Sarah Potter Writes

Pursued by the Muses of prose, poetry, and music.

The Nightmare of Writing Your Own Amazon Book Description

Question: What does an author do when all the advice about writing a book description for Amazon is contradictory?

Answer: She slowly goes mad.

Writer's Insanity#1

I have a big problem. My family is sick of me footling around with the words that might make or break a book sale, quite apart from the possibility that Amazon will get cheesed off with me revising my book description every other day.

Here is some of the advice out there, all of it from proclaimed experts.

  • If you don’t write a description of at least 500 words the search engine algorithms won’t pick it up
  • Use all 4000 characters allocated to you by Amazon
  • Keep it under 150 words
  • You have a few seconds to grab a buyer’s attention, so do it in two sentences
  • Put all of your keywords in the Amazon description for SEO optimisation
  • Putting your keywords in the description serves no purpose and irritates Amazon
  • Add snippets of reviews at the foot of your description
  • Amazon does not allow snippets of reviews in the description

I could give many more examples, but will stop there.

Now I’m going to ask my family of bloggers to imagine they’ve never heard of me and they’re looking to buy a book on Amazon.Desiccation ebook_image

Then I would like them to tell me which of the book descriptions below (if any) would grab them enough to commit to buying a copy of my novel. If you don’t like science fiction and fantasy, you’ll need to imagine that you love this combination of genres, just for the purpose of this exercise.

The numbered examples are in the order they were created, beginning with the one based on the blurb on the back of my book (which I no longer thinks passes muster).

Beneath the last example is a poll for you to complete. Any further feedback much appreciated.

Example 1

Autumn Term 1967, Samantha, the new head girl, intends to reign supreme and exploit every loophole in the system to her advantage. This includes running an illicit nocturnal business in the gymnasium and conducting midnight seances in the library, but she hasn’t bargained on rough London mod, Joe, entering the equation.

Scholarship girl Janet senses a disruption to the natural order, impossible to explain away with science.  Soon, the teachers and pupils start to exhibit multiple personality changes and develop a hive mentality, with Janet the despised outsider.

And now a hippie pixie who claims he’s an expert in repairing dimensions wants Janet’s help to mend what Samantha has broken before it’s too late…

Example 2

St Trinian’s meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Autumn Term 1967, mayhem breaks out at an élite British boarding school on the south coast of England. Samantha, the new head girl, intends to reign supreme and exploit every loophole in the system to her advantage. This includes running an illicit nocturnal business in the gymnasium and conducting midnight seances in the library, but she hasn’t bargained on London mod, Joe, entering the equation. Leader of a gang on probation for petty crimes, Joe has suffered a lifetime of bombardment by malign spirits. Now, thanks to the head girl’s flirtation with the occult, he has become the conduit for something that pales these spirits into insignificance.

Haunted by the mysterious death of the school caretaker the previous term, scholarship girl Janet senses a disruption to the natural order, impossible to explain away with science. When teachers and students start to exhibit multiple personality changes and develop a hive mentality, Janet becomes the despised outsider. Can she trust, as her protector, a hippie pixie who claims he’s an expert in repairing dimensions? And will she muster the courage to help him reverse a catastrophe that could destroy humankind?

Huddled in a corner, watching, loathing, their world lost to them. A human had dragged them here, away from their own kind. Alone, abandoned, drifting in a world in between.

Example 3

When mayhem erupts at a British boarding school, scholarship pupil Janet discovers the narrow dividing line between magic and science. It’s 1967 and the new head girl Samantha intends to play the system for all its worth, but this backfires [on her]* big time after she invites some delinquent mods to a seance and their gang leader causes an interdimensional rift. With bodysnatching aliens on the rampage, the pupils and teachers develop a hive mentality determined to ensnare Janet into its collective consciousness. Can she entrust herself to the protection of a hippie pixie who claims he’s an expert in repairing dimensions, and will she muster the courage to help him reverse a catastrophe that could destroy humankind?

[* I’m not sure if the words “on her” are necessary]

Example 4

Huddled in a corner, watching, loathing, their world lost to them. A human had dragged them here, away from their own kind. Alone, abandoned, drifting in a world in between.

When mayhem erupts at a British boarding school, scholarship pupil Janet discovers the narrow dividing line between magic and science. It’s 1967 and the new head girl, Samantha, intends to play the system for all its worth, but this backfires big time after she invites some delinquent mods to a seance and their gang leader causes an interdimensional rift.

With bodysnatching aliens on the rampage, the pupils and teachers develop a hive mentality determined to ensnare Janet into its collective consciousness. Can she entrust herself to the protection of a hippie pixie who claims he’s an expert in repairing dimensions, and will she muster the courage to help him reverse a catastrophe that could destroy humankind?

 

Thank you for taking the time to read my post and complete this poll 🙂

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16 thoughts on “The Nightmare of Writing Your Own Amazon Book Description

  1. I liked four, but I believe it could still be strengthened further. All versions also read very UK-English, which I think is absolutely fine, but may be less catchy with other American readers. For example, the use of the word mods is understandable but unexpected.

    It is also not clear who the main character is. Is it Janet or Samantha, or is the story from both of their perspectives? If both, how does Samantha intend to play the system, or more importantly, why? Isn’t she already head girl? What are the stakes for her? Is she a threat to Janet? If the story isn’t from Samanta’s perspective, then why should I care about her?

    Also, does mayhem erupt because Janet stumbles across the interdimensional rift, or did Janet’s stumbling cause the rift in the first place? The cause and effect isn’t quite clear.

    I’d also recommend tightening up the first line. It reads passively, and back copy should be active voice.

    The second paragraph does a great job of explaining the stakes for Janet and can be left alone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, thanks Allie for your feedback. Those are some most constructive comments you’ve made. It’s back to the drawing board for me, but at least I know what needs working on now. I had wondered about that first line being passive. It’s an excerpt from the book, where it worked okay in the passive voice as it was part of a dream.

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  2. Two is my favorite…

    Example 1

    Throws the reader on a bit of a loop as to the setting. Even though I am aware of the story now, I am not sure if it is in a boarding school. While the descriptions of the plot are important, I feel that I am missing some of the details of the setting and characters that might spark my interest.

    One good element at the beginning is introducing the characters by name, then their “title”. I think that this helps the reader to read the later as a part of their character rather than a title or flat out adjective. For example, when I read, “Samantha, the new head girl” I first read the name, and feel that the new head girl part—while I know is significant—is simply a part of her identity, and not all of it. But when I read “the new head girl Samantha” I read it as a direct title or adjective, and I think of that as the primary part of her identity. I think because we tend to use titles before names we are more likely to project that idea onto a person (such as Dr., Queen, General, etc.) and the “new head girl” part can feel a little bit of a self-placed title and project a certain ego onto her. Now, this might very well be true and exploited well, but it can also strengthen the idea of certain stereotypes. Maybe I read is differently because I am in America, but I can imagine a great number of people associating Samantha’s title or character with someone from Mean Girls. Having Janet also described as “scholarship girl” also hammers this home. Yes, they might be the brainy girl and the diva-like controlling queen bee, but you don’t want to flat out call them that. Do we even need to know that Janet has a scholarship? Is there something more important to her character than that? While I believe Samantha’s title is important to the entire description, I do not believe Janet’s. In fact, Janet comes across as predictable and flat (think the responsible, conservative, brainy character) but in this first example Samantha comes across as very strange and interesting. Someone socially controlling who is also into weird magic that calls out aliens? Count me in! That sounds unique and interesting, and we know she obviously has a slightly unhealthy obsession with someone despite her status. Since your story is a unique mash of genres, try not to invoke archetypes and stereotypes within a plot description where they overshadow the individual personhood of the character, people can get caught on the types rather than the characters.

    You elaborate more on Joe and the gang’s role in the séance (that is, joining one) in a later description. That is important. Otherwise we don’t know why he is of any significance. It could end up being because she’s falling in love for all we know.

    It trails off, I would like to hear a more solid conclusion.

    And, as mentioned earlier, clarifying what characters are leads would be immensely helpful.

    Example 2

    I’ll be honest here, it bothers me when someone compares my stuff to another piece of literature/movie/pop culture, because once that happens they end up missing the literary part of it and end up trying to compare all the genre elements to what they have seen before. While it is a helpful description, don’t shoot yourself in the foot. Remove the “St Trinian’s meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers”.

    That line also can ruin part of the plot, ish, so you want to be careful of that.

    Specific description of setting is excellent.

    I don’t think I need to know that much about Joe, and I already know that he causes something significant to the conflict because you said two lines earlier that he was unexpected by Samantha. (Again, paying attention to leads versus sides.)

    Ah-ha! Something better for Janet. Her attempts to explain away the strange happenings make her sound more human.

    Not sure if I am a fan of the final question. Seems pretty typical.

    I like this last part but am not sure if the voice matches with the tone of the rest of the description. The description is so quirky this feels a bit out of place, even if it is grabbing. Then again, you could play off this and incorporate a bit more of the horror element of the book into the description.

    Example 3

    “On her” is not necessary.

    I feel this example explains a little too much about the first part of Janet’s narrative arch. We need more details, but more ambiguity…

    Example 4

    Again, I really enjoy that part, it sets the mood for the piece.

    I wish I could pick up a more immediate connection to the line before (perhaps starting with the part about Samantha would help).

    Again, I am not fond of the body-snatching bit, it makes the problem too explicit. I like the last part better how it was worded in Example 2.

    My overall advice is to tighten. Give specifics but not solutions. Describe characters, not types. Don’t assume the people will know what happens, but leave an air of mystery. Make us want to see these people. You obviously care about these characters, so show them briefly to us as you can best show them.

    Also, take this with a grain of salt. You know what you want to say, so say it, and say it proudly. Good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yep, I’d go with 4 as it’s punchier. It gets to the point much quicker than the others and with the first bit in bold it gives the reader a dual POV. Some good observations from Allie P. I know you want feedback based on those blurbs alone, but having read the book I never felt that Samantha was the central character, it was Janet for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Dave 🙂 Yes, definitely Janet is the central character. Now I’m wondering, having read what The Mary Writer says, whether calling Janet a scholarship pupil is stereotyping her and I need to find something that “shows” rather than “tells” who she is. …So much to think about!

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  4. I read the comments first- being a total neoophyte and after reading the excerpts a couple of times I think that 4 is the way to go too for their reasons!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sunshine Jansen on said:

    I just wrote a logline and summary for my book (though it’s only 2/3 written) just to help crystallize its main themes in my own head — as well as to help me be *concise* when people ask me what it’s about — so I can now relate to just how hard it is! The book is great, by the way; enjoying it thoroughly!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve succeeded (I hope), in producing what I want now, taking into account all the very helpful suggestions made by everybody. It’s a total rewrite but I think it works better. I’m so glad you’re enjoying my book so much. It makes me very happy to hear that 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. You’ve had some really useful comments already Sarah – example 4 was my favourite – nice and punchy.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: That Eureka Moment re Book Blurb -v- Physical Assault by Blueberries | Sarah Potter Writes

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