Book descriptions: formatting, length and additional content
If you’ve been thinking about book descriptions at all, you’ll have noticed that some descriptions make good use of formatting (bold, italics, subheadings, etc), some make wildly excessive use of them, and some make no use at all.
Although Amazon’s own imprints make almost no use of formatting (and those guys test extensively, so they’re not just being stupid or lazy), my own view is that some good, calm, tasteful formatting adds structure and intelligibility to the blurb.
I’m not going to talk in detail about how to insert bold and italics, etc. The short answer is that you use html tags like or to make text bold or italics respectively, and then lose the tags with, for example or , once you want the bold / italics to stop. But that’s not really a complete answer, so:
- You can read Amazon’s own guidelines here, but better still
- There’s a really easy tool here, which allows you to format your text on screen in a way that you’re happy with. Once you’re happy with the way your book description looks, you just hit “Get code” and the tool will deliver you with the text you can just cut and paste into your Amazon book description box. Simple! I’m happy enough using html tags, but I still use that tool, just because it’s easier to design nice-looking text if you can see what you get, real-time.
In short, my advice is DO use formatting, but carefully. I think both my DEAD HOUSE description and the Italian guidebook description we’re about to look at use those formatting tools in a nice, clear, helpful way.
But then another question looms.
It’s this: do you want your book description to look very short and sweet – like the Mark Edwards description we looked at first – or do you want it to segue from book blurb into a whole pile of reviews and the like?
Book descriptions: short versus long?
The Angela Marsons one follows our template at the start – so it has a blurb-like blurb with intro / story / climax like all the others. But then it tells us “Readers are loving Dying Truth” and lays out a whole set of reader / blogger / formal reviews.
Now there’s something interesting here. If you look at their records over the last several years, there’s a strong case to be made that Bookouture and Amazon are the world’s two best publishers when it comes to publishing and selling on Amazon’s KDP platform. They text extensively and monitor outcomes.
But one firm – Amazon – goes for extremely short, unformatted book descriptions. The other, Bookouture, goes for very long, highly formatted ones.
Which to prefer? Well, if you have two great firms making quite opposite choices, that says to me that both options work.
Personally, I prefer – and use myself – the Bookouture model, of conventional blurb followed by a ton of reviews, but it’s your call. There’s no absolute right and wrong here.
Using formatting to brand your book
Finally, do take a look back at that book description for Angela Marsons.
Notice the way that the publishers use formatting not just to say “this book is great”, but to ram home their key marketing messages for the book. So take this bit from the book description:
‘Just wow. This is police procedural at its best…It is complex, intriguing, and the writing hooked me in completely. I read the majority of this book in a few short hours not pausing for breath’ (5 stars) Rachel’s Random Reads
That quote (and use of bold) is reminding the reader that this book is a police procedural. In other words, it’s sending out the not-so-subtle message to readers who like police procedurals that this book could well be for them. So the perfect reviews to select for your book description will be ones that (a) say “this book is great”, but also (b) reinforce your basic message of what this book is and what the emotional payoff will be.
In effect, any reviews you include at the bottom of your book description should say, “You know that implicit promise from the blurb? About what you can expect to get from the book if you buy it? Well, trust me, buddy, this book will more than deliver for you.”
So the blurb part of the book description delivers a promise, and the review part of it affirms that other readers / reviewers consider that promise to have been met.
That’s a template that I personally like very much and use for all my self-published work.
Has this been helpful?
Before you leave this page – and just before we get to that long-promised non-fiction book description – may I ask you a question? It’s this:
Has this page been helpful?
And, because you’re an indie author, what that really means is:
Will you make more sales by using insights from this page?
Will you develop your career?
Will you look like – and be – a more professional author?
I’m really hoping that the answers to those questions are yes, yep, and you betcha.
In which case – why stop at one blog post? Why not go the whole hog? Because – did you know this? – we have an entire course on self-publishing that tells you everything you need to know in incredibly clear detail. It’s fun. It’s engaging. It’s comprehensive. And it will get you from zero to sixty in no time at all.
Basically, it’ll cut out all the mistakes and get you on the road to indie-dom fast and properly.
And yes, there’s a catch. But, panic ye not, there’s a way to sniggle your way past that catch without being snared.
So the catch is quite simply price. The course is a super-premium course and it costs hundreds of dollars to buy. (You can view the course outline in full here.) The price makes sense. You get 13 full length videos, plus a ton of bonus material too. Those videos come with full, extensive PDF-downloads, so you have notes on every topic at the click of a button. Unless you are a super-sophisticated indie author already, this course WILL make you a better, richer, happier author. It’ll basically cut out all the mistakes and trial-and-error decisions, and put you on the road to success.
But it’s expensive. So what to do?
The answer is: don’t buy it. Rent it. If you become a member of Jericho Writers, you get all the learning material on this site FOR FREE. All of it. There’s no limit to your access. So you can gobble up that video course, and all our self-published filmed masterclasses, and all our material on how to write, and everything else besides, and not pay one dime over your monthly membership fee.
What’s more, our membership is cancel-any-time, so you can just sign up, help yourself to whatever you want from our learning tools, then quit. We’d love it if you stayed, but if you don’t want to, that’s fine too.
We’re writers ourselves and we’re here to help.
Non-fiction book descriptions – also formatting, length & reviews
The thing about non-fiction, is that you still need the hook, to draw readers into your page. You still need the springboard-style lift
So here, for example, is the book description from Rick Steve’s Italy – a guidebook that I’ve chosen to complement the beautiful images of the Italian landscape that adorn this post. Notice the enticing intro, the meaty content, and what is effectively a call-to-action right at the end.
Notice too the clever way this blurb moves from standard guidebook stuff (“top sights and hidden gems”) to things that make you start visualising yourself in Italy with this book in your pack (“Over 1000 Bible-thin pages”).
That’s the whole book description template in (beautifully formatted) action, right?
In fact, I hope that you can see our book description rules are basically universal. If they can cover dark crime fiction like mine / Mark Edwards’s / Angela Marsons’s AND a standard-issue Italian guidebook, then they just have to work everywhere, right?
So go write your book description, entice those readers and grab those sales! And don’t forget to join the Jericho Writers crew, and blast your self-publishing and writing knowledge into a whole new dimension.
About the author
Harry Bingham has been a pro author for twenty years and more. He’s been trad published and self-published, and hit bestseller lists via both routes. He’s also had his work adapted for the screen, has had a ton of critical acclaim, and been published all over the world. (More about Harry, more about his books.)