Seven Tips for Building Better Book Descriptions

I’ll confess up front this was originally supposed to be part of the previous post, but that was already getting long.

Thing was, I felt that before I offered any suggestions about how to write better book descriptions I had to demonstrate some facility doing so. And having improved in doing so.

So you want to write better book descriptions.

Begin with the Book

I sure hope you’ve finished it already.

Next Up: Brand

You’ve got a book. Which means you’ve got a genre, and more importantly, I hope, means you have a theme and a mood and a feel. Here’s where magic and immeasurable things come in: what does your book feel like? How do you want to make readers feel? What emotions and undercurrent course through your story to give it the climax and pay-off it earns? Follow that through the process and I’m convinced you can’t go wrong.

First Comes the Title

I’ve already mentioned how The Thompson Gunner became Tumble Turns became Borderline Famous. The other story I’ll mention is how Miya Kressin’s Asylum saga came to be. Originally that was published as “What Once Was,” “What May Be,” and “What Will Be.” Sitting down to do covers, I realized that repeated “What” was bothering me. So I dropped it. When I pitched the branded idea to Miya, she got it, and so became Once Was, May Be, and Will Be.

I think it’s because I was thinking about the magic of the book. It’s a beautiful story with visceral prose that has a cathartic and empowering climax. The best way to make it feel that way straight out of the gate was to let it stand and get out of its way. Highlighting its essence.

Coming up with great titles is a post of its own.

Tag, Your Book’s It

Where would you find your book, and what are some highlights of it? Where is it set, and what are some conflicts the characters grapple with? Do they grow? How, and if not, why not? What’s holding them back?

Think about where you would find your book in a bookstore (remember those?). What section you’re looking in, but this goes beyond genre. One of the defining themes of Perfect Skin, for example, is that its lead character, Jon Marshall, is a single father. It’s not just unique and a storytelling device; Jon’s relationship with his six-month-old daughter the Bean is the loving, beating heart of the book.

Define the Journey and Obstacles

They say it’s not the journey that matters so much as the destination. Whether that’s true or not, a story is not just a beginning, middle, and end but also about how a character navigates through those things and changes while doing so.

So what does that look like for your book? How does the plot progress that journey? And what are the obstacles encountered? They’re not just for making the journey more difficult or advancing the plot. How your character responds to and moves past obstacles says a lot about who they are, which in turn says a lot about the story you’re telling. So what are they and where do they bring the story?

Allude to But Avoid Spoilers

You DON’T want to give away major plot points. You DON’T want to reveal twists that are going to dig your hook deeper into your readers to ensure the HAVE TO keep turning pages.

But you do want to allude to them. For example, the description for The Prodigal Hour notes that “[Cassie] knows who told her: Chance.” It’s a time travel novel and works as an allusion that there’s something more going on than Chance realizes, because how could he tell her something he doesn’t know yet?

It’s about Emotions, Not Endings

Remember that branding question? How do you want your readers to feel?

This goes back to spoilers. You don’t want to give away the ending of your book, or even major plot points. What you DO want to do is two-fold: indicate what’s at stake and why it matters, because that’s where the emotions come from. You don’t want to tell your readers what obstacles your character needs to overcome and how they’ll do so; what your character is trying to achieve that those obstacles are in the way of, and why those achievements matter to your character.


I think if you focus on those seven things you’ll find yourself with the sort of description that not only captures the real essence of your book but makes readers want to dive in.

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