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Good book descriptions, bios and reviews can be hard to come by, but there are several things you can do to get the best out of them. These three fields work together to convince a reader to buy your book, so it’s in your best interest to make these customer-facing metadata values top-notch.
Let’s take a look at two book descriptions as examples. The first is from David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day in hardcover:
The second is from Sedaris’s Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls in paperback:
There are clearly several big differences between these two book descriptions, yet one surprising similarity: the two descriptions are about the same word count. This first has just over 200 words in one block of text, while the second has 175 words effectively broken up into chunks.
Book descriptions should take the opportunity to not just capture attention, but to also hold it. They need to be quick and punchy, easy to read, and concise.
Because retailer sites tend to truncate book descriptions with a “read more” link, it’s a good idea to put your best foot forward. The first thing customers should see is an attention-grabbing headline. This can consist of review quotes (either for the current book or a previous book by the same author), book quotes, or awards won. A quick one- or two-sentence quote is all that is needed. And the use of bold text can help draw in the eye as well.
HTML formatting can be used quite effectively and works on sites like Amazon and Google. When using tags, don’t try to get fancy by changing fonts, sizes and colors of the text, since this can be easily abused and often won’t work on retailer websites. Keep it simple—bold italics and linebreaks are all you need.
Follow up the headline with what the book is about. Walls of text are extremely difficult to read, especially when text messages are limited to 160 characters and tweets are 140 characters. Readers want to move fast, so help them by chopping up the text. In the two examples above, you can see that a reader can either slog through 200 words or skip through it quickly. Keep descriptions to 150-300 words, because any more than that can seem like reading an essay. Paragraphs should be a maximum of four sentences, but ideally only two or three lines.
Aside from talking about the book, using reviews and mentioning awards, the book description area can also be used to talk up the contributors. Some sites don’t include a contributor bio section, so use this as an opportunity to summarize who they are: bestselling author, popular blogger, award-winning illustrator, or any other credentials they may have. Try to weave it into the description organically by saying something like, “From the bestselling author of X…” or as in the above second example, the line about David Sedaris works as a great conclusion.
When writing actual bios for the authors, take this chance to make them shine. Authors will often want to write something themselves (they’re writers, after all), but you should feel comfortable making suggestions to their benefit. Mention awards and honors the contributors have received. Talk about previous books they’ve written or worked on, either in the same series or with the same publisher. Works in magazines and journals are also great notables, as well as articles featuring the contributors.
And finally, a book sells even better when people are already talking about it. Advance reader copies (ARCs) will get you those desired review quotes, which go into their own separate section. Use as many as possible, but don’t let them get too long. For editorial reviews, one or two lines is adequate—you want to provide the highlights of the review, not provide the entire review.
With these three highly visible pieces of metadata taken care of, the next big task is to make sure all the invisible metadata is accurate. The next part will be all about category codes, keywords and other classification methods.
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