After the cover, the two most important factors in a prospective reader’s decision whether or not to buy your book are the book’s title and description.
One of the great unfairnesses of our trade is that the skills and talents required to write a really good book are not the same skills and talents that go into coming up with excellent titles and writing brilliant promotional copy. But you can learn both kinds of writing, and if you want to succeed that’s what you’ll need to do. In this post, we’ll dive deep into these facets of boosting the “curb appeal” of your books in these two vital areas.
The Art and Science of Book Titling
People read your book’s title first, and its interior second (if at all). So you need to make this shine. Before you even begin brainstorming, first write down the titles of the top ten sellers in your genre. I’m not kidding. Write them down, longhand, so you think about them and fully understand each one. You will find themes, rules, and commonalities. For example:
- Nonfiction books usually have straightforward and descriptive titles
- Most fiction books do not have subtitles, though some humor books do. So do a lot of nonfiction books.
- Children’s books should explicitly call out the intended audience so busy parents don’t have to think hard about whether or not it’s a good fit for their child
- Specific genres have specific conventions. Consider 9 Million Ways to Die vs. A Song of Ice and Fire vs. 2001: A Space Odyssey vs. All For Love. You can probably guess the genres without any more information. Never set readers up to guess wrong.
Beyond this, several guidelines apply to all titles for authors like us.
Don’t be cute. You might consider a title really clever and witty. You might even be right. But if your title confuses your reader, they won’t buy your book. Worse, it might make them think they’re getting one kind of book. They’ll get angry when they realize their mistake, and may return the book or give you a bad review.
Short beats long. This is important both for clarity and cover. A short, sharp title is easy to understand and remember. It’s also easier to fit on your cover without making things look crowded. Don’t opt for an inferior short title over a better long one, but in the event of a tie (or even a close call), go with brevity.
Use Camel Case. That’s when you capitalize the initial letter of any significant word in your title or subtitle. All caps or all lowercase looks unprofessional and will cost you sales. You can go with all caps on the cover, if the font looks better that way, but even then you’ll want those first letters to be larger in most situations. In your listings and descriptions, though, it’s all Camel, all the time.
Proofread: this should go without saying, but have somebody proofread your title before you launch your book. Errors there will tank your project just as it gets started.
You might be tempted to point out that sometimes Stephen King, or George R. R. Martin, or Stephanie Meyer may have broken some of them. They get to. When we’re selling as many books as they do, then we get to make our own rules, too.
The Tao of Book Descriptions
Your cover grabs the eye. Your title gets that first click. It’s your description that makes the sale. It's what moves them from thinking “Hey! That’s neat!” to actually clicking the Buy Now button and bringing you one sale closer to your goal as a writer.
There’s a lot of complexity to book descriptions, and you can waste a lot of time brainstorming new and unique ideas. However, we’ve found most authors get the most out of a simple four-point outline:
- Enticing opening line that demands further attention.
- Short synopsis of the story
- Strong selling paragraph
- Call to action
If you follow this structure, you can see strong results without “reinventing the wheel” each time you sit down to write a description. Experienced writers might recognize how much this looks like a query letter. Let’s look at each part in detail.
The Enticing Opening Line
You must hook your reader right away with a line that intrigues, shocks, instills curiosity, inspires, or is deeply relatable to the reader. If you don’t nail this first line, it’s unlikely anybody will read the second. Go big.
The Short Synopsis
Provide three to five lines here that describe what the book is about, developing an emotional connection with the reader and helping them understand what to expect from the title. Don’t go too deep here. Just address the main tropes of the genre and action of the story, or the main questions a nonfiction book will address.
Do not be dishonest, misleading, or even unclear here. The worst thing you can do is to have readers buy books they think are something else.
The Strong Selling Paragraph
This third paragraph is really about the reader. Explain in clear, friendly, exciting tones, why they are going to love reading it. Tell them how the story will impact them, or how the nonfiction ideas will change their lives for the better. Keep it to 2-3 lines, and make it really shine.
The Call to Action
End with a clear, upfront, and outright request for the reader to buy your book. This must be part of your description, and it must be the last thing they read. A lot of people feel this makes little sense, but the statistics don’t lie. Descriptions with a call to action outsell those without one.
Before you put your description online, you must have somebody else read it over and look for typos. Having grammar or spelling mistakes in your book description will instantly turn off a lot of potential readers.
Readers can forgive typos or poor editing in your book if they’re into the story or love the characters. You haven’t had time to establish that kind of relationship in the description, so it must be flawless.
Once you’ve had your description proofread, you can upload the text for both Kindle and print editions without making any other changes. You won’t have to set up a new edition, and you can A/B test new descriptions all the time.
- Check out Apex Authors Training 248 – Hot Seats and Ask Us Anything, or just about any of our Hot Seat sessions, for advice on choosing titles and subtitles.
- Submit your book for one of our Hot Seats to have us come up with specific suggestions for your book on one of our live training calls.
- Watch Apex Authors Training 112 – Sell More Books through Copywriting for a complete walkthrough from our special guest Bryan Cohen on the formula his business uses for writing book descriptions for hundreds of authors.
- Watch Apex Authors Training 182 – How to “Close the Sale” at Amazon w/a Kick-Butt Book Description and Apex Authors Training 203 – Using the Written Word to Find More Readers for all of the different ways you can write about your book and make sales.
- Check out our Book Descriptions Cheatsheet, which can be found with our Checklists in the Getting Started section, for an easily printed reminder of what you need for your book description along with examples.
- Ask for a Hot Seat session on one of live trainings for personalized advice about how you can optimize your description.