How to Write a Strong Online Book Description as a Self-Published Author

If you want to sell your book online, you must have a strong book description.

When you make self-publishing a business, you’re in charge of all the components for hooking in buyers: marketing, publicity, keywords, metadata . . . and even a stellar book cover.

Even then, you need your book’s product page to describe what your book is about and persuade people to buy. Often called online descriptive copy in marketing parlance, your book’s online copy is like the description on a physical book’s back cover.

However, online copy does a lot more lifting, as, unlike an in-person bookstore, the buyer can’t pick up a tangible object. On the internet, what you have are many pixels and a whole bunch of words.

It’s a daunting task to write copy that sells your book, especially if you aren’t used to putting your work out there. Still, I have some advice on how to craft your book’s store pages so that you can do good business and give justice to your book.

It’s All about Reciprocity

If you feel skeevy about selling your book, I have some words of reassurance. As long as you focus on reciprocity, you will maintain your integrity as an author and a seller.

As a self-published author, you want people to buy and read your book. As a reader, your buyers want to find a book they’ll enjoy. Therefore, it’s in both of your interests to make the sell on a book your reader wants.

To this end, look at your book and think: what do you love most about your writing? What do you think and hope readers will enjoy when reading? Finally, what are some comps (short for comparable titles) that you can mention in your description that will guide your readers quickly to understand your book concerning the market?

In all cases, don’t misread the reader. Be honest about your book’s content. For example, you might be able to make some sales if you describe your edgy romantic thriller as a cozy happily-ever-after read, but that misrepresentation will bite you back. Misread readers are more likely to return your book (and with an eBook, returns can be done with a few clicks) and leave the dreaded one-star review.

Now let’s get to writing a description!

Guidelines for Writing a Store Description

There are many components for assembling a book’s product description: here are some of the important ones.

Pitch your book with a short, sharp summary. I recommend you study your comps’ descriptions to get the hang of how to summarize your book in a way that interests buyers.

The core of your description will be the elevator pitch, a 150–200-word rundown of what your book’s about and why they should read it. If you have experience querying your book to agents and editors, you may know how it goes.

The standard is to start with your main characters, the internal and external conflicts they’re grappling with, and the state of the story’s setting before the action begins. Then, give that inciting incident. Next, tell readers what kick-starts the story. After that, give readers an impression of how the middle act goes.

Importantly, hint at how the story resolves but don’t give away the ending. Instead, present your book’s main themes and suggest what lengths the book’s characters must go to find a resolution.

Finally, capstone your pitch with a 25–50-word closer that wraps up the core of your book. Again, make the genre and main themes clear, then include a little call to action for the buyer to purchase and read your book.

With your pitch set, you can frame it and incorporate it within the other components.

Incorporate blurbs and praise into your description. Ideally, you’d have sent advance copies to reviewers and authors so that they can hype up your book. Then if you get a shining article from a review blog, excerpt that praise.

Even better is if you secure praise from an author of one of your book’s comps, preferably someone trendy in your niche. If the author’s name alone will hook in readers, I suggest including that blurb at the very top of your description.

However, if you have neither, you can still solicit blurbs from readers you gave advance copies to. A testimonial can reassure buyers that other people have already read the book and enjoyed it, even if it’s from a random reader.

Introduce yourself with a short author’s bio. I have an article in the works that goes more in-depth on how to write an author’s bio.

For now, my advice is to give the reader a basic idea of who you are and how your experience informs the book. Remember that your biographical information serves the descriptive copy, so tailor it to sell your book.

Put to good use your retailer’s formatting. Most major retailers can elevate your description beyond plain text.

Judiciously apply bold, italics, and subheadings to your description whenever possible. Subheadings can help guide readers, and emphasizing the keywords is an effective way of showcasing the words that may hook future fans.

Some storefronts even give sellers the tools to craft extremely fancy product pages. If they allow images, put that to use, whether you need to hire a graphic designer or use Canva to prettify that one blurb from a bestselling author who loved your book.

Conclusion

There’s so much more you can play with and consider with online description copy, and that’s one of the joys of cheerleading your book. So I hope with what I’ve taught you today, you’ll find the joy in description copy and match your book with some soon-to-be-delighted readers.

Over to you: What’s your description like for your book? What questions or advice do you have for describing your book?

Elizabeth Javor Outskirts Press

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

Why You Must Market Your Book

If you want to make a career out of book publishing, you must make peace with the fact that you will be marketing your books.

I know, not everyone’s excited by the prospect of promoting one’s work, especially us writerly types. However, read on if you’re hoping to make money from your books.

Let’s start with self-publishing. Imagine that you’ve finished your debut novel, uploaded the file to an online bookstore, and launched your book’s product page. You then leave your book there and let the website do its job in selling your book. Yay! One ticket to authorship success.

Not quite! If this is all you do, the likeliest outcome is that you will get a couple of sales—if even that—then your book slips into obscurity.

Here’s the thing about self-publishing your novel: if you don’t work to find readers for your book, no one will buy it.

On the major self-publishing platforms—like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple—there are millions of other self-publishing books competing for attention. Few titles make high on the popular sale rankings, and even fewer get featured. These listings overwhelm readers, so you’re unlikely to get many customers from browsing.

Furthermore, self-publishing books have an unfortunate reputation of being low quality, so many readers are less likely to give a self-published book a chance. Assuming you put in the work and money to get your book high-quality editing and design, these concerns should be unfounded, but you still need to get past the stigma to get the sale.

And I must make sure to emphasize this point. Even if you do everything right marketingwise, if your book is unedited, has broken formatting, and has a poor book cover and store listing, you might as well be promoting a cat’s used litterbox. Marketing only works with a good product.

So, how does an author get that book out to readers? Marketing and promotion require ongoing effort: create professional-level store listings, promote through social media, reach out to book reviewers and other promotional outlets, solicit book reviews, build your audience and mailing list, run ad campaigns, and embark on interviews and articles.

And most importantly, keep on writing and publishing books. For a career author, the backlist is gold. The more books you put out, the more ways you need to find new readers and the more sales you get from fans. With a catalog, marketing becomes multiplicative.

Meanwhile, you may be considering publishing your book traditionally. This way, you submit it to a publisher and receive help from your publishing house’s marketing department.

Yes, “trad pub” authors do benefit from receiving a marketing team alongside editorial and production staff. But here’s another hard truth: if you traditionally published your book, you still have to market.

Few authors receive a full-on marketing campaign from their publishers. Full-page advertisements and Barnes & Noble displays are usually reserved for bestselling authors, celebrities, and the rare debut author who wins the industry equivalent of the lottery with a six-figure-plus advance. More likely than not, you’re not in any of those categories.

For the rest, publishers often practice discretion in allocating their limited marketing funds. Often, they give little to no marketing budget to first-time novelists. That leaves the greenhorn author to handle most of the promotional work to earn back the advance and justify the next book.

So, why have a traditional publisher if they don’t market your books? That’s one reason why some aspiring career novelists opt for self-publishing.

But here’s another fact to keep in mind: the most successful authors are putting out bestsellers because they’re working with their publishers to promote.

Let’s loop back to those celebrities with a book deal. One dirty secret is that publishers frequently lose money on celebrity authors because those celebrities aren’t promoting their books. Millions of Instagram followers and a preestablished entertainment career don’t guarantee that a celebrity will make back the advance and marketing budget. On the other hand, the authors who do turn a profit for themselves and their publishers do their share of the marketing and work with their publishers’ departments so that everyone in the endeavor benefits.

Fortunately, all the techniques I describe for self-publishing markets also apply to traditional authors. You just happen to obtain a marketing team in a different way.

If any of this article bums you out, let me leave you with some reassurance: if you put the work into marketing and publicity, you will become better over time, and you will see more results from your promotion.

It’s like with book writing. When you’re deep into a manuscript, it’s hard to know if efforts will pay off. It’s the same with marketing, especially when it feels like you’re shouting into the void.

But both writing and marketing take time. If you plan out marketing campaigns, maintain discipline, and expand your backlist, your efforts will snowball, and you will see the results of your hard work.

I have faith in you!

Over to you: How do you feel about book marketing? What tips do you have for getting over the difficult parts of promoting your books?

Elizabeth Javor Outskirts Press

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

Why You Should Differentiate Your Personal and Professional Social Media Accounts

Previously, I wrote about how you must accept that marketing is essential if you want your writing to become a career. Today, I’ll focus on one facet of marketing: your social media profiles.

Part of being a career writer in the internet age is keeping your personal and professional presence separate. To this end, set up separate social media profiles on the platforms you intend to use to market your books.

If you use a platform exclusively for personal uses or solely for your career, then one profile is adequate. For example, most people don’t post their vacation and party photos on LinkedIn. But if you intend to work and play on the same website, create a second profile.

So, why is it so important? I do understand it’s extra work juggling multiple accounts. However, there are several reasons for doing so.

I’ll start with the reason that may sound corny: it’s about mind-set. When you post as a published author, you communicate with a different voice than you do with your closed ones.

You’re putting up a brand even if your online persona is warm and friendly. When branding, you’re guiding prospective and current readers to perceive you a certain way and have certain expectations. With an author brand, you sell books, deal with publishers and other writers as a business, and set boundaries so that work doesn’t bleed into play.

This differentiation is more difficult if you use the same profile for personal and professional use. When you make a new profile, you can tailor your brand without worrying about what you post personally.

Another reason is that social media platforms offer different features based on the type of profile or account.

One website that makes a stark difference is Facebook. On Facebook, “Profiles” are reserved for personal use. Meanwhile, professionals and organizations have “Pages.” They look different even on the surface, with Profiles having a Friend button and Pages having the Like button.

But once you set up a Page, you’ll have access to tools that Profiles can’t have. For example, with a Page, you can set Page Roles and provide other people limited access to posting on your Page without giving them your password. You also get access to analytics and advertising options, tools that can elevate your Facebook usage from casual use to a web marketing machine.

Most other major social platforms have profiles that don’t look as drastically different. For example, a personal Twitter profile and a business look similar at a glance. However, even other platforms—like Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok—have options for you to opt in to a “professional” profile, which grants you more behind-the-scenes tools to augment your social media marketing.

However, even if these technical differences didn’t exist, keeping separate profiles would still be a good idea.

Another major reason is respecting your audience. While some readers may be interested in your life outside writing, not all of them want to see you post pictures of your family. Some posts you make for friends and family may alienate readers who wish to follow you to keep up with your upcoming releases and events. If you mix the two, you may irritate your followers and drive them to unfollow.

Conversely, some of your friends and family may be interested in your books and may nod politely when you mention your novel to them. But many of them don’t want to see you post all day about your books, as they’re more interested in whether you’ll come over at Thanksgiving this year. To prevent them from muting your posts, give them an out and keep two different streams. If they’re genuinely interested, they’ll follow your author profile and boost your follower count!

One reason may be scary to think about, but it’s crucial: as an author, you want to protect your privacy and safety.

Early on, you’ll have so few readers that you might wish some of them showed more interest. However, a growing career comes with a greater risk of danger. You may attract haters who may send you harassing messages. Tragically, some authors even end up with stalkers—not just cyber stalkers, but real-life stalkers who may attempt to find your whereabouts.

To make sure no one finds out your personal details, such as your address or location, I recommend you keep your information contained to your personal profiles, if at all.

Additionally, I recommend you set your personal profile’s privacy settings, so they are only visible to friends. While privacy settings may feel constraining, they reduce the risks of unsavory prowlers finding your information. If you do insist on keeping your personal profiles publicly visible, separate accounts will allow you to set individual posts, pieces of information, and the entire profile to private at any time without shutting down your professional profiles.

All in all, it’s essential to set up separate author profiles because of the technical, marketing, and social benefits that come with that separation, along with the protection for your virtual and personal safety.

As you set up this divide on social media platforms, pat yourself on the back: you’re taking one more step to becoming a successful author!

Over to you: Which social media platforms do YOU use? Do you currently keep a separate author profile on them? How do you post differently between your accounts?

Elizabeth Javor Outskirts Press

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

Why You Should Have Your Book in Multiple Formats

Why You Should Have Your Book in Multiple Formats Outskirts Press

Even with technological advances, I still love the feel of a physical book.

Whether paperback or hardcover, I love to cozy up on the couch with paper and ink in my hands. But even with my preferences, I’d still advise that it’s a wise business decision for self-publishing authors to sell books in multiple formats.

The physical book isn’t going away despite apocalyptic predictions that digital will kill paper. On the contrary, paperback books remain the most popular format. That said, it’s unwise to self-publish your book in only one format.

Readers love choice more than ever, and that love of choice includes book formats: physical books, eBooks, and audiobooks.

Here are several reasons why you should publish your book in multiple formats.

Some formats work better for specific markets than others.

If you’re a romance novelist and you self-publish your book only in paperback, then you’re more likely to fail. Why? A great number of romance readers prefer eBooks over paperback, so you’re leaving sales on the table if you’re not getting your stories digital.

Conversely, children’s books fare better in paper formats, so a children’s book in only eBook form may not be enough. Format preferences vary wildly on genre and category, so you’ll glean a wealth of information by researching the format most of your potential readers are buying.

But even when one format is more popular than another, it’s wise to publish in multiple formats. Related to the above, many romance readers still prefer paper to electronic—airport stands for romance novels still exist! So, multiple options are crucial to reaching your potential audience.

You increase the number of platforms you can sell your book on.

Not every bookseller sells books in every format. If you self-publish your book only in the .mobi eBook format, then you’re practically limited to selling through Amazon’s Kindle section. While Amazon is the biggest storefront for self-publishing authors, you can do better.

If you take your manuscript’s file and export it to .epub, you open up most of the rest of the eBook market. You make it possible to sell your book on Barnes and Noble, Apple Books, Kobo, Google Play, and more. Some retailers even sell books in .pdf form.

If you record your book as an audiobook, you can play in audiobook storefronts, such as Audible, iTunes, Google Audiobooks, Nook Audiobooks, or Kobo Audiobooks.

And if you release your book in physical form? You can sell on most of the above retailers, like Amazon, and even keep open the chance to see your book at a physical bookstore. Sounds exciting, right?

You can get the best of both worlds with exclusivity and availability.

Some retailers offer the option to sell your book exclusively on their storefront. In exchange, you’ll often get better royalties and priority in promotions and algorithmic placement. The downside is that exclusivity commits you to only one storefront. So, if you sign up for Amazon’s KDP Select, you may not be able to sell your eBook with Barnes and Noble.

However, exclusivity deals usually only apply to one format. So, you could decide to give KDP Select eBook exclusivity but then sell your book in physical and audiobook formats elsewhere. You can mix-and-match exclusivity deals and benefit from both the perks of exclusivity and the availability of multiple formats.

You increase your book’s accessibility.

Not all book readers can read a physical book. For example, some readers are visually impaired. Other accessibility considerations include learning disabilities such as dyslexia, limits in motor skills, and language ability.

Fortunately, a self-publishing author has all the tools to make an accessible book. Audiobooks are an excellent alternative for accessibility. And eBooks are also beneficial in their adaptability. With an e-reader, a reader can increase the text size, change the font, look up dictionary definitions, or even enable text-to-speech.

But when formatting eBooks, be sure to follow accessibility guidelines. E-readers need a properly formatted file to parse text for the user. When you format your book with accessibility in mind, your product looks more professional, and more readers can enjoy your work.

Bonus reason: For another kind of accessibility, you can get your self-published books into libraries. This is especially easy with digital formats, and you can use book distribution services to list your book on digital lending services like OverDrive and Hoopla. In addition, libraries that you license your book to will financially compensate you without the reader having to pay.

You can even sell readers the same book more than once in different formats.

Some retailers make it enticing to buy in two or more formats. For example, for some Kindle eBooks, Amazon offers the option to “add Audible narration,” often at a discount. Through Whispersync technology, readers can switch between visual reading and audiobook reading without losing their place.

You can even set it up so that if a reader buys the physical version, they can also buy the eBook version at a cheaper rate or even get it for free! This bundling technique is a fantastic way to increase goodwill with your readers and entice them to buy your next book.

Closing

The case is strong: Multiple book formats are great for your self-publishing business and the culture of reading. Prepare your manuscript with different formats in mind, and you’ll be a step closer to success.

Now, I’ll turn it over to you: What book formats do YOU prefer? What factors influence the format YOU get YOUR books in?


elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

In Your Corner: Getting Started With Amazon Sales Rankings (Part II: Pre-Orders)

online sales rankings ratings reviews

Last time I wrote, I sought to answer one very important question for self-publishing authors: What are online sales rankings, specifically Amazon sales rankings, and what do they mean for you, a self-publishing author? I spent some time tackling the definitions of and usefulness of sales rankings to the average indie author, and set out to debunk another question as well: What about the stuff that Amazon isn’t saying about its sales rankings? Which, as it turns out, is a lot. Pretty much everything, in fact!

In summary, Amazon is a business and its sales rankings, like its search algorithms and its “if you liked [x] you might also like [y]” algorithms, are both private and proprietary. Which means they don’t have to disclose what human and algorithmic assumptions are built into the process—what fundamental things Amazon believes about the way you, and all people, work. Quite apart from the potential for unconscious (or sometimes conscious) biases to perpetuate things like racism, sexism, and other -isms—especially if leadership and oversight isn’t constantly and thoughtfully looking out for such things—the fact remains that algorithms such as those used to determine sales rankings can be helpful, but require a significant human component in order to work in your favor.

This week, I’m going to ask (and hopefully answer) another important and related question:

What is the relationship between pre-orders and your sales ranking—and how can you make this relationship work for you?

preorder

Pre-orders can actually have a negative effect on your sales ranking—at least during the first week or so after your book launches. This is because pre-order sales are more spread out, and their dates of transaction will not be lumped together with the other books sold during your first week, even though the actual physical or digital books will be distributed at the same time as your first-week sales. And the more you sell in a short amount of time, the higher your sales ranking will be during that period. Others have written and spoken very eloquently on this first-week problem, so I won’t go into detail about it here, other than this quick summary.

There are other reasons why pre-orders are a good idea, and these deserve a little bit of your time and attention as well. Just to name a few, opening up your book for pre-orders provides you with a promotional opportunity that you wouldn’t otherwise have, and provides an actionable way for readers to purchase your book right away when they first hear about it, rather than requiring them to wait and plan to buy your book later—as we all know, instant gratification may not be a human ideal, but it is a very human reality. If readers can’t buy your book the first time they hear about it, many of them are liable to forget about it altogether. A pre-order option means that during your heaviest promotional period before your book launch, you can get your readers to commit to a purchase even though they’ll have to wait for delivery. You can then spread your pre-order link around all of your various social media platforms and digital presences, ensuring that it’s easy to find your book paired with your name everywhere it appears.

And yes, a pre-order period also allows you time to refine your promotional materials. It’s one thing to edit and edit away before your book launch, but a soft release like a pre-order allows you to test your language in the field and see how readers and potential buyers respond … and then make changes as you go to better appeal to them. This holds true for any advertising or website monetization you might run during the pre-order period, as well.

The biggest benefit to a self-publishing author of making pre-orders available is the reviews! Normally, a book can’t be reviewed on Amazon before it’s available for purchase, distribution, and arrival. (Goodreads allows reviews as soon as a book is listed.) But with pre-orders, a huge chunk of your readership will receive your book on the first day it’s out, and you’ll start getting reviews immediately. Reviews are the most powerful marketing tool of all!

So, while your pre-orders can negatively affect your Amazon sales ranking, it’s only for a few days, and it will only truly make a difference if you don’t make use of the pre-order period for the aforementioned optimization. Pre-orders can in many ways prove a useful training ground for promotion and marketing, meaning that your book launches to higher acclaim and attention than it would otherwise. It’s wise to see the larger relationship in context.

Next time, I’m going to look at what we know about Amazon’s other algorithms—so check back in two weeks for more on this fascinating and important subject!

online sales shopping cart

You are not alone. ♣︎


Elizabeth

ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.