out the different descriptions and see which one performs the best.

Still no sales? Keep re-writing and testing until you do, like Alessandra Torre. Otherwise, accept that the marketplace just may not be ready for this particular book, and start re-examining your content from the ground up.  

Greg Josselyn is a writer for Reedsy, a curated marketplace dedicated to empowering authors. When he’s not covering KDP Select, he writes short fiction and makes podcasts.

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5 Common Mistakes First-Time Authors Make

Author Anthony Avina here. How is everyone today? I’m here to introduce this amazing guest blog post from writer Emmanuel Nataf on the five mistakes authors make on their first time writing books. I hope you guys will enjoy this amazing article and be sure to follow Emmanuel on all of his writing adventures!


Aristotle wrote, “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” In other words, there’s literally no way to learn certain things other than by actually doing them — and writing a book is one such thing.

That being said, aspiring authors can definitely prepare themselves for the process of writing a book by learning from others. With that in mind, here are five common mistakes first-time authors make — and how to avoid them!

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1. Not creating an outline

If your preferred method of writing is to let your pen lead the way, then you’re probably a big fan of freewriting — which is a great exercise! But, in general, setting out to write a book without creating at least a loose outline tends to result in an ever-growing pile of unfinished manuscripts.

Just like you would consult a map to help you drive from Point A to Point B in unfamiliar territory, creating an outline before you start writing a book can help you get from “Once upon a time” to “Happily ever after.” Simply check your outline any time you feel you’re starting to lose the plot.

Here are three popular outline methods you can try out:

  • The Beat Sheet — makes note of just the book’s significant beats (important incidents in the story). Check out an example of Toy Story 3 mapped out by just it’s beats here.
  • The Character Driven Outline — maps out a story through character development.
  • The Synopsis — a detailed and holistic story outline that touches on all important story aspects: characters, conflicts, themes, etc.

2. Not getting to know their characters well enough

If you were to go on an extended trip with someone you barely know, chances are that conflicts of personality or unexpected challenges would come up. However, if you were to travel at length with someone you know well, you would already have an idea of how to navigate any potential conflicts, and would likely find your journey a bit smoother.

Writing a novel is like going on a trip with your main character(s). You’re going to be spending long hours with this character, exploring unfamiliar territory together, and basically relying on one another for a meaningful outcome. So before you set out on the journey of writing a book, get to know your protagonists as much as possible.

In-depth character development involves more than simply coming up with a memorable character name. A great way to get to know your protagonist a little better is by simply asking “them” questions. I know that might sound silly, but the more you ask, the more you’ll answer! To get started, check out Arthur Aron’s 36 Questions That Lead to Love or The Proust Questionnaire.

3. Not reading at length in their genre

If you’re writing a science fiction novel, chances are you’ve probably read Frankenstein, The Time Machine, and other sci-fi classics. It’s unlikely that someone who’s never read a single fantasy novel will suddenly decide to write a book involving an intricate magical system.

That being said, there’s a difference between reading for pleasure vs. to understand a genre.

If you’re planning to write genre fiction, pick up some classics as well as some newer publications before you begin. Read them with a discerning eye, looking for tropes that pop up again and again, new elements that the books bring to the table, and trends that have come and gone within the genre. This will help you get a sense of readers’ expectations, how to ensure your book stands out, and whether your story feels timely.

4. Not devoting enough time to developmental editing

While every writer knows the importance of meticulous proofreading, it can be tempting to rush the stage that comes before a proofread: developmental editing, which involves fine-tuning the story. It can be difficult for authors to do this themselves, as they’re often too close to the story and might not recognize things like plot holes or unclear worldbuilding. So it’s a good idea to consider working with a professional editor or beta readers.

If you do decide to do your own developmental editing, here are a few questions to keep in mind as you edit:

  • Language: Are there any words frequently repeated throughout the manuscript? Are there too many instances of passive voice? Are there filler words that can be removed?
  • Characters: Does the development of the character match the development of the narrative? Are there any instances where a character acts inconsistently?
  • Structure: Does the sequence of the scenes feel logical? Is the structure easy for readers to follow? Does the structure of the scenes allow the story to develop in the best way? Are there any scenes that aren’t completely necessary to the story?
  • Plot: Are there any plot holes? Are there any plotlines that are unresolved?

5. Not following the golden rule: show, don’t tell

This is one of those “rules of storytelling” you hear so often, it’s hard not to roll your eyes when it comes up. And while there’s nothing that encourages you to break the rules quite like art, there are certain tricks of the trade that are long-standing for a reason. “Show, don’t tell” is one of them.

But what does it actually mean?  Well, showing instead of telling aims to immerse readers in a story by putting us in the character’s shoes. Instead of saying “Joe was shy,” we see Joe off to the side at a group event, nervously playing with his cufflinks, avoiding smalltalk by texting on his phone. As Anton Chekhov put it: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining. Show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

While the best way to learn anything is by making mistakes — and then learning how to fix them — I hope this post will help you sidestep some of the more common ones so that you can focus on simply telling a great story.

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Emmanuel Nataf is a founder at Reedsy, a marketplace and set of tools that allows authors and publishers to find top editorial, design and marketing talent. Over 4,000 books have been published using Reedsy’s services.

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