Many authors really neglect their description, either because they don’t understand its importance, or because it’s so hard to get right – if you don’t know what you’re doing.
The good news is that although there is an art to writing a good description, there are certain rules you can follow that will make your book blurb sizzle.
Which brings me to one of my favourite expressions, commonly used in advertising:
Sell the sizzle, not the steak
That means you need to tell people how the product (in this case, your book) will make them feel rather than just giving them a bland description of what it’s about.
That’s why thrillers are often described as terrifying or pulse-pounding.
Romance novels are called heart-warming or uplifting (or maybe heart-breaking).
Horror novels are spine-tingling, literary novels are thought-provoking and misery memoirs are tear-jerking.
Writing descriptions for novels
Let’s look at Catch Your Death, as I am certain the description helped it get to No.1:
A secret conspiracy. A killer virus. A race to save the world.
Imagine if Dan Brown, Steig Larsson and Michael Crichton sat down together to write a fast-paced medical conspiracy thriller set in the English countryside, featuring evil scientists, stone-cold killers, a deadly virus and a beautiful but vulnerable Harvard professor.
That’s CATCH YOUR DEATH, the No.1 UK Bestseller from Louise Voss and Mark Edwards, the writing team behind the smash hit thriller KILLING CUPID.
Esteemed virologist Kate Maddox thought she was escaping to a new life. But before she can face the future she must deal with the ghosts of the past.
20 years ago, Kate was a volunteer at a research unit in the English countryside where scientists experimented to find a cure for the common cold.
That summer, Kate fell in love with a handsome young doctor, Stephen. But her stay at the unit ended in Stephen’s tragic death and Kate fled to Boston and a new life at Harvard.
Now, Kate is back in England and on the run again – this time, from her cruel husband – and trying to find a fresh start for her and her young son. But a chance encounter with Stephen’s twin brother, Paul, sets her on a terrifying path of discovery. What really happened at the Cold Research Unit two decades ago?
As Kate and Paul travel across England in search of the answers, they are unaware they are being hunted. Pursued by both her estranged husband and a psychopathic killer who has an unhealthy obsession with his quarry, Kate must fight to solve the puzzles of the past – uncovering a sickening betrayal and a truth she never dreamed possible.
CATCH YOUR DEATH is a fun, page-turning thriller that also asks serious questions about how much we can rely on the people we entrust with our lives.
It’s quite a long description – longer than most – and your description doesn’t need to be this long but it’s deliberately long because I wanted to get readers into the story, and to feel excited about wanting to read the book.
Let’s break it down.
“A secret conspiracy. A killer virus. A race to save the world. “
This is a shoutline. If this was a print book, this line would appear on the front cover or at the top of the back cover. In this one line, I tell the reader what kind of book this is. You immediately know what it’s about, that this is going to be a commercial thriller.
There are several ways to approach the strapline. You could ask a question:
“Memories define us. So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep?” (Before I Go To Sleep)
Or hit the reader with the hook of what the book’s about:
“A fight to the death – on live TV.” (The Hunger Games)
Or use some clever wordplay:
“Twenty years. Two People. One Day.” (One Day)
Personally, I would go for a line that describes the book – in an exciting way – in a single line, or ask an interesting question. Think about what would hook you if you were browsing Amazon. What are some of the universal topics that people are interested in? Think about emotions, fears and desires.
In Part 2 of this article I will look at the introduction.