Many writers struggle with writing the description for the stories they’ve just poured their soul into over the last few weeks/months/years.
Who am I to try and answer this question?
A few months ago I joined the launch of the Lei Crime Kindle World. (If you don’t know about kindle worlds, you should go look them up, after you finish this post, of course.) During that process, we exchanged our descriptions and offered them up for critique. I found that I enjoyed tinkering with those descriptions and trying to make them stronger.
- Open with a question or a short, catchy description.
You don’t absolutely have to use a tagline, but thinking up some taglines will help you later with Twitter posts. Besides that, it will prime your mind to write an awesome book blurb. If you can pare your story down to a tagline, then you’ll have an easier time of expanding that into a decent description.
- Focus on your main character(s).
A lot of authors throw in the names of extraneous characters. Having more than one or two names on the back cover copy can get confusing.
- Avoid giving a full synopsis of your story.
Oh, I think I’ve broken this one from time to time, but people don’t want anything that could be a spoiler to ruin their reading experience. If you plan to pitch to an agent or traditional publisher, you’ll probably need to do a 1 page synopsis at some point, but the back cover copy is not the same thing. Keep some things secret in the description.
- Stay focused on the major story arc.
It’s easy to go off into some of the side challenges the characters will face, but keep your description zeroed in on what really matters. There are a ton of additional details to be discovered in your actual story, but you have very little time to get your point across during the description.
- Be cautious about putting the title in the description.
It can be done but it often doesn’t look natural. Likely people will be staring at your book cover, so your title will be fresh in their minds. I wouldn’t worry about trying to work the title into the description.
- Keep the description relatively short.
The blurb, back cover copy, book description, whatever you want to call it is your baited hook to get the reader to check out your work. If we’re going with a fishing analogy, writing too much would be like trying to shove 6 worms on one hook. It’s wasteful and messy and might even do more harm than good for you.
- Keep your writing crisp, clear, and simple.
This doesn’t necessary translate to short sentences, but you’ll want to seek a certain flow within the paragraphs of your description. I don’t mean to sound harsh here, but the reality is that if your description falters or comes across as stilted, fewer readers will risk giving it a chance.
- Don’t be afraid to vary paragraph size.
I know in English class we’re taught to write 3-5 sentences to make a complete paragraph, but in your description, think suspense. Regardless of which genre you’re writing in, you’re a suspense writer when you put the description together. Keep the reader hooked. Short sentences that make up their own paragraph can be very powerful if used well, but don’t overdo them. It’s only riveting if it’s rare.
- Close with a question or with a statement about the stakes the characters face.
The job of your description is to get the reader to think, I’ve got to know what happens.
- Have somebody look over your description and give you suggestions.
This might seem obvious, but if you gave your description to a few trusted people, you’d probably get some great suggestions about what works and doesn’t work for them. As with anything writing related, you want somebody who can look at your work objectively.
Seal of a Monk by Eden Baylee – First Draft of Description
Kauai is ancient jungle full of travelers seeking unconventional experiences.
In SEAL of a Monk, Lainey Lee returns to Hawaii to manage a silent meditation course on the Coconut Coast. Twenty-five women are under her care for ten days in a remote location, separated from men and civilization. Lainey expects only inner peace on this trip, but four days into the course, one of the meditators disappears without a trace—her best friend’s daughter.
Did she leave of her own free will, or is she the victim of a plot to lure her away? Bound by duty and friendship, Lainey is desperate until an unexpected ally comes to her aid. Maxamillian Scott is a retired Navy SEAL with unique skills.
Together, they must find a missing girl, but in the process, can they also unravel the mystery of each other?
Comments: I like the beginning sentence. Title is superfluous here. I almost feel the retired SEAL part is too, but she seems attached to it, so I should keep it. We know it’s her friend’s daughter so the duty and friendship part isn’t needed. I like the idea of the end question. First part is strong, but the end seems too romancey.
My Suggested Rewrite for Eden Baylee:
The ancient jungles of Kauai offer the perfect place to seek peace.
Despite the terror she experienced on her last trip, Lainey Lee returns to Hawaii to manage a silent meditation course on the Coconut Coast of Kauai. The plan is to spend ten days in a gorgeous yet remote location teaching twenty-five women how to find inner peace.
Four days into the trip that plan changes when one of the meditators disappears without a trace.
Did the girl wander off or was she lured or forced away? Where is she? Is she in danger? Lainey’s frantic to answer those questions. As she reaches her wits’ end, she finds unexpected help in the form of a retired navy SEAL, Maxamillian Scott.
Now Lainey has two mysteries to solve: what happened to (enter girl’s name) and the case of her own heart. Can she ever trust a man again?
Eden’s Final Description:
The ancient jungles of Kauai provide the perfect setting for self-discovery.
Despite the terror she experienced on her last trip, Lainey Lee returns to Hawaii to manage a silent meditation course on the Coconut Coast. Twenty-five women are under her care for ten days in a beautiful and remote location. Lainey expects to find inner peace, but four days into the course, one of the meditators disappears without a trace.
Did the girl leave of her own free will, or was she lured away by a strange cult? Lainey is frantic to answer these questions. As her desperation grows, she finds help from an unexpected source—a retired Navy SEAL named Maxamillian Scott.
Now, Lainey has two mysteries to solve: what happened to the missing girl and the case of her own heart. Can she ever trust a man again?
Torn Roots by Scott Bury – First Draft of Description
Hawaii is volcanoes, jungle and rocky shores. An irresistible magnet for people and money.
Detective Pono Kaihale has just accepted a six-month term as Acting Lieutenant in the fabled town of Hana on Maui’s rain-forested coast. He’s anticipating a quiet period in his career, dealing with nothing more challenging than lost hikers and maybe the occasional domestic dispute. In his second week on the job, a brilliant geologist claims to have evidence about who started a forest fire on the slopes of Mount Haaleaka, Maui’s volcano.
That begins a series of baffling events. A beautiful environmentalist stages an illegal protest against a luxury development on the fragile shore. That night, an arsonist sets the same development site ablaze and a violent woman disappears. A Homeland Security helicopter chases the environmentalist across the island and a new FBI agent shows up at his office early in the morning.
When Pono’s hunting buddy gets into the middle of this storm, Pono knows this case will be worthy even of his former partner, Lei Texeira.
Comments: I like the opening but it seems choppy. Why does it matter that it’s a six-month term? Why do we care what his title is here? Setting is great info. The transition to the geologist and forest fire evidence is jarring. When the FBI agent shows up isn’t necessary. We know this will be part of the Lei Crime Kindle World, but the mention of Lei here is distracting.
My Suggested Rewrite:
Hawaii is known for volcanoes and sandy beaches. Beauty and danger reign.
Ready for a quiet period in his career, Detective Pono Kaihale accepts a short-term position as Acting Lieutenant in Hana on Maui’s rain-forested coast. After (insert something about prev crazy assignments…ie dealing with murders on ___) he’s looking forward to redirecting lost hikers and moderating mild lovers’ spatz. But by his second week on the job, he gets the feeling the trouble here might run deeper and come in unexpected forms.
Truth hunters, protesters, arsonists, kidnappers, and FBI agents cross his path, making him feel like the eye of a brewing storm. When an old hunting buddy gets sucked into the storm, Pono realizes the stakes are much higher than the island’s natural beauty.
Lives could be lost—and likely will be lost—if he doesn’t solve this mystery quickly.
Scott Bury’s Final Description:
Hawaii is known for volcanoes and sandy beaches. Beauty and danger reign.
After breaking a case of murdered poachers in Maui’s national park, Detective Pono Kaihale accepts a short-term position as Acting Lieutenant in Hana on the island’s rain forest coast. He is looking forward to redirecting lost hikers and moderating mild lovers’ spats and enjoying the natural beauty of the southeast coast. But by his second week on the job, Pono finds trouble here comes in unexpected forms.
Environmentalists, property developers, protesters, arsonists, kidnappers, and a rogue Homeland Security agent converge on his new post, Pono feels like the eye of a brewing storm. And when a new FBI agent gets involved, Pono realizes the stakes are much higher than a quiet period in his career.
Lives will be lost if he doesn’t solve this mystery quickly.