After the title and the book cover, your description is the most important book marketing material.
The book description goes most prominently on the back cover, and the top of your Amazon page (below the price and above the book reviews). It’s crucial it be compelling, because readers make buying decisions from the book description.
In this guide, I’ll walk you through how to write a book description, provide you a template, and include good and bad book description examples.
Download the Scribe Book Description template below, and let’s get started:
Here’s what we’ll cover:
Why Your Book Description Matters
The book description is the pitch to the reader about why they should buy your book. When done right, it directly drives book sales.
There are so many examples of how book descriptions lead to huge changes in sales. One of my favorite stories is for JT McCormick’s book, I Got There.
Despite having a nice cover and receiving good reviews, it wasn’t selling as many copies as it should have. So we dove into the book description, figured out the flaws, and completely revamped it.
Sales doubled – within an hour.
This isn’t uncommon. Often the description is the factor that solidifies in the reader’s mind whether the book is for them or not.
If you get it right, the sale is almost automatic.
If you get it wrong, very little else can really save you.
Remember, people are looking for a reason to not buy your book, so having a good back cover description is key to keeping them on the purchasing track.
How to Write A Book Description
At Scribe, our copywriters use the “Hook, Pain, Pleasure, Legitimacy, Open Loop” format, which is very similar to how we write introductions.
(Note that these instructions are optimized for non-fiction books. Fiction book descriptions follow different rules.)
1. Write A Compelling Hook
Just like a great cover design captures your eye immediately, every good book description you see is interesting from the first line.
People are always looking for a reason to move on to the next thing. Don’t give it to them. Make the first sentence something that grabs them and forces them to read the rest.
Generally speaking, this means focusing on the boldest claim in the book, or the most sensational fact, or the most compelling idea.
2. Describe The Current Pain They Are In
Once you have their attention, then describe the current pain they are in. If you can describe the pain of the reader you can engage them in entertaining the idea of buying the book.
You don’t need to be gratuitous here, all you need to do is be accurate: what pain is in their life? What unsolved problems do they have? Or, what unachieved aspirations grand goals do they have? Clearly and directly articulate these, in plain and simple language.
3. Describe How Your Book Will Solve Their Pain
Then tell them what the book does to help them solve for this pain. Done right, this creates an emotional connection by describing how the book will make the potential reader feel after reading it.
Or even better, what the reader will get out of reading the book—how will their life transform because of this book?
Will it make them happy or rich? Will it help them lose weight or have more friends? What do they get once they read this book?
Be clear about the benefits, don’t insinuate them. You are selling a result to the reader, not a process (even though your book is the process). Explain exactly what the book is about, in clear, obvious terms.
4. Legitimize Yourself To The Reader
This is about letting the reader know why they should listen to you. Why you’re the guide they want to lead them through this journey.
This can be very short, like a book blurb. You want just enough social proof to make them keep reading.
This can also go in the hook. If there’s an impressive fact to mention (e.g. “the New York Times Bestselling Author”), that should be bolded in the first sentence.
Or if there is one salient and amazing thing about you or the book, that can go in the book description.
Something like, “From the author of [INSERT WELL KNOWN BESTSELLING BOOK.]”
Or, “From the world’s most highly decorated Marine sniper, this is the definitive book on shooting.”
5. Create An Open Loop
You state the problem or question your book addresses, you show that you solve or answer it, but you also leave a small key piece out.
Like a cliffhanger. This holds the reader’s attention and leaves them wanting more.
You do want to be very explicit about what they will learn, but you don’t have to go deep into the “how.” This is to create an “open loop” so to speak; you are keeping back the secret sauce that is actually in the book.
This being said, do not make the reader struggle to understand what your point is, or how to get the reader there. This is especially true for prescriptive books (how-to, self-help, motivational, etc.). People like to understand the basics of the “how” (as well as the “what”), especially if it’s something new or novel. This is a balance that our examples will show you how to hit.
Book Description Examples
Examples of Good Book Descriptions
Cameron Herold’s Vivid Vision
Many corporations have slick, flashy mission statements that ultimately do little to motivate employees and less to impress customers, investors, and partners.
But there is a way to share your excitement for the future of your company in a clear, compelling, and powerful way and entrepreneur and business growth expert Cameron Herold can show you how.
Vivid Vision is a revolutionary tool that will help owners, CEOs, and senior managers create inspirational, detailed, and actionable three-year mission statements for their companies. In this easy-to-follow guide, Herold walks organization leaders through the simple steps to creating their own Vivid Vision, from brainstorming to sharing the ideas to using the document to drive progress in the years to come.
By focusing on mapping out how you see your company looking and feeling in every category of business, without getting bogged down by data and numbers, Vivid Vision creates a holistic road map to success that will get all of your teammates passionate about the big picture.
Your company is your dream, one that you want to share with your staff, clients, and stakeholders. Vivid Vision is the tool you need to make that dream a reality.
What Makes It Good?
Three things make this a great book description:
- Engaging hook: Everyone knows that mission statements are BS, but how many people say this out loud? By doing this it takes a stand and engages the potential reader immediately.
- Important keywords: We tend to advocate staying away from buzzwords, but in some cases—especially business books—the right use can work. This works. Words and phrases like “easy to follow” and “simple steps” and “drive progress” do well here.
- Clear pain and benefit: This book is not appealing to everyone, but to the perfect reader, it’s very appealing. It clearly articulates a real problem (“slick, flashy mission statements that ultimately do little”) and then tells you the result it delivers (“detailed, actionable three-year mission statements for their companies”) and how it gets you there (“mapping out how you see your company looking and feeling in every category of business”).
Tim Ferriss’s 4 Hour Work Week:
Forget the old concept of retirement and the rest of the deferred-life plan—there is no need to wait and every reason not to, especially in unpredictable economic times.
Whether your dream is escaping the rat race, experiencing high-end world travel, earning a monthly five-figure income with zero management, or just living more and working less, The 4-Hour Workweek is the blueprint.
This step-by-step guide to luxury lifestyle design teaches:
- How Tim went from $40,000 per year and 80 hours per week to $40,000 per month and 4 hours per week
- How to outsource your life to overseas virtual assistants for $5 per hour and do whatever you want
- How blue-chip escape artists travel the world without quitting their jobs
- How to eliminate 50% of your work in 48 hours using the principles of a forgotten Italian economist
- How to trade a long-haul career for short work bursts and frequent “mini-retirements
What Makes It Good?
There are three things that make this good.
- It has a great hook: Tim immediately tells you why this book matters to YOU—because you can stop waiting for retirement. Who doesn’t want to retire now? OK, I’m interested, tell me more…
- It has a bulleted list with specific pain and pleasure: A vague promise is no good if it doesn’t deliver. Tim makes specific promises about the information in the book, both about things that have happened, and things it will teach you.
- It makes you want to read more: After the contrast of the big broad goal and the specific information, at the very least, any reader is going to keep going into the reviews and other information. You’re hooked—you want to know HOW he teaches this.
Philip McKernan’s One Last Talk:
If you were about to leave this planet, what would you say, and who would you say it to?
This shocking and provocative question is at the core of the remarkable and inspiring book, One Last Talk: Why Your Truth Matters And How To Deliver It. This book emerged from the speaking series designed to help people discover their truth, and then speak it out loud, developed by renowned coach Philip McKernan.
In this book, McKernan goes beyond the event, and dives into what it means to discover your truth and speak it, why people should do this, and then deeply explains exactly how this can be done. If you feel living more authentically could allow you to have a greater impact on others, or you can’t find the words to speak your truth as boldly as you know you need to, this is the book for you.
Make no mistake, the path McKernan lays out is simple, but not easy, because your greatest gift lies next to your deepest wounds.
What Makes It Good?
This is one of the best book descriptions I’ve read. It grabs you from the first sentence, and forces you to read the rest, which is short and to the point.
Since it is his first book it gives the credentials of McKernan, then explains what the book is about, where it came from, states the huge question it addresses, and it does so in a way that creates an emotional reaction. Who doesn’t want to speak their truth?
Examples of Bad Book Descriptions
Ben Horowitz’s, The Hard Thing About Hard Things
Ben Horowitz, co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz and one of Silicon Valley’s most respected and experienced entrepreneurs, offers essential advice on building and running a startup—practical wisdom for managing the toughest problems business school doesn’t cover, based on his popular blog.
While many people talk about how great it is to start a business, very few are honest about how difficult it is to run one. Ben Horowitz analyzes the problems that confront leaders every day, sharing the insights he’s gained developing, managing, selling, buying, investing in, and supervising technology companies. A lifelong rap fanatic, he amplifies business lessons with lyrics from his favorite songs, telling it straight about everything from firing friends to poaching competitors, cultivating and sustaining a CEO mentality to knowing the right time to cash in.
Filled with his trademark humor and straight talk, The Hard Thing About Hard Things is invaluable for veteran entrepreneurs as well as those aspiring to their own new ventures, drawing from Horowitz’s personal and often humbling experiences.
What’s Wrong With It:
This description is bad because—based on this description—the book seems somewhat bland and boring.
If I don’t know anything about Horowitz before I read that description, what in there makes me want to know more? Nor does it really tell me anything about the substance of what he says in the book, and it substantially undersells both Horowitz’s prominence and the resonance and importance of the book’s message. And who cares that he likes rap? What does that matter to me, the reader?
As a side note: this book is very good. The book description just reads like a bad self-publishing novel (and they re-did it since then).
Douglas Rushkoff’s Coercion: Why We Listen to What “They” Say
Noted media pundit and author of Playing the Future Douglas Rushkoff gives a devastating critique of the influence techniques behind our culture of rampant consumerism. With a skilled analysis of how experts in the fields of marketing, advertising, retail atmospherics, and hand-selling attempt to take away our ability to make rational decisions, Rushkoff delivers a bracing account of media ecology today, consumerism in America, and why we buy what we buy, helping us recognize when we’re being treated like consumers instead of human beings.
What’s Wrong With It:
Short descriptions are great, but this is too short to even tell me what the book says. This is an example of overselling, without doing it right.
Look at the descriptions, “devastating” “skilled analysis” and “bracing account”—this description sounds like he’s doing what he says he’s warning us about: selling without substance. In no place does this description connects the reader to the issues in the book in a way that is engaging or compelling.
More Book Description Best Practices
1. Mindset Shift: It’s an Ad, Not a Summary
Don’t think of the book description as a synopsis. So many authors want to put everything about their book in this section. Resist that urge (you can do that with book blurbs, which are a different thing).
It’s an advertisement. An elevator pitch. Think of it like a verbal book trailer for your book. It’s designed to make people want to read your book. You want them to feel a call to action to buy it.
2. Use Compelling Keywords
It’s not enough to be accurate, you need to use high traffic keywords that increase the likelihood your book will get picked up in search.
For example, if Sports Illustrated does a book you’d want to not only say Sports Illustrated Magazine but also mention the names of the A-list athletes in the book.
Even better, use words that evoke an emotional on the part of the reader. Don’t use “jerk” when “asshole” will work. Amazon especially rewards compelling keywords.
3. Keep It Short
On average, Amazon Bestsellers have descriptions that are about 200 words long. Most descriptions are broken up into two or three paragraphs.
The easier to read, the better. You want it to look approachable one the book page, especially for the top Amazon book description.
4. Simple Writing
Keep the writing simple. Use short, clear sentences. You don’t want anyone to struggle to comprehend what you’re trying to convey because you’ve strung too many ideas together in one long run-on sentence.
5. Write as the Publisher, Not the Author
This will probably be obvious to you, but the book description should always be in a third person objective voice, and never your author voice. It is always written as someone else describing your book to potential customers.
6. No Insecurity
Don’t compare your book to other books. I see this all the time, and all it does is make the book (and the author) immediately look inferior. Plus, a reader may hate the book you are comparing yourself to and you’ll lose them.
The only place a comparison makes sense is if you are quoting a very reputable source that makes the comparison itself.
7. Don’t Insist on Doing it Yourself
I can’t tell you how many amazing authors I’ve had come to me utterly befuddled because they couldn’t write their own book description.
This is normal.
The reality is that the author is often the worst person to write their own book description.
They’re too close to the material and too emotionally invested. If this is the case, we recommend either asking a friend to help, or going to a professional editor or even better—a professional copywriter—for assistance.