Considering that books are made of words, authors, publishers, and publicists often fail to come up with the right words to describe a book. They may be good at stringing 80,000 words together to form a book but they struggle to write good book jacket copy or catalog copy or Web site text or even a tweet. Why?
Some just don’t think like a sales person. They can write with substance about something substantial but they get challenged by coming up with a catchy slogan, subject line, or headline. They are used to swaying moods and opinions with the culmination of their words but are not fully comfortable relying on just a handful of words to highlight why you should buy a specific book.
It’s the same challenge one has in writing their college entrance essay, their Facebook profile, their resume, or an obituary. How do you summarize a lifetime of work, experience, and thought into a crowded little space?
Yet the success of one’s book depends largely on their ability to promote, advertise, and market it, and that means you need to create short, snappy, and moving copy in order to engage one to want to read your book. Your book will be prejudged based on how you present it. So what’s the secret to writing a strong copy for your book?
1. You need to determine who you are writing for. Who is the audience? Are you writing for the consumer or the media or someone else? You’ll need to speak their lingo and impress them based on their level of knowledge, experience, needs, and desires.
2. You’ll need to understand the parameters of the medium for which you write. A post on your blog will read differently than a description on your LinkedIn page or a tweet on Twitter. Each format or space has its advantages and challenges, so don’t treat them the same.
3. Even though you want to “sell” the reader, don’t use sales-sounding copy. The key here is to come off as if you’re not selling anything.
4. Highlight the benefits or results one can anticipate, should they read your book. What will the book do for you—will it make you smarter, richer, healthier, sexier, happier?
5. Look at competing books in how they present themselves. Also study competing mediums—advertisements, blog posts, tweets, book cover copy, catalog copy, press releases, Web sites, etc.
6. Offer a sense of urgency and immediacy—but not desperation.
7. Engage the senses of the reader—paint a picture, give them a taste or scent and make them hear you. Don’t just tell them—show them. Use rich examples and analogies of things people are well familiar with.
8. Make convincing, affirmative, forceful declarations. Don’t sound wishy-washy. Go all the way. Forget words like “maybe” or “almost” or “might” and only use words that speak definitively.
9. Don’t merely tell a story or state facts—give them color, perspective, definition. Don’t just say: “24 million Americans have diabetes and this book will assist them.” Play it up: “Every day, 24 million Americans suffer from diabetes. They have trouble doing the things most take for granted. They run the risk of dying before their time. A new book offers not only hope, but viable solutions that will allow diabetics of all ages to live happier and longer lives.” Shape the world in extremes—good and bad, life and death, etc. No shades of grey or anything in between. Everything you say or write must come off as authoritative, unequivocal, and sincere.
10. Sound energetic, passionate and excited. People get convinced based on your level of enthusiasm and drive. Your words should pack emotion, aggression, and vitality.
Of course, even the advice offered here doesn’t apply to every book or every topic. A book about something sad or depressing or horrific can’t be presented the same way one presents a book on dieting, relationships, or launching a business. But the idea is the same—you need to come across as providing something that will interest and benefit the reader. No one wants to be told they are about to read about a pathetic life, an incurable situation, or a terrible predicament unless they are to gain something from it. Everyone needs a dose of hope. Sell them hope even if you can’t sell them a solution. Sell them empathy, compassion, and a feeling of identity and community—even if the book doesn’t really allow one to improve their situation or predicament.
You have a lot of ammunition to play with. There are millions of words, names and events available to you. Choose what you’d like to say and then look to say it better. Gradually rearrange or replace words and whole sentences until you’ve created a picture one would buy if it were art. That is really what you’re selling—a painting of words. If one doesn’t buy into those few hundred words (or characters of a tweet,) they won’t invest in your book.
People tend to like to hear about the ideal, the dream, the perfect picture. They want to laugh or enjoy intellectual wit. They want to feel special and rewarded. They want a solution to something or an escape from something. Use your words to convince them you’ll take them on a journey they won’t easily forget or regret.
There’s no secret string of words that will win over everyone all the time but you can certainly find something to say that will resonate with enough readers to lure them in. Your book’s success depends on it.
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- What type of books do you write? If your novel involves the Hero discovering who committed a crime, then it's a mystery. If your Hero is a police officer and he/she is trying to figure out who committed a crime, then it's a Police Procedural Mystery. If your Hero fears that a crime is about to happen, a building will be blown up, a plague will be released, the President will be assassinated and the Hero is trying to stop that crime before it occurs, then it is a Thriller. Another kind of Thriller is the race-chase type of story where the Hero and the Villain are both trying to be the first recover some object -- a gem, a secret formula, an incriminating piece of evidence, etc.
I write crime novels which means my stories begin with or are motivated in some way by a crime. For example, in Stolen Angel the Hero has found a kidnapped child and he is trying to get her home with the kidnappers in pursuit. The story is motivated by the kidnapping but it is not about either catching the kidnappers nor stopping a future kidnapping. In Shooting Crows At Dawn, three killers have escaped from prison and are running for the border. The story is about Hero-Sheriff tracking them down, so the Hero is not trying to figure out who committed a crime nor stop a new crime. He's out to catch the known criminals before they escape. In The President's Mistress the President has been assassinated and the Hero is trying to find the proof that his death was murder before the conspirators can kill him to shut him up. So, here the Hero is not out to figure out who did it nor have them arrested but rather to find something he can use as leverage to save his own life.
To be more detailed, here is a rough classification of my books:
The Accidental Magician -- SF/Fantasy
Daniel -- General Fiction -- the story of a POW in the Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi, North Vietnam
Etched In Bone -- Serial-Killer hunt
Easy Target -- Police Procedural/Serial-Killer hunt
Fever Dreams -- Private Detective serial-killer hunt with occult aspects
Doll's Eyes -- Police Procedural
A Death In Beverly Hills -- Private Detective Police Procedural + Courtroom Drama
Shooting Crows At Dawn -- Police Procedural/Thriller
Stolen Angel -- Suspense Thriller
True Faith -- Suspense Thriller
The Forbidden List -- Thriller
The President's Mistress -- Thriller
- What is your latest or upcoming book about?
It's about a dedicated detective who helps an FBI agent who is obsessed with finding and catching a contract killer in the little time the Agent has left before he is forced into retirement
- What inspired you to write it?
I am often drawn to stories that are based on a powerful human motivation such as a hunger and thirst for justice or for revenge or for redemption. In this case the idea of a man obsessed with catching a villain interested me.
- How does it feel to be a published author? Any advice for struggling writers? Answering the second question, first, learn to write less. Just because you can visualize an entire scene does not mean that you should include every detail of that scene in your book. You may know that the waiter who delivered lunch to your Hero is wearing a red and blue striped tie but that doesn't mean that your readers want to know that. In point of fact, they don't and they will not appreciate your wasting their time telling them.
Second, take the trouble to carefully plan your book chapter by chapter in advance. Readers can tell if you are making up the story as you go along and that's not a good feeling. When you get to the last chapter and just throw in the culprit as the guy who drove the victim home from the airport fifty chapters ago -- and was never seen again until the very end -- you are not telling nearly as good a story as you could or should.
Third, no matter how terrific a book you write, a material percentage of people who read that genre of books will not be nearly as thrilled with it as you are. If The Silence of the Lambs, one of the very best crime novels published in the last fifty years, had never been published and if you took a thousand people who say they like crime stories and mysteries and the like and gave them the unpublished The Silence of the Lambs and asked them to rate it on a scale of one to ten, my guess is that at least thirty percent of them would rate it as a 6.5 or less. People's tastes are amazingly varied. My advice to you, and I wish someone had told me this twenty years ago, is: find a character you absolutely love and a type of story, mystery, thriller, police procedural, whatever, you love telling, and write a book a year with that same character. Write a series.
The people who like your first book will likely like the second and the third, etc. (assuming you do a good job) and you will build an audience. If each book is different, short of Hollywood making a blockbuster movie based on your book (how John Grisham became successful) you are going to have a difficult time finding an audience for your work.
- Where do you see book publishing heading? The good thing about pre-ebook publishing was that there were editors and copy editors who filtered out people who just didn't have the craft, who didn't really know how to write fiction well. The bad thing was that the tyranny of limited shelf space and the old-boy network and the narrow tastes of entrenched editors kept many good, or potentially good, writers and books out of the market.
The good thing about ebooks is that any writer has a chance to get his/her book out into the world. The bad thing is that without the filter of competent editors a material percentage of fiction ebooks are poorly written and it is difficult for readers to separate the wheat from the chaff.
My hope is that someone will build a company staffed with competent editors who, for a reasonable fee, say between $100 and $500, will read ebook novels and give them a "This Is A Professionally Written Book" stamp of approval as a way to help solve this problem.
1. What type of books do you write? I am at my best when I write about Jersey dirtbags, Chinese and Taiwanese people, and dirtbag Chinese and Taiwanese people. So as you can see, I have a rather wide palette to work with! 'Waylaid' is a book about a kid growing up at a crappy Jersey short hotel who is trying to get laid in order to become a man. 'This Is a Bust,' 'Snakes Can't Run' and the new book out in May, 'One Red Bastard,' are mysteries set in 1976 in Manhattan's Chinatown and feature Robert Chow, a chump Chinese American cop who is transitioning into becoming a winner.
2. What is your latest or upcoming book about? 'One Red Bastard' finds Chow in the uncomfortable position of finding out who killed an envoy from the People's Republic of China. Right now
his reporter girlfriend Lonnie is the main suspect. Chow is even thinking of setting someone up to take the rap.
3. What inspired you to write it? The year 1976 is very interesting to me because there is a world-wide transition in the Chinese diaspora throughout the world. The men who led both sides of the Chinese civil war are dead and dying (Mao, Zhou Enlai, Chiang Kai-Shek) and there's an air of uncertainty in terms of who will lead going forward. The envoy in 'One Red Bastard' was
seeking asylum on behalf of Mao's daughter, who has become a bit of a pariah in the wake of Mao's death and her mother's arrest as a part of the Gang of Four. I know, I know, it sounds pretty heavy on the political front, but this book is rooted in the grubbiness of a New York City on the brink of bankruptcy and it is darkly funny in a Bukowski kinda way.
4. What did you do before you became an author? I still work full-time. I have been in financial journalism for almost two decades now. They say that everything an author experiences is future material for art and that's definitely true. For me, working and writing are the right and left sides of my brain and necessary for me to function.
5. How does it feel to be a published author? Any advice for struggling writers? It's feels awesome and horrible! It's great to see your book in print, but seeing a one-star review on Goodreads makes you cringe. I'm not complaining. I want to feel it all. Like Homer Simpson says, "The highs, the lows and the creamy middles." My advice is, everybody says to read widely but you should also live widely. Do things that scare you. Take an improv class. Do open mikes. Ask out that man/woman you've admired from afar. The reactions you get may surprise you in a way that you can convert and delight your readers.
6. Where do you see book publishing heading? I see something happening along the lines of the music industry. There will be ereaders vs. print books in the same way as digital music vs.
vinyl. Some people say print books have no future, but look at how vinyl LPs are hanging tough! As humans, we need to have something tangible. And what else would I sign at bookstores?
- What type of books do you write? I work mainly as an illustrator of children's books. I've illustrated more than 80 books during the last 15 years. The first books I wrote were maze and puzzle books, I've also written junior novels and picture books.
- What is your latest or upcoming book about? 'Oliver' is a picture book, about a little boy who builds a submarine and goes down the drain of his bathtub on an adventure, where he meets a cruise ship full of penguins on vacation. They have jetpacks and fly around for fun. It's going to be published by Harper Collins in May 2012.
- What inspired you to write it? I was looking around for a strong character when I was visiting with my brother. My nephew was about 3 at the time, and I found him very entertaining. He was the inspiration for the character of Oliver.
- What did you do before you became an author? I studied science, and worked in the textile industry for a number of years. Then I became an illustrator, which led me into writing.
- How does it feel to be a published author? Any advice for struggling writers? I love to see my books sitting in a book store. My books have been translated into more than ten languages, and I love to imagine kids all around the world reading them. My advice for struggling writers is read, read, read, write, write, write. I teach people who want to write for children, and I tell them that to be published you need three things: talent, determination and luck, and I think that determination is probably the most important one. Don't give up. Don't stop trying to make your work better.
- Where do you see book publishing heading? Things seem to be at a crossroads at the moment. It is sad to see so many book stores closing. I don't know where publishing is heading, but I think people will always want stories. So there will always be a need for writers. (I hope!)
For more information, please consult: judithrossell.com
Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at email@example.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.
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